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Calgary, Alberta

Jewellery and accessories with a natural look; genuine fossils, shells & stones, with some authentic sea glass thrown in for good measure. Handmade in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 

My Blog about SEO & eCommerce, Mitochondrial Disease & Disability, & the Good Life

Blog posts from Cindy Lou Who 2 - a little eCommerce & SEO, some discussion of disability issues (including mitochondrial disease), some jewellery info, & the expected topics of beer, travel & recipes. 


Etsy Studio Sneak Peek - What the New Supply Site Will Look Like

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A screenshot of the drop down menu on every page; note that DIY tutorials are included on the right. 

A screenshot of the drop down menu on every page; note that DIY tutorials are included on the right. 

On Thursday, supply sellers finally got to look at Etsy's new DIY and supply website, Etsy Studio. The site will not be live until late April, but Etsy sent out invitation emails to anyone who has sold a supply item in 2017, giving them a chance to look at the whole venture. While there are likely to be several changes before launch, and (everyone hopes) the bugs will be ironed out by then, I thought I would do a quick overview now, especially for those of you who don't have access yet. If I don't cover what you want to know, please leave a question in the comments, or send me a message. 

Not familiar with Etsy Studio yet? Check out the FAQs, and my previous blog post

Etsy Studio's Search Seems To Be the Same Algorithm as Etsy's

For the moment anyway, the search results seem to be ranked the same on both sites, with the usual slight shuffling by a row or two. Etsy even states that the basic rules are mostly the same. (Find out more about how regular Etsy search works here.) I tested both small and large search results by comparing Studio to the same query on Etsy, filtered by the Craft Supply category. In a few cases, there seem to be a small number of listings missing from Studio, possibly because the results on Studio are not completely up to date. (There are some indications that very recent changes to listings are not always included on Studio, which may be a glitch, as they are still in beta.)

13 different filter choices for a "sterling silver chain" search, including "chain style" and "theme". 

13 different filter choices for a "sterling silver chain" search, including "chain style" and "theme". 

Although ranking is mostly the same now, the Studio algorithm will diverge from the main Etsy one eventually. Reviews for individual listings will be a factor for Studio's search (unlike on Etsy where only the overall shop review score is used), and the lack of ability to favourite an item will also change rankings between the two sites. It also is unlikely that listings on both sites will have the same quality scores when the two venues will have different search filters and top-level drop down categories. But at the moment, we just don't know how much rankings will change over time. 

All of the new attributes are available as search filters on the left of the search results page, meaning that buyers can limit their results to items with specific attributes selected by the seller. Some of these will be added to listings by Etsy automatically, but there have been many errors, so make sure to check all of your listings for attribute accuracy as soon as you can. And yes, that is a filter for free shipping, right at the top. 

Studio search results do not show shop names under the items, and you cannot search for a shop on Studio the same way you can on Etsy. The exception is people who have tagged their shop names, which is a wasted tag on Etsy but works on Studio. It does appear that Etsy is de-branding individual sellers on the Studio platform (see more analysis below). 

Note that search ads are included on Studio, and as on Etsy, they don't get filtered out by a buyer's choices. So listings without free shipping will be shown as ads in a "free shipping" search, and listings that only ship to the US will be shown as ads when a customer only wants to see things that ship to Australia. Etsy says that search on Studio will be localized for the same four countries as on Etsy, but this time, I could not find any regionalized searches by changing the "ships to" filter. It is possible that shoppers in Australia, Germany, France and the UK will see different rankings on Studio by Etsy applying these changes directly instead of letting us control them through filters, meaning that all people in those countries will only be able to see regionalized results. (Currently, you can change results for those countries on Etsy by changing the "ships to" filter.) That will be another interesting area to watch once the new site launches. 

Shop Home Page On Studio

The new shop home page layouts are sparse, but do include many elements from Etsy shops, as well as some new twists just for Studio. In general, shops look less individual, although shop icon and feedback ratings will appear on the new site.  

Your Etsy Studio Shop Home Page - banner free, and sorted by relevance. 

Your Etsy Studio Shop Home Page - banner free, and sorted by relevance. 

Experienced members will immediately notice the lack of a banner or cover photo on the shop home page. There is a fair amount of white space up top, with the shop icon, location, review average and total sales figure all pushed to the far left. The shop's About Page and Policies do stay the same as on Etsy, although Etsy's cookie-cutter policies are showing up in some shops at the moment; admin reassured sellers that this is a bug

Clicking on each row shows all of the reviews with that star rating

Clicking on each row shows all of the reviews with that star rating

There are no shop sections written by the seller; instead, the left side shows all of the site categories the shop's items are found in, as well several filters one can use to narrow down the shop: price, free shipping and "themes" included. Also missing is any way for the seller to arrange their products. The default appearance is "relevance", based on the search algorithm, but shoppers can also choose most recent and high or low prices as the order. 

