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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. 

 

Canada Post Alternatives: Other Shipping Companies in Canada

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There Are Many Different Ways To Ship Into And From Canada Without Using Canada Post

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 until Canadian mail is moving again? 

Need an alternative for shipping into Canada from other countries?

Fortunately, there are many established options out there, including several services that will truck packages across the American border to ship via the United States Postal Service, incoming and outgoing.

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, so this is not a viable option for many of us.  

The following list shows the cost to ship a small bubble envelope with a $50 value from Calgary to St. John's, Newfoundland on October 19th, 2018 (tax not included, cheapest/slowest 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 couriers will sometimes limit their services to existing customers for the duration of any Canada Post disruptions, so you will need to contact these companies to make sure they will be able to cover your needs.

Regional Shipping Services That Deliver OUtside of Canada

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 some request a spreadsheet detailing each of your parcels being shipped. 

(If you are a high-volume seller but don’t live near one of these options, consider couriering your packages to the closest office; contact the company you wish to use to get their recommendations on the cheapest way to reach them.)

Chit Chats Express - the most national and established alternative that ships via the United States Postal Service (USPS). Opened in 2001, they now have multiple offices in Ontario, BC, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Fees are 65 cents to $2 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. Last Canada Post lockout, Ontario offices had arrangements for within-Canada shipping.

DYK Post: shipping via USPS from their offices in Calgary and Edmonton, with drop off locations in Edmonton North, Red Deer, Innisfail and Lethbridge; they also offer pickups in Calgary and Edmonton. Costs $1 and up per package to ship via USPS through their location in Montana. Print your own USPS postage or do it at their office. They also offer discounted DHL and other services to ship around the world.

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 for shipping to the US and other countries. Print USPS postage labels online or at their offices. 

Runnin’ Red: based in Winnipeg, they ship with USPS and UPS from North Dakota, starting $1 per package. You buy labels online yourself then drop your packages off.

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. 

Services That Ship Into Canada

Outside of Canada and want to ship things to your loyal customers here? If you don’t want to use the courier companies listed above for shipping into Canada due to the high brokerage fees, there are other options for your Canadian customers. Most common are cross-border services that allow Canadians to receive mail at a US address, and then have it brought across the border for local pickup or delivery. DYK Post, Runnin’ Red and Cross Border PIckups are three companies that offer US PO boxes to Canadians, and bring the mail back over the border for pick up in their respective cities.

Other companies such as My US Address will let Canadians pick up their mail in the US, or will reship it in Canada for them. Some businesses such as Kinek have multiple US locations that their customers can drive to for package retrieval. Note that the prices on these services vary, and may not always be cheaper than using conventional couriers, so it is best to ask your customer what they want to pay when giving them these options.

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. 

UPDATED: October 18, 2018

Canada Post Labour Disruptions 2018 - Updates On My Shipping

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 Mail in Canada might be a little slower for the next little while …

Mail in Canada might be a little slower for the next little while …

As many of you may know, the main unions at Canada Post have issued a strike notice for rotating strikes to begin on Monday, October 22 after midnight EDT. I will post any updates on the possible labour disruption as they become available, and also update my shipping information as necessary, so please bookmark this page.

How Canada Post Rotating Strikes Work

In the past, rotating strikes have involved workers striking for 24 hours in a few cities each day, meaning most Canadians see little change to their shipping and delivery patterns. The strike locations are announced the day before.

At this time, I will still be using Canada Post for all of my orders, so please note that tracked and express packages may be delayed within Canada by one day if your location becomes a strike target for 24 hours. International customers (including in the US) will not likely see any changes to their deliveries during rotating strikes. However, it is possible I will have to delay shipping by one day if Calgary is chosen as a rotating strike location. I apologize for the inconvenience.

What Happens If This Escalates To A Lockout Or Full Strike?

While the contracts may be settled without any further effects on mail delivery, I am planning ahead for the possibility that the dispute escalates to a full strike or lockout.

The following services will be available in my Etsy shop and here on my website if Canada Post suspends the mail:

1) Shipping in Canada via UPS courier services, if you wish to pay the additional fees, as well as local pickups for customers in the Calgary area. All other Canadian orders will be held until Canada Post resumes service. 

2) Shipping to the United States using USPS (regular mail), via a courier that will take packages from Calgary across the border into Montana a few times a week. Shipments will include USPS tracking. 

3) Shipping to most other countries using the service explained above with a non-USPS carrier. I can also hold your orders until Canada Post resumes service, if you wish. 

