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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's Plans for the Search Algorithm & Promoted Listings in 2018: Updates

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 The infamous slide #9 from Etsy's conference call on the first quarter financial results.

The infamous slide #9 from Etsy's conference call on the first quarter financial results.

Context Specific Ranking (CSR) Has Been Added to Etsy Search Ads, Your "Citizen Score", and Even More Change Coming

 

As I have mentioned in my last few blog posts, Etsy's search algorithm is undergoing significant changes right now, including with Promoted Listings (aka search ads, sometimes called PLs). This piece comes in two parts: the first part will explain some of Etsy's plans for PLs, including a change earlier this year, and the second part will detail some key points from a Q&A session given by one of Etsy's search engineers, describing the current and future state of the search algorithm. I'll tie it together with some brief analysis, and advice on how to cope with the next several months of turbulence.

 

Promoted Listings - Aiming for More Relevance to Buyers

 

Four times a year, Etsy releases a financial report for the previous quarter, including a conference call for media and investment groups. It's a great way to learn about the company's financial performance, as well as about recent Etsy changes, and both short- and long-term plans for the site. (I do a thread in the Etsy forum each time; the most recent is here.)

The 2018 first quarter report came with a set of slides that included the graphic above, which generated a great deal of discussion among sellers. CEO Josh Silverman used the slide to demonstrate how adding Context Specific Ranking (CSR) to the Promoted Listings algorithm improved results for such basic searches as "wedding dress", showing more dresses and fewer related items such as hangers.  (See my previous explanations of CSR here & here.) But what most of us wanted to know was: what do the words on the left mean? Are they colour-coded for buyer and seller elements? Are listings with a slower delivery speed at a disadvantage in search?

Since speculation can be dangerous, I contacted Etsy directly with some of these questions. Here is what I learned from Etsy staff, via email:

  • a lot of what was discussed in the conference call, and is mentioned on the slide, is not yet part of Etsy search or promoted listings. (The staff member directed me towards the usual warnings that the report contains "forward-looking statements".)
  • the red, serif-font words are about buyers, while the black sans-serif words are about listings/sellers.
  • "age" does mean the age of the searcher, but that is one of the elements that is still being researched for future use.
  • "delivery speed" refers to the processing time for the item, but it is another element that is not currently being used in search or for PLs.
  • "favorites" are still currently being used for ranking.
  • if any new factors that sellers can adjust to end up being added to the search algorithm or PLs, Etsy will let sellers know what they need to do to improve their rankings.

Some shop owners are concerned that adding the item processing time (delivery speed) to the algorithm will favour shops that don't do custom work, and I think that is a valid worry, probably the biggest one from this slide. Many personalized and custom handmade items take time to prepare. However, remember that there are so many elements to the algorithm these days, and some have very little weight, so this element wouldn't automatically have much impact - we will have to wait and see how it works, if they even decide to use it at all.

Some of you have asked, how Etsy would know a buyer's age? In some cases, that will be publicly known, whether it is from social media or public records, and may be checked against the birth date we can add to our profiles. Some people will have given Etsy access to this data when registering a credit card, as it is used for credit reports. However, Etsy is also using data from its business and marketing partners, such as Facebook. Check out Etsy's privacy policy for more info on how they collect data on you, especially under "Information from Third Parties". So yes, they probably know the ages of many, many members, along with a lot of other data.

 

How Etsy's Search Algorithm Decides Ranking - The Latest from the Search Team

 

Etsy's head of Search Ranking, Andrew Stanton, recently did a question and answer session with the Etsy Seller Success Facebook group,* and while I didn't read very much that was new to me, there were a few interesting reveals, and a lot of confirmation of what we already knew, or at least suspected.

*[I am not a member of this group, but have been given these posts to pass along to you. There is some background on the group's set up here.]

Ranking Factors I Have Been Telling You About for a Long Time:

  • the first few words of a title no longer have any special weight in the algorithm (but they may compel people to click, and can help with Google ranking, so they are still important). No word on why Etsy hasn't bothered to change the Help files, which still state that the first few words get more weight.
  • new listings only get a very brief bump compared to renewals, so you shouldn't deactivate old listings and relist them as new ones - it is not worth the trouble.
  • keep your titles shorter and readable, and remove unrelated words such as trendy terms that do not apply to the listing (which can get you penalized in the new CSR search if they don't fit the listing). Don't fill all of the title space.
  • buyers like readable titles, so use proper punctuation to help you get more clicks, which are still an important factor in ranking. (Punctuation itself does not directly improve or decrease your ranking, however.)
  • aim for niche searches, as broad generic searches are much more difficult to rank for.
  • results will vary day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. Among other reasons, they do surface lower-ranked listings periodically to make sure that buyers get a chance to see them. If those items get enough interaction, they will move up for a longer period.
  • keywords that are important to your listing should be in both titles and tags, and phrases are always better for tags than single words.
  • Use your extra tags to add different words to your listing, instead of repeating the same words over and over in different phrases. E.g., you want "chunky knit hat" and "red wool toque", not "chunky hat, knit hat, red hat, wool hat" etc. [The exception here is of course when the phrase is in your title, as mentioned above - the algorithm is still relying on exact phrase matching for broad, generic searches at this time. You still can't rank well for a term like "red hat" without having it in both your titles and tags. I have been testing this, and removing the exact phrase from your tags definitely still hurts you, especially in US searches because they are the largest.] 

 

Newly-Confirmed and Previously-Unproven Ranking Factors, Plus the Non-Factors:

 Etsy is admitting that your forum behaviour can affect your search rankings. What else aren't they admitting to?

Etsy is admitting that your forum behaviour can affect your search rankings. What else aren't they admitting to?

  • Etsy uses a "citizen score" in the algorithm, which: "attempts to measure how positive of a contributor a Seller is to the marketplace.  A Seller with good ratings and account in good standing will have a higher Citizen Score than a Seller with poor reviews, forum warnings, account freezes, etc. The way to keep your Citizen Score high is to make sure you’re providing a great service and therefore not frequently receiving poor reviews, warnings or freezes, and if you need to make things right, make sure you communicate with the Buyer through convos whenever possible." - Andrew Stanton.
  • reviews are a very important factor, especially when a query returns a lot of results. However, he didn't clarify if that meant reviews on individual listings, or the whole shop's review record. I am mentioning this here because previous admin statements have only referred to an overall review score for a shop on Etsy, as opposed to Etsy Studio's algorithm which used the reviews for each listing.
  • marking orders as shipped does not give you a ranking boost.
  • there is no ranking advantage for ready-to-ship items over made-to-order items.
  • older listings and older shops are not punished in any way in the algorithm. A listing that has been around for many months is not worth less than a new one.

[UPDATE June 15] - in response to a thread in the Etsy forum about this blog post, an Etsy staff member stepped in to confirm that "forum warnings" means email warnings, so it does not include having a post removed without also getting a warning. He also explained that the warning remains part of your citizen score for one year after it was issued.

It's a little odd that they would include something like a forum warning to the search algorithm, as there probably isn't a very high correlation between bad products/customer service and managing to violate a forum rule. Etsy has rather tame forum threads compared to many on the internet, and moderates these community spaces rather tightly, to the surprise of many who don't spend much time there. So, it is pretty easy to get a forum warning. Then again, if you sell enough, it is also pretty easy to have a case opened against you; if you average several sales a day, eventually there will be a misunderstanding or stolen package that leads a customer to click the dispute button. As long as Etsy isn't applying strict penalties for having just one of these things recently, then it's unlikely that this rule will hurt many shops unfairly. Still, it makes you wonder what else is in there that doesn't relate to the operation of shops, doesn't it?

