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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

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

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

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

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

We Don’t Know Yet

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

That is no longer true, at least within Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

  1. pick a listing that does reasonably well in search

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

  3. add free shipping to the listing

  4. track what happens in the next hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There are no search results for “dinosaur pendant unisex” for my location, even though I have used the Recipient attribute “unisex adult” on several of my fossil pendants. So why is Etsy telling sellers that attributes are searchable like tags?

There are no search results for “dinosaur pendant unisex” for my location, even though I have used the Recipient attribute “unisex adult” on several of my fossil pendants. So why is Etsy telling sellers that attributes are searchable like tags?

Shipping Price Is Now a Search Factor, But Most of the Rest of Their Guide Is Either Old News or Not Yet Happening

Last Wednesday, Etsy released a new and supposedly comprehensive guide to its search algorithm, and as is often the case, it created more confusion than clarity. With one bombshell surprise, a confirmation of many older factors, and some flat-out wrong statements, “The Ultimate Guide to Etsy Search” should be read very carefully, and its statements tested wherever possible. Of course, I know you don’t have time for that, so I’ve done it all for you! The following blog post covers what you need to know.

What’s New - The Push for Lower Shipping Charges, With a Few Other Tidbits

LOWER SHIPPING PRICES: Ever since Josh Silverman took over as CEO in May 2017, we’ve continuously heard about the virtues of low shipping charges, and how Etsy sellers hurt themselves by charging accurate mailing fees. His podcast in July (transcript here) stressed that “[buyers] see no reason why they should pay more for shipping on Etsy than anywhere else”, contrary to what many Etsy sellers and employees might think. He went on:

“[Etsy buyers told us they] don't know the postage service rates and they don't care about what the actual cost of shipping is. ... buyers said that they were 50% less likely to buy an item if they thought that the price of shipping was even a little bit more expensive than they were used to, and they were very unlikely to ever come back." [emphasis added]

While some sellers vehemently disagree with this assertion, Silverman’s statements are backed up by other research. Furthermore, with Etsy spending more on advertising and bringing in new buyers faster than ever before, it’s likely more true now than when they did the research. Those outside shoppers finding an item through Google ads don’t necessarily know about the site’s history and ethos.

To convince sellers to reduce their shipping fees, Etsy now tells us that “Etsy Search factors shipping price into search ranking. Lowering your shipping prices makes your items more likely to rank higher in search.” Read that again, carefully. They didn’t say you had to offer free shipping (although they mentioned elsewhere that “[o]ffering free shipping could improve your search ranking even more”), or even super-cheap shipping. They said that items with lower shipping prices are “more likely” to rank well, not that they are guaranteed to do so.

With Etsy continuing to highlight free shipping listings as in the search test above, we know this push is not going to go away.

With Etsy continuing to highlight free shipping listings as in the search test above, we know this push is not going to go away.

Through testing, I did not find even a small effect from reducing shipping charges or offering free shipping on listings, at least in the short term. Since last fall, I have been tracking the performance of a small number of listings in my jewellery shop that offered free shipping, and at best there was a tiny uptick in search views recently, but not across all of the listings. Last week, I changed numerous other items in several ways to test various possible scenarios: raising shipping, doubling shipping, reducing shipping, and offering free shipping, both with and without raising the item price. The only tests that showed a close to consistent ranking change were the ones where I raised shipping a large amount, to more than double Etsy’s suggested average domestic rate, and even those results were not statistically significant, although almost all of the listings dropped in all of the test searches. A few of the items that I increased shipping on actually rose in some searches, so this factor does not appear to be large, if it currently exists at all.

However, I do assume it will become a larger component of the algorithm in the future, because cheap shipping is the direction Etsy is heading in. Also, based on Etsy and other research, reducing shipping by adding it to the item price will likely increase sales for some types of sellers on some items, which will increase their search scores, meaning this has already become an indirect search factor.

Most Canadian jewellery shops keep their items under 2 cm thick so they can ship for $1.80 CAD, but items just a hair thicker can cost over 10 times as much to mail. This message is laughable.

