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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. 

 

Filtering by Tag: SEO

Etsy's Push For Free Shipping For US Buyers - An Example From Their Search Testing

Cindy Lou Who 2

A Etsy search for “stone jewelry” from Canada - is this what the US searches will look like as of July 30th? Maybe, maybe not.

A Etsy search for “stone jewelry” from Canada - is this what the US searches will look like as of July 30th? Maybe, maybe not.

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.

The only screenshot I could find of the US free shipping test from late May; credit to Sara from  Mayday Labels.

The only screenshot I could find of the US free shipping test from late May; credit to Sara from Mayday Labels.

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

Etsy's Free Shipping Announcement - What We Know So Far

Cindy Lou Who 2

Above is a screenshot of the top 2 rows of a search for “kids” on Etsy in Canada as of July 12, 2019. All of the listings ship for free in Canada. You will be seeing something similar in the US as of July 30th.

Above is a screenshot of the top 2 rows of a search for “kids” on Etsy in Canada as of July 12, 2019. All of the listings ship for free in Canada. You will be seeing something similar in the US as of July 30th.

Etsy Will Give Items That Ship Free “Priority Placement” in US Search Results; A Lot Remains Unclear

As you have probably already heard, Etsy announced that as of July 30, 2019, items that ship for free to the United States, either by themselves or in orders over $35 USD, will get “priority placement” in US searches. This blog post is not about whether or not this is a good idea; I’ve already warned you in the past that Etsy would continue to push free shipping and that we should all expect more of this in the future. As I wrote in January, “…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.”

Instead, I am going to get into the details that have been released so far, so that we can all be prepared for this algorithm change. Note that I can’t give much optimization advice yet, as my team and I will need to test this once it goes live on the 30th. I will write another blog post once testing is complete; sign up here to receive all of my blog posts by email so you will be up to date. [Update (Aug. 14: Here is my review of how it works.]

Etsy put out a lot of information with this press release, including the video I have linked to, an updated Ultimate Guide to Shipping, which contains sections on strategies for non-US shops, and tips for businesses who offer large or heavy items. They did 3 days of questions and answers in a massive forum thread. You don’t have time to sift through all of this, so I did it for you.

What they failed to mention in the vast amount of material they put out with this announcement is that Canada has had free shipping items at the top of generic searches since the end of January 2019. Back then, I speculated that Canada might be a testing ground, or the beginning of a very slow roll out, and it turns out it may have been both. Since we haven’t noticed Etsy testing this in US searches up until now [Update (July 15): there was a small test in late May-early June, which mostly reserved the top 3 rows of US search for free shipping listings/shops, and didn’t necessarily give shoppers the most relevant results.] the Canadian data will likely be extremely useful to them. However, that does not mean that US searches will look like the Canadian ones on July 30th; we don’t know if they will use the same algorithm weights in the US. In fact, CEO Josh Silverman stated that the change “…means that shoppers in the US will primarily see items that ship free and shops that guarantee free shipping on orders of $35 or more in the top and most visible rows of search”, which could mean that there will be fewer items with free shipping on the first few pages of US generic searches than we see in Canada.

So, let’s go over the facts, keeping the speculation to a minimum.

Things we know:

  • there are two ways to make your listings eligible for “priority placement” in US searches on the 30th: you can have free shipping to the US on one or more listings, or you can use their new $35 total order shipping guarantee tool to give US buyers free shipping on all orders over $35.

  • any listing with no shipping charge for US buyers will get the search boost, regardless of what country it ships from. Sellers outside of the US are included, but buyers in other countries are not.

  • free shipping minimums must be created with their “guarantee” tool to be eligible for priority search placement. So, if you want to offer free shipping to customers who purchase at least $35 USD of goods in your shop, you will only get the search boost through the new guarantee tool, which is still rolling out. Using the old Sales and Coupons settings to offer a free shipping sale with a minimum will not work for priority search placement on July 30th .

  • the $35 order tool will only change shipping prices for American buyers; everyone else will still pay for your set shipping rates. The $35 minimum purchase is calculated before tax but after any other sales discounts or coupons. [Update (July 21, 2019): this last point is now in dispute, as Etsy Support staff are now telling sellers that the guarantee will use the original price of the item, not a sale price. Stay tuned for further updates.]

  • the $35 guarantee tool takes effect as soon as you enable it, but the search benefits do not kick in until the 30th. You are also able to turn the guarantee tool off.

  • Promoted Listings will not be included in this change; items can still appear at the very top of search ads even if they charge for shipping.

  • you can still offer a shipping upgrade for a fee; only the base shipping price must be free for your listings to be included.

  • digital downloads are eligible for priority placement, but still won’t be included in the old free shipping search filters.

  • The smart pricing tool will help people with items over $35 USD adjust listing prices to compensate for the free shipping offer, but it will not be available to non-US sellers until August. Etsy will demonstrate how to use the smart pricing tool on Facebook Live on July 16. [Update (July 18): link to demo and the question and answer thread on this tool in the forum.]

  • the other elements of Etsy’s search algorithm will remain in effect; this is just one search factor. In other words, free shipping won’t automatically guarantee you top placement. [Pro tip: if you only want to offer free shipping on some items come July 30, consider the ones that already do very well in search, as listings that get very few search hits today likely won’t magically rise to the top row by offering free shipping.] Remember that the smaller the search result, the easier it will likely be to be found if you do not have free shipping.

  • this initiative will also affect Etsy promotions. “We’ll also begin to prioritize these items wherever Etsy advertises in the US—in email marketing, social media, and television ads.” Most people seem to be ignoring this point, perhaps because they do not realize how much traffic comes from Etsy advertising. I expect, for example, that all of the search links in the US version of Editors Picks will now go to shops with the free shipping guarantee. [Update (July 18): Etsy staff have confirmed via email that “prioritize” does not mean that shops without free shipping will never be promoted in emails, social media or on television. It just means that listings that ship free to the US, & shops with the $35 free shipping “guarantee”, will be more likely to be promoted.]