[UPDATE (June 14): according to slide #11 from the investor announcement regarding new Etsy fee increases, Etsy will be changing Teams and the forum in September. I've heard they have been asking sellers in surveys whether they like the idea of a badge for helpful community contributors, so this all seems connected. It makes zero sense to me to connect that sort of behaviour to a shop's search standing, however.]

 

Future Plans for Etsy Search:

  • they are looking at ways "to address clumping" that will work for both buyers and sellers. You will note that he did not say they wanted to remove multiple listings from the same shop on one page entirely.
  • they want more variation in search results, as well as personalization to a searcher's known preferences. Different items may rank well at different times of day, in different seasons, or in different countries.

I cannot stress enough that Etsy is still not doing much personalization with most searches, and that the algorithm is still learning about how Etsy buyers make their purchase decisions. It could be a long time, possibly even years, before Etsy has a decent personalized search that actually shows a buyer what they are most likely to want, and even then, it will likely have many flaws. These changes will help some shops, and hurt others.

 

What Can We Learn From These Recent Etsy Search Revelations? What Should We Be Doing Now?

 

To be very honest, there wasn't a lot new here, or at least not a lot that was completely unexpected - even the fact they are using forum post deletions and warnings as a ranking factor has some precedence (several years ago, forum mutings were cited as a contributing factor to a few members being permanently removed from Etsy). I could probably cut and paste my advice and predictions from my last few blog posts here without changing any words, and they would seem relevant to a first-time reader.

But for those first-time readers, let me go over the basics of how to approach Etsy search again:

  1. Your search strategy should not be all about ranking for generic searches such as "silver earrings" or "red hat". Those will now change over time and by visitor, and so will be less likely to maintain your income over a long period of time. (Even though we are not seeing much of this yet, it is going to get a lot more obvious fairly soon.) Etsy has made it very clear that they don't want a few sellers to be able to easily game the search rankings, and instead want the right products to be shown to the right buyers. Up until now on Etsy, the people who learned how to rank on page one did not necessarily have the best product; Etsy is actively working to change that.
  2. Your search strategy should include lots of niche search words that will help you be found regardless of how Etsy does the rankings. Keyword selection, for both titles and tags, is a form of marketing your product to the buyers who will want it most, and the more applicable words you use in your tags, the more searches you can be found under, and the more types of relevant buyers who will find you. (But do not spam things up with irrelevant terms - they can actively hurt you now.) Doing keyword research is the easiest way to come up with additional phrases that members of the public are using when shopping. Figure out alternative names for your products, especially those that may be used more often in other areas or countries. Get as specific as possible on at least a few tags. Use every attribute that applies, including the size /length/weight options.
  3. Your Etsy strategy should include getting sales from places other than Etsy search, so that if Etsy makes a small search change that has a very negative affect on your shop (as has happened to many people), you will still have an Etsy income. Repeat buyer marketing, outside search engine traffic, social media etc. can all buffer your sales totals during this time of upheaval and uncertainty. With CSR added to Promoted Listings now, paying for ads on Etsy will not always be an easy solution, so do not spend a lot on them unless you are getting very good results. It should go without saying that your overall business strategy should also include several sources of income, so that if you suddenly lose your Etsy sales, you can still earn a living while you work on dealing with the problem.
  4. Create listings that buyers will want to interact with. While a lot of the ranking factors have different weights now, buyer behaviour is still crucial for a good quality score. You must have a product people will want, photos that compel people to click, titles that make buyers feel comfortable, and a feedback rating that isn't going to look bad next to other listings. (I don't think you always need 5 stars, as I have seen many sellers do very well with lower, but do everything you can to avoid a string of cases or low-star ratings. Never ship late, never respond to a customer when you are angry or emotional, and always provide better service than the average shop.) You can have the best keywords, but that isn't enough; you won't keep being seen unless your listing makes people click.
  5. Stay out of trouble in the forum; don't let trolls get your goat. Don't be afraid to post, especially to make sure that folks get factual information, but walk away from ridiculous escalations with a laugh, knowing that you are protecting your business. You have more important things to do!
  6. Finally, please take point #1 seriously, before it is too late. It doesn't matter how good you think you are at ranking on page 1 of big searches, it is not going to continue forever.

 

There are going to be more changes to Etsy search. You can keep up with them in several different ways:

  • sign up for my blog updates via email
  • follow me on Twitter
  • check out my SEO collection on Google +
  • my SEO shop customers can sign up for my email list on Etsy search changes; current buyers will receive fully updated copies of my ebooks when they are completed in the next few months. 

Have questions, or know more information on what you have just read? Please post a comment below!

UPDATED: June 15, 2018.

Etsy Search Update April 2018: Small Changes Continue, Mostly Unannounced

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 "Clumping is still happening on Etsy - this is the very top of the search for "black dress" on March 31, 2018. Three items are from the same seller - two are the same item listed multiple times, and the third is the same style of dress but full length. (The shop also has a fourth item further down the page) 

"Clumping is still happening on Etsy - this is the very top of the search for "black dress" on March 31, 2018. Three items are from the same seller - two are the same item listed multiple times, and the third is the same style of dress but full length. (The shop also has a fourth item further down the page) 

Don't Worry - You Don't Need to Learn Anything New (Yet)

 

Etsy is continuing to change search in a variety of ways since mid-2017, including through machine learning processes (often referred to as AI search - artificial intelligence). Progress is very slow, but this seems like a good time to:

  • update previous developments,
  • explain a few of the recent tests, and
  • comment on some of the current rumours.

I will also include some tips  for adapting to the new reality. You can get caught up with older changes due to the machine learning experiments in this post from November. 

 

Note: Changes We Currently Know About May Not Be Permanent

 

Please remember that even though some of the new ways search is working have been around for several months, they may not be permanent. Etsy admin have hinted that some effects may change as the machine learning process continues and the new AI figures things out. Most often, they have said this about "clumping" (see below), but it could also apply to weirdness like the lack of title-tag phrase relevancy in small, non-competitive searches (discussed below as well). 

So, don't immediately assume that any new or different things you see in search are permanent shifts, or are the result of the AI, unless Etsy says so. And even then, be aware that they may change their minds. 

 

Previous Etsy search developments - What's Happening now?

 

1. Exact Phrase Matching Still Isn't Working in Non-competitive Searches

 

One of the basic rules of the Etsy relevancy search has always been that having the exact phrase searched in both title and tags will rank you higher than listings that simply have all the words somewhere. Since last fall, that hasn't been true in searches where few listings have both title and tags fully optimized, what I call "non-competitive searches". It still applies in large, generic searches where tons of listings have the search phrase the buyer used, however, so you should still continue to phrase matching as an SEO strategy right now. 

Example: the first several pages of the search "stone earrings" all have the exact phrase "stone earrings" in the title and the tags; out of just over a quarter million items in that search, over 45,000 listings have that exact phrase somewhere in the title or tags (you can check this by searching the term in quotes). You cannot rank for "stone earrings" sitewide without having it in both the title and tags.

But when you narrow down that search to "stone earrings sterling silver" (a recommended phrase from the search bar), the vast majority of the top ranked items do not have the exact phrase in the title; many do not even have the phrase "stone earrings" in the title. Even though there are over 61,000 items in that search result, only 311 had that exact phrase  "stone earrings sterling silver" at the time I did the search. So, there isn't much competition for the phrase, and phrase matching does not work for it right now. 