Clicking on both the review stars and the "Reviews" link on the top menu is a surprise: it reveals the shop's most recent feedback, as well as the percentage of reviews for each star rating. Buyers can click on "1 star" and see all of the one-star reviews, similar to the set up on eBay. Seller replies are not included on Studio, meaning there is no context for bad reviews, which is frustrating for many shop owners. Only 10 reviews are shown per page (same as on Etsy), making it tedious for a customer to read all of the low-star feedback comments. That might be a good thing for any sellers hoping to keep old and bad feedback buried, however. 

Listings for Sale: More Homogenization 

Sellers unhappy about the de-branding of their shops on Etsy Studio will also be dismayed to see numerous other items for sale from other sellers on each listing. The top of each product page shows the title and photos, with the first part of the description visible on desktop, and variations (where applicable) on the right. Immediately under the partial description is a row of items "You might also like", with 6 items showing, and quite a few more available when you scroll to the side. Here, the similar items algorithm is working poorly (as it usually is, in my opinion) - on a listing for a finished sterling silver chain, this well-positioned row of products is offering unfinished chain, connectors and jump rings. A sterling clasp shows shoppers a choice of henna cones, a wooden storage box, and loom parts. Other articles show almost identical products on the same page, though, so this is something I hope they can figure out in the next month, as it almost seems random for some listings.  

Using Etsy's prewritten policies adds this message to each listing

Using Etsy's prewritten policies adds this message to each listing

Below that, a Studio product page shows up to five separate reviews for that particular item, with a link to see every review ever left for that item. Unlike Etsy, a Studio page will show reviews older than 12 months old on the product. Beneath come more articles from that shop, the shipping profile, and the shop's policies. Then Studio displays another row of items from other sellers, this one entitled "You might also need", once again fairly random things (on the various pages I checked). There is no indication that all of these items come from other sellers. 

While some of this cross-marketing is similar to the items shown on mobile when browsing Etsy, this goes much further, and is also visible on desktop. It is quite likely that Etsy intends to move further in this direction on the main site, possibly sooner rather than later. That is, if it leads to better sales per visitor on Studio.

One other note: sellers who use Etsy's canned policies will have "Returns and exchanges accepted; See this seller's return policy" on the right of each listing if they accept returns. Shop owners who have written their own policies will not see this notice on their items, even if they do take returns. 

The DIY Tutorials: Featured Items Sometimes not Available for Sale 

Do it yourself craft tutorials are a main selling point of Etsy Studio. Instead of being hidden on the blog, as they are on Etsy, these tutorials are featured in the drop down menu on each page, and the section also has its own link on the right end of the drop downs (see "Projects" in the first screenshot). They are not currently shown directly in shops or on search pages. Each Project features a difficulty rating, and many step-by-step photographs of the process. 

Etsy staff have made a big deal out of the fact you can buy the materials and tools needed for each tutorial by clicking just once to add everything to your basket (cart). Sounds great to some people, but in practice, this is kind of a mess right now. I tried this with a few different Projects, and found articles that were sold out, didn't ship to Canada, or were showing as unavailable because the seller updated variations on the listing after Etsy added the item to the tutorial. While there are supposed to be several alternative items for each product that is added to your basket, some listings shown are not a good match, and in a few instances, the area was blank. If Etsy expects buyers to use this feature, it is going to need massive improvement. 

How are these featured listings chosen? No one is sure, but I was surprised to see items with low quantities (some things had only one available), sold by shops that had relatively few sales, featured on some Projects. I am not sure if staff will be contacting shops to let them know about the features before Studio goes live, or if they will require higher quantities available on simple beginner projects that could potentially have more demand. Other featured products came from very large shops with tens of thousands of sales and had a large number for sale, so there doesn't seem to be many rules as to whose shop can appear on a Project.  

Final Thoughts - What Does Etsy's Future Look Like Now? 

Like many observers, I am speculating that some of the more controversial aspects (to sellers, anyway) of Studio will be popping up on the main site in the near future. We know they plan on adding more filters using the new attribute system, but I will not be surprised if more changes, such as more listings from other shops on product pages, and a removal of seller names from search, are right around the bend. I am fully convinced we should consider Etsy Studio as a test zone for Etsy proper, at least in part. That doesn't mean everything from Studio will show up on Etsy later, though. 

If Studio is a success, Etsy may decide to remove all supplies from the main site at some point; even though they say they have no immediate plans to do this, it is clear that the option is on the table. It is hard to predict how well this option could work, since many of us have mixed shops with some supplies and some finished products, or some pure vintage. I don't feel this is automatically what the future holds for supply sellers. However, I do expect Etsy will do no promotion, & perhaps no advertising, for supply items on Etsy proper in the future, once Studio is running smoothly; funnelling that effort to the separate site makes more business sense for them. Therefore, Studio could dramatically change sales for some supply shops, with the featured items, free shipping filters and less-branded home pages. Many supply shops rely on a large number of repeat buyers, but it may be harder to keep your own buyers with so many generic features. So if you make a living on supplies, make sure you are funnelling your repeat customers to your own website. Do not rely on your Etsy traffic to stay consistent. 

***UPDATED: May 20th, 2017

Sign Up For My Blog Email List!

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, summer 2016

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, summer 2016

I finally have an email list for new blog posts - just click here to sign up. The only required field is your email address, which I promise I will only use to send new blog posts. 

