Users don't read blah blah blah blah blah

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eBay sellers have long said it, and now it’s been proven: people don’t read everything that’s on a webpage. Research by usability guru Jakob Nielsen shows that users read approximately 20% of text on an average webpage. And the more words there are on a page, the smaller the percentage that people will read.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard a bewildered seller say “but I said it was used in the listing; why did they think it was new?” So now we know: they just didn’t read it. What’s a seller to do?

I’ve taken a look through my own and some other sellers’ non-positive feedback today, and it seems that around half of it is from people who didn’t read the listing “properly” in the first place, so making listings that communicate more effectively could in future be the difference between keeping your eBay account, or not. Here are half a dozen easy changes you can make to your listings that should help buyers read more of what you need to tell them.

Prioritise information
The more important information should be at the top of your listing. For most items, “most important information” includes the photograph.
Put your listings on a diet
If it can go, get rid of it. Your listing page should be about selling, not your T&Cs or the history of your trading on eBay, and certainly not “thanks for looking” and all that guff.

Keep listing page T&Cs minimal, and if you must have long lists of legalise, have that on a seperate linked page in your Shop.

Use headings for scannable listings
Buyers won’t read reams of text to find the information they want. They’ll scan through quickly to see if it’s there; so show them it is by using headings to highlight important areas.
Use bulleted lists
We’ve all seen those listings with a block of text going on for three screens with no paragraph break in sight. Few of us read them, and neither will your buyers.
• Bullets are easy to read
• Bullets can be scanned quickly
• Bullets are a great way to present product attributes
Keep formatting simple
Don’t make important information look like advertising, or something that’s seperate from the rest of the page flow. Big red text gets ignored because it looks like a banner ad, so don’t use it to communicate important information. IT SHOULD GO WITHOUT SAYING THAT WRITING ALL IN CAPITALS IS A REALLY BAD IDEA.

Bold text stands out so you should use it.

Put information in predictable places
eBay are training your buyers where information is on a page. Shipping prices are in the shipping prices box; returns policy is (or should be) in the returns policy box. Condition (used/new) should be in the item specifics box as well as in the body of the listing. Omitting information from the expected places makes life more difficult for your buyers; don’t make them need to read through your entire listing, because they won’t.
Don’t distract
Scrolling galleries of cross-promotions should never be at the top of your listings; sell em what they’re looking at before you sell em something else.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations ๐Ÿ˜‰ and let me tell you, this works. I changed my own listing from
A packet of fifty beautiful Czech glass beads, 6mm diameter, in silver metallic finish


Size: 6mm diameter
Made of: Czech glass
Quantity in packet: 50
Finish: silver metallic

This not only cut the number of people who “bought the wrong thing”, it also slashed the number of ASQs I get. Listings that communicate effectively make life easier for everyone.

13 Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree more, keep it simple. Plus if you remove extra text like T&C and RP from your text it makes life so much easier if eBay listing policy changes,

  2. It’s what we’ve been saying and making our clients do for years. ๐Ÿ™‚

    In general, we don’t even like to see the linked page with heaps of policies. We know people don’t read those either.

    It’s definitely about economy of words, getting to the point, and staying friendly. No reason to threaten people or gripe in policies.

  3. It must be excellent post day today, 1st Chris’s super multichannel post and now this equally useful eye behavior piece.

    Well done Sue, these articles are the reason I keep coming back here. I get to be informed about ebay policy and have my online strategy constantly re-evaluated and improved.

    I just have to put this stuff into practice ๐Ÿ™„

  4. Funny how the simple things are the most effective. With eBay I often think less is more when it comes to item descriptions and listing pages.

    I still shudder whenever I see someone has wasted the time to put the different letters of the word E B A Y in different colours!

    There will of course always be the time and place for lengthy T&Cs or item descriptions that tell a story. It is often those one off wacky auctions that benefit from such detail. But if you are in the business of shifting volumes then Keep It Simple!

  5. Great site!!! I found you on technorati. Yes it is a shame people don’t read everything they should but I have no room to talk. In follow up e-mails once the merchandise is sold you can also give a run down of the terms before anything gets shipped.

  6. Depending on the technology of the item you are selling (I sell old collectible items), I would suggest that if you have buyers that are likely to be on dial up, do NOT put your picture at the top.

    I tend to read the text description of the item as I am waiting for pictures to load, and if three pictures are above the text my concentration is broken as the text moves down the page each time a picture space is expanded.

    I personally put the item description at the top of the listings, possibly wrongly finishing with the condition report. I have relatively brief terms below that. Although as things on Ebay have changed I currently have an extra paragraph on both my Australian and American listings currently (that is probably an excessive paragraph).

    I do believe that (basic) terms and conditions should be on the auction page, as just as people don’t read, I also don’t think they will folow additional links to find out whether they can pay by their method of choice unless it is a major purchase.

    Because I sell old items, I use bold to make obvious major faults with the item. I don’t know how to bullet, but have always run sub headings for things like maunufacturer/publisher, age, and a seperate line for dimensions (and number of pages where appropriate). I have always tried to keep my listings very simple but include ALL pertinent information, because I believe the seller is doing the full inspection of the product for the buyer.

    I get very few ASQ’s (and half are Australians asking why I list items they want in US dollars when I am in Australia).

    Kind Regards, Kevin (yes, too wordy)

  7. I dont read the terms and conditions every time I buy a pie from the bakers
    I assume their will be the normal terms that apply to these things and just stuff it in my face

    I would only read terms and conditions if the thing had a bite back at me

  8. I think that this article and the various comments show that people behave and approach an eBay listing in different ways. Yes, short (positively brief) works because it’s the most approachable… I’m surprised that people read 20%. ;o)

    But it also underlines that a combination of media can be effective to attract different user types. Text, pictures and now videos can be good ways of grabbing a buyer’s attention and, more importnatly, keeping it.

  9. These are great points. I’m reading a book on web copy and it has similar points as well. Gotta change my site to incorporate this thanks!


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