I expect this to continue for at least a while longer, and it is possible that Etsy will end up giving less weight to exact phrases as time goes on, including in larger searches. However, they could also eventually go back to exact phrase matching having more weight in smaller searches as well, even if they reduce it a bit in larger ones. This is not necessarily a permanent change. What can I do? - Nothing different at the moment, since it is very possible that this will not continue. Phrase matching still applies in competitive searches. If it is made permanent, it will mean no more worrying about matching tag phrases to the less-competitive title phrases you use, but you wouldn't want to make that transition now, just in case things switch back. 

 

2. Contextual Results Based on your country settings

 

 I am not seeing divergent results like this set of screenshots from November based solely on the country settings at the moment, but it does appear that Etsy is using different ranking data for each country in at least some results. 

I am not seeing divergent results like this set of screenshots from November based solely on the country settings at the moment, but it does appear that Etsy is using different ranking data for each country in at least some results. 

I wrote about rankings being based on the country settings (not the "ship to" filter settings, as they are with "localized" searches**) in November, using the examples "blue jays" and "football". Currently, I am not able to reproduce those results, although I am seeing some odd ranking situations when comparing results shipping to different countries. 

**[Localization (aka regionalization) means that when the "ship to" filter is set to Canada, Australia or an EU country, items shipping from those countries tend to rank better in larger searches, although there is little difference in smaller, non-competitive searches. I explain that better here.]

For example, my top-ranked item in a given search might change between several different countries. If I have three listings that appear for "big blue widget", the top ranked one in Canada may not be the same as in the UK or the US. Sometimes the differences are dramatic, with an item on page 1 in the US not appearing in the top 10 pages in Canada. (With Canadian localization, if all the other ranking factors were the same, my items should appear the same or higher here, for the same search.) I am seeing this for all countries, not just localized ones. 

So, it does appear that Etsy is recording the buyer behaviours that make up the listing quality score differently for each country now, and that listing rankings in various countries will slowly diverge if this continues. We don't know if this is a test or not, or a way of collecting data for the AI. I will let you know if it changes. What can I do? - Take my advice from November (that I've given for years, actually) to stop obsessing over ranking. While results aren't personalized to each buyer just yet, they will be varying more and more as time goes on; this is only one example of how search will transform over the next year or two. 

 

3. "Clumping": Still seeing Multiple items from the same shop on page 1

 

In my last update, I mentioned that Etsy had removed the diversity factor (which prevented a shop from having more than one item on the first page of a big search) from their list of search criteria, and staff confirmed that seeing multiples on a page was not a bug. See the screenshot at the top of this post for an example. At this time, "clumping" (as this phenomenon has been nicknamed) is continuing, but some sellers report that Etsy has told them it is not a permanent situation.

It's been happening for nearly eight months now, so it obviously isn't hurting Etsy's income much - in fact, sales were up quite a bit during the fourth quarter. So, while many people feel that showing multiples is bad for buyers, apparently Etsy buyers are okay with it overall. What can I do? Again, there isn't much you can do other than the usual optimization tips I recommend, especially using lots of diverse keywords in your tags. Search rankings can shift overnight now, and will vary by time and place, so you can't expect to stay on page 1 even if clumping goes away again. 

 

4. Attributes and Variations: Progress Still stalled

 

In November, I mentioned that some but not all of the attributes have been added to search (meaning that you can find listings in search that only have the search term in the attributes). There hasn't been much progress here; in fact, some of the attributes are no longer searchable within your own shop, even though they do work within Etsy search results (for example, the jewellery recipients "men" and "women").

 The now-standard explanation of how to use the Holiday attribute. 

The now-standard explanation of how to use the Holiday attribute. 

Custom colours and custom variations are still not searchable, even though we were told back in November 2016 on the beta testing team that they would eventually be included. I've not seen any evidence of Etsy testing them, nor have I heard of staff stating that they were no longer considering this improvement. 

However, Etsy has been making changes to the Holiday attributes, removing certain ones from some categories. In various complaint threads by sellers who feel that their category should have a specific holiday, Etsy has been clarifying how the Holiday attributes should be used: 

"...holiday attributes are not for when you'd gift someone an item, but rather where you'd wear or use the item." 

This is a fairly big change in directions. Previously, sellers had been told to use attributes wherever they applied, leading many shops to use major holidays on any items that could be given as gifts. The narrower usage makes sense, but since you can still add these days to your titles and tags, this isn't going to stop articles from showing up in every search related to a holiday. What Can I Do? - keep adding attributes where they apply, and start removing the Holiday ones you are now using incorrectly. I will be surprised if we don't see more attributes showing up as filters by October. 

 

Recent Etsy Search Tests of Note

 

I know I usually say to ignore most tests, but these ones all demonstrate how Etsy wants search to work in the future, so they are worth commenting on. It's possible we will never see anything like them again, but I sincerely doubt that. 

 

Image Recognition Test - Etsy Tries to Correct Poor seller SEO, and Fails

 The image recognition test in February only added irrelevant items to the search results, as far as I could tell. 

The image recognition test in February only added irrelevant items to the search results, as far as I could tell. 

 

At the end of January 2018, Etsy announced a new image recognition search test on its test page. They have erased all records of this experiment from the page (instead of providing the test results as they do with most listed tests), but someone saved the original text here:

What we’re testing: We’re testing image recognition technology to see how it might be used to improve search results on Etsy. This technology will look at your first listing photo and identify additional relevant search terms, helping to match your listing to more relevant searches. ... we’ll update you here on the results.

I did not find a single example where this test worked, although I am sure there must have been a few. What I found, again and again, were completely irrelevant items being inserted into fairly basic searches, usually at the end. The above screenshot is an example; the software inserted cuff links and bracelets into a search for earrings, based on what the photo looked like. The cuff links do look a lot like the earrings sold by the same seller, but that doesn't make them earrings. 

If it worked even part of the time, though, this would be a great addition to search for newer sellers who don't yet know how to list. You know the listings I mean - the ones with something like "Rhapsody in Blue" for a title, no attributes, and only the Jewelry category as a tag. Etsy has stated that they want to make listing easier on sellers, without so much worrying about getting the exact correct title and tags (see here at around the 13:30 mark, for example), so I would expect this sort of development to be a high priority. 

 

All of the attributes you can apply to pendants and necklaces, used as search filters. I saw this March 14, 2018, but it hasn't popped up since. 

Search filter test: all jewellery attributes used as filters

 

When Etsy introduced listing attributes to sellers in February 2017, we were told they would be used as search filters, as well as be searchable terms.  With the exception of a few common attributes such as colour, and some housewares products such as rugs, this hasn't been happening yet. But on March 14, I caught all of the attributes for necklaces in use as filters. As you can see from the collage on the right, the list runs down half the page before you even expand any options. 

Was this a search test, or just a programming mistake? Hard to say, but it was gone fairly quickly, so maybe it was an engineering error - it certainly wouldn't be the first time code leaked out well before Etsy intended it to. 

So, we don't know if we are ever going to see a page like the one I am describing, and we don't know for sure that they are only going to use attributes to populate those filters. (In previous testing of search filtering, Etsy has looked at titles and tags as well, but not for every listing.) So, if you don't add attributes to your listings when they apply, you run the risk of not being found in a filtered search, should this ever go live. This is why I keep recommending everyone select appropriate attributes on every listing they work for. 

 

Conversion Test: Imperial to Metric, based on buyer location settings

 

Another development I've been waiting over a year for is the automatic conversion between metric and imperial measurements, which we were promised all the way back on the attribute and variation prototype team in November 2016. How it would work: anyone listing something like a bracelet could list the length in metric (centimetres), and someone in the US would see the variation option in imperial (inches); it would also work the same way in reverse. This is a long-needed addition to regional customization on Etsy, and I am really looking forward to it. 

