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eBay looks to structured data to fuel growth

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan April 27, 2016
It's going to take time, but eBay CEO Devin Wenig is looking to a rolling program of structured data improvement to fuel growth.

Signs of life over at eBay, with the value of goods sold up 1.5% year-on-year for its first quarter to hit $20.45 billion. That resulted in global net revenues of $2.137 billion, up 3.7% from last year’s comparable quarter. Net income was $482 million, up 7.3% from $449 million.

CEO Devin Wenig points to new structured data initiatives that he hopes will kick-start higher growth numbers in quarters to come by creating a more relevant buyside experience:

Having the most relevance means a shopping experience that is simple, data-driven and personalized. We intend to deliver a differentiated eBay shopping experience that enables buyers to find, compare and purchase items they need and want and to clearly understand the unique value that eBay brings.

One of the key foundational changes we're making to our Marketplace platform to drive the most relevance is to shift to be more product-based. This initiative, which we call structured data, is how we're organizing our vast inventory and beginning to better aggregate insight into supply and demand.

This is ultimately the foundation on which we'll build better user experiences, and improve discoverability on and off eBay.

Wenig explains that the move towards structured data is a three phase process:

There's collecting product identifiers, there’s processing those identifiers, and then there's building user experiences. With regard to collecting product data, we’ve now expanded that mandate to 60% of our listings. With regard to what we processed, that has lagged the 60% because it takes a bit longer, and our mandate only expanded in the middle of the quarter, so that's at 38%. We're beginning to build the product experiences that ultimately are what matter to consumers and sellers and that will drive better business performance.

He adds:

Browsing on eBay is one example of where we started to change our shopping experience in ways that we have not previously been able to. We recently launched an entirely new browse experience which takes advantage of our structured data catalog, enabling us to instantly surface products with great savings, best-selling items and more. In this experience consumers can easily navigate to shop by brand or see our best deals. This is a great example of how eBay is enabling people to find their version of perfect. The right product at a great price, one click away.

SEO challenge

Structured data pages will also help with SEO, says Wenig:

Search on eBay is also starting to benefit from our efforts in this area. We recently launched the ability for users to search on eBay using a product identifier directly in the search bar, quickly returning relevant items. Finally, we're making progress on building new product and search pages which are starting to drive healthy SEO traffic from search engines. While SEO traffic from non-structured data pages continues to decline, we've been able to offset much of that decline by shifting traffic to these new pages which now represent 10% of total SEO traffic with higher overall conversion rates.

He adds:

We're beginning to move our non-structured data enabled SEO pages to structured data enabled pages. Those pages are now stable to slightly growing at better conversion rates than the 90% of pages that we haven't moved yet, which have been declining for the better part of 18 months.

In addition, if you look at our browse pass, these are entirely new experiences which we're really excited about. Not just because it makes for a simpler eBay experience, but because we're beginning to show what's unique about eBay. When we talk about unique inventory and great deals, historically they've been hard to find. What structured data enables us to do is to really surface those in a way that hits consumers right between the eyes so they can see why shop eBay.

Fixing SEO is vital, argues Wenig:

The SEO challenges really stem all the way back to May of 2014 when, without a structured data underpinning our pages that we expose to search engines - not just Google, but all search engines - [the pages] were not really attached to our marketplace. There was a significant penalty that really has continued for the better part of 18 months. In many ways that was the impetus to move to re-platforming the business, so that the new pages that we put on which now represent 10% of traffic are on a much more stable foundation.

So for us, SEO is the major challenge which we're addressing head on with the long re-platforming around structured data. It will take time, but we are seeing progress there.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the shopping experience, says Wenig:

Structured data gets a lot of press, but it's not the only thing we're doing. We're actually making a substantial number of changes to the company, from the way we're organized to the way we acquire inventory, to the way we re-platform, to the way we expose that inventory in the product. I think you'll see parts of the eBay shopping experience change more in the next several months than they have, arguably, in years.

My take

eBay is doing the right things to make the buying experience easier for customers, an investment in time and money that is a challenge that needs to be faced down. Wenig is making the right noises and setting expectations carefully.

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