Most Canadian jewellery shops keep their items under 2 cm thick so they can ship for $1.80 CAD, but items just a hair thicker can cost over 10 times as much to mail. This message is laughable.

Like most other search factors (and business tools in general), each shop owner will need to make decisions that suit their business plans, not Etsy’s. Most Etsy search bumps and penalties are pretty small, so you can afford to ignore a few that will not work for your items and brand, especially when your direct competitors are in the same situation. If everyone gets a penalty for high mailing costs, you all still end up equal. Be aware, though, that Etsy isn’t going to have a change of heart here; they are going to continue to push free shipping in particular, and not just through search.

Could Etsy make this more palatable for sellers, and even more fair? Yes, they could easily come up with a more realistic metric than the average shipping cost across the whole category (shown on the right). A full bookshelf costs a lot more to mail than a candle holder, but they can both be in the same top level category. Sending bookshelf sellers the message on the right just makes Etsy look clueless, and clueless isn’t going to help convince sellers to reduce their shipping prices.

Summary: If shipping prices are already in the algorithm, the impact is very small, according to my testing. If your domestic competition ships for less, however, that could hurt you both in search and in general, because Etsy is going to keep promoting free shipping.

“CITIZEN SCORE” UPDATE: Remember the “citizen score” I told you about in June? Perhaps because sellers persistently mocked the name, it has already been changed, to the “Customer and Market Experience Score”. Most parts of the score are not new, but Etsy did reveal a bit more than they have in the past:

  • one bad review has only “a tiny effect” on search ranking

  • cases customers file against your shop hurt your search ranking for 4 months only

  • all of the factors get different weights

  • they are phasing out the forum email warning penalty discussed in my last blog post (no word on if any existing warnings will still last for the entire 12 months they previously mentioned)

I am glad to see they are getting rid of the forum penalty aspect, as a person who runs afoul of Etsy’s strict forum rules is not necessarily going to provide a bad customer experience. None of the rest is surprising, and since most large shops get poor reviews and cases opened occasionally, it isn’t unfair - we will all have to deal with it occasionally. I don’t see this score hurting you much unless you have many problems piling up, as evidenced by the large number of listings with review ratings under 5 stars that still rank well. Etsy put far more emphasis on keywords, photos, and buyer behaviour than on the customer service factors in its new Guide, so don’t get too hung up on this.

LISTING QUALITY SCORE INCLUDES THE CART?: We’ve known for years that buyer behaviour such as clicking, favouriting or buying a listing contributes to search ranking. However, one of the new short videos released last week also refers to items being added to a cart. Check out the video on the left starting around 1:10 , where the staffer explains that how many people “add it to their cart or make a purchase” from search results is part of a listing’s quality score.

Furthermore, note that the search guide chapter on conversions states that “we look at things like clicks, favourites and purchases” when calculating the listing quality score [emphasis added]. That means there are other factors they aren’t mentioning, possibly opening an item more than once, adding it to a list, or sharing it to social media. But they are careful to emphasize that views and sales are the two most important parts of this score, so that is where seller focus is best spent.

I’ve long suspected that adding items to the cart was part of listing quality, but my testing has been inconclusive, probably because it is really not a large piece of the score. While it is interesting that Etsy revealed this, it’s not something I am concerned about.

What’s Untrue (or not yet happening) - why you shouldn’t believe everything in this guide

NOT ALL ATTRIBUTES & VARIATIONS ARE SEARCHABLE!: I’ve been telling you for over a year now that some attributes and variations are not searchable, meaning that if you search for your items using words that are only in certain attributes or variations, your item may not appear. In November, I expressed confusion about why some were used and some weren’t. Heck, I reported some missing ones as long ago as in June 2017, and never received any information or resolution from Etsy. At first, I assumed it was just a very slow roll out. Adding everything at once would have massively disrupted the search results, as that would involve (in some cases) more than doubling the words any given listing could be found under. However, it has been 18 months now, with little progress in the last year, so I have been wondering what was taking so long.