Well, I saw it in early December! Variations and attributes that show up on the top right of a listing page were converted, if the viewer used a different system than the shop's. Unfortunately, the conversion was to two decimal places, so you had weird values such as 53.34 cm (21 inches). Also, it showed up in listings but wasn't searchable, as variations & length attributes haven't yet been added to search yet.

This would be a big help to sellers who don't already do conversions for their customers, but possibly a corresponding disadvantage to those of us who do list in both systems, since Etsy will be taking away our competitive edge. It's impossible to say how much impact it will have until this feature is in use for quite a while. There's been no word on when we can expect this to appear again, or if they still intend for it to be permanent some day. 

 

Current rumours & theories: areas to watch for the rest of this year

 

We see many rumours, and even flat-out incorrect statements, about Etsy search, probably more so than usual in the past year. I thought this would be a good place to deal with some of the recent ones. 

 

Does a listing's category matter to its search ranking?

 

Several sellers have reported that having items in a different category than the majority of similar items on Etsy can mean your item will rank poorly, compared to those in the "correct" category or subcategory. I had observed some search pages earlier this year which seemed follow this rule. But is it true?

Short answer: I am still not certain if it is a direct factor, but it certainly is an indirect factor, since customers can click on a category or subcategory on the left after doing a search, eliminating listings in other categories. 

Long answer: After quite a bit of testing and discussing this with other sellers, I am leaning towards saying that a listing's category doesn't usually have a direct impact on its ranking in search, but there may be exceptions, and this could change in the future. 

 If a pair of earrings is not in the Earrings category, it can't be found in a search for 'earrings' once a customer clicks on the subcategories in the sidebar. Getting fewer clicks from search can hurt its rankings. 

If a pair of earrings is not in the Earrings category, it can't be found in a search for 'earrings' once a customer clicks on the subcategories in the sidebar. Getting fewer clicks from search can hurt its rankings. 

To test this, I took several different types of items out of their normal categories, and placed them in less-accurate ones. The search ranking did not change immediately, nor were there definitive changes in ranking when I left listings in the wrong categories for several weeks - some went up and some went down, which is normal behaviour right now for most listings. 

In some cases, a listing could legitimately belong in two subcategories (e.g., crystal pendant necklaces could fall under "Pendant" or under "Crystal Necklace"), so I tested items like this as well. I am still following one listing of mine which appeared to drop substantially about one week after the edits, and moving it back to its original subcategory seems to have moved it up again somewhat, but that could be a coincidence. I witnessed more ranking changes than usual around this time, across the site, and some of the items from other sellers that were in incorrect categories and had low rankings have now moved up as well. So, my testing is inconclusive so far.

I think, with some possible exceptions, that most of what we are seeing is the buyer behaviour element interacting with the algorithm, due to being found in the category filters on the left. Clicks, favourites and sales from search are still included in the algorithm, so showing up in fewer filtered searches could reduce a listing's quality score. 

But I would not be surprised to see a rule such as this introduced in the future, once the first steps in the machine learning process are over. It makes sense for many types of items, such as the famous "laundry basket" example I discussed in my previous post, so it is a potential algorithm revision we should all be watching for. [UPDATE: the listing category is mentioned as a possible future search factor in the investor materials from the first quarter financial report; see my coverage here.]

 

Is Etsy Adding Words to Listings?

 

Note: this is a different situation from Etsy adding attributes and sub-categories to people's listings, which has been happening for a while now. In this section, I am talking about adding words to the title or to tags.

This possibility first arose in this thread mid-February in the Etsy forum, with a few sellers complaining that Etsy had added gift terms to their titles or tags. Some posters claimed they knew others this had happened to as well, all on pet items. I believe the shop owner who started that thread when she says she did not add gift phrases to her shop, since the goods are made to fit each dog, and therefore require exact measurements.

Although I asked around, I only found one other case, and it was not for pet items, nor did it involve gift phrases. Angie from ThrowItForward  contacted me with examples from her shop's tags, which she says she did not add herself. I found cached versions of some listings from December 2017 with the added tags, so they had remained this way for at least two and a half months. All of the added tags were not capitalized in her usual style, and were not the type she generally uses, but all of them made sense for the listings. While some could have been taken from the attributes or even the description, one in particular really stood out: the tag "blond boy photo" on a vintage sepia photograph. The word "blond" is not mentioned anywhere else in the listing, not even in the description, but the photo is of a toddler with very fair hair. 

 Someone at Etsy apparently thinks dogs need more gifts. Check the staff list for any canine hires!

Someone at Etsy apparently thinks dogs need more gifts. Check the staff list for any canine hires!

It doesn't seem possible that all of these sellers are mistaken about these phrases being added without their knowledge or consent, unless there is some bizarre amnesia going around involving dogs and gifts. So if they didn't add them, who did, and how? I see at least three possibilities:

  1. an Etsy employee added them manually
  2. an algorithm added them, most likely by taking phrases from other products that come up as "similar" listings, or in some cases the item description, or
  3. some were added as part of image recognition testing, using phrases from similar listings. 

I think option number 2 is mostly likely, although image recognition could easily be involved in the blond boy example. It's possible that all three options have happened. 

More importantly, why was this done, and will it happen again? Etsy would want to do this for the same reason they did the image recognition test discussed earlier: to add terms that are missing from products, to make them more searchable, Done properly, it is obviously something that could help some sellers, but done poorly, it could add irrelevant items to search, or even create angry customers who were expecting a different item in the mail. 

Despite the risks, it is going to happen again, although perhaps in a different form. (What may change is seeing the search terms on the listing page; they could instead do what they did with the image recognition test and make the added terms searchable but invisible to everyone.) Etsy is really concerned with improving the searchability of shop owners who do a worse-than-average job of adding various keywords to their products, and with making sure that buyers can always find the best product for them. Etsy is going to find a way to do this, so it is up to us to watch to see if it hurts or helps. 

Do you have any further examples of this behaviour? Please post them in the comments section on this blog, or shoot me an email. 

 

 

Item descriptions are still not searchable

 

You can test this - search for a word that is only in a description. You can't find it in Etsy search, right? So, the description isn't searchable. 

Now, I am not saying that Etsy has never tested this (so you may have seen it in the past several months), and they may decide to make descriptions searchable again in the future, but right now, do not assume that words in your description will help you be found on Etsy, because they won't. 

I think this rumour has mostly arisen because people do not realize that some of the hidden attributes are searchable; that accounts for almost all specific examples I have seen people claim. Other examples might have come from the image recognition testing mentioned above, or similar tests. But please understand, Etsy has not said anything about the description being searchable, and in fact admin told the attendees at the recent Etsy Canada meetings that descriptions are not used in Etsy search

I'll let you know immediately if anything changes, I promise. (and please do the same for me, my friends!)

 

What's Up Next for Etsy search?

 

We don't know anything for certain, because Etsy sometimes plans on making changes that don't end up happening. But they have given us a lot of good hints as to where search is headed, as you can see from the above examples. In no particular order

  • expect more divergence in search results from different locations, at different times, and for different types of users, and maybe even true personalization by member (which we definitely do not have yet)
  • look for Etsy to keep trying to make SEO easier (in some cases by doing it for us)
  • watch for more attributes, variations, and filter use in search
  • get ready for one, and perhaps several, large shifts in search ranking, before the 2018 holiday season

I will continue to update developments here on my blog, but you can also follow me on Twitter, or on Google+, for major changes and breaking Etsy news. 