Everyone signed up will receive any new blog posts in their email box within a day of the post being published. Don't worry; I don't blog too often, but there is an "unsubscribe" link in each email if you get tired of reading about ecommerce, Etsy, travel etc.  

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Etsy Announces Major Changes - What Sellers Need to Know, February 2017

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New Listing Attributes and Etsy Studio Mean Lots of Changes to Search Optimization on the Horizon

Etsy announced a new website for craft supplies and DIY tutorials this week, but everything there will also be for sale on Etsy. What's the difference? 

Etsy announced a new website for craft supplies and DIY tutorials this week, but everything there will also be for sale on Etsy. What's the difference? 

Sellers on Etsy, the ecommerce site for handmade, vintage and supply items, were hit with a flood of announcements about upcoming changes on Tuesday. Many details are still uncertain, but I am going to lay out what we know so far in regards to search changes, and will update this post with new information as it becomes available. 

Don't panic: it will be at least a few weeks, and perhaps a few months, before search changes take effect [UPDATE: Etsy has begun testing the attributes in search as of March 27, and so far, none are permanent for everyone, although the occasion attribute is searchable for most people as of the week of May 20th], and the filters will not be added until after that point. It's always best to gather information before changing all of your listings. These new options are being rolled out slowly, so you may not even have them available yet. Also, Etsy is working on a tool to speed up the editing process when adding these new attributes, so editing may become easier very soon. [UPDATE: the tool is now live as of March 9, although not everyone will have it immediately]

screenshot Etsy listing attributes

New Item Attributes - More options to categorize products

Etsy has been developing new attributes for listings for a few months now; I was lucky to be on the prototype team since November, giving me a bit more insight into how they will work. We can divide them up into three different areas: pre-set occasion and holiday attributes, primary and secondary colour options (involving both pre-set and customizable slots) and item-specific attributes such as pendant height, clothing size and pillow length and width. 

The pre-set list of colour options that will eventually be available as search filters. 

The pre-set list of colour options that will eventually be available as search filters. 

As you can see on the left, all of these fields are optional, but Etsy staff have stated that these fields will be searchable, and will also eventually be used as search filters, so it is best to fill them out whenever they apply to your items. For colours, choose the closest option possible (then tag and title your item with your preferred colour word/phrase, if it is different). 

Have variations that are long lists of colour options? No problem! Etsy offers 19 different pre-set colours (including "rainbow"), plus the option to add your own custom hues. If Etsy does not import your existing variations into the new format, choose "I offer more than one" at the bottom of the colour drop-down, then select or enter each colour in the variations section of your listing page. Both pre-set and custom colours will be searchable once Etsy activates those functions, but only the pre-set choices will be available as search filters when they are introduced later in the year. 

Note that if your listing is in the Weddings category, the "Wedding" attribute will be pre-selected for you under Occasion. If one of the attributes, for example necklace length, is something that you already offer as a variation, Etsy *may* convert your previous options into their permanent ones, as they did with many of my old "necklace length" variations. But pay attention - sometimes they are getting it wrong. You may need to do some editing if they don't fix these issues quickly. And unfortunately, that doesn't mean you will get an extra variation; we are still limited to two per listing. 

If these attributes do not apply to your item, then don't use them. No listings will be directly penalized in search for not using attributes; there is no extra bonus in search for using them, unlike the search benefit from renew sold, for example. I have seen a lot of people misunderstanding some admin responses and thinking that custom colour and other variations will not be searchable, but that is not true; any custom colour or other variation you type in yourself will be included in search in the near future once these changes roll out. [UPDATE: custom variations still aren't searchable as of May 20th]  This is a big improvement for people with lengthy variation lists, as it is currently impossible to fit all those options into tags. 

However, if someone searches for an "aqua doll dress", then filters that search using the "blue" colour option from Etsy's filters, your item will only show up if you have selected "blue" from Etsy's colour choices. That is not a penalty; it is just common sense, as they can't filter search by every colour word 1 million shop owners come up with. (Too many options is worse than having no options at all, from a buyer standpoint.) So if the attributes do make some sense for your shop, make sure you start updating your listings soon. If more than one option could apply, use different options on different products, so that you maximize your exposure. 

Admin on the prototype team told us that Etsy will eventually be converting between metric and imperial measurements for these attributes, a long-overdue tool on an international site. Problem is, they haven't done that yet, and the dimension attribute fields will not accept characters other than numbers, so you cannot add both systems to each variation option (as I have been doing up until now). You can still set up new custom variations instead, but they will not be included in Etsy's search filters, once those become available. 

materials and attributes display

Bonus of this new addition: more details about your products will now be visible on mobile and the Etsy app, as shown on the left. For those who are tired of answering questions that are covered in your item descriptions (which are hidden on mobile), this is a welcome improvement. 

However, these changes will be very onerous for large shops, and already some sellers are bitterly protesting the work required, especially since there are no bulk editing tools, and Etsy has removed the ability to enter all variations at the same time separated by commas. If Etsy rushes the search changes before people have had a chance to edit everything, expect a huge outcry. 

