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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: free shipping

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

Cindy Lou Who 2

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

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

Etsy tested prioritizing free shipping listings in US search in late May and early June - was this a preview of their new campaign that will launch July 30th?

Last week I told you about Etsy’s campaign to get sellers to offer free shipping to US buyers, but said we didn’t know of them testing any major changes to the US search algorithm involving free shipping. I was wrong: they did run a test starting around May 23rd, and ending around June 3rd. While very few sellers seemed to notice it, it is worth reviewing how it worked, in case they do decide to use something similar as of July 30th.

The most interesting part of that experiment was the fact that for most observers, only the first 3 rows of US searches displayed items that shipped for free; the “normal” search results continued after the top 3 rows. In larger searches, that meant that the “normal” results were merely pushed down a few rows, unless they shipped for free. A few people reported seeing 6 or 7 rows of listings with free shipping badges, but no one saw entire pages. That means there was still decent visibility for listings that had shipping charges attached.

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

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

However, it wasn’t all good news for buyers or sellers. Some smaller searches displayed far less relevant results in the top 3 rows than is ideal. Check out the screenshot above, showing the search for “clip art sewing” in the US at the end of May. (Thank you to Sara from Mayday Labels for having the good sense to capture this!) The items with the free shipping badge mostly have nothing to do with sewing, in their images at least. Only the Promoted Listings ads and the partially-cut off 4th row include images of sewing implements and related items. If you do that search today (July 15, 2019), the top results are dominated by listings that look relevant.

In short, this test seemed to fill at least 3 rows of search with “free shipping” listings, sometimes at the expense of matching the search query as closely as the ads and remainder of the first page did. The worst part of this example was that most of the other items on the first page were digital downloads, so they had no shipping charges anyway! (Last week, the Etsy Q & A thread revealed that instant downloads would be included in the “priority placement”, although they would still be excluded from the standard free shipping filter in search.) The best part was that items from non-US sellers did appear in the top 3 featured rows if they offered free shipping, so there was no localization in effect.

What Does This Tell Us?

Unfortunately, not much. There is no guarantee the new search rankings starting July 30th will act like this. However, I suspect they will look more like this test than the current Canadian searches that sometimes show many pages of free shipping listings before anything else. Why would I think that, you ask?

My reasoning is that most of Etsy’s literature on this search change defines “priority placement” as “in the top and most visible rows of search.” The don’t say in the top pages, just the top rows. Now, that might mean the top of each search results page, not just the top of page 1 as this test had. That would drive a lot of items further down in the results. It might mean nothing, however; you can’t always parse Etsy-speak as if it were normal language.

But, if this test was a trial run, the US free shipping “guarantee” push might still provide substantially more exposure for items that don’t ship free than the Canadian version does in big searches. Remember, many of us haven’t had any loss of Canadian sales despite not shipping for free, so whatever Etsy ends up doing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be invisible. Let’s wait and see what happens.

I’ll be continuing to follow all new developments, and will update this post and the earlier one as needed. Once the search algorithm change is finally revealed, I will blog again, so make sure you sign up to get on my blog email list.

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

Cindy Lou Who 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things we know:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things To Watch For:

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

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


My Advice:

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

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

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

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

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




    Updated July 21st, 2019

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

Cindy Lou Who 2

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

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

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

We Don’t Know Yet

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

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

That is no longer true, at least within Canada.

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

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

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


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


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

  1. pick a listing that does reasonably well in search

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

  3. add free shipping to the listing

  4. track what happens in the next hour

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATED: July 13, 2019