It was only when a recent bug involving all categories and attributes drew forum attention that it became clear: it is mostly one word attributes and variations that are searchable right now; almost all attributes with more than one word or number are missing from search. E.g., the Recipient attributes “women” and “men” come up in search, but “unisex adults” does not. I’ve used the last option on many of my dinosaur fossil pendants, but as shown in the screenshot at the top of this post, I get no results when when searching “dinosaur pendant unisex” within Calgary .

This ring can be found when searching for whole digit US ring sizes, but not half sizes, because Etsy hasn’t made the half-size variations searchable.

This ring can be found when searching for whole digit US ring sizes, but not half sizes, because Etsy hasn’t made the half-size variations searchable.

This creates bizarre situations where sellers’ visibility can be limited. For example, if you search for a made-to-order ring, listings that use Etsy’s ring size variations will appear for specific whole sizes, but not for half sizes. The ring on the right (from MyWiredImagination, and used here with the owner’s permission) appears in the results if you search for a size 7, but not if you search for size 7 1/2, despite using the Etsy-provided variations for ring sizes.

Now, as completely illogical as this is, it would not be a huge problem if Etsy was upfront about it, so shop owners would know to add “1/2” to their titles, or “unisex” to their tags. Sadly, repeatedly throughout this Guide, Etsy tells us that “[y]ou don’t need to add tags that are exact matches for attributes you’ve already added” and “your listing will appear in the results” if you use the buyer’s search terms in your titles, tags, categories, attributes and variations. Etsy staff are well aware that this is not true, from the numerous Bugs threads and questions to Support, but they released these statements anyway.

So, why is Etsy misleading sellers about how to optimize their listings right now? We can only speculate, since they have not addressed this issue. Some other suggestions in the guide seem to be looking towards the future instead of accurately explaining the present, and that could be true here - they may still have plans to add these attributes to search, possibly even in the next few months. They are also likely using these unsearchable attributes in various experiments with the machine learning processes in search, and the more people add, the more Etsy can experiment.

Of course, the problem is that people have already taken Etsy at its word on this topic, and some have removed words from tags because they falsely think they can be found under the attribute instead. Those sellers have harmed their shops by making their listings less visible, right before the busiest shopping season of the year, simply by believing Etsy was telling the truth. If that makes you angry, let Etsy know how you feel by contacting Support, or posting in the Bugs forum. Ask them why search isn’t working like their brand-new Guide says it does.

Summary: contrary to the new Guide, not all attributes and variations are searchable, especially if they are longer than one word. Test the ones you are relying on as I did above, to see if they are searchable or not. [UPDATE Oct. 24: A short closed Bugs post reports that Etsy “recently discovered” that not attributes were showing up in search, and they are working on it. No idea if this is the same issue I have been reporting to them since June 2017, but since I can’t find any other changes to attribute searchability at this time, it may be they are finally looking at this. If so, it is appalling that they would state this was “recently discovered”, because other sellers as well as myself have told them numerous times over the past 16 months. 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.


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.

Evolution of Etsy Search, November 2017: Context Is Key, "Clumping" is Back

Cindy Lou Who 2

Etsy used the example of a search for "laundry basket" to show how the new "context specific search ranking" should work. The results I see are only that good for the first two rows, however. Source: Etsy 3rd Q 2017 Financial Results,  slide #5 . 

Etsy used the example of a search for "laundry basket" to show how the new "context specific search ranking" should work. The results I see are only that good for the first two rows, however. Source: Etsy 3rd Q 2017 Financial Results, slide #5

Contextualization, Localization & Searchable Attributes All Contribute to Changed Search Rankings


The question on everyone's mind these days is "What is going on with Etsy search?" On any given day, your guess might be as good as anyone else's, since it seems like they are changing elements weekly or even daily. Well, I am about to tell you all the messy details we know so far, but beware - this is not short. So grab a coffee (or a survival pack) and hunker down for a long read about Etsy's latest algorithm changes. 

I also need to warn you: if you are reading this because your goal is to get all of your items on page 1 for generic searches, you are going to be disappointed. Not only because that will be impossible for everyone eventually (I can't say that in regards to your shop right now), but also because the rapid pace of changes right now means that even if you "crack the code" tonight, your methods could be obsolete tomorrow. Things are fluctuating that much! And that is what Etsy is aiming for. The same listings coming up on page 1 day after day appears to be a thing of the past.

