Etsy is now explaining some of its buyer tests on this page, but you will notice that they rarely mention algorithm tests there, at least not yet. Guided search isn't included, but the various sale and shipping filters are. Beware that you won't always learn enough by consulting that information.
Seller Theories: A lot of these are based on observation only, not testing, so many are either not true or may have a different cause than the one shop owners initially come up with. I will try to tackle the major ones I have read recently.
- Item price is not a direct factor in search. I took several of my listings, and either increased or decreased the price, and did not see any significant changes in ranking over several days. With some listings, I first lowered the price, then raised it above the original number several days later, just to check if there was a high or low pricing threshold, but I was unable to make my listings move based on price. Larger searches where the average price has dropped noticeably over this year may be due to the context specific search ranking (CSR) change discussed above, where the AI is using sales data to figure out searcher intent. Lower priced items may sell more often, skewing this part of the algorithm for the time being. That said, I am not seeing this in a lot of searches, so it may be item-specific.
- Using all 10 photos is not a direct factor in search at the moment. This rumour started almost as soon as Etsy gave us 10 listing photos, but it really picked up steam after a listing critique thread by Etsy staff in which most critiques mentioned using all 10 photos. I tested this by adding and even subtracting photos from some of my listings, and it had no effect on my search ranking. However, I do expect that using more than just a few photos leads to increased sales (although not increased search ranking), and I also suspect Etsy may want us to use more photos to help with any image recognition search technology they may be developing. Blackbird (the AI company Etsy bought last year) specialized in image recognition programs, and eBay has already added an image recognition program to its app. I would be surprised if Etsy wasn't at least thinking about it. The more photos you have, the more likely it is that an algorithm can accurately match your item to a potential customer's photo.
- New listings do seem to be appearing around page 5 of larger searches (for shops that are used to ranking well), and on the last page of smaller searches. I will admit to not having tested this at all, since I haven't had any time to list new in the past few months, and I never used to check where my new listings turned up even when I did, so I have no idea what my shop should expect. Most top sellers report that their items move up after a few days, so it is apparently not a permanent ranking. Still, if you were one of those people who expected a new product to go to page 1, at least briefly, you should probably stop basing your search strategy on that for the moment.
Search Changes: Besides the diversity rule, there are a few elements of the algorithm that have changed a bit, but they have not been removed entirely. These are both things that I expect to keep changing in the next few months, and may disappear in the long term.
- Having the exact phrase in both title and tags still improves your ranking in most situations, but this is in flux, especially in searches where very few items qualify. For example, at this time, I am the only seller with "Turquoise Blue Abalone Earrings" in a title, but out of 165 results for that search, I am well down page 1, behind some items that don't even have most of the words in the title. (You can tell how many other listings have the exact phrase by searching it in quotes.) It used to be that those earrings would be in the top row. However, I have tested removing exact phrases in larger searches that have more optimized items, and that absolutely does drop my search ranking every time. While there are probably some exceptions to the rule right now, I would be more worried about future changes in this area, as I think they are coming. [UPDATE (June 14): exact phrase matching is still working for large searches; I have more search updates here.]
- Recency still affects ranking, but it is more complicated and less effective than just a few months ago. If you use a renewal strategy to get better search standings, you may want to reevaluate your approach. I have noticed, however, that it still works quite well in categories, for items that already had a good quality score.
What you need to watch out for - results without all of the search terms
I am saving this for last because I don't know if it is a test or a change, but it is important enough for its own section: it is now possible to rank in a search without having one of the words in your title, tags or attributes. That was never possible before this year. There aren't many results like this so far, but I expect them to grow over time.
Please understand that I am not talking about some of the forum reports you may have seen recently, which mostly seem to involve words from attributes being included, or the periodic reports that involve stemming or other misunderstandings of how search works. (By stemming, I mean when someone searches a longer form of a word and the listing only has the root, or "stem" - that has worked for years. E.g., someone searches for "beaded" and gets listings with "bead".) It is also not caused by the word being in the description (I checked). Etsy does not currently use the description in search, and I haven't identified any examples of them testing it, either.
As far as I know, Etsy has not commented on this situation, so all I can do is speculate. It is likely part of the AI testing, or could even be using the old "similar items" algorithm, although the examples I have found did not look like the latter to me. Right now, I am not seeing this very often, and when I do, the listings are always at the back of the search. It's unlikely to have a large impact on anyone's views or sales at this low level, unlike Google's contextual search and Hummingbird algorithm, which can easily identify synonyms and other related elements of a page, and will sometimes show you a website that doesn't have the exact words as the number one result.
But if Etsy gets good results from this, expect the examples to increase; expect Etsy search to become more like Google's. If it works (and that is still a big "if" at the moment), it would be great for buyers. Right now if I search for "paua" and a seller only has "abalone shell" in the title and tags, I will not find their item. That's bad for a buyer, bad for the seller, and bad for Etsy, who might not make any money on the search. This is a real example, by the way. I have run into this exact issue many times while searching Etsy for paua and abalone destash (paua is a type of abalone), and have had to learn all of the alternative words people might use for it. I know that some shop owners will complain that this gives an unfair advantage to people who didn't do their homework on descriptive phrases, but heck, even after doing extensive keyword research for my creations, I sometimes run into valid search terms after the fact. So, this has the potential to help everyone, but it is important to remember, Etsy is most interested in what helps buyers first.
The items that include all of the searched words are still shown first, so using all of the synonyms and related phrases still does give your listing a large advantage. Plus, you can't show up for synonyms or related terms if you haven't used the right core terms in the first place. For the AI to understand context, it needs enough data to chew on, and titles like "paua bracelet, blue bracelet, silver bracelet, paua jewelry, blue jewelry, silver jewelry" simply don't provide it (that's only 5 different words!), and, conversely, a word salad of 140 characters with as many style keywords as possible will tend to overwhelm the algorithm, and dilute the power of the core phrases you do have. A title such as "paua bracelet, blue abalone shell jewelry, sterling silver chain and clasp" will get you a lot further, where Etsy is going.
Future of search: Voice & Image Search will need to work sooner rather than later
The above test (or change) is one of the main reasons I believe exact phrase matching is on the way out, or will at least be far less important in the future. The increasing use of voice search, and the advent of image recognition for search purposes, are two other reasons. According to a recent US study, "...one in 5 customers (19%) have made a voice purchase through Amazon Echo or another digital home assistant, and another third (33%) plan to do so in the next year" - and that doesn't even include all of the people searching on phones and tablets. Voice searches tend to be wordier, making it less likely that any one page will have the exact phrase the shopper entered. And, needless to say, image matching avoids language altogether. [UPDATE: see more on Etsy image recognition testing here.]
Having a search engine that only recognizes exact phrases cannot continue; Etsy knows this. And that is why getting people to start thinking about search differently is one of my biggest goals right now.