Everything You Need to Know About the Last Few Months in Etsy Search
If you are like most people, you are having a bit of trouble keeping up with everything on Etsy these days, with both big changes and small dominating sellers’ focus in the Etsy forum and on social media. So, out of all of the recent developments, what do you need to know about search?
While there is a lot going on with Etsy search right now, there have been very few permanent changes made, so I have avoided drawing up a summary until now, but there is just so much happening that I thought people might appreciate the highlights in one place.
Regionalization/Localization: Two More Countries Added
This is the only area where Etsy has made an official and permanent change in the past few months, adding Canada and the Netherlands to the short list of countries that have localized search, meaning that people with their search filters set to “ship to” those countries will see items that ship from those countries rank higher in searches, especially in large searches.
During the testing in March and April, I also saw tests for Italy and Spain, but at the moment, those countries are not localized, nor have I seen any reports of any further testing in other areas. Only four other countries are currently localized: Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. See more about how regionalization works in my older blog post from when they first started doing this.
Note that Etsy did not announce this change, but instead simply buried it in their Help file as if it had always been true. This change also applies to categories, and I recently noticed that Market pages - collections of "popular" items you see when you click on a tag - are localized now as well. Since those pages rank well on Google, a large chunk of Etsy's search engine traffic comes through Market pages. Clearly, Etsy feels they will get more sales overall if new customers land on pages featuring items that ship from their country.
What you need to know - This may be a small help to sellers in those countries, as they will gain move visibility in searches within their country. The continued expansion of this program is problematic for all sellers, though, as it does limit their visibility in large searches in the six affected countries. (Note that search ads are not localized, however, and US search is not localized, so any drop in sales from search ads or the US must be due to other factors.)
This will likely only have a large effect on sellers in other places if they usually get a lot of sales from a regionalized countries. Remember, the key to getting around this is to make sure you are optimized for many smaller, niche searches, where this factor has a negligible effect. If your SEO strategy is to rank in big generic searches, this could hurt you more than the average seller.
Attributes on Etsy: Still Partially in Limbo
As of this writing, only some of the standardized attributes - Occasion, Holiday & Colour - are searchable on Etsy, and none are filterable yet. All pre-set Colour attributes, and all Occasion attributes are showing up in search on PC and mobile, but not on the Etsy app. Only some of the Holiday attributes are currently searchable, including Christmas, but certain ones such as Father's Day and Valentine's Day are not yet included across the site. I am still waiting to hear back from Etsy on why this is happening. (It is possible some are included in tests at this time, but I haven't seen any.) Custom colours and other custom variations are not yet searchable across the site.
The attributes that are currently searchable are getting very little weight in the algorithm. While removing them does drop some of my listings a bit in searches where the attribute is included in the keywords entered, other searches show no changes at all. This is markedly different from the early testing, where attributes received a lot of weight, even more than tags in some cases. Their main effect at the moment will be to add keywords that were not already in the titles and tags, but that weighting may change in the future, of course.
Etsy staff have stated that these attributes will also be used as filters, but at this time, only a few tests are making use of attributes. See below for more details on the various filter tests Etsy is doing at the moment.
What you need to know - Everything is still being tested or still hasn't rolled out, so I can't make many recommendations here. Colours, holidays and occasions can add additional search terms to your listing right now, so I still suggest using them where they apply. Also, beware that Etsy is still adding them to some listings, especially for sellers who have not started adding attributes at all, and sometimes they are not correct. So check your listings!
Etsy Studio Search: Dead on Arrival?
Etsy Studio launched at the end of April, with very few changes from the sneak preview; I haven't seen many changes since, either. Search is still not localized, even though the Help file says it is. Most attributes are used as filters but are not included in the search; custom variations are not included at all, other than on the listing itself.
Recent Etsy cutbacks have put the long term plans for Studio in limbo, it would appear; while CEO Josh Silverman said the "the craft marketplace is a great marketplace for us", Etsy has recalled staff from this project to work on the main site at this time. Etsy will assess all branches of the company in the coming months; it is unclear if any new Studio development will happen in that time frame.