How will this affect search? 

As mentioned above, the new attributes will be used as filters in the future, so buyers will be able to narrow down selection. The attributes, both pre-set and custom, will also now be searchable, just like titles and tags. It is impossible to predict how that change will alter search rankings, because we don't know whether the attributes will get the same weight as tags, or if repeating words will be necessary in all 3 places (title, tags, and attributes). Etsy will announce when the new fields are an active part of the search algorithm [UPDATE: attributes will begin testing as of March 27], but they will not announce any of the testing that may give us some clues. [UPDATE: it looks like attributes might have about the same weight as tags, as admin says you can get rid of any tags that are exactly the same as an attribute, but my early testing as of May 20 is giving them extra weight, meaning you would need attributes in addition to tags and titles. We don't know if Etsy will keep it this way, however]. 

The truth is, no one knows how Etsy's search results will change, not even the search engineers at this point. When you introduce a major new element, an algorithm isn't usually predictable. Until a significant number of shops are using attributes, and Etsy actually releases the search changes for everyone, we won't be able to say how important these changes will be to the existing rankings. Keep checking back for an updated post on these issues! 

Etsy Studio - Etsy's New Website marketplace for DIY

The announcement about a new crafting website, coming in April, took a lot of people by surprise, but it is a natural expansion of Etsy's long term business plan, which goes well beyond the main website. I expect there may be more such announcements in the next few years.

The site will focus on people interested in do-it-yourself projects, providing detailed tutorials with various levels of difficulty. Staff will curate lists of all supplies needed for each creation, which can be purchased with just one click. Unlike most new websites, Etsy Studio will be populated with all supply products for sale on the existing site, and staff have stated there will be no extra cost to sellers for all of their supply listings to appear in both places. Many expect that that setup will change within a year or two if things go smoothly, however. Note that any listings which do not take Paypal or Etsy's Direct Checkout will not be shown on Studio

Supply listings will get a special set of new attributes, which Etsy has not yet released [UPDATE: the new categories and attributes for supplies have been released as of March 9]. You can get a sneak preview in the video on the right at about the 16:35 mark, where they show searching and shopping on the new site. Buyers will be able to filter items by such qualities as "recycled" and "free shipping", as well as item-specific attributes. For example, the search shown is for yarn, so filters for both fiber type and yarn weight are available. UPDATE: supply sellers now have early access to all of Etsy Studio, as of March 23. Read my review, including search testing, here

Etsy has not released much information on these new supply attributes, except that they are coming soon, and that they will affect search on both sites, as both searchable terms and as filters, eventually.

UPDATE: in addition to the new attributes, the supply listing categories will also be getting an overhaul, on both sites. This includes adding commercial party supplies to the supply category. Many other items are moving into the supply category for the first time, such as baking pans and finished picture frames. The full list of new categories across the site is here. These changes are so extensive that I will be doing a separate blog post on them soon. 

Some are concerned that having listings on both websites will be a problem for Google SEO, which doesn't like duplicate content. Etsy claims everything will be fine. While it is true that altering the title tag codes and adding different elements to each page can help avoid Google issues, repeating product descriptions on different websites was a large reason that some sites were heavily affected by the Panda algorithm a few years back. Furthermore, no one knows when Google could tighten up their definition, so what works today may not work in a few months. Fortunately for sellers on the main Etsy marketplace, the site that would be penalized would likely be Etsy Studio, not the existing site. Established individual listings would probably still get better weight than Etsy Studio copies, although it is hard to say what would happen with new listings.

Sellers do not need to do anything to make sure their supply items are included on Etsy Studio - the process is automatic. Do check to make sure that all of your supplies are properly categorized as supplies so that everything eligible will get this extra exposure. 

Will Etsy Studio Affect Etsy Search? 

Yes, search on the existing Etsy marketplace will be affected by the introduction of Studio. First, selling something on Studio will give a listing a renew-sold bump on Etsy, since the listing exists in both places. This works the same as items that sell off of Pattern sites or in person using the card reader, but is likely to be a much larger number of sales once Studio gets going. Second, Etsy will be using the new supply categories and attributes on both sites, meaning any listing that uses them might gain additional search terms, and will have the ability to be found in searches filtered by these attributes and categories. As with the other new attributes, everyone should do their best to make sure that all eligible listings have the correct variations and sub-categories chosen, if any apply. 


I will update this post with any new announcements or clarifications, and will write more about the search algorithm changes once they are live for everyone. Sign up here to get all of my new blog posts via email. If I have missed anything, or you have a question, please leave a comment, or send me an email, and I will be happy to update the information! 

