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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: advertising

Will Etsy Ads, The New Combined Ad Platform, Work For Sellers?

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Note how much smaller in size the amount I spent is compared to the amount I made. It’s almost as if they don’t want you to notice that part.

Note how much smaller in size the amount I spent is compared to the amount I made. It’s almost as if they don’t want you to notice that part.

For That Matter, Will They Even Work For Etsy?

We’re All About To Find Out

Etsy started rolling out its new combined ad-purchasing interface for sellers today (August 27, 2019), giving us the first real look at how this will work. While there are still some questions, and likely some upgrades coming to the stats and options, I am providing a quick summary now so no one is surprised when their ad costs suddenly increase overnight.

But first, a little background. Etsy Ads (EA) combines Etsy’s existing Promoted Listings (PL) with their little-used interface allowing sellers to buy their own Google Shopping ads. Once it has rolled out to everyone, sellers will no longer be able to purchase just one type of ad; if you want one kind, you will have to pay for both.

Why would they do this? CEO Josh Silverman claims that “Our sellers have found it confusing and a bit intimidating to try to manage 2 separate ad programs, and as a result, seller adoption of Google Shopping has been limited. We believe that sellers want a single, simple solution with a single budget, where they tell us how much to spend and we invest that on their behalf, on- and off-Etsy.” In addition, Silverman told investors that Etsy shop owners “have more appetite to invest than we have inventory to offer”, based on the fact that each day, more than half of the maximum daily budgets set for Etsy Promoted Listings go unused, as illustrated in the following Etsy graphic from the second quarter earnings presentation.

Etsy Promoted Listings currently spend less than 50% of the daily maximum that sellers set.

Etsy Promoted Listings currently spend less than 50% of the daily maximum that sellers set.

Now, I am sure he is correct on both points to some extent. There are a few sellers who find Promoted Listings and Google Shopping campaigns a bit confusing (as evidenced by questions asked in Etsy’s forum spaces). There are also some people who would like to spend more of their daily budgets on more ads.

However, these explanations ignore two points that likely represent a much larger portion of sellers interested in buying ads:

  1. Etsy’s version of Google Shopping ads has been widely panned as far too expensive for the average shop, with no control over maximum bids, and a low amount of sales. [Update (August 28): The program often bids on very generic terms that are unlikely to convert against commercial competition, and may not even be accurate for your items.] Furthermore, Etsy showed items from other shops across the top of the landing pages from Google Shopping, meaning that merchants are paying to advertise other merchants, not just themselves. [Update (Sept. 24): Etsy admin have confirmed with some people privately that Google Shopping ads paid for by sellers do not have other sellers’ listings across the top, while ads paid for by Etsy do. However, Etsy has recently been testing placing Etsy Ads across the bottom of listing pages, and that does include on pages that sellers are paying for in Google Shopping and in ads on Etsy.] In short, almost no sellers use Etsy’s version of Google Shopping ads because the return on investment (ROI) is very poor for individual shops, especially given that they are forced to pay to promote items that are not their own.

  2. Many shops find they have to set their daily Promoted Listings budget far higher than they want to spend, just to get a decent number of impressions and clicks. (Mine was set at $10 a day and I rarely spent more than $1; if I dropped it to $2 or even $5, Etsy showed my ads far less often.) This is the way this version of Etsy search ads has worked for a long time, and sellers have developed this strategy of high daily budgets to compensate.

While we can likely write off the CEO’s comments as spin, it is very possible that they didn’t realize point #2 was such a common practice. If so, Etsy has designed this new platform based on a false premise, which doesn’t bode well for its success. Looks like we are going to find out very quickly.

Etsy Ads - What you Need to Know

While the details are likely to change, given that the dashboard and tools seem so unfinished, there are some things you need to know right now:

  • Etsy Ads are available to some sellers right now, through the Shop Manager.

  • The new platform will be rolled out to all sellers by the end of September, and you will be automatically switched to it if you do not change voluntarily. Note that if you turn off your Promoted Listings or current Google Shopping ads, you will not be able to revert to them, and will be stuck with Etsy Ads as your only option.

  • Sellers still only pay for clicks, not impressions.

  • You can still opt to promote only certain items, but they will be shown on both Etsy and Google; you cannot select some listings for one venue and others for the other, as we can now.

  • You can no longer set maximum bids for individual items; Etsy’s software will do all of that for you. However, if you have an existing Promoted Listing campaign, Etsy will look at your current bid customization at first, then will revert to its own stats on what it deems will work best for you.

  • Since the goal of Etsy Ads is to spend all of your daily budget, those of you who chose a high daily budget solely to increase your Promoted Listings impressions should decrease that now, before Etsy converts your PLs to EAs.

  • The cost for one click in Google Shopping is still very high compared to Promoted Listings, with sellers who tried it today reporting clicks up to 90 cents. [Update: (September 17): some are now reporting clicks costing up to $1.50 USD.]

  • Etsy put out a video summarizing the new platform. The example of the monthly overview shows a roughly 2 to 1 ratio for sales and costs, far worse than the vast majority of sellers would likely tolerate. Remember, this is the example Etsy wanted you to see; they could have used far better numbers if they thought far better numbers were going to be common. [Update (August 28): Etsy will be updating the video, and stated that the return shown is $5 for every $1 spent, which they consider “a pretty great return”. In contrast, many sellers have been posting vastly better return rates from PLs, suggesting they won’t agree with admin on this point.]