I strongly suggest that you order now for the holidays so that you are less likely to experience any additional delays in delivery. My international packages always leave Canada within 2 business days, so non-Canadians ordering now should not be affected by any slowdowns. (Please also note I will be out of town Monday & Tuesday October 29th & 30th; shipping will resume Wednesday October 31st.)

This post will be updated as the situation changes; please bookmark this page for ease of access.

UPDATED: October 18th, 2018

Review of Etsy's New Search Guide 2018: Not Much New, Some Is Untrue

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 There are no search results for “dinosaur pendant unisex” for my location, even though I have used the Recipient attribute “unisex adult” on several of my fossil pendants. So why is Etsy telling sellers that attributes are searchable like tags?

There are no search results for “dinosaur pendant unisex” for my location, even though I have used the Recipient attribute “unisex adult” on several of my fossil pendants. So why is Etsy telling sellers that attributes are searchable like tags?

Shipping Price Is Now a Search Factor, But Most of the Rest of Their Guide Is Either Old News or Not Yet Happening

Last Wednesday, Etsy released a new and supposedly comprehensive guide to its search algorithm, and as is often the case, it created more confusion than clarity. With one bombshell surprise, a confirmation of many older factors, and some flat-out wrong statements, “The Ultimate Guide to Etsy Search” should be read very carefully, and its statements tested wherever possible. Of course, I know you don’t have time for that, so I’ve done it all for you! The following blog post covers what you need to know.

What’s New - The Push for Lower Shipping Charges, With a Few Other Tidbits

LOWER SHIPPING PRICES: Ever since Josh Silverman took over as CEO in May 2017, we’ve continuously heard about the virtues of low shipping charges, and how Etsy sellers hurt themselves by charging accurate mailing fees. His podcast in July (transcript here) stressed that “[buyers] see no reason why they should pay more for shipping on Etsy than anywhere else”, contrary to what many Etsy sellers and employees might think. He went on:

“[Etsy buyers told us they] don't know the postage service rates and they don't care about what the actual cost of shipping is. ... buyers said that they were 50% less likely to buy an item if they thought that the price of shipping was even a little bit more expensive than they were used to, and they were very unlikely to ever come back." [emphasis added]

While some sellers vehemently disagree with this assertion, Silverman’s statements are backed up by other research. Furthermore, with Etsy spending more on advertising and bringing in new buyers faster than ever before, it’s likely more true now than when they did the research. Those outside shoppers finding an item through Google ads don’t necessarily know about the site’s history and ethos.

To convince sellers to reduce their shipping fees, Etsy now tells us that “Etsy Search factors shipping price into search ranking. Lowering your shipping prices makes your items more likely to rank higher in search.” Read that again, carefully. They didn’t say you had to offer free shipping (although they mentioned elsewhere that “[o]ffering free shipping could improve your search ranking even more”), or even super-cheap shipping. They said that items with lower shipping prices are “more likely” to rank well, not that they are guaranteed to do so.

 With Etsy continuing to highlight free shipping listings as in the search test above, we know this push is not going to go away.

With Etsy continuing to highlight free shipping listings as in the search test above, we know this push is not going to go away.

Through testing, I did not find even a small effect from reducing shipping charges or offering free shipping on listings, at least in the short term. Since last fall, I have been tracking the performance of a small number of listings in my jewellery shop that offered free shipping, and at best there was a tiny uptick in search views recently, but not across all of the listings. Last week, I changed numerous other items in several ways to test various possible scenarios: raising shipping, doubling shipping, reducing shipping, and offering free shipping, both with and without raising the item price. The only tests that showed a close to consistent ranking change were the ones where I raised shipping a large amount, to more than double Etsy’s suggested average domestic rate, and even those results were not statistically significant, although almost all of the listings dropped in all of the test searches. A few of the items that I increased shipping on actually rose in some searches, so this factor does not appear to be large, if it currently exists at all.

However, I do assume it will become a larger component of the algorithm in the future, because cheap shipping is the direction Etsy is heading in. Also, based on Etsy and other research, reducing shipping by adding it to the item price will likely increase sales for some types of sellers on some items, which will increase their search scores, meaning this has already become an indirect search factor.

 Most Canadian jewellery shops keep their items under 2 cm thick so they can ship for $1.80 CAD, but items just a hair thicker can cost over 10 times as much to mail. This message is laughable.

Most Canadian jewellery shops keep their items under 2 cm thick so they can ship for $1.80 CAD, but items just a hair thicker can cost over 10 times as much to mail. This message is laughable.