Have any questions, or any observations you want to share? Please make a comment below, send me an email (click the envelope on the top right of the page), or send me an Etsy conversation. I will update this blog post as situations develop. 

 

Updated June 14, 2018. 

 

Canada Post 2017 Suggested Holiday Mailing Dates and Deadlines

Cindy Lou Who 2

 Don't worry, you don't have to wrap anything quite yet ...  (Photo on  Visualhunt )

Don't worry, you don't have to wrap anything quite yet ...  (Photo on Visualhunt)

Yes, it is that time of year again - we are getting close to the suggested holiday shipping cutoffs for Canada Post for some countries. Whether you are a customer or a Canadian ecommerce business owner, please take note of the following suggested shipping deadlines for delivery by December 24th. (These are not guarantees, and I highly recommend ordering well before these dates, or upgrading to faster shipping, if you need your purchases to arrive by Christmas.)

Suggested Dates for Regular Shipping from Canada

  • Africa - November 25
  • Asia/Australia/New Zealand - December 1
  • Central/South America/Caribbean - December 1
  • Europe - December 1
  • Middle East - December 1
  • United States - December 11
  • Canada - December 11

Express Shipping

  • United States - December 16
  • Canada - December 20

Priority Shipping

  • United States - December 20
  • Canada - December 21

* Express and Priority service is available for other countries as well; please contact me if you would like me to set it up for you. 

Evolution of Etsy Search, November 2017: Context Is Key, "Clumping" is Back

Cindy Lou Who 2

 Etsy used the example of a search for "laundry basket" to show how the new "context specific search ranking" should work. The results I see are only that good for the first two rows, however. Source: Etsy 3rd Q 2017 Financial Results,  slide #5 . 

Etsy used the example of a search for "laundry basket" to show how the new "context specific search ranking" should work. The results I see are only that good for the first two rows, however. Source: Etsy 3rd Q 2017 Financial Results, slide #5

Contextualization, Localization & Searchable Attributes All Contribute to Changed Search Rankings

 

The question on everyone's mind these days is "What is going on with Etsy search?" On any given day, your guess might be as good as anyone else's, since it seems like they are changing elements weekly or even daily. Well, I am about to tell you all the messy details we know so far, but beware - this is not short. So grab a coffee (or a survival pack) and hunker down for a long read about Etsy's latest algorithm changes. 

I also need to warn you: if you are reading this because your goal is to get all of your items on page 1 for generic searches, you are going to be disappointed. Not only because that will be impossible for everyone eventually (I can't say that in regards to your shop right now), but also because the rapid pace of changes right now means that even if you "crack the code" tonight, your methods could be obsolete tomorrow. Things are fluctuating that much! And that is what Etsy is aiming for. The same listings coming up on page 1 day after day appears to be a thing of the past.

[I will do my best to update this post with new developments as things change over the holiday shopping season. All updates will be marked as such.]

 

"Context Specific Search Ranking" - Narrowing Down Searcher Intent

 

While many of us could see that search results looked different, we didn't have confirmation of a key change until Etsy's 3rd Quarter Earnings conference call on November 6. CEO Josh Silverman stated the following:

In September, we introduced a major search improvement called the context specific search ranking, or CSR. CSR uses query and user-level information to rank results in real time. As a first step, we are leveraging transaction data to fuel our machine-learning technology to create more relevant search results. To give you a better sense of the difference, Slide 5 includes some before-and-after images to illustrate how this technology can deliver a better search experience for our buyers.

But what exactly does that techno-babble mean, you ask? The idea is actually pretty simple: Etsy wants to show searchers items that match their search intent as closely as possible. Take the example given, shown at the top of this blog post. When a buyer entered "laundry basket" into the search bar, they used to get a lot of planner stickers, as well as actual laundry baskets. Those sticker listings had "laundry basket" in their titles and tags, and are popular items, so the basic search rules ranked them well. But the results weren't what the buyer was really looking for; they likely would use the words "planner stickers" or something similar if that is what they truly wanted. Most buyers who entered "laundry basket" are probably looking for something to store their dirty clothes in; their "search intent" is actual laundry baskets. But the search algorithm can't understand these things the way a human would. 

All of us who do much searching on Etsy can think of other good examples: if you search "dress", you don't want a pin with a woman wearing a dress, and "earrings" doesn't usually mean you are looking for supplies to make earrings. So fixing this problem sounds great, right? The second screenshot shows much better search results for these buyers. The problem is, how do you get the algorithm to understand this, for millions of different searches, and even for different languages? Enter the machine learning technology from Blackbird Technologies, which Etsy bought in 2016. Often called "artificial intelligence" (AI), this type of program absorbs large amounts of data, then makes connections between words, ideas and situations that might not be obvious to the program at first, or to humans at all. When used in search, an AI ideally "learns" from how well searchers respond to sets of results, so it can show better results the next time. In some ways, it is continually testing and refining what the best rankings should be. (Yes, you read that correctly - the AI will never be finished changing things. I am sorry to be the one to break the news to you.)

The AI started this current project using only some of the information available, namely the sales made on these items, likely made directly from these searches. If people who search "laundry basket" are more likely to buy laundry baskets than planning stickers or art work, then the AI learns that it will get better sales if it shows more laundry baskets for that search. The more sales patterns that are observed, the more distinctions that can be made, tailoring the rankings with other criteria as well. Silverman made it clear this was just the starting point for CSR, and that sales are up because of it. 

So what other information can the AI use? The laundry basket example was straightforward to the average human being, but what if a word or phrase could mean two or more different things, depending on the context? A classic example is sports team names, and that is how I stumbled upon another apparent example of CSR several weeks before Etsy announced this program: Etsy is delivering a different set of results to European Union than to the rest of the world, and you can see distinct preferences in searches where the words may have more than one meaning. They are either testing or permanently allowing the ranking scores to develop differently in the EU from the previous algorithmic ranking. This is not regionalized search, which is controlled by the "ship to" filter. (I have more on search regionalization later in this blog post, but want to be clear: what I am showing you in the next few screenshots is completely different than that.) [UPDATE March 2018 - Etsy appears to have ended this practice for the moment, but seems to have rolled the ranking change into their normal regionalized search.]

The two screenshots below are of the search "blue jays", one with country settings (at the bottom of the page) on United States and one with United Kingdom. Note that I changed the "ship to" filter to the US on the UK version to avoid Etsy regionalizing the second search and showing me mostly UK items.

 The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United States, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United States, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

 The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United Kingdom, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United Kingdom, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

See how the search done with the UK setting shows more actual birds, while the US search shows mostly items from the Toronto Blue Jays professional baseball team? Sure, both searches show some of both, but the far more of the top-ranking items outside of the EU are baseball-related. The distinction continues as you scroll further down page 1 of each search. Note that in both cases, you see a mix of different countries' items, so this is not about showing the searcher things from their own country. In fact, you can change the countries and get the same results, as long as one country is in the EU and one isn't. So Canada and China will produce the same result (as long as the ships to filter is on the same country), as will France and Germany. (European countries that are not part of the European Union are grouped with the rest of the world.) 

Not convinced? Another good example is the search "football". At the time I am writing this, the first few rows of the US search show American football results, while the UK search shows mostly what Americans call soccer. (Remember, by "US" & "UK" searches, I mean with the account set on those countries, but with the ship to filter set to a non-regionalized country.) 

 If you know what the word "football' usually means in the UK, you will immediately know which of the above screenshots is from the UK and which is not.   (for non-sports fans, the one on the right is in the UK)

If you know what the word "football' usually means in the UK, you will immediately know which of the above screenshots is from the UK and which is not. 