[I will do my best to update this post with new developments as things change over the holiday shopping season. All updates will be marked as such.]


"Context Specific Search Ranking" - Narrowing Down Searcher Intent


While many of us could see that search results looked different, we didn't have confirmation of a key change until Etsy's 3rd Quarter Earnings conference call on November 6. CEO Josh Silverman stated the following:

In September, we introduced a major search improvement called the context specific search ranking, or CSR. CSR uses query and user-level information to rank results in real time. As a first step, we are leveraging transaction data to fuel our machine-learning technology to create more relevant search results. To give you a better sense of the difference, Slide 5 includes some before-and-after images to illustrate how this technology can deliver a better search experience for our buyers.

But what exactly does that techno-babble mean, you ask? The idea is actually pretty simple: Etsy wants to show searchers items that match their search intent as closely as possible. Take the example given, shown at the top of this blog post. When a buyer entered "laundry basket" into the search bar, they used to get a lot of planner stickers, as well as actual laundry baskets. Those sticker listings had "laundry basket" in their titles and tags, and are popular items, so the basic search rules ranked them well. But the results weren't what the buyer was really looking for; they likely would use the words "planner stickers" or something similar if that is what they truly wanted. Most buyers who entered "laundry basket" are probably looking for something to store their dirty clothes in; their "search intent" is actual laundry baskets. But the search algorithm can't understand these things the way a human would. 

All of us who do much searching on Etsy can think of other good examples: if you search "dress", you don't want a pin with a woman wearing a dress, and "earrings" doesn't usually mean you are looking for supplies to make earrings. So fixing this problem sounds great, right? The second screenshot shows much better search results for these buyers. The problem is, how do you get the algorithm to understand this, for millions of different searches, and even for different languages? Enter the machine learning technology from Blackbird Technologies, which Etsy bought in 2016. Often called "artificial intelligence" (AI), this type of program absorbs large amounts of data, then makes connections between words, ideas and situations that might not be obvious to the program at first, or to humans at all. When used in search, an AI ideally "learns" from how well searchers respond to sets of results, so it can show better results the next time. In some ways, it is continually testing and refining what the best rankings should be. (Yes, you read that correctly - the AI will never be finished changing things. I am sorry to be the one to break the news to you.)

The AI started this current project using only some of the information available, namely the sales made on these items, likely made directly from these searches. If people who search "laundry basket" are more likely to buy laundry baskets than planning stickers or art work, then the AI learns that it will get better sales if it shows more laundry baskets for that search. The more sales patterns that are observed, the more distinctions that can be made, tailoring the rankings with other criteria as well. Silverman made it clear this was just the starting point for CSR, and that sales are up because of it. 

So what other information can the AI use? The laundry basket example was straightforward to the average human being, but what if a word or phrase could mean two or more different things, depending on the context? A classic example is sports team names, and that is how I stumbled upon another apparent example of CSR several weeks before Etsy announced this program: Etsy is delivering a different set of results to European Union than to the rest of the world, and you can see distinct preferences in searches where the words may have more than one meaning. They are either testing or permanently allowing the ranking scores to develop differently in the EU from the previous algorithmic ranking. This is not regionalized search, which is controlled by the "ship to" filter. (I have more on search regionalization later in this blog post, but want to be clear: what I am showing you in the next few screenshots is completely different than that.) [UPDATE March 2018 - Etsy appears to have ended this practice for the moment, but seems to have rolled the ranking change into their normal regionalized search.]

The two screenshots below are of the search "blue jays", one with country settings (at the bottom of the page) on United States and one with United Kingdom. Note that I changed the "ship to" filter to the US on the UK version to avoid Etsy regionalizing the second search and showing me mostly UK items.

The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United States, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United States, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United Kingdom, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

The search "blue jays", done with country settings for the United Kingdom, shipping to the United States (sellers' countries in pink).