What you need to know - Nothing at the moment, but stay tuned for further developments. You may end up reading them on the financial pages first.
Jewellery Filter Test: More Work To Do, More Nonsensical Results
In late April, some shoppers were greeted with multiple additional filters down the left side of the page (as shown in the screenshot at the top of this post). Options include colour, material, and gemstone type. The announcement stated:
"Our goal is to learn more about the types of filters that are most useful to shoppers so that they can easily find the items they’re looking for and ultimately make more purchases. We also want to ensure that we’re creating the most relevant attributes for your items to save you time."
However, initially Etsy was not using attributes to populate these filters (that changed at the end of last week), and many listings that have relevant terms in their titles and/or tags are also excluded from the filtered results. Having the filtered term in title or tags can help you show up in these filtered searches, but it is not guaranteed. This led to a lot of confusion from members, some of whom took these search results as proof that adding attributes was an exercise in futility. So why was Etsy not using the attributes that they insisted we spend hours applying (without a bulk editor) so that we could show up in filtered searches in the future? An even better question - why not run this test before introducing attributes for us to add to our items? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe they only recently noticed that sellers' time is valuable to us.
But my best guess is that there are multiple factions within Etsy working on search, and there is no one game plan guiding everyone right now. The purchase of the search firm Blackbird Technologies may have led to this problem, at least in part, as it occurred more than a month after Etsy began testing the new attributes on a prototype team. They seem to have developed most of the categories and options for filters before Blackbird's machine learning/artificial intelligence (AI) was available to start trying to make sense of the 45+ million listings on Etsy. I can't think of any other reason they would not run this jewellery test first, to better determine what filters might work, before we did all of the work applying them one by one.
Part of the problem might be that most sellers have not applied attributes to their listings, and Etsy therefore needs another way to make sure that the majority of listings will be included in any filters it sets up in the future. That problem likely would not exist if we had a bulk editor to apply attributes and variations! But it appears they are also trying to let the AI learn from the search, which probably means they would also need to look beyond attributes for data to feed the AI, even if everyone updated their attributes. So far, I haven't seen any evidence the AI has learned much.
Also, there is another significant problem with these filters - they are sticky if you try to narrow down your search further, and you can't always remove them. That's another issue I am waiting for Etsy to address. [UPDATE: this does appear to be fixed now.]
What you need to know - We don't know what we need to know here. This test has been going on for two months now, which is a long time for an Etsy experiment. It may be more about getting data for the AI than it is about finding out what will make searchers buy more. Whatever happens, expect this to change in some way before the holiday season. Either they will be adding more filters permanently, or they will at least make the existing attributes more prominent in search. Or not.
Home and Living Test: Even More Work
Disappointed that jewellery sellers are getting to have all the attribute fun? No worries - Etsy has started another filter test, this one using the Home and Living category. In this experiment, not only are they drawing on titles and tags to populate the attributes, they are also asking sellers to add new attributes to their listings - right after most just got finished adding the first set. The screenshot on the right shows the new options for lamps, but many different sub-categories also have the recently-added attributes. Most items will at least have the Room option, for example, if it is not already evident from the sub-category. Style, Material, and Recipient are other common fields. Most items also have the standard Colour, Occasion and Holiday drop downs available on almost all other types of listings.
As with most Etsy tests, not every visitor will see these filter options when searching. Similar to the jewellery test, items are showing up in filtered results somewhat randomly, with many items being excluded from the search once filters are applied. Part of the problem is that Etsy's software is not yet sophisticated enough to pull accurate information from each listing to fill out the attributes, or trigger the filters. Shop owners reported multiple instances of Etsy automatically filling out the attributes for sellers, and doing it incorrectly. Etsy needs to find other ways to use machine learning in search; altering sellers' listings without our permission should not be an option.
What you need to know - This test can be affecting your visibility at the moment, even though not all visitors will see it, so I suggest adding attributes where they apply, but don't spend hours doing this and nothing else, because who knows what Etsy will change next? I fear this is all going to get worse before it gets better. They don't seem to be anywhere close to done with attribute development, so I would not be surprised to see several more tests, and more sets of attributes added to the listing process. We can only hope that they are working on a bulk editing tool for attributes as well.