(for non-sports fans, the one on the right is in the UK)

So, how are they doing this? I am not entirely sure what data they are sampling to create these distinctions. It could be through the sales data alone, as with the "laundry basket" example, or it could be that search is only using clicks, sales and favourites from the EU to decide the EU ranking, excluding non-EU information that shapes the quality score in the rest of the world. My best guess is the latter, but I could be wrong. Whichever answer is correct, this still appears to be a test or at best a limited rollout, as it doesn't make much sense to have China, Australia, Finland and the US in one group, and the entire EU in the other. I expect that if they are happy with the results, they will break this down much further, perhaps separating it out by each country at least in part. [UPDATE: this example has now changed; see discussion in my latest post]

So those are two existing examples of context specific search ranking. Personalization (results tailored to what you search for, click on, favourite and purchase) could be another, although at the moment I am seeing very little of this happening, compared to the other recent changes. Several people have been insisting in the Etsy forum that CSR is about personalization, but really, you can have CSR without considering an individual shopper's search and purchase history at all, as the above examples show. Since many buyers land on Etsy for the very first time every day, you cannot base search improvements on personalization alone, and Etsy knows that. So they aren't. 

 

The End of Diversity - "Clumping" Makes a Comeback

 

When more than one item from a shop shows up on the same search page, Etsy forum posters have nicknamed it "clumping". Since Etsy made the relevancy search the default in 2011, they have always tried to limit the number of items from any one shop on the top pages of the search, known as the "diversity" rule. While this rule has had many variations over the years, since late 2014 only very small searches showed more than one item from each shop on the first few pages. The Etsy search help files explained diversity as follows:

Shop diversity - Buyers on Etsy are looking to explore a marketplace of unique items. In order to meet this expectation, Etsy’s search algorithm works to show results from a variety of shops, when available.

In August, sellers began noticing that the first pages of major searches had begun displaying multiple items from the same shop again. Etsy admin confirmed it was a test, but then in late October, the above definition disappeared from the help files. Staff have since told some sellers via email that sometimes "clumping" will show up now, although they have not made an official public statement. 

So, it seems clumping is here to stay for the moment. I know that some of you are hoping it is still a test, but all signs point to the decision being made to keep it. In most cases, it isn't as damaging to non-clumped shops as it might appear, although I realize people feel it is unfair. Other recent changes are more likely to have had a larger effect on your rankings. I know some people hate this, but I can't see it completely tanking anyone's rankings, and I can't see Etsy getting rid of it entirely unless it starts making less money for Etsy. 

 

Localized/Regionalized search - the European Union is now one region

 

As mentioned above, search localization or regionalization means that users with their "ship to" filters set to certain countries will see items that ship from those countries rank higher in large, generic searches. In smaller, more specific searches, it has less impact, and I am seeing that continue lately. So, aiming for more specific searches, as I always recommend anyway, is your best approach to combatting any loss of views from regionalized countries. You can test what people in regionalized countries see by changing your country settings and "ship to" filter to that country. 

 If you want to see how searches look in regionalized countries, just change the "ship to" filter to that country. 

If you want to see how searches look in regionalized countries, just change the "ship to" filter to that country. 

Within the past few months, Etsy regionalized the entire European Union. Yet again, Etsy made no official announcement about this change - they simply rewrote the help files to add the whole EU, replacing France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, which were previously explicitly mentioned. While I detected Etsy testing regionalization in Italy and Spain, among others, earlier this year, this update was a fairly large shift all at once, adding several new countries. (Note that European countries that have not joined the EU are not regionalized.)

Regionalization now works slightly different in the EU than it works in Canada and Australia, the only other two countries included. Let's use Germany as an example. A person in Germany will see German items rank fairly high in really large general searches, but will also see items from elsewhere in the EU near the top. Shops from Canada, the US, New Zealand etc. will start appearing lower down. In contrast, when my country settings are on Canada, I see Canadian items at the top, followed by a mix of everyone else. Someone in the US, which is not a regionalized country, will see a mix of all countries from the very first row. 

Being in a regionalized country does not mean that buyers in other countries will not see your items. If their country is regionalized, shoppers will see more items from that country at the top of larger searches (not the smaller ones), but remember, most online searches are niche searches. If you optimize properly for many niche searches, you can be found in all countries you ship to, including those that are regionalized.

 

 So many new options for shoppers who want Etsy to be Amazon!

So many new options for shoppers who want Etsy to be Amazon!

New Filters - Sales, Free Shipping, and Fast Processing

 

I wrote about the new search filter that limits results to items on sale back in August; it has now become permanent. Since then Etsy has added a filter to show all items that have shipping included (AKA free shipping), and have recently started testing two more filters which limit search results to items with very short processing times. It is impossible to say how many shoppers are using these options, as Etsy has not added the necessary reference values for sellers to track clicks in Google Analytics. 

Historically, customers do not use filters very often on Etsy, so these may not be getting much of a workout at the moment. I am not seeing any of those filters on the app, but they do appear using mobile browsers (once you click on the filter button), as well as on desktop computers. During the site-promoted holiday sale, however, Etsy has moved the "on sale" filter all the way up to the top of the list, above the main category links, and has highlighted it in orange. (By the way, you can track clicks from Etsy's Cyber Week sales page in Google Analytics, as they include the reference value "cyber_category" - just search for it under Behaviour-->Site Content-->All Pages.)

Some people must be using them, or Etsy would not keep these filters. That means that you could be excluded from some searches at some times, if you have longer processing times or don't offer free shipping or Etsy discounts. While some sellers are worried that this means successful shops will need to change their business practices to show up in more searches, in some ways these options can help us avoid the buyers we didn't really want, like the ones who are last-minute shopping and might be angry if their order does not arrive in one business day as it does with Amazon Prime. As with any change to Etsy search, it will likely take a while for the effects to become more evident. If your sales have suddenly dropped in the past few months, do not assume this is the only cause, but presume it could be a factor. 

 

Many Attributes Now Searchable; a few filters have been added

 

When Etsy introduced listing attributes back at the beginning of the year, we were told they would eventually be added to the search as both searchable terms (just like tags and titles) and as filters. In general, the Etsy-provided colour attributes have been searchable for several months now, along with the holiday and occasion options. We're still waiting for them to finish, but more and more of the other terms are (finally!) searchable.  Some were added within the past few weeks while I have been writing this blog post, so be aware that more examples could be included or removed without any notice from Etsy.

I am not seeing any obvious logic as to which attributes can be found through Etsy search and which cannot. Some may still be added in the future, of course, and some might only be used as filters, eventually. Unfortunately, since Etsy has removed many of them from the overview section on the listing, I cannot even tell which attributes other sellers have used, so for the most part I can only test my own. For example, for the "Recipient" attribute on jewellery items, "Men", "Boys", "Girls" and "Women" are searchable terms, but "Unisex Adult" is not, either as a phrase or as individual words. 

 "Style" is a searchable jewellery attribute, but "Theme" is not. Even within some options, only some words can be found through search. 

"Style" is a searchable jewellery attribute, but "Theme" is not. Even within some options, only some words can be found through search. 

Some other jewellery attributes that are searchable at this time: ring size, earring location, chain style, gemstone, the new materials, and pendant shape. Examples of jewellery attributes that are not yet searchable (and may never be, I suppose): bracelet length and width, bracelet closure, earring closure, necklace length, and pendant size. Remember, however, that the AI could be using these to categorize items in the future, although I am not seeing any evidence of that now. They were also originally intended as search filters, which may still happen in the future. 