See how the search done with the UK setting shows more actual birds, while the US search shows mostly items from the Toronto Blue Jays professional baseball team? Sure, both searches show some of both, but the far more of the top-ranking items outside of the EU are baseball-related. The distinction continues as you scroll further down page 1 of each search. Note that in both cases, you see a mix of different countries' items, so this is not about showing the searcher things from their own country. In fact, you can change the countries and get the same results, as long as one country is in the EU and one isn't. So Canada and China will produce the same result (as long as the ships to filter is on the same country), as will France and Germany. (European countries that are not part of the European Union are grouped with the rest of the world.) 

Not convinced? Another good example is the search "football". At the time I am writing this, the first few rows of the US search show American football results, while the UK search shows mostly what Americans call soccer. (Remember, by "US" & "UK" searches, I mean with the account set on those countries, but with the ship to filter set to a non-regionalized country.) 

If you know what the word "football' usually means in the UK, you will immediately know which of the above screenshots is from the UK and which is not.   (for non-sports fans, the one on the right is in the UK)

If you know what the word "football' usually means in the UK, you will immediately know which of the above screenshots is from the UK and which is not. 

(for non-sports fans, the one on the right is in the UK)

So, how are they doing this? I am not entirely sure what data they are sampling to create these distinctions. It could be through the sales data alone, as with the "laundry basket" example, or it could be that search is only using clicks, sales and favourites from the EU to decide the EU ranking, excluding non-EU information that shapes the quality score in the rest of the world. My best guess is the latter, but I could be wrong. Whichever answer is correct, this still appears to be a test or at best a limited rollout, as it doesn't make much sense to have China, Australia, Finland and the US in one group, and the entire EU in the other. I expect that if they are happy with the results, they will break this down much further, perhaps separating it out by each country at least in part. [UPDATE: this example has now changed; see discussion in my latest post]

So those are two existing examples of context specific search ranking. Personalization (results tailored to what you search for, click on, favourite and purchase) could be another, although at the moment I am seeing very little of this happening, compared to the other recent changes. Several people have been insisting in the Etsy forum that CSR is about personalization, but really, you can have CSR without considering an individual shopper's search and purchase history at all, as the above examples show. Since many buyers land on Etsy for the very first time every day, you cannot base search improvements on personalization alone, and Etsy knows that. So they aren't. 


The End of Diversity - "Clumping" Makes a Comeback


When more than one item from a shop shows up on the same search page, Etsy forum posters have nicknamed it "clumping". Since Etsy made the relevancy search the default in 2011, they have always tried to limit the number of items from any one shop on the top pages of the search, known as the "diversity" rule. While this rule has had many variations over the years, since late 2014 only very small searches showed more than one item from each shop on the first few pages. The Etsy search help files explained diversity as follows:

Shop diversity - Buyers on Etsy are looking to explore a marketplace of unique items. In order to meet this expectation, Etsy’s search algorithm works to show results from a variety of shops, when available.

In August, sellers began noticing that the first pages of major searches had begun displaying multiple items from the same shop again. Etsy admin confirmed it was a test, but then in late October, the above definition disappeared from the help files. Staff have since told some sellers via email that sometimes "clumping" will show up now, although they have not made an official public statement. 

So, it seems clumping is here to stay for the moment. I know that some of you are hoping it is still a test, but all signs point to the decision being made to keep it. In most cases, it isn't as damaging to non-clumped shops as it might appear, although I realize people feel it is unfair. Other recent changes are more likely to have had a larger effect on your rankings. I know some people hate this, but I can't see it completely tanking anyone's rankings, and I can't see Etsy getting rid of it entirely unless it starts making less money for Etsy. 


Localized/Regionalized search - the European Union is now one region


As mentioned above, search localization or regionalization means that users with their "ship to" filters set to certain countries will see items that ship from those countries rank higher in large, generic searches. In smaller, more specific searches, it has less impact, and I am seeing that continue lately. So, aiming for more specific searches, as I always recommend anyway, is your best approach to combatting any loss of views from regionalized countries. You can test what people in regionalized countries see by changing your country settings and "ship to" filter to that country. 

If you want to see how searches look in regionalized countries, just change the "ship to" filter to that country. 

If you want to see how searches look in regionalized countries, just change the "ship to" filter to that country. 