***Last Updated May 20th, 2017

Canada Post Holiday Season Shipping Deadlines, 2016

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Photo Credit: Christmas Poinsettia, Staplehurst, by H Matthew Howarth; Creative Commons License

Photo Credit: Christmas Poinsettia, Staplehurst, by H Matthew Howarth; Creative Commons License

Just a quick reminder that shipping from Canada to pretty much anywhere - including Canada - can be slower than you might hope, so if you want to receive your order by December 24th (which is a Saturday this year), here are Canada Post's suggested Christmas shipping deadlines for 2016:

  • Canada - packages December 12 (Xpresspost is December 21); lettermail Dec. 19 (my items ship lettermail)
  • United States - December 12 (Xpresspost is December 16)
  • Africa - November 25
  • Asia - December 2
  • Australia - December 2
  • Caribbean - December 2
  • Central America - December 2
  • Europe - December 2
  • Middle East - December 2
  • New Zealand - December 2
  • South America - December 2

I am unable to offer the faster Xpresspost option automatically on this website for countries other than the US and Canada, but just let me know if you are interested, and I will be happy to calculate it for your location and send you an invoice. 

Since these are only "suggested" guidelines, I strongly recommend buying your gifts before the date listed for your region, given the known delays at this time of year. 

You can check out Canada Post's detailed recommendations here

Happy Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week! September 18-24, 2016

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Image Copyright: MitoAction

Image Copyright: MitoAction

Yes, it is that time again! Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week runs from today (September 18th) to Saturday, September 24th. A whole seven days to get the word out about a little-known neuromuscular disorder that involves dysfunction of mitochondria, aka the powerhouse of the cell. People with mitochondrial disease (such as myself) experience a wide range of symptoms across many syndromes, including muscle weakness, deafness, cardiomyopathy and mental disabilities. 

Events are being held around the world, and everyone is encouraged to participate - some ideas can be found here, & here. Or join a support group to get more involved with people affected my "mito" - there are many chat groups on Facebook, for example. 

Looking for a mitochondrial disease organization in your country? Check these groups out around the world:

I will be tweeting awareness all week, using the hashtag #MitoAwarenessWeek. Please take a few minutes to read and share information about mitochondrial disease! 

The Calgary Tower is lit green tonight (Sept. 18) for Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week

The Calgary Tower is lit green tonight (Sept. 18) for Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week

Coprolite Fossil Hearts, Dinosaur Charms & Other Great New Jewellery Items

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Some of my new dinosaur coprolite beads - carved into hearts! Poop has never been so romantic

Some of my new dinosaur coprolite beads - carved into hearts! Poop has never been so romantic

Dino Dung Just Got a Little More Awesome ...

I have spent some of my summer sourcing new supplies, including new fossil dinosaur poop! Not only do I now have coprolite heart shapes, I also have been able to drop all of my other dino dung prices a bit, because I now have a more secure source of larger pendant beads. So if you had your eye on some coprolite, you have just saved yourself some cash! Check them all out here.

Click the photo for dinosaur charms that can be added to any pendant necklace or key chain! 

Click the photo for dinosaur charms that can be added to any pendant necklace or key chain! 

Also in the paleontology realm - I have new dinosaur charms that can be added to any piece of jewellery and most key chains. While I selected these for dinosaur fossil items, they will also work well with a lot of the other interesting stones I have, especially labradorite and quartz, so let your imagination run wild! 

Bigger Selection of Raw, Uncut Stones 

I also have some new raw stones coming soon, including green amethyst, ametrine (amethyst and citrine), apatite and some beautiful iolite, plus some tourmaline chips, new lava, other charms - and genuine ammolite pendants. Yes, I have finally added ammolite to my fossil collections! Keep checking my new items page, as I will try to add everything as soon as possible.

Introducing Colourful Agate Jewellery 

Finally, I have just opened my agate section, soon to be filled with a rainbow selection of agates slices, slabs and other beads. I've started with a few pendant necklaces for now, but I promise more earrings, bracelets and key chains in the near future. 

Remember, there are many gift giving holidays coming up in the next few months - order early to avoid disappointment! 

Doesn't this big agate geode look like a watermelon slice? 

Doesn't this big agate geode look like a watermelon slice? 

Canada Post Strike Possible, 2016 - Shipping Notice

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I may be auditioning some delivery alternatives ...  "Pigeons", by Jocelyn, under Creative Commons License. 

I may be auditioning some delivery alternatives ...  "Pigeons", by Jocelyn, under Creative Commons License

UPDATED (August 30): ***Canada Post has reached a tentative agreement with its two largest unions, likely averting a strike or lockout for the next two years, so unless the unions do not ratify the contracts, the rest of this blog post is now obsolete***

If a full walk out or lockout eventually occurs, the federal government has said they will not legislate them back to work, at least not right away, so this could be a lengthy disruption. I will continue to update this post with more information as it becomes available.

As of today (August 26th), I will continue to ship all orders within 2 business days, although I will be warning all Canadian customers that a work stoppage may occur before their items arrive. Fortunately, my non-Canadian orders usually get out of the country on the same day they are mailed, so those orders will ship normally for the time being. 

In the event of a full strike or lockout, I will have several different options available:

  • Calgary-area customers can contact me to arrange a pickup point for their orders.
  • Shipping via courier will be available for any customers who want to pay the additional shipping fees. Contact me for a quote! 
  • For all other purchases, I will be shipping American orders via the United States Postal Service (USPS) once a week from Montana. USPS shipping to some countries other than Canada will also be possible for an additional fee. 