Many items have different attribute options than jewellery, and even if I could test them all, the list would be far too long to include here. If you want to know whether an attribute element is included in Etsy search currently, test it, by searching very specifically for a listing where you know you haven't included that word or phrase in the title or tags. (Descriptions are still not searchable within Etsy.) 

All of this means that some sellers now have more keywords that buyers can use to find them. While attribute words do not get much weight, they can be a crucial addition for those niche (a.k.a. long tail) search phrases you want to be found under. For example, I rarely add the word "women" to my jewellery titles and tags, but I am now getting a few more search hits that include it, since I have selected the recipient attributes where applicable. I cannot stress enough that this can be changing the search competition and rankings overall, especially for sellers who rarely added these types of words before and are now reaping the benefits of keyword diversification. I know a lot of sellers fee that attributes do not apply to their items (and in some cases, they are correct), but if your sales are dropping lately, you need to look at this as one possible cause. 

 Some of the search filter options for rugs - many options here to exclude items from results.

Some of the search filter options for rugs - many options here to exclude items from results.

Filters: most attributes have not yet been added as filters, which are found on the left of the search page on desktop computers, and through a button at the top of search results on mobile browsers and on the Etsy app. (Examples of the colour filters are included in the "blue jays" screenshots above.) Active filters include the colour attributes, and a sometimes lengthy list of options for various housewares from mugs to rugs. For many items listed under the "Home and Living" category, shoppers have the option of narrowing down their results by occasion and holiday, as well as a diverse set of choices including materials, patterns, size, shape and recipients. For example, items such as glassware have several different attribute filters visible in the search results, including "material". (Remember, that includes both vintage and handmade listings.) Objects such as rugs and decorative pillows have search filters for “design”, which involves a lengthy list of most common patterns, as well as some uncommon ones. 

Strangely, though, you don't always need to have attributes applied to your listing to show up when shoppers narrow down the results through filters. Back when I could still see attributes in the listing overview area, I found many products in filtered searches that didn't use attributes, but showed up due to their titles and tags. (Lately, I am seeing less of that, however.)  I am not sure what to think about this. Are sellers not using enough attributes, so that Etsy is forced to make guesses so that there are enough items in the final results? Or is this one of the ways they are training the AI?  It's difficult to say. As one seller pointed out, some of the options available for buyers aren't actual listing attributes, so in at least some cases right now, you won't need to use attributes to show up in filtered searches. Don't assume that will continue, however.  

Filters provide a way for customers to sort through huge volumes of items easily, without entering additional search terms. Set up properly and displayed well, they could be a partial solution for search bloat, especially in larger, more generic searches. I don't expect Etsy to give up on this idea, so sellers may need to make peace with it if they want to be seen through search. If attributes apply to your item and you didn't use them, you could be losing views and sales. 

 

Other search News - tests, unproven and disproven theories, and what still works

 

There is only one important test I want to cover that wasn't already mentioned above, and then I want to deal with some of the smaller changes, and a few of the largest theories (or rumours) about how the algorithm is currently working.  I promise to make this as brief as possible! 

 

Guided Search Test - This began in September, which I reported here, and was more fully explained in an almost-random forum post from an admin

The colors are there to group options by 'theme' to make it easier for our buyers to visually choose the theme and then read the options. So for example: if you search for "ring"; the first few options in orange are occasion-specific, the next ones in yellow/light orange are related to the material/type.

At the moment, it seems to be visible in the United States only, but that is the biggest group of Etsy shoppers, so it could be having an impact in larger, more generic searches. (It doesn't appear in small searches.) These appear to be generated from popular keyword queries, but there may be other sources as well.  I wouldn't necessarily try to tailor your items to fit the current options, but this test is definitely useful for keyword research! These are searches Etsy thinks people want to look at, which likely means they are not only popular, but also have a good conversion rate, i.e., sellers makes sales from these searches. 

 These orange boxes at the top of the search page are called "guided search", which is being tested in the US. Note they aren't all the same shade of orange.

These orange boxes at the top of the search page are called "guided search", which is being tested in the US. Note they aren't all the same shade of orange.

Etsy is now explaining some of its buyer tests on this page, but you will notice that they rarely mention algorithm tests there, at least not yet. Guided search isn't included, but the various sale and shipping filters are. Beware that you won't always learn enough by consulting that information. 

 

Seller Theories: A lot of these are based on observation only, not testing, so many are either not true or may have a different cause than the one shop owners initially come up with. I will try to tackle the major ones I have read recently. 

  • Item price is not a direct factor in search. I took several of my listings, and either increased or decreased the price, and did not see any significant changes in ranking over several days. With some listings, I first lowered the price, then raised it above the original number several days later, just to check if there was a high or low pricing threshold, but I was unable to make my listings move based on price. Larger searches where the average price has dropped noticeably over this year may be due to the context specific search ranking (CSR) change discussed above, where the AI is using sales data to figure out searcher intent. Lower priced items may sell more often, skewing this part of the algorithm for the time being. That said, I am not seeing this in a lot of searches, so it may be item-specific. 
  • Using all 10 photos is not a direct factor in search at the moment. This rumour started almost as soon as Etsy gave us 10 listing photos, but it really picked up steam after a listing critique thread by Etsy staff in which most critiques mentioned using all 10 photos. I tested this by adding and even subtracting photos from some of my listings, and it had no effect on my search ranking. However, I do expect that using more than just a few photos leads to increased sales (although not increased search ranking), and I also suspect Etsy may want us to use more photos to help with any image recognition search technology they may be developing. Blackbird (the AI company Etsy bought last year) specialized in image recognition programs, and eBay has already added an image recognition program to its app. I would be surprised if Etsy wasn't at least thinking about it. The more photos you have, the more likely it is that an algorithm can accurately match your item to a potential customer's photo. 
  • New listings do seem to be appearing around page 5 of larger searches (for shops that are used to ranking well), and on the last page of smaller searches. I will admit to not having tested this at all, since I haven't had any time to list new in the past few months, and I never used to check where my new listings turned up even when I did, so I have no idea what my shop should expect. Most top sellers report that their items move up after a few days, so it is apparently not a permanent ranking. Still, if you were one of those people who expected a new product to go to page 1, at least briefly, you should probably stop basing your search strategy on that for the moment. 

 

Search Changes: Besides the diversity rule, there are a few elements of the algorithm that have changed a bit, but they have not been removed entirely. These are both things that I expect to keep changing in the next few months, and may disappear in the long term. 

  • Having the exact phrase in both title and tags still improves your ranking in most situations, but this is in flux, especially in searches where very few items qualify. For example, at this time, I am the only seller with "Turquoise Blue Abalone Earrings" in a title, but out of 165 results for that search, I am well down page 1, behind some items that don't even have most of the words in the title. (You can tell how many other listings have the exact phrase by searching it in quotes.) It used to be that those earrings would be in the top row. However, I have tested removing exact phrases in larger searches that have more optimized items, and that absolutely does drop my search ranking every time. While there are probably some exceptions to the rule right now, I would be more worried about future changes in this area, as I think they are coming. [UPDATE (June 14): exact phrase matching is still working for large searches; I have more search updates here.]
  • Recency still affects ranking, but it is more complicated and less effective than just a few months ago. If you use a renewal strategy to get better search standings, you may want to reevaluate your approach. I have noticed, however, that it still works quite well in categories, for items that already had a good quality score. 

 

What you need to watch out for  - results without all of the search terms

 

I am saving this for last because I don't know if it is a test or a change, but it is important enough for its own section: it is now possible to rank in a search without having one of the words in your title, tags or attributes. That was never possible before this year. There aren't many results like this so far, but I expect them to grow over time. 