Similar Items in Search Results - Another Type of Filter
One of the latest search experiments is the addition of a "similar items" link under each listing shown. The screenshot on the left shows this test combined with a different search experiment where a shop's review rating and feedback total is shown, so the link is quite small and not very prominent. If you have the regular search layout, the "similar items" link there is a bit larger and is much more likely to be clicked, in my opinion.
If you click on the "see" link, you get the page shown below: the original product you clicked on is off to the left, with 5 pages of new items mostly not included in the original search filling the rest of the page. Note that there are no ads on the page, and no review ratings.
My example used the query "coprolite pendant", and many of the products on page one do include coprolite, but those quickly dwindle as more related products are shown: other fossils, dinosaur items that are not jewellery, dung items that are not fossilized, etc., right down to a vintage science textbook that seems to have been selected because it could be a science-themed gift. Of the 40 items on page one, only seven (17.5%) are coprolite pendants or necklaces, and that percentage decreases on subsequent pages. For a less niche search, however, the algorithm can show more items that are a direct match.
This is the same similar items algorithm that picks some personalized listings on your account home page, as well as similar items in Etsy Finds emails, and on the top of listing pages clicked from off site. It was previously used to show similar items on the old Browse and Trending pages. In fact, the layout of the "similar items" page shown above has not been changed for years, which makes me think it will change in the future - perhaps to include ads? - if this test becomes permanent. Note also that the similar items will be the same if you look up that listing using a different search, so they are generated by the listing itself, not the search query.
When it started, this test link was also shown on promoted listings, but Etsy removed it after numerous complaints.
What you need to know - There is not much you can do about this particular experiment, other than the usual: list great items with awesome photos. I expect that this algorithm will change as Etsy continues to let machine learning processes make decisions about search; this exercise is probably testing the layout more than it is assessing the quality of the similar items.
Auto-Correct - Causing More Confusion Than Typos
Finally, you may already be aware of a series of search changes and some tests first announced last fall: automatic correction of typos and misspellings in search queries. While in most cases customers will still see a link to their original search if Etsy does not display it initially, there have been examples of results reverting to Etsy's auto-corrected version on page 2, and many issues with words being changed in the search bar with no ability to keep the initial entry. These test bugs are being reported, but most take an inordinate amount of time to be solved, if that even happens.
What you need to know - Be aware that some users may not be able to find your niche items, if they involve unusual words that could be auto-corrected by Etsy by mistake. There is not much you can do to counter this beyond filing frequent and persistent Bugs reports when you encounter these problems.
What's Next for Etsy Search?
Wouldn't we all like to know? If they decide to continue with attributes, we should expect more categories to get new options, but I otherwise can't predict much here. It may be several months before we know more about how Etsy's new direction will affect search. With the change in leadership and massive layoffs (22% of staff are being cut), any and all plans seem to be up for possible cancellation at this time. We've been expecting major search changes this year, based on the plans for attributes and filters as well as the comment last fall that Etsy would like to make the average listing title more Google-friendly, but Etsy's current focus is a rapid improvement in the main site's sales as well as in company profit. This could mean more short-term initiatives instead of major retooling - it is very hard to predict the next move. And if the swirling rumours about an imminent sale come true, new owners could again transform the company game plan.
Remember, increasing sales across the site does not usually mean that everyone's sales will improve. Generally, any change will have some winners and some losers, and Etsy won't play favourites if it sees a way to boost Etsy revenue. So while my blog posts tend to focus on Etsy search topics, this would be a good time to keep an eye on all Etsy developments, including testing other items at the top of your listing page when found outside Etsy, making purchases look less risky, and highlighting estimated delivery times, among many other experiments. Expect more of the same in the next few months.
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Have any questions on this latest update, or any tests you have noticed that you would like to share? Please add a comment below, or send me an email! You can also contact me at my SEO shop on Etsy.
Updated July 20, 2017