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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. 

 

Free Shipping Is Part Of Etsy's Search Algorithm, In Canada At Least

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Notice anything similar about these listings? Every single one of them ships free, and they all rank at the top of the search for “baby” in Canada (Jan. 29 2019)

Notice anything similar about these listings? Every single one of them ships free, and they all rank at the top of the search for “baby” in Canada (Jan. 29 2019)

Is Canada A Testing Ground, Or The First Country In A Slow Roll Out?

We Don’t Know Yet

Back in September 2018, when Etsy released their Ultimate Guide to Etsy Search, and stated that shipping prices could factor into the search algorithm, I blogged that I wasn’t seeing any ranking impact when I tested changing my shipping prices, including offering free shipping.

That is no longer true, at least within Canada.

Since November, I have been able to move a few of my items up and down in Etsy search by turning free shipping on and off, but it only had an immediate effect domestically (in Canada); my items did not move in international searches, including in the United States, even when I offered free shipping everywhere. (By “in Canada”, I mean when the search filter is set to ship to Canada, not just with items from Canada.) The most obvious movement appeared with items that already had a good listing quality score, and only within large searches; an item that jumped from page 25 to page 1 for a generic query might not move at all for a very specific search term. For example, a listing might leap up the rankings for “stud earrings” but not for “red abalone shell earrings”. Most of the items I tested didn’t move at all, so I didn’t make an announcement.

But just under a week ago, I noticed that many broad searches in Canada changed quite a bit, and 100% of the listings (other than ads) on the top pages offered free shipping.

Yes, you read that correctly. All of the top ranked items a Canadian customer sees in generic searches within Canada at the time I am writing this have the free shipping badge. (You can see this by changing your country settings to Canada.) I was able to move a few of my listings that used to rank near the top back to page 1 just by using free domestic shipping. When I removed free shipping, the items dropped again.


This Could Be A Test, Since It Isn’t Showing Up In Other Countries, Yet


I contacted some of my volunteer testers in other countries, asking them to

  1. pick a listing that does reasonably well in search

  2. find a few broad search terms they show up for in their country

  3. add free shipping to the listing

  4. track what happens in the next hour

I coordinated the tests so I could track them as well, searching incognito with the “ship to” filter set to their country, and even with VPNs in a few cases. None of the listings moved up once their shipping charges were removed. So, that’s the good news; we are only seeing this in Canada, currently.

Furthermore, we couldn’t find any broad searches in other countries where 100% of the listings had shipping included. If you see any, please let me know!

While Canada is a localized/regionalized country (where items from Canada rank higher in generic searches than items from elsewhere), there is no obvious reason that free shipping products should dominate searches here, especially considering that products jump in ranking within 15-20 minutes of changing the postage costs. This is not about the preferences of Canadian shoppers being more skewed to not paying extra for shipping; that effect would be more gradual. I just woke up one morning and suddenly every top listing had free shipping.


What You Need To Know, even if you hate “free shipping”


First, do not panic! This might be a test. Now that the word is out, Etsy might even end it.

Second, it currently only happens in very generic searches, the ones I am always telling you not to worry about ranking in. If you have been listening to me, this isn’t going to have a big effect on you, even if you are Canadian. If you haven’t been listening to me on that point, then this is your wake up call - ranking in large, generic searches is not guaranteed, since Etsy can change the algorithm at any time. This is only one of many different ways your ranking in a broad search can tank. If you currently are on page 1 of a big search and are getting a lot of sales from it, congrats! But consider that a bonus; don’t assume that you will stay there, or that anyone can stay there indefinitely.

Third, since most buyers use more specific searches, you are all still visible in Canada if you ship to us.

Fourth, if you are Canadian, including the shipping costs in your item prices will not automatically boost your search ranking. You have to be well-optimized, and have a good listing quality score (meaning that buyers click on, favourite, & buy the listing when they see it in search), and show up in very broad searches. Even with a good quality score, I wasn’t able to make this work for the vast majority of searches.

Fifth: however, in my testing over the past 18 months or so, many listings where I include the shipping costs in the item price are gradually ranking better overall, even outside of Canada, than the ones that do not have free shipping. It doesn’t happen immediately, though, and there are some items that it never seems to help at all. So, sometimes free shipping works, even if it isn’t a direct algorithm factor.