Please understand that I am not talking about some of the forum reports you may have seen recently, which mostly seem to involve words from attributes being included, or the periodic reports that involve stemming or other misunderstandings of how search works. (By stemming, I mean when someone searches a longer form of a word and the listing only has the root, or "stem" - that has worked for years. E.g., someone searches for "beaded" and gets listings with "bead".) It is also not caused by the word being in the description (I checked). Etsy does not currently use the description in search, and I haven't identified any examples of them testing it, either. 

As far as I know, Etsy has not commented on this situation, so all I can do is speculate. It is likely part of the AI testing, or could even be using the old "similar items" algorithm, although the examples I have found did not look like the latter to me. Right now, I am not seeing this very often, and when I do, the listings are always at the back of the search. It's unlikely to have a large impact on anyone's views or sales at this low level, unlike Google's contextual search and Hummingbird algorithm, which can easily identify synonyms and other related elements of a page, and will sometimes show you a website that doesn't have the exact words as the number one result. 

But if Etsy gets good results from this, expect the examples to increase; expect Etsy search to become more like Google's. If it works (and that is still a big "if" at the moment), it would be great for buyers. Right now if I search for "paua" and a seller only has "abalone shell" in the title and tags, I will not find their item. That's bad for a buyer, bad for the seller, and bad for Etsy, who might not make any money on the search. This is a real example, by the way. I have run into this exact issue many times while searching Etsy for paua and abalone destash (paua is a type of abalone), and have had to learn all of the alternative words people might use for it. I know that some shop owners will complain that this gives an unfair advantage to people who didn't do their homework on descriptive phrases, but heck, even after doing extensive keyword research for my creations, I sometimes run into valid search terms after the fact. So, this has the potential to help everyone, but it is important to remember, Etsy is most interested in what helps buyers first.

The items that include all of the searched words are still shown first, so using all of the synonyms and related phrases still does give your listing a large advantage. Plus, you can't show up for synonyms or related terms if you haven't used the right core terms in the first place. For the AI to understand context, it needs enough data to chew on, and titles like "paua bracelet, blue bracelet, silver bracelet, paua jewelry, blue jewelry, silver jewelry" simply don't provide it (that's only 5 different words!), and, conversely, a word salad of 140 characters with as many style keywords as possible will tend to overwhelm the algorithm, and dilute the power of the core phrases you do have. A title such as "paua bracelet, blue abalone shell jewelry, sterling silver chain and clasp" will get you a lot further, where Etsy is going. 

 

Future of search: Voice & Image Search will need to work sooner rather than later

 

The above test (or change) is one of the main reasons I believe exact phrase matching is on the way out, or will at least be far less important in the future. The increasing use of voice search, and the advent of image recognition for search purposes, are two other reasons. According to a recent US study, "...one in 5 customers (19%) have made a voice purchase through Amazon Echo or another digital home assistant, and another third (33%) plan to do so in the next year"  - and that doesn't even include all of the people searching on phones and tablets. Voice searches tend to be wordier, making it less likely that any one page will have the exact phrase the shopper entered. And, needless to say, image matching avoids language altogether. [UPDATE: see more on Etsy image recognition testing here.]

Having a search engine that only recognizes exact phrases cannot continue; Etsy knows this. And that is why getting people to start thinking about search differently is one of my biggest goals right now. 

 

 

HOW THE HECK DO I GET FOUND NOW? 

 

I know you, and I know what you are asking. I've seen it in the Etsy forum. "Search is all different now - SEO doesn't matter - how do I get to page 1?"

Here is what you need to know:

  1. SEO means optimizing for search, and the old rules still matter for Etsy search at the moment, even if they aren't the only rules any more, and even when they may get different weight than they used to. So yes, SEO matters, and keywords are still part of that. 
  2. It's time for you to stop worrying about ranking on page 1 for generic terms, and start listening to me about aiming for more niche searches.
  3. More than ever, the other factors will weigh heavily in buyer decision making, and they involve how you market your business - photos, your points of difference from the competition, general branding, and understanding customer psychology are going to drive your clicks and sales from search. What worked last year may already not be good enough. 
  4. Seriously, you need to believe #2, before it is too late.

 

Right now, you could choose spend a lot of time playing with your titles and tags and attributes, and sometimes you might get your items to rank better in large searches. I have tested this with some success. However, I am finding that the effect of most "tricks" fade quite quickly now, and the rapid rate of change means you cannot count on any rankings to continue at all. Plus, regionalization, contextual search and personalization all mean that most people may not see the same things as you do anyway. It's better to spend your time employing diverse, high-quality and relevant keywords on each listing, then stop worrying about search for a while. Leave listings a few months to see how they perform, then do more keyword research as necessary. Put your extra efforts into other ways of driving revenue. 

As always, I strongly advise people not to rely on Etsy search as their only source of sales from Etsy, and not to rely on Etsy for your only source of business income. (But Etsy search is by far the easiest and cheapest way to get traffic on Etsy, so there isn't much point in having an Etsy shop unless you pay at least some attention to search.) 

 

It appears that Etsy isn't going to announce most big search changes any more. They are apparently just going to change the help files without pointing it out, or release the details to investors, but either way, they aren't letting us in on these secrets first. That means it is up to sellers to keep up with these other sources of information about Etsy search. The next few months are going to be very busy, so I will try to keep upcoming posts short and sweet, instead of doing these huge multi-topic scroll-fests. (I hear a huge sigh of relief from everyone!) Please share this around so others do know what has happened up until now. 

For future Etsy search news, you can follow my blog by email here, as well as my Twitter account, and my Google + page for SEO and ecommerce news, including Etsy. In addition, any of my SEO shop customers can sign up for my email list on all search changes; current buyers will receive a fully updated copy of my ebooks when it is complete next year.  Finally, you can get more information on broader ecommerce and search trends such as voice search and image recognition by following this Etsy team thread. (I do all of the reading so you don't have to!)

 

Updated June 14, 2018

Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week, Sept 17-23, 2017

Cindy Lou Who 2

 Yes, it is that time again ...

Yes, it is that time again ...

Welcome to Global Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week, 2017! Every year, the mitochondrial disease community comes together in September to spread the word about this neuromuscular disorder. 

Some facts about "mito":

  • Mitochondrial disease is a chronic, progressive disorder that occurs when the mitochondria of the cell cannot produce enough energy for cell or organ function.
  • Estimates suggest that 1 in 4,000 people will face a diagnosis of mitochondrial disease.
  • Mitochondrial disease symptoms differ from person to person and can first appear in infants, children, teens, or adults. Common symptoms include poor growth, loss of muscle coordination, muscle weakness and pain, seizures, vision and/or hearing loss, gastrointestinal issues, learning disabilities, and heart, liver, or kidney failure.
  • Mitochondrial disease symptoms affect many different organ systems. The neurologic, digestive, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular systems are most commonly affected.
  • Mitochondrial disease is related to autism, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

You can learn more about mitochondrial disease here and here

There are tons of activities this week, including walks, Light Up for Mito, and Stay in Bed Day. I am hoping to post a gallery of Light Up For Mito once the event is over, so check back! (You can follow the hashtag on Twitter as well.) A partial list of international activities can be found here

By passing this blog post on to other people, you are helping spread the word about a serious but poorly-known disease that millions of us live with every day. So please, post a link to Twitter, Facebook or other social media to do your part in raising awareness of this deadly condition!

 The Calgary Tower lit for mito awareness in 2016. Sadly, I no longer have a clear view of the Tower from my rooftop. 

The Calgary Tower lit for mito awareness in 2016. Sadly, I no longer have a clear view of the Tower from my rooftop.