Need to mail something and want alternatives to Canada Post in case they close down? I've compiled some major options here

I will be updating this post with any new information as the situation develops; check back often. 

Canada Post Alternatives: Other Shipping Companies in Canada

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So, you are worried about a Canada Post lockout or strike (get updates here), but you don't know any other affordable shipping companies to fill the gap? Don't want to shut your ecommerce business on eBay or Amazon until Canadian mail is moving again? Fortunately, there are some established options out there, including several services that will truck packages across the American border to ship via the United States Postal Service. 

Note: The following lists do not mean I am endorsing any of these companies, and I have not received any compensation to link to any of them. I am sharing this list because I spent some time compiling it for Canadian Etsy sellers I know, and thought it might be useful to others too. 

National Courier Companies

Most large courier companies in Canada have locations in most provinces, and provide national and international services. However, coverage can be minimal to nonexistent in many remote or rural areas, and prices are all over the map. One company may be cheaper for mailing between points A and B, while another company gives the best rates between cities C and D. Also, courier prices are often more in line with Canada Post rates for a larger package, but small items are several times the cost of regular mail.  The following list shows the cost to ship a small bubble envelope with a $50 value from Calgary to St. John's, Newfoundland on July 6th, 2016 (tax not included, cheapest rate selected, no customer discounts applied):

Signing up for an account may make you eligible for discounts (e.g., UPS is giving me a small business rate of 20% off the price listed above), as can a high volume of packages. Note, however, that there are rumours that Canpar is limiting new customers until any Canada Post disruption is over, and FedEx may be limiting volume for some clients. You will need to contact each company to make sure they will be able to cover your needs.

Regional Shipping Services

There are numerous businesses that provide shipping and freight services within a city or region; therefore, I have restricted this list to those who ship outside of Canada (although some also provide in-Canada service as well). Do check with each company for more details on their current service levels and time frames, and other details regarding requirements, as most request a spreadsheet detailing each of your parcels being shipped. 

Chit Chats Express - the most national and established alternative that ships via the United States Postal Service (USPS). Opened in 2001, they now have offices in Toronto and surrounding cities, plus Halifax and Richmond (BC). Fees are 65 to 85 cents per package, plus the US postage cost. They also have courier arrangements to ship within Canada and internationally. Print US postage at home or in their offices; check with your nearest location for details, as services vary by city. Ontario offices have arrangements for within-Canada shipping in the event of a Canada Post work stoppage.

DYK Post: shipping via USPS from their main office in Calgary, with pickups 3 days a week in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta. Costs $1 and up per package to ship via USPS, FedEx or UPS in Montana on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Print your own USPS postage or do it at their office. Contact them to set up a billing account if you are not shipping from Calgary. They also provide a Montana address for deliveries and will bring any packages to you for just $10 (and up) plus taxes due. 

Parcel for Less: southern Ontario shipper with main offices in Hamilton and Mississauga, with some services in other surrounding cities. Their fees start at 60 cents per package. Print postage labels online or at their offices. 

Canvus Express - located in Vancouver, shipping six days a week to USPS for delivery in the United States and other countries. You can bring in prepaid packages or print USPS labels at their office. 

Do It Yourself Shipping from the United States

Live close to the border? You may want to try shipping via USPS (or other American service providers) on your own. Make sure you do your research first, including contacting your closest border crossing to get their advice on the quickest legal way to bring your packages into the US. There is a per-crossing fee (or you can pay for a yearly pass), and border agents generally prefer any parcels remain unsealed so they can be inspected if necessary. While many USPS offices allow you to use a Canadian return address on their packages, some online merchants prefer to set up a PO box in the US to avoid any issues. An American address is also necessary to use some online label services. 


If I have missed any useful tips, or if you know of any other companies that should be included here, please send me a message or leave a note in the comments. This post will be updated as required. 

Poll: Adding Lava & Obsidian Creations to my Website

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One of the lava rock creations I will be adding to the website in the coming weeks - black lava key chain. 

One of the lava rock creations I will be adding to the website in the coming weeks - black lava key chain. 

I am slowly adding more items to my website shop, including some pieces made with real lava & snowflake obsidian, both products of volcanic activity. To me, that seems like a geology geek thing, so my inclination is to put them all in the Science Geek Gifts section, but they would also be a good fit for Natural & Raw Stones. What do you think? 

You can respond in the comments, or take my poll on Twitter or Google Plus. Thanks! 

Etsy's New Shop Home Page - SEO Implications

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Etsy announced a new shop home page design March 15, with this hard-to-miss banner across the top of seller shop pages. 

Etsy announced a new shop home page design March 15, with this hard-to-miss banner across the top of seller shop pages. 

After weeks of bugs that led most members to suspect major changes were coming, Etsy announced a new design for sellers' shop home pages on March 15th, 2016, with a full three weeks' warning before it goes live April 5th. You would need a whole website to collect and dissect the opinions and complaints about the new design, so I will instead skip directly to my specialty: how the changes affect search engine optimization (SEO), both on and off Etsy. 