Like most other search factors (and business tools in general), each shop owner will need to make decisions that suit their business plans, not Etsy’s. Most Etsy search bumps and penalties are pretty small, so you can afford to ignore a few that will not work for your items and brand, especially when your direct competitors are in the same situation. If everyone gets a penalty for high mailing costs, you all still end up equal. Be aware, though, that Etsy isn’t going to have a change of heart here; they are going to continue to push free shipping in particular, and not just through search.

Could Etsy make this more palatable for sellers, and even more fair? Yes, they could easily come up with a more realistic metric than the average shipping cost across the whole category (shown on the right). A full bookshelf costs a lot more to mail than a candle holder, but they can both be in the same top level category. Sending bookshelf sellers the message on the right just makes Etsy look clueless, and clueless isn’t going to help convince sellers to reduce their shipping prices.

Summary: If shipping prices are already in the algorithm, the impact is very small, according to my testing. If your domestic competition ships for less, however, that could hurt you both in search and in general, because Etsy is going to keep promoting free shipping.


“CITIZEN SCORE” UPDATE: Remember the “citizen score” I told you about in June? Perhaps because sellers persistently mocked the name, it has already been changed, to the “Customer and Market Experience Score”. Most parts of the score are not new, but Etsy did reveal a bit more than they have in the past:

  • one bad review has only “a tiny effect” on search ranking

  • cases customers file against your shop hurt your search ranking for 4 months only

  • all of the factors get different weights

  • they are phasing out the forum email warning penalty discussed in my last blog post (no word on if any existing warnings will still last for the entire 12 months they previously mentioned)

I am glad to see they are getting rid of the forum penalty aspect, as a person who runs afoul of Etsy’s strict forum rules is not necessarily going to provide a bad customer experience. None of the rest is surprising, and since most large shops get poor reviews and cases opened occasionally, it isn’t unfair - we will all have to deal with it occasionally. I don’t see this score hurting you much unless you have many problems piling up, as evidenced by the large number of listings with review ratings under 5 stars that still rank well. Etsy put far more emphasis on keywords, photos, and buyer behaviour than on the customer service factors in its new Guide, so don’t get too hung up on this.

LISTING QUALITY SCORE INCLUDES THE CART?: We’ve known for years that buyer behaviour such as clicking, favouriting or buying a listing contributes to search ranking. However, one of the new short videos released last week also refers to items being added to a cart. Check out the video on the left starting around 1:10 , where the staffer explains that how many people “add it to their cart or make a purchase” from search results is part of a listing’s quality score.

Furthermore, note that the search guide chapter on conversions states that “we look at things like clicks, favourites and purchases” when calculating the listing quality score [emphasis added]. That means there are other factors they aren’t mentioning, possibly opening an item more than once, adding it to a list, or sharing it to social media. But they are careful to emphasize that views and sales are the two most important parts of this score, so that is where seller focus is best spent.

I’ve long suspected that adding items to the cart was part of listing quality, but my testing has been inconclusive, probably because it is really not a large piece of the score. While it is interesting that Etsy revealed this, it’s not something I am concerned about.

What’s Untrue (or not yet happening) - why you shouldn’t believe everything in this guide

NOT ALL ATTRIBUTES & VARIATIONS ARE SEARCHABLE!: I’ve been telling you for over a year now that some attributes and variations are not searchable, meaning that if you search for your items using words that are only in certain attributes or variations, your item may not appear. In November, I expressed confusion about why some were used and some weren’t. Heck, I reported some missing ones as long ago as in June 2017, and never received any information or resolution from Etsy. At first, I assumed it was just a very slow roll out. Adding everything at once would have massively disrupted the search results, as that would involve (in some cases) more than doubling the words any given listing could be found under. However, it has been 18 months now, with little progress in the last year, so I have been wondering what was taking so long.

It was only when a recent bug involving all categories and attributes drew forum attention that it became clear: it is mostly one word attributes and variations that are searchable right now; almost all attributes with more than one word or number are missing from search. E.g., the Recipient attributes “women” and “men” come up in search, but “unisex adults” does not. I’ve used the last option on many of my dinosaur fossil pendants, but as shown in the screenshot at the top of this post, I get no results when when searching “dinosaur pendant unisex” within Calgary .

 This ring can be found when searching for whole digit US ring sizes, but not half sizes, because Etsy hasn’t made the half-size variations searchable.

This ring can be found when searching for whole digit US ring sizes, but not half sizes, because Etsy hasn’t made the half-size variations searchable.