Within the past few months, Etsy regionalized the entire European Union. Yet again, Etsy made no official announcement about this change - they simply rewrote the help files to add the whole EU, replacing France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, which were previously explicitly mentioned. While I detected Etsy testing regionalization in Italy and Spain, among others, earlier this year, this update was a fairly large shift all at once, adding several new countries. (Note that European countries that have not joined the EU are not regionalized.)

Regionalization now works slightly different in the EU than it works in Canada and Australia, the only other two countries included. Let's use Germany as an example. A person in Germany will see German items rank fairly high in really large general searches, but will also see items from elsewhere in the EU near the top. Shops from Canada, the US, New Zealand etc. will start appearing lower down. In contrast, when my country settings are on Canada, I see Canadian items at the top, followed by a mix of everyone else. Someone in the US, which is not a regionalized country, will see a mix of all countries from the very first row. 

Being in a regionalized country does not mean that buyers in other countries will not see your items. If their country is regionalized, shoppers will see more items from that country at the top of larger searches (not the smaller ones), but remember, most online searches are niche searches. If you optimize properly for many niche searches, you can be found in all countries you ship to, including those that are regionalized.


So many new options for shoppers who want Etsy to be Amazon!

So many new options for shoppers who want Etsy to be Amazon!

New Filters - Sales, Free Shipping, and Fast Processing


I wrote about the new search filter that limits results to items on sale back in August; it has now become permanent. Since then Etsy has added a filter to show all items that have shipping included (AKA free shipping), and have recently started testing two more filters which limit search results to items with very short processing times. It is impossible to say how many shoppers are using these options, as Etsy has not added the necessary reference values for sellers to track clicks in Google Analytics. 

Historically, customers do not use filters very often on Etsy, so these may not be getting much of a workout at the moment. I am not seeing any of those filters on the app, but they do appear using mobile browsers (once you click on the filter button), as well as on desktop computers. During the site-promoted holiday sale, however, Etsy has moved the "on sale" filter all the way up to the top of the list, above the main category links, and has highlighted it in orange. (By the way, you can track clicks from Etsy's Cyber Week sales page in Google Analytics, as they include the reference value "cyber_category" - just search for it under Behaviour-->Site Content-->All Pages.)

Some people must be using them, or Etsy would not keep these filters. That means that you could be excluded from some searches at some times, if you have longer processing times or don't offer free shipping or Etsy discounts. While some sellers are worried that this means successful shops will need to change their business practices to show up in more searches, in some ways these options can help us avoid the buyers we didn't really want, like the ones who are last-minute shopping and might be angry if their order does not arrive in one business day as it does with Amazon Prime. As with any change to Etsy search, it will likely take a while for the effects to become more evident. If your sales have suddenly dropped in the past few months, do not assume this is the only cause, but presume it could be a factor. 


Many Attributes Now Searchable; a few filters have been added


When Etsy introduced listing attributes back at the beginning of the year, we were told they would eventually be added to the search as both searchable terms (just like tags and titles) and as filters. In general, the Etsy-provided colour attributes have been searchable for several months now, along with the holiday and occasion options. We're still waiting for them to finish, but more and more of the other terms are (finally!) searchable.  Some were added within the past few weeks while I have been writing this blog post, so be aware that more examples could be included or removed without any notice from Etsy.

I am not seeing any obvious logic as to which attributes can be found through Etsy search and which cannot. Some may still be added in the future, of course, and some might only be used as filters, eventually. Unfortunately, since Etsy has removed many of them from the overview section on the listing, I cannot even tell which attributes other sellers have used, so for the most part I can only test my own. For example, for the "Recipient" attribute on jewellery items, "Men", "Boys", "Girls" and "Women" are searchable terms, but "Unisex Adult" is not, either as a phrase or as individual words. 

"Style" is a searchable jewellery attribute, but "Theme" is not. Even within some options, only some words can be found through search. 

"Style" is a searchable jewellery attribute, but "Theme" is not. Even within some options, only some words can be found through search. 

