Hack 9 Focus Your Searches with eBay's Advanced Search Syntax


Simplify your searches by making them a little more complicated.

Why should exhaustive searches be so . . . exhausting? Whether you're performing a quick one-time search or repeating the same search every other day, you can dramatically improve the efficiency of your searches and the relevance of your search results with some simple modifications to your queries.

You could fine-tune your searches by going to Search Advanced Search, but this can be cumbersome and is mostly unnecessary due to the advanced search syntax.

2.2.1 Excluding Unwanted Results

Simply precede a search term with a minus sign (-) to eliminate any search results containing that term. For example, the query:

sunglasses -men's

will show all auctions containing "sunglasses" but not "men's", which should, at least in theory, show you a list of women's sunglasses. (Note that there's no space between the minus sign and the term "men's".) This approach is typically more effective than something like "women's sunglasses" because it will also include any auctions for gender-neutral sunglasses.

Naturally, you can exclude multiple terms, like this:

sunglasses -men's -children's -ugly

The scope of the excluded terms is the same as the scope of the search; that is, if you're searching only titles, the exclusions will apply only to titles. For example, the above example may bring up some auctions with "ugly" in the description, even though it doesn't appear in the title. Only if you're searching both titles and descriptions will eBay look in both places for excluded terms.

Exclusions open up a little paradox in eBay's search tool. In most cases, expanding a title-only search to include titles and descriptions will increase the number of search results. But when you exclude a word, a title-and-description search may return fewer results than the same search performed only on titles. Although this is caused by nothing more than the increased likelihood of finding one of the excluded terms when you search descriptions, I'm still sometimes surprised by it.

Be careful when excluding terms, especially when searching descriptions, because some sellers are sloppy with the words they include in their auctions. For instance, you might type:

digital camera -refurbished

to eliminate any refurbished (a.k.a. "factory reconditioned" or "factory renewed") cameras from your searches. But any auction that contains the phrase "Brand new; not refurbished" will also be excluded from your search.

2.2.2 Save Time and Typing with Wildcards

Place an asterisk (*) character in or after a search term to match all words that begin with that term. For example, the query:

phillips screwdriver*

will bring up auctions for "screwdriver" and "screwdrivers". An even better choice is:

phil* screwdriver*

which will catch the common misspelling "philips" as well.

As you might expect, if your wildcard searches are too general, you'll get a bunch of irrelevant results. A recent search for "phil* screwdriver*" brought up an auction for a Beatles recording because the auction description mentioned producer Phil Spector and a reference to a joke by John Lennon about a screwdriver.

Since wildcards can also appear in the middle of keywords, you can further focus your search with the following:

phil*ips screwdriver*

You can also use wildcards with exclusions. For example, if you're looking for women's sunglasses, you might type "sunglasses -men -men's -mens" to exclude results you don't want. But you could also use this much simpler version:

sunglasses -men*

to exclude all the different variants of auctions for men's sunglasses.

2.2.3 Performing OR Searches

By default, every eBay search is an AND search, meaning that each auction must match each and every search term; the more terms you specify, the narrower your search becomes. But if you're looking for multiple items, or for an item that can be described in several different ways, you can combine your terms into a single OR search.

Terms in an OR search are encased in parentheses and separated with commas. Let's say you're looking for anything by the Beatles or the Bee Gees; you'd type:


Note the absence of spaces around the commas and parentheses. You can also combine OR and AND searches; if you're looking for any videos by the Beatles, you might type:

beatles (video,videos,dvd,dvds,vhs)

Note the inclusion of singular and plural variations of some of the terms, which may or may not be necessary; see [Hack #10] for details.

2.2.4 Looking for Phrases

Enclose phrases in quotation marks, like this:

"abbey road"

or, to look only for the CD:

"abbey road" cd

Note that the term "cd" isn't in the quotes, since it could be anywhere in the title or description. Naturally, phrase searches can be combined with exclusions, wildcards, and OR searches. Type:

"abbey road" -cd

to look for all auctions except the CDs. Or, try:

("abbey road","white album") -cd

to include both these Beatles albums in your searches.

Want to see how valuable the quotation marks are in your searches? Try this search:

abbey road -"abbey road"

This will show you all auctions with these two words, except when they appear together in the phrase "abbey road". When I tried this, the first auction that came up was a signed LP by Barry Manilow. Enough said.