Good news - you can turn it off, and it does work.

Good news - you can turn it off, and it does work.

Things we want to know but don’t know (yet):

  • what does “priority placement” really mean? They’ve said it is different than the normal shipping boost that has supposedly been part of the algorithm since last year, but have not given more detail, other than the quote about “the top and most visible rows of search”.

  • why won’t the “smart pricing” tool be available outside of the United States until August?  Since Etsy has also announced that they will be introducing country-specific sales options and will be doing more promotion and ads in non-US countries in the fall, and admits that we may need more tools for offering different prices in different countries, it does look like they fully expect that at least some non-American shops will suffer once this search change takes place. Shops outside of the United States have always had a disadvantage compared to US sellers, and Etsy is intentionally compounding it by transforming the algorithm before giving all of their tool solutions to all sellers.

  • why can’t sellers use the free shipping sale option we already have in the Sales & Coupons section of the shop manager to give US buyers free shipping on orders over $35? Possibly because we can’t use it to set a sale for just one country other than your own, so that would only work for shops that want to give every other country they sell to a free shipping deal as well.

  • does the statement about advertising include the Google and Google Shopping ads Etsy pays for? They did not mention search ads in their statement about promotions, and they ignored my question on this point in the Q&A thread. [Update (July 18): in an email to me, Etsy staff stated that the Google Shopping ads that Etsy buys for us are not affected by this change.] If it does, that likely means they will end up spending more than they used to on ads for those shops with free shipping in the US, since many of us who received traffic from Google Shopping ads would be removed as of July 30. Etsy has stated that those ads are their best performers, so they will have to feel very secure that the free shipping shops will be able to pick up the slack after removing so many other listings. Then again, they said “prioritize”, which does not necessarily mean that they will only promote listings with free shipping.

  • is it against the law in any jurisdictions to follow Etsy’s advice of combining shipping prices into the item price? Maybe, although I don’t necessarily agree it is in Canada, depending on how you do it. France’s law only applies to books, and only those shipped within France. I strongly suggest anyone worried about this consult legal advice in your jurisdiction. Note that Etsy’s solution for any illegality is to come up with another way to offer free shipping, which in essence means eating the cost and reducing your profit.

Things To Watch For:

  • an Etsy staffer has told me that more search changes are coming by the end of the summer; they will possibly include photo quality and more personalized results than we have seen across the board up until now. This free shipping prioritization might end up rolling out all at the same time as those changes, or at least as tests for those changes, making it more difficult to separate out the true effect of this free shipping prioritization.

  • Etsy said they will start increasing promotion and advertising in non-US countries in September, at the same time they start promoting the free shipping deals to American buyers. They’ve also previously said they want to give us more advertising and promotion opportunities, so I will not be surprised if increased Etsy ads involve increased ads that sellers pay for at the same time.


My Advice:

  • Don’t panic! While we do not know exactly how this is going to work, Etsy cannot afford to completely hide shops without free shipping to the US, so listings that have mailing costs will still be found in search. They want you to have shipping included in all of your listing prices, so they will really be pushy about this, but they also know that can’t happen, for a variety of reasons. For example, if you can’t ship free because your items cost $40 to ship within the US, then your competition will be in the same situation, and free shipping getting priority ranking will not matter.
    Canadian searches have shown free shipping items for more than the first 25 pages of big, competitive searches since the end of January, yet a shop like mine, with only 6% of listings shipping to Canada for free (many as tests), has had no loss of Canadian sales.

  • Test this for yourselves, but also watch for people like myself to do testing and report in after this goes live on July 30. I have assembled a special team of sellers from around the world, and we will be designing a variety of tests, including both listings with and without free shipping, from US and non-US sellers. I will blog once we have full results, but will also update this post a bit, so keep checking in.

  • wait for the bugs to be worked out of the tools before using them, if at all possible. There is no benefit to using them before July 30th, as you can use the existing sales and coupons function to do a free shipping sale today if you want.

  • Remember the things I always say: 1) don’t rely on Etsy alone for your business income; 2) don’t rely on Etsy search alone for your Etsy income; and most importantly 3) don’t rely on ranking in the big, general searches for the bulk of your Etsy search sales. Make sure you are optimized for lots of niche (aka long tail) searches, as they constitute the majority of ecommerce sales. The sellers this will hurt the most are folks who can’t ship for free (including many sellers outside of the US) but who still think that the most common searches are the ones that will work best for them.
    I’ve had sales in the past 30 days from searches with as few as 24 results. In examples like this, ranking by free shipping will not matter much. On that note, my goal in the next few weeks is to release my long-promised guide on keyword research (with a focus on niche keywords), and a new basic post on the other search algorithm elements.

  • We all knew this was coming, and it is not the end. Accept that this is how Etsy functions now, and make your business plans accordingly.




    Updated August 14th, 2019

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

Cindy Lou Who 2

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

Update [July 13, 2019]: On July 9, Etsy announced that they will begin giving a boost to listings with free shipping in US searches starting July 30, 2019, including items from shops that give free shipping on orders over $35 USD. I have a new blog post on this topic here, and promise to test this search change once Etsy rolls it out.

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, or email me by clicking the little envelope icon at the top right of this page.

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

UPDATED: July 13, 2019

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

Cindy Lou Who 2

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. UPDATE March 20, 2019: two word attributes and most multiple character size attributes are now searchable, but attributes with plurals in them aren’t searchable as singular forms.]

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 March 20, 2019

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.