  • It looks like one thing that isn’t changing much is the fact your Google ads will be limited to one country in most cases, unless you have a big budget. “On Google, our smart advertising platform will determine the best region for you, so you can reach shoppers that are interested in products like yours and most likely to make a purchase. Etsy Ads targets the country of best return. As your budget increases, we regularly evaluate whether it makes sense to target multiple markets.”

  • Etsy is still displaying other listings at the top of your landing page from Google Shopping ads that you pay for. I set up the ads in my SEO shop as a test, and clicked on one; here is what I saw:

I am so glad Etsy decided I needed to see a completely irrelevant listing from my jewellery shop…sigh

I am so glad Etsy decided I needed to see a completely irrelevant listing from my jewellery shop…sigh

So, sellers are still being asked to pay to drive traffic to other shops. I expect that this will be a deal breaker for many.

  • Finally, Etsy is asking for seller opinions in a very short survey. If you are unhappy with this change, I urge you to fill it out and be specific about the perceived deficiencies of the new platform and in their reasoning. If you had a high PL daily budget, or previously tried and ended Google Shopping ads, tell them exactly why.

Things We Hope To Learn In The Next Month

At the top of my list of questions is: Will Etsy continue to buy Google Shopping ads for shops that do not participate in Etsy Ads? Right now, they spend a big chunk of their advertising budget on these ads, and have stated that they are Etsy’s top-performing promotions. It seems really unlikely that they will stop that entirely, at least not right away. I don’t think they can afford to lose that income. [Update (Sept. 6): so far, Google Shopping ads are continuing to run for people who are not buying any ads, and for listings that are not currently included in Etsy Ads, even if others from the shop are in Etsy Ads.]

Update: (Sept. 17) : some shops, especially those with relatively low daily budgets, can see that Google Shopping Ads were turned off for their shop, even though they are enrolled in Etsy Ads. I took the following screenshot of my stats page for my SEO shop on a day when stats were broken and reporting zero views, so I thought it might be an error, but many others are seeing the same thing:

This was the day I turned Etsy Ads on for my SEO shop; as you can see, Etsy immediately turned off my Google Shopping ads.

This was the day I turned Etsy Ads on for my SEO shop; as you can see, Etsy immediately turned off my Google Shopping ads.

Despite this, both of my items are still showing up in Google Shopping, even though I am only advertising one listing at the moment (as a test). So, Etsy seems to be paying for all of my Google Shopping appearances for the moment, although they have not confirmed this yet in my contact with Support. [Update (Sept 24.): Etsy has confirmed that they are still buying Google Shopping ads for sellers who do not participate in Etsy Ads, and even for some listings that are enrolled in Etsy Ads. The latter seems to happen more with shops with smaller daily budgets. The above screenshot shows Etsy opening a Google Shopping account for my SEO shop, but then putting it on hold while the new Ads algorithm learns about how my listing perform. This explains why some people who saw the same thing in their stats later saw Google Shopping Ads turned back on by Etsy.]

The next question is, are they going to be improving the Ads dashboard? (It is shown at the top of this post.) Right now, it is pretty sparse, and the amount spent is tiny compared to the earnings. You can only choose 30 days or the past year as date ranges, which means that older shops that have been using PLs would lose their keyword data older than 365 days, if this format continues. I have copied all of mine into Google Docs so I don’t lose it; sadly, there is no way to download it. [Update (Sept. 6): Etsy has added more date ranges, and the ability to sort the listings table by various factors. Also, if you have turned off all ads but want to see your old PL keyword data, you can still use this URL: (change XXXXXXXX to your listing ID number) to access it. (Sept. 17): if you see zeros in your Ads stats, there is a workaround for that.]

My last question is, how many more bugs are they going to introduce, and are they planning on fixing the old ones at some point? Promoted Listings have been showing completely irrelevant ads in many search results, and some of them are leading to click costs. Most sellers who advertise their shops through Etsy’s tools have previously found that PLs provide way better results than Google Shopping; reducing the effectiveness of the existing ads while combining them with less effective ads just seems like a bad strategy for the corporation.

What Should Sellers Do?

Wait to see what gets changed; I cannot believe they will continue to expect everyone to pay for ads with other people’s items across the top, with few stats, and with no maximum bids.

At the very least, they have to be planning to add something in that makes them think more people will pay for this. There are signs that they are going to be upgrading the Etsy Plus package, and perhaps finally releasing Etsy Premium. If both of those subscriptions contain lots of things most sellers want (many of which have likely been taken away recently, such as more detailed stats), and also continue to include “free” Etsy Ads budgets, they could end up maintaining most of their ad numbers. [Update: (Sept. 6): increasing the “priority placement” in US searches for listings that ship free, now up to 48 items from 24, is another way to push ads on sellers, if they don’t ship for free.]

And of course, if the ads end up having much better ROI than most of us expect, Etsy could end up making even more money on this than they did before. While I can’t see this new interface working for me, I am sure it will work for somebody.

But maybe they really did blow this one. If so, all of you who have heeded my constant advice to diversify your income streams will be pretty thankful you never got dependent on Etsy’s Promoted Listings!

This post will be updated as required. I’ll also probably fix most of the typos while introducing new ones - it has been a very long day!

UPDATED: Sept. 17, 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.