There are four main areas you need to know about:

This sales total below the new shop sections no longer needs to be clickable; sellers can hide the page showing each of their sold items, if they choose to do so. 

This sales total below the new shop sections no longer needs to be clickable; sellers can hide the page showing each of their sold items, if they choose to do so. 

1) Hiding sales totals: one addition that has been long requested by some sellers, the ability to remove the Sold orders page from the shop home page did create some concern that sold listings would no longer bring in traffic from Google and other outside sources. Fortunately, each individual sold item page will still be visible to visitors if they have a direct link to it: from Google, a blog, their favourites or even a bookmark in their browser. The only difference from today is that sellers will have the option to hide the pages which show each item sold by date. This may make it a little more difficult for others to copy a shop's most popular products. 

2) Five new shop sections: each shop can now use up to 15 separate sections (up from 10) to organize their items, although it is still not possible to place a listing in more than one section. While these new section titles are additional keywords that Google and other search engines can read, they won't do much to help a shop home page move higher on Google for most searches, as they do not receive any special value from Google. 

3) Shop Announcement is now optional: Etsy announced that the shop announcement field could be hidden, by which they actually meant "could be deleted". Since Etsy currently uses the Shop Announcement field as the meta description for Google and other search engines - the part of the web page often excerpted on search engine results pages (SERPs) - deleting it would make it harder to compel searchers to click on an Etsy shop link from the SERPs. After some of us raised this concern, Etsy changed the coding so that the meta descriptions will now read:

"Browse unique items from [shopname] on Etsy, a global marketplace of handmade, vintage and creative goods"

and then refused to answer any questions about the change - see the posts here under the staff member's claims about SEO improvements. 

Meta descriptions are no longer important for ranking on search engines; their value today lies in compelling searchers to visit your website. Moz, the company that did Etsy's SEO redesign back in 2009 (which made Etsy shop announcements double as meta descriptions for the first time), describes the role of meta descriptions as follows: "[they] are extremely important in gaining user click-through from SERPs. These short paragraphs are a webmaster’s opportunity to advertise content to searchers and to let them know exactly whether the given page contains the information they're looking for." 

This Etsy change removes each shop's ability to present themselves to their target markets as they know best. The new meta description is simply an ad for Etsy as a website, completely belying Etsy's claim that the new design will "give you the tools you need to tell your unique story". There is no way "to express your brand in a way that makes sense for your business" when Etsy completely strips all uniqueness from each shop's links on outside search engines. The fact that staff refuse to discuss or explain this, unlike many other changes that are part of this redesign, shows that they were hoping to slip this erasure of individual shops' branding through without anyone noticing. 

Etsy could easily remove the shop announcement from the new home page design and still give sellers the ability to fill out a meta description field; many website builders offer meta descriptions that are not visible on the page. Management chose instead to put generic Etsy branding in the place of individual seller branding. This is in line with Etsy's approach in the last few years: making sure the Etsy stamp is seen on as many outside links to Etsy shops/listings as possible, at the expense of the individual sellers. (For a recent example, check out the orange E "tags" on Shop Updates, which were primarily designed for social media promotion.) Expect to see more "generification" - morphing specific shops into the generic Etsy whole - in upcoming changes. And definitely expect to see upcoming changes! 

UPDATE: Etsy completed the rollout of the new design today, but Google has already begun reflecting the changes in the SERPs. While many shops are showing up with Etsy's generic blurb as their snippet, Google is also showing various combinations of listing titles, parts of shop announcements, and even a few section titles in the SERP snippets for some shops. Most of the shops who are currently not showing the generic Etsy line in the SERPs are older shops, larger shops with more on their home page, and shops with a good web presence. There is no guarantee that Google will continue to do this, however, especially once it realizes that all of these pages have changed permanently. Also, you cannot control what Google does choose to show if it doesn't show the generic Etsy line; it will choose from any listings and elements on the page, as opposed to the previous almost blanket use of shop announcements as the snippet. 

(Note - the shop announcement will still be readable by Google and other search engines, but it won't get any special weight from Google in particular, and is very unlikely to be the entire snippet Google shows in its SERPs, although other search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo may show any text they consider relevant)

A screenshot of part of the new "simplified" policy template. Existing shops may keep their pre-existing policies, but will not receive the small advantage in search that is being given to those who use Etsy's template. 

A screenshot of part of the new "simplified" policy template. Existing shops may keep their pre-existing policies, but will not receive the small advantage in search that is being given to those who use Etsy's template. 

4) Shops Using Etsy's "Simplified" Policies Get a Small Bump in Etsy Search: Part of the shop home page redesign includes a new simplified policy template, which will appear at the bottom of each shop home page instead of on a separate "Policies" page as it does now. This template has been a flashpoint for most of the anger surrounding the redesign, in part because it does not comply with many countries' laws, and, when introduced, did not reflect the circumstances of many types of sellers, including digital download shops (who have no shipping times or Customs issues to mention).  Etsy also caught flack for prepopulating the EU-required seller information form with members' names and addresses, but have since reversed that action. 