This creates bizarre situations where sellers’ visibility can be limited. For example, if you search for a made-to-order ring, listings that use Etsy’s ring size variations will appear for specific whole sizes, but not for half sizes. The ring on the right (from MyWiredImagination, and used here with the owner’s permission) appears in the results if you search for a size 7, but not if you search for size 7 1/2, despite using the Etsy-provided variations for ring sizes.

Now, as completely illogical as this is, it would not be a huge problem if Etsy was upfront about it, so shop owners would know to add “1/2” to their titles, or “unisex” to their tags. Sadly, repeatedly throughout this Guide, Etsy tells us that “[y]ou don’t need to add tags that are exact matches for attributes you’ve already added” and “your listing will appear in the results” if you use the buyer’s search terms in your titles, tags, categories, attributes and variations. Etsy staff are well aware that this is not true, from the numerous Bugs threads and questions to Support, but they released these statements anyway.

So, why is Etsy misleading sellers about how to optimize their listings right now? We can only speculate, since they have not addressed this issue. Some other suggestions in the guide seem to be looking towards the future instead of accurately explaining the present, and that could be true here - they may still have plans to add these attributes to search, possibly even in the next few months. They are also likely using these unsearchable attributes in various experiments with the machine learning processes in search, and the more people add, the more Etsy can experiment.

Of course, the problem is that people have already taken Etsy at its word on this topic, and some have removed words from tags because they falsely think they can be found under the attribute instead. Those sellers have harmed their shops by making their listings less visible, right before the busiest shopping season of the year, simply by believing Etsy was telling the truth. If that makes you angry, let Etsy know how you feel by contacting Support, or posting in the Bugs forum. Ask them why search isn’t working like their brand-new Guide says it does.

Summary: contrary to the new Guide, not all attributes and variations are searchable, especially if they are longer than one word. Test the ones you are relying on as I did above, to see if they are searchable or not.

ARE SHORTER TITLES PART OF THE ALGORITHM NOW?: When Etsy first introduced the relevancy search in 2011, shortening your title could usually help you rank better for the remaining phrases, but that diminished a lot in the last several years. Despite that, Etsy has recently been pushing for shorter and less-stuffed titles, and so have I, because they are recommended by Google, and they are easier for customers to read, which should lead to more clicks and sales.

Nothing has changed. The Guide does not expressly state that shorter titles will help you rank higher, and I haven’t detected any recent changes here. This might change in the future, and this could be an instance of Etsy warning us ahead of time, but chopping your titles in half will not bump all of your listings further up the search rankings. I’m still recommending titles between 70-100 characters, but not because that is an algorithm factor. It simply makes sense for Google and the human eye.

 If shoppers make a mistake and type “neckalce” instead of “necklace”, Etsy does correct it, as shown above - but they don’t cover every possible typo just yet.

If shoppers make a mistake and type “neckalce” instead of “necklace”, Etsy does correct it, as shown above - but they don’t cover every possible typo just yet.

MISSPELLINGS: The keywords chapter of the Guide states: “Etsy search redirects shoppers to the correct results if they make a common mistake so you shouldn’t misspell keywords on purpose to reach shoppers who’ve made a tiny typo.” This is partially true, and search has gotten a lot better at it in the past few years. However, there are still many common misspellings that do not get autocorrected, and at the moment, you can still benefit from adding those. Test to see what happens when you enter some of these words in the search bar, and maybe use a few misspellings when you are running out of tag ideas, but don’t do this too much, as search will likely continue to add new typos in the future. (Tip: the same is true of words with different English and American spellings; Etsy picks up the most common ones, but not all of them.)



What We Already Knew, OR HASN’T CHANGED: Vacation Mode, EXACT MATCH, Descriptions


This part will briefly touch on things that we already knew and that Etsy confirmed, including some points I have seen confusion over in the Etsy forum. (and yes, I continue to test things like this to make sure that everything is current!)

VACATION MODE CAN AFFECT YOUR SEARCH RANKINGS: I believe this was a first - Etsy admitting that using vacation mode can affect where you rank in search. Chapter 1 of the Guide states:

“Sometimes you need to take a much-needed break, but when you return from holiday mode, you might not see the same traffic to your shop from search as before you went away. That’s because we’re gathering information about how buyers interact with other listings, while your listing quality scores stay the same. Once you return from holiday mode and your listings are appearing in search results again, we’ll start to gather up-to-date information about how shoppers are interacting with your listings.”

This has always been true, but likely has more impact these days given the greater number of listings we are competing with. It’s also true if you deactivate listings, so don’t do that just to avoid losing ranking; vacation mode is better because your pages still appear when people click on favourites, Google links, blog links, etc.