Some other jewellery attributes that are searchable at this time: ring size, earring location, chain style, gemstone, the new materials, and pendant shape. Examples of jewellery attributes that are not yet searchable (and may never be, I suppose): bracelet length and width, bracelet closure, earring closure, necklace length, and pendant size. Remember, however, that the AI could be using these to categorize items in the future, although I am not seeing any evidence of that now. They were also originally intended as search filters, which may still happen in the future. 

Many items have different attribute options than jewellery, and even if I could test them all, the list would be far too long to include here. If you want to know whether an attribute element is included in Etsy search currently, test it, by searching very specifically for a listing where you know you haven't included that word or phrase in the title or tags. (Descriptions are still not searchable within Etsy.) 

All of this means that some sellers now have more keywords that buyers can use to find them. While attribute words do not get much weight, they can be a crucial addition for those niche (a.k.a. long tail) search phrases you want to be found under. For example, I rarely add the word "women" to my jewellery titles and tags, but I am now getting a few more search hits that include it, since I have selected the recipient attributes where applicable. I cannot stress enough that this can be changing the search competition and rankings overall, especially for sellers who rarely added these types of words before and are now reaping the benefits of keyword diversification. I know a lot of sellers fee that attributes do not apply to their items (and in some cases, they are correct), but if your sales are dropping lately, you need to look at this as one possible cause. 

Some of the search filter options for rugs - many options here to exclude items from results.

Some of the search filter options for rugs - many options here to exclude items from results.

Filters: most attributes have not yet been added as filters, which are found on the left of the search page on desktop computers, and through a button at the top of search results on mobile browsers and on the Etsy app. (Examples of the colour filters are included in the "blue jays" screenshots above.) Active filters include the colour attributes, and a sometimes lengthy list of options for various housewares from mugs to rugs. For many items listed under the "Home and Living" category, shoppers have the option of narrowing down their results by occasion and holiday, as well as a diverse set of choices including materials, patterns, size, shape and recipients. For example, items such as glassware have several different attribute filters visible in the search results, including "material". (Remember, that includes both vintage and handmade listings.) Objects such as rugs and decorative pillows have search filters for “design”, which involves a lengthy list of most common patterns, as well as some uncommon ones. 

Strangely, though, you don't always need to have attributes applied to your listing to show up when shoppers narrow down the results through filters. Back when I could still see attributes in the listing overview area, I found many products in filtered searches that didn't use attributes, but showed up due to their titles and tags. (Lately, I am seeing less of that, however.)  I am not sure what to think about this. Are sellers not using enough attributes, so that Etsy is forced to make guesses so that there are enough items in the final results? Or is this one of the ways they are training the AI?  It's difficult to say. As one seller pointed out, some of the options available for buyers aren't actual listing attributes, so in at least some cases right now, you won't need to use attributes to show up in filtered searches. Don't assume that will continue, however.  

Filters provide a way for customers to sort through huge volumes of items easily, without entering additional search terms. Set up properly and displayed well, they could be a partial solution for search bloat, especially in larger, more generic searches. I don't expect Etsy to give up on this idea, so sellers may need to make peace with it if they want to be seen through search. If attributes apply to your item and you didn't use them, you could be losing views and sales. 


Other search News - tests, unproven and disproven theories, and what still works


There is only one important test I want to cover that wasn't already mentioned above, and then I want to deal with some of the smaller changes, and a few of the largest theories (or rumours) about how the algorithm is currently working.  I promise to make this as brief as possible! 


Guided Search Test - This began in September, which I reported here, and was more fully explained in an almost-random forum post from an admin

The colors are there to group options by 'theme' to make it easier for our buyers to visually choose the theme and then read the options. So for example: if you search for "ring"; the first few options in orange are occasion-specific, the next ones in yellow/light orange are related to the material/type.

At the moment, it seems to be visible in the United States only, but that is the biggest group of Etsy shoppers, so it could be having an impact in larger, more generic searches. (It doesn't appear in small searches.) These appear to be generated from popular keyword queries, but there may be other sources as well.  I wouldn't necessarily try to tailor your items to fit the current options, but this test is definitely useful for keyword research! These are searches Etsy thinks people want to look at, which likely means they are not only popular, but also have a good conversion rate, i.e., sellers makes sales from these searches. 