But the biggest complaint has been that, despite the poor wording and actual illegality for some jurisdictions, Etsy wants every shop to use this template, and will therefore reward sellers who adopt it with "a slightly higher boost in search", to go along with the small boost you already receive for having policies written out at all. 

In response to the complaints, Etsy has modified the "Shipping" section so digital sellers can remove it, and has introduced a special template for German shops, since Germany's commerce laws are quite different from most other countries. However, they have not modified some of the questioned language, nor have they removed the search boost for shops using these policies - that boost will kick in once the new design rolls out April 5th. 

Etsy first added the "Customer and Marketplace Experience" elements to its search algorithm in November, and admin claim this new addition to those factors is very slight. Given that most observers have not been able to detect significant effects from the November algorithm changes, I suspect they are not misleading sellers on this point. However, it remains to be seen what the cumulative effect of multiple "slight boosts" will be, given that Etsy seems to be adding new search factors all the time, and some of them are not going to be adopted by some established sellers. A shop that follows Etsy on each of these factors could end up with a much larger boost over a shop that adopts none of them. 

To test the effect of this algorithmic change, I will not be using the new policy template in my jewellery shop, and will carefully track my search standing with various types of queries both before and after the new home page launch. I will update this blog post next week with a summary of my observations. Update: as of April 14th, I am not seeing any real drops in relevancy; I summarize my observations here

What Will Etsy's Next Changes Be?

I expect that Etsy will continue to tweak this design and adjust some of the major sticking points, such as the wording of the policy template, over the next month or so. It is possible that some of the less-widely known changes, such as the disappearance of the meta description, will create a surge of complaints after the launch, and Etsy may choose to respond to those concerns. Some complaints have already caused Etsy to retreat from their plans, so more change is possible. I do not expect they will remove the policy-search boost, however.

Sellers should look for a new listing page this year, as the current one is now going to clash with the shop home pages; Etsy has not announced any plans for that development, but it could happen fairly quickly, once the home page is debugged. I also anticipate we will continue to see more "carrot & stick" attempts to get shop owners to follow Etsy's preferred methods of operation, and to use more Etsy products such as Direct Checkout and shipping labels. The small benefits for following Etsy's brand dictates, and the punishments for refusing to do so, will increasingly become standard operation for the company, as it continues to grow and try to keep stockholders happy with larger gross profits. Etsy still remains a viable platform for small business, but no one should expect that platform to be stable over the next year or so, as Etsy rapidly evolves into a different type of company.

UPDATE, April 6: It appears that some of the impetus for this redesign was the launch of Etsy's "Pattern" option for Etsy shops. 

Sterling Silver Clip On Earring Converters Now in Stock!

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Brand new - clip on earring findings in .925 sterling silver

Brand new - clip on earring findings in .925 sterling silver

I have been searching forever for an affordable source for sterling silver clip on earring findings, and am pleased to say I have finally found them! Shown above, the clips are perfect for people who don't have pierced ears but still want to wear my earrings. They are available for purchase as a separate item, and they can also be added to any earrings if you contact me before you purchase. 

One of my regular sterling silver suppliers recently added these to their website; I did order a sample and test them first. Happy to say that they work well, and should support a small to medium weight earring dangle.

If you want a pair before I get them added in my Etsy shop, please let me know! 

Shipping Rates for 2016 (Spoiler Alert - They're Going Up)

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Bow River just below Bow River Falls, Banff National Park - most of Alberta is looking like this today. Hope it is as pretty where you are as well! 

Bow River just below Bow River Falls, Banff National Park - most of Alberta is looking like this today. Hope it is as pretty where you are as well! 

Happy 2016 to everyone! I hope the year has gotten off to a good start. 

This is the time of year when Canada Post raises its rates, but unfortunately they have not yet confirmed what the new prices will be for most of my items on Monday (January 11, 2016). Going by prices released by Etsy this week, I have tentatively set my new rates as follows:

  • Basic Shipping to Canada: $2.70 USD
  • Basic Shipping to USA: $5.75 USD
  • Basic Shipping, Everywhere Else: $8.29 USD

For the few larger items I sell on Etsy, the new rates will be:

  • Oversized Shipping to Canada: $12 USD (overages will be refunded)
  • Oversized Shipping to USA: $7.85 USD (flat rate to the entire US, so no overages)
  • Oversized Shipping, Everywhere Else: $10.50 USD (overages will be refunded)

However, I will not be changing the shipping prices on any of my sites until Monday, once I am sure of the new rates, so you can still take advantage of my current lower shipping rates until Monday, January 11th. 

When the Canadian dollar started dropping dramatically last fall, I did lower my shipping rates for the holiday season, but the new increases from Canada Post, along with increases in packaging costs, insurance and credit card processing fees mean that I unfortunately do need to pass some of my costs along at this point. 

Most other postal services are also raising their prices this month, and many are even higher than Canada Post's, especially for smaller sized items. I have done my best to keep my rates competitive while still shipping worldwide and providing insurance on your orders. Thank you for your understanding! 

UPDATE: On January 10th, just 1 day before the new prices took effect, Canada Post confirmed the prices for the shipping classes I use most often, so the above prices are correct.