Finally, remember back in September when I said that Etsy is “going to continue to push free shipping”? This is just one of many examples that will be coming. Even if this is only a test and they end it soon, expect Etsy to add low postage costs into the algorithm at some point, and to give benefits to shops who offer it. Research shows that most buyers are attracted to lower shipping prices, and Etsy wants that bigger pool of customers. So, make your peace with free shipping now, because it isn’t going away. You don’t have to use it, but you do have to accept that Etsy will.

If you have done any testing yourself, or have seen odd search results, please let me know: leave a comment below (no sign up required), convo me, tweet me, email me by clicking the little envelope icon at the top right of this page, or comment on Google+.

This post will be updated as developments happen. Stay tuned!



What We Know So Far About The Etsy Forum & Team Migration, January 2019

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A screenshot of the new Etsy forum, as shown in an Etsy blog post.

A screenshot of the new Etsy forum, as shown in an Etsy blog post.

You won’t be able to post on Etsy Teams or in the main Etsy forum

for almost 2 weeks; here’s what you need to know

In case you missed it, Etsy is suspending the forum and teams from January 10th to 22nd; you will be able to read the current forum as well as public teams and teams you belong to, but will not be able to post during that time.

As of January 22nd, the new forum will be open and available for all members to post in, as will all teams that have had posts since November 2016; older teams will not be moved to the new format. So if you have an inactive team you want to save in the new format, make sure you post a thread on the team by the end of January 9th.

Etsy provided a short blog post with more details including a few screenshots, and has also written a help file for team captains and leaders, providing more information about this transition. (Please read that if you are a captain or leader; I don’t summarize every detail below.) But some of this is written in Etsy-speak, and as usual, staff have clarified some points elsewhere, so I’ve compiled the most relevant details below to keep you informed. If I have missed anything, or have made any errors, please post a comment to let me know, or send me an email or convo with the new content.

Key Points About The Etsy Forum & Team Transition

  • They really did mean it will take 2 weeks. I have seen some debate about how long the closure will be, but Etsy has confirmed that they meant the whole time period. Of course, they may finish earlier, or it may take even longer.

  • The Bugs forum will remain open for new threads and posts. No explanation was provided as to why this one section can stay open while the other ones will be frozen.

  • Etsy is transferring forum threads with posts in the last 3 years, but note that they closed all threads older than 2017 many months ago, so none of those threads will show up in the new space, according to staff. That means over a decade of community history will vanish. Make sure you copy or screenshot anything you want to save for posterity!

  • All existing team threads will move to the new space. We were told last September that only the last 2 years of posts would be be part of the new Team space, but after many of us protested last fall, they delayed the migration and decided to move everything. Please note that does not include threads captains have deleted, which captains can currently see, and even restore, in the existing format.

  • The new format will include new tools, including the ability to like posts, to indicate that your question has been answered (which should cut down on those 7 page threads where everyone says the same thing because they didn’t read the other posts), and basic formatting.

  • We’re getting a notification feed which will include all replies to our posts and any mentions. Yes, you will be able to tag people in posts! (I will find that useful; right now some people post that they hope Cindy Lou shows up to comment , but I don’t necessarily see those in any timely fashion! Feel free to send me a message if you want me to post anywhere.)

  • No more closed teams that do not accept new applications, and no questions for team applicants to answer. We will still have the ability to reject new applicants if we chose, but we won’t be able to close applications entirely as we can now. Please note that I will simply be ignoring all new applications to my SEO team, as it will remain closed for the time being.

  • Teams will automatically see a banner with “important” Etsy news when it occurs. I expect that will mostly include new tools they want us to pay for, and will not necessarily include everything we need to know. Think of all of the notifications on your shop dashboard that people complain about! (e.g., the holiday banner) I am quite disturbed by this, & am now more actively looking for off-Etsy alternatives for my SEO team.

  • The new forum and team spaces use the same software that eBay and PayPal use for their forum spaces. This software can be substantially modified for each site, however, so Etsy won’t necessarily work exactly as those sites do.