These orange boxes at the top of the search page are called "guided search", which is being tested in the US. Note they aren't all the same shade of orange.

These orange boxes at the top of the search page are called "guided search", which is being tested in the US. Note they aren't all the same shade of orange.

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, " 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. 





I know you, and I know what you are asking. I've seen it in the Etsy forum. "Search is all different now - SEO doesn't matter - how do I get to page 1?"

Here is what you need to know:

  1. SEO means optimizing for search, and the old rules still matter for Etsy search at the moment, even if they aren't the only rules any more, and even when they may get different weight than they used to. So yes, SEO matters, and keywords are still part of that. 
  2. It's time for you to stop worrying about ranking on page 1 for generic terms, and start listening to me about aiming for more niche searches.
  3. More than ever, the other factors will weigh heavily in buyer decision making, and they involve how you market your business - photos, your points of difference from the competition, general branding, and understanding customer psychology are going to drive your clicks and sales from search. What worked last year may already not be good enough. 
  4. Seriously, you need to believe #2, before it is too late.


Right now, you could choose spend a lot of time playing with your titles and tags and attributes, and sometimes you might get your items to rank better in large searches. I have tested this with some success. However, I am finding that the effect of most "tricks" fade quite quickly now, and the rapid rate of change means you cannot count on any rankings to continue at all. Plus, regionalization, contextual search and personalization all mean that most people may not see the same things as you do anyway. It's better to spend your time employing diverse, high-quality and relevant keywords on each listing, then stop worrying about search for a while. Leave listings a few months to see how they perform, then do more keyword research as necessary. Put your extra efforts into other ways of driving revenue. 

As always, I strongly advise people not to rely on Etsy search as their only source of sales from Etsy, and not to rely on Etsy for your only source of business income. (But Etsy search is by far the easiest and cheapest way to get traffic on Etsy, so there isn't much point in having an Etsy shop unless you pay at least some attention to search.) 


It appears that Etsy isn't going to announce most big search changes any more. They are apparently just going to change the help files without pointing it out, or release the details to investors, but either way, they aren't letting us in on these secrets first. That means it is up to sellers to keep up with these other sources of information about Etsy search. The next few months are going to be very busy, so I will try to keep upcoming posts short and sweet, instead of doing these huge multi-topic scroll-fests. (I hear a huge sigh of relief from everyone!) Please share this around so others do know what has happened up until now. 

For future Etsy search news, you can follow my blog by email here, as well as my Twitter account, and my Google + page for SEO and ecommerce news, including Etsy. In addition, any of my SEO shop customers can sign up for my email list on all search changes; current buyers will receive a fully updated copy of my ebooks when it is complete next year.  Finally, you can get more information on broader ecommerce and search trends such as voice search and image recognition by following this Etsy team thread. (I do all of the reading so you don't have to!)


Updated June 14, 2018

Etsy Search May-June 2017: Few Algorithm Changes, But Lots of Tests

Cindy Lou Who 2

The Etsy jewellery filter test originally wasn't using the colour attributes we have been painstakingly applying - makes perfect sense, right? 

The Etsy jewellery filter test originally wasn't using the colour attributes we have been painstakingly applying - makes perfect sense, right? 


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

At this time, only the Colour & Occasion attributes are fully searchable on the main site, with some of the Holiday attributes also included. 

At this time, only the Colour & Occasion attributes are fully searchable on the main site, with some of the Holiday attributes also included. 

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."
No one has any clue what Etsy is doing with these search filters. 

No one has any clue what Etsy is doing with these search filters. 

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. 


The optional attributes for lamps, in the new Home and Living Category filter test

The optional attributes for lamps, in the new Home and Living Category filter test

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

When the "See Similar Items" link is combined with the review rating & totals on the search results page, it is far less noticeable

When the "See Similar Items" link is combined with the review rating & totals on the search results page, it is far less noticeable

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. 

The "similar items" page includes very few items from the original search, and rarely includes many items from the original seller.

The "similar items" page includes very few items from the original search, and rarely includes many items from the original seller.

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