Not every shop will experience this effect, however. As I have stated many times, this depends on a lot of factors, some of which have nothing to do with search. The shops most likely to take a hit here are those that get daily sales from search, especially if those sales come from ranking in generic searches. (Let me remind you that those big searches are not guaranteed, and you should not rely on them for the bulk of your income.) If you drive most of your own traffic from outside of Etsy, have a large repeat buyer base, or sell small impulse items that don’t have much competition, you might not lose any traffic at all when you return.

Most sellers who have had this happen find that their items will bounce back fairly quickly, and that listing new items and driving some of our own traffic came jumpstart your shop upon return. So don’t avoid vacation mode if you need to use it, but do be aware of the potential effects.

YOU STILL NEED AN EXACT PHRASE MATCH IN COMPETITIVE SEARCHES: Chapter 1 was very clear on this point: “If those keywords are an exact match for the query, your listing may be ranked higher in results because it’s seen as more relevant to the search”, with “keywords” being “tags, titles, categories and attributes.” (They also repeat this point in the query matching video.) I’ve tested this again since the Guide came out, and it is still true for competitive searches, i.e, the ones where many people have the exact phrases in both titles and tags. For the past year or so, this has not been true in non-competitive searches, possibly due to the machine learning that is going on.

Exact phrases in tags still matter as well, matching the title phrase, but have less strength on their own. Tags get less weight in general than they did 18 months ago, and this was most noticeable when I was testing title and tag matches in searches with Canada (where Canadian items will often be ranked higher in big searches due to regionalization). Removing an exact phrase match from the tags had little effect in a Canadian search, while it dropped listings quite a few pages in US searches.

So if you want to be found in large US searches, match your important title phrases in the tags. And as I have explained for years now, “[i]f the keyword phrase you want to target is longer than 20 characters, adding multiple phrasal tags containing those terms can still help you match with those searches.”

THINGS THAT DON’T AFFECT SEARCH RANKING: Again, nothing new here, but some of these points are frequently questioned, especially by newer sellers, so it is important to note that the following factors are not part of Etsy’s search:

  1. “Where a phrase is used in your title” - I first told you this was confirmed in June, but for some reason they still haven’t fixed the old Help files on this point. Remember, though, that shoppers can see very little of the title in the search results, and Google does give a bit of extra weight to the first part of the title, so I would suggest making sure it clearly describes your product, even though it is not an algorithm factor.

  2. punctuation: “You can use punctuation and some symbols in your titles to separate phrases and Etsy search will still be able to read each of those phrases to see if they match with a shopper’s search.” (and no, you don’t need spaces after the punctuation for this to work; Etsy fixed that in 2012)

  3. description. “Etsy Search does not scan descriptions for search ranking purposes, but search engines like Google will sometimes look at them.” I’ve seen a few people insisting that Etsy now uses the description for ranking, but that simply isn’t true, and you can easily check it if you don’t trust me. I suspect that some people are getting confused by examples where the search word isn’t found in the titles or tags, but as I explained in previous blog posts, Etsy is currently using several AI techniques to test matching listings to phrases without all the words. In those examples, the searched terms/phrases are almost never in the description either; Etsy is making that association in other ways.

WHAT DO I DO NEXT? HOW SHOULD I OPTIMIZE MY SHOP NOW?

As I detailed above, not much has changed in Etsy search just yet. Most of this Guide just confirmed what we already knew, and the one new element (shipping charges) does not seem to have much weight today. So, if you have been following my advice up until now, you don’t necessarily need to change anything at this time. However, be aware that things such as high shipping costs and rambling titles have been proven to put off some consumers, so you shouldn’t automatically ignore Etsy’s suggestions, either.

That said, Etsy is continuing to make changes to the appearance of the search pages (free shipping trucks, best seller badges etc.), and is also slowly altering the weight of various elements of the algorithm, all of which can affect shops quite dramatically in some cases. If you are ranking well at the top of big popular searches right now, do not expect that to continue indefinitely. There could easily be some larger changes on the horizon, so keep diversifying your keywords to show up in many small searches as well as the bigger ones.

If you want to be informed when Etsy does make those changes, sign up for my blog email list, or follow me on Twitter - I will always report on what is happening.

Did I miss something in this blog post? Please leave a comment below, and I will answer your question, or email me using the link in the top right corner, or convo me in my SEO shop.

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.

[UPDATE September 24]: Etsy will be phasing out the forum warning component of the “citizen score” in the near future, which they have renamed the “customer and marketplace score”.

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: September 24, 2018.

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

Cindy Lou Who 2

 "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.