  • There was a beta testing group, but they are not allowed to talk about what they saw during the test. Of course, some people have posted what they saw anyway. Apparently, there are going to be many new forum sections, and some of the existing ones, including Promos and Chit Chat, did not appear in the beta test. That does not mean that Etsy will not keep them in the new format, since the beta test was supposed to be a way to get user feedback on what needed to be changed. Also, team posts are apparently private only, meaning certain promotional threads, or posts like my recent ecommerce and SEO news thread, will no longer be available to non-members. I am actively searching for an alternative in case this happens; please let me know if you have any ideas. We will have to wait and see if all of this is true.

The reaction of a few forum regulars when they found out their fix will be closed for almost 2 weeks.

The reaction of a few forum regulars when they found out their fix will be closed for almost 2 weeks.

Why Is This Going To Take So Long?

We don’t know. They said it is because there are so many posts and teams to transfer, and also that they need to put finishing touches on the new spaces. However, many of us have participated in larger system transfers that have been completed in far less time, and Etsy originally meant to do this in the fall, so they have had plenty of time for testing to see if everything works.

I would not be surprised if they drop something new while the forum is closed, but please note I do not have any inside information that leads me to believe that. It just feels like something bigger is going on.

In the interim, I have opened a Google+ collection that will provide the usual Etsy, SEO and ecommerce news I post on my team. Please post there or in the comments here, or email or convo me, if you have any news you want to share.

Many teams and forum regulars are migrating to Slack, Reddit, Facebook and other forum/chatroom options while the Etsy community is read-only. Check your team forum now to see if anything has been set up.

I will update this post as necessary.


UPDATED January 7, 2019.

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, Including Options For Small Businesses

Worried about backlogs at Canada Post after the strikes (get updates here), but you don't know any other affordable shipping companies to fill the gap for your small business?

Need a cheaper way to ship within Canada or to the US?

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 gives 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 and during the busy holiday season, so you will need to contact these companies to make sure they will be able to cover your needs.

There are also numerous companies which offer access to better rates at couriers and for Canada Post than many of us can get on our own, including Chit Chats. Their prices, reliability and customer service can vary, so check reviews carefully before signing up for their services.

Regional Shipping Services That Deliver Outside of Canada

There are many 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, Alberta 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. (Note: they did not reply when I emailed a few questions, which is a bit of a red flag for me)

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. 

For media enquiries, please email me by clicking the envelope icon on the top, or contact me on Twitter. I will get back to you as quickly as possible.

UPDATED: November 27, 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 …

UPDATED: The strikes at Canada Post are now over, as of November 27, 2018. The company is warning customers that there may be delays within Canada as they work to clear the backlog, however, and all delivery date guarantees are currently suspended.

So far, my Canadian orders are at most 1-2 days late, and many have been delivered within normal time frames. Customers in southern Ontario will probably see the biggest lags. I am currently offering pickups in the Calgary area for people who want to avoid Canada Post for the time being.

How Canada Post Rotating Strikes Work

Rotating strikes involve union members striking for 24-48 hours in a different cities each day. The strike locations are currently not being announced until each strike is about to start.

Although I have not seen any serious delays in my packages arriving, as of Monday November 19th, Canada Post is now warning Canadians that domestic mail delivery could be subject to significant delays, especially in Southern Ontario where 1/3 of Canadians live. The rotating strikes & the union’s refusal of overtime (which is generally used a lot during the holiday shipping season) has caused large backlogs in and around Toronto in particular. Canada Post even anticipates having to start refusing mail in the Toronto area as they do not have enough places to store it.

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 more than 1-2 days, especially if your location becomes a strike target. UPS is available if you want to pay the additional fees, and Calgary-area customers are welcome to arrange a pickup if they want to avoid this problem.

International customers (including in the US) will not likely see any major changes to their deliveries during rotating strikes. However, it is possible I will have to delay shipping by 1-2 days 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 all 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 generally leave Canada within 2 business days, so non-Canadians ordering now should not be affected by any significant slowdowns.

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

UPDATED: November 27th, 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. [UPDATE Oct. 24: A short closed Bugs post reports that Etsy “recently discovered” that not attributes were showing up in search, and they are working on it. No idea if this is the same issue I have been reporting to them since June 2017, but since I can’t find any other changes to attribute searchability at this time, it may be they are finally looking at this. If so, it is appalling that they would state this was “recently discovered”, because other sellers as well as myself have told them numerous times over the past 16 months.]

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.

UPDATED October 24, 2018