Etsy tested prioritizing free shipping listings in US search in late May and early June - was this a preview of their new campaign that will launch July 30th?
Last week I told you about Etsy’s campaign to get sellers to offer free shipping to US buyers, but said we didn’t know of them testing any major changes to the US search algorithm involving free shipping. I was wrong: they did run a test starting around May 23rd, and ending around June 3rd. While very few sellers seemed to notice it, it is worth reviewing how it worked, in case they do decide to use something similar as of July 30th. [Update (August 14): they decided to use something similar.]
The most interesting part of that experiment was the fact that for most observers, only the first 3 rows of US searches displayed items that shipped for free; the “normal” search results continued after the top 3 rows. In larger searches, that meant that the “normal” results were merely pushed down a few rows, unless they shipped for free. A few people reported seeing 6 or 7 rows of listings with free shipping badges, but no one saw entire pages. That means there was still decent visibility for listings that had shipping charges attached.
However, it wasn’t all good news for buyers or sellers. Some smaller searches displayed far less relevant results in the top 3 rows than is ideal. Check out the screenshot above, showing the search for “clip art sewing” in the US at the end of May. (Thank you to Sara from Mayday Labels for having the good sense to capture this!) The items with the free shipping badge mostly have nothing to do with sewing, in their images at least. Only the Promoted Listings ads and the partially-cut off 4th row include images of sewing implements and related items. If you do that search today (July 15, 2019), the top results are dominated by listings that look relevant.
In short, this test seemed to fill at least 3 rows of search with “free shipping” listings, sometimes at the expense of matching the search query as closely as the ads and remainder of the first page did. The worst part of this example was that most of the other items on the first page were digital downloads, so they had no shipping charges anyway! (Last week, the Etsy Q & A thread revealed that instant downloads would be included in the “priority placement”, although they would still be excluded from the standard free shipping filter in search.) The best part was that items from non-US sellers did appear in the top 3 featured rows if they offered free shipping, so there was no localization in effect.
What Does This Tell Us?
Unfortunately, not much. There is no guarantee the new search rankings starting July 30th will act like this. However, I suspect they will look more like this test than the current Canadian searches that sometimes show many pages of free shipping listings before anything else. Why would I think that, you ask?
My reasoning is that most of Etsy’s literature on this search change defines “priority placement” as “in the top and most visible rows of search.” The don’t say in the top pages, just the top rows. Now, that might mean the top of each search results page, not just the top of page 1 as this test had. That would drive a lot of items further down in the results. It might mean nothing, however; you can’t always parse Etsy-speak as if it were normal language.
But, if this test was a trial run, the US free shipping “guarantee” push might still provide substantially more exposure for items that don’t ship free than the Canadian version does in big searches. Remember, many of us haven’t had any loss of Canadian sales despite not shipping for free, so whatever Etsy ends up doing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be invisible. Let’s wait and see what happens.
I’ll be continuing to follow all new developments, and will update this post and the earlier one as needed. Once the search algorithm change is finally revealed, I will blog again, so make sure you sign up to get on my blog email list.
Updated August 14, 2019