Etsy – one of the biggest global sales platforms – has received a lot of criticism for its personalized search algorithm. And unravelling the different changes over the years is no easy task. In fact, lots of long-standing sellers have lost faith in this marketplace altogether. Which is a shame. Because with nearly 82 million buyers in 2020, and just over 40% of these repeat buyers, Etsy is highly lucrative.
As long as you’re selling the right stuff.
And as long as you know how their algorithm scores your shop.
Working to improve Etsy rankings can take a lot of time and energy. It’s often worth getting a professional service to do all the hard work and let you focus on excellent customer service.
Any search engine algorithm – the piece of code that evaluates and ranks your shop or business URL on search engine page results – has an air of mystery. Many of the search criteria of Google are known, but exactly how they work is left to guesswork. Unless you happen to work in that particular department in Silicon Valley.
Who does the guesswork? Search ‘Google algorithm’ and you’ll find lots of information – both right and wrong – from amateur and professional marketers and analysts.
One huge problem is that once our businesses and products start to appear high up in public searches, the search engine algorithm is tweaked or undergoes a complete facelift. This can put your business back to square one.
And this is exactly what many Etsy sellers have been experiencing in recent years.
The mystery of any modern search engine algorithm has a lot to do with personalization. When you use a public computer to find a range of products on Etsy (without logging in), you’ll get different results depending on whoever used the computer before you. And these results change according to location, browsing habits, social media use, the adverts you click on (or don’t). And many of these results are based on algorithm guesswork, too.
Previously successful Etsy sellers can consider returning to this marketplace after reading this. And new sellers should also take heart.
Because recent changes to the Etsy algorithm mean it is now easier to unravel its mystery!
And you can rise (and fall) in the Etsy SERPs when you understand (or don’t understand) what an important group of these changes mean.
Remember when you had to put in complete keyword phrases to up your visibility? Like ‘long sleeve checked shirt man’ or ‘oil on canvas animal dog cat portrait’? Piling on a whole range of keywords in the title, description and metadata used to be so obvious until their overuse led to fines. Volumes have been written all about the right combination of short- and long-tail words, where to put them, and how they are scored.
And now, we can put these books to one side.
Because Etsy, instead of narrowing its search term scores, has broadened them.
You don’t even need to put in keywords to score points!
Users are becoming more and more impatient when it comes to finding the right products. They have changed their habits over time, and the Etsy algorithm is keeping up. It knows that searches will use a whole range of filters to narrow down their search at a later date. So the first step is to give that user as many options as possible.
This has positive and negative connotations –
- More search results = more competition
- You can focus on more specific keywords to show why you’re different or best
All this has happened with the introduction by Etsy of a program called XWalk. And XWalk is the reason so many sellers have left Etsy.
Which is totally unnecessary.
Because XWalk lowers the chance of dead-end searches – the ones that give zero listings for very specific search terms. And zero listings put a potential customer off of using a certain platform. They’ll find another that WILL give them a choice of products, instead.
XWalk allows a search for a ‘canary yellow ankle height leather cowboy boots with tassels’ to give the searcher more options, and encourages that person to use filters. The algorithm can then ‘learn’ from the filters that person sets. This helps the personalization process. Eventually, that user will get more of the style, type, location, and prices of items they really like. And are more likely to buy.
All of this means the initial, much broader search results will have pages stuffed with leather items, all manner of footwear, anything with tassels, and perhaps even a canary.
Yes, this broadening of a pre-filter search has changed how marketers boost Etsy rankings. But it can still be done.
The CEO of Etsy, Josh Silverman, is already thinking about using Star Seller ratings to influence the marketplace’s search engine results. If you haven’t gotten a Star Seller rating yet – and the process is nowhere near as straightforward as it should be – you need to earn that badge, right away!
Silverman is only ‘considering’ using this data to influence the Etsy algorithm, but it makes business sense. The more sellers sell and the better their service, the greater their chance of earning a badge, and the more reputable the marketplace they sell on. But there are lots of buts. And the primary problem is how customer review scores are so subjective. Exactly the same service could earn five stars from one and three from another.
That means you still have time to earn that badge, as the subjective metrics will have to be seriously ironed out or ignored altogether. But good reviews are always worth their weight, so focus on customer service as much as you focus on sales and you won’t go wrong.
Remember XWalk? Well, there’s another thing that is being measured – and that’s your product image.
If search terms include shapes, textures, and materials, initial search results could include a whole range of images that match. So ‘round furry carpet’ could produce a whole range of circular products, none of which are furry floor coverings. You might even find a picture of a round mirror in the result, or a round dish.
This means it’s important to pick the pic that matches lots of search results. You can expand visibility by using images where you don’t have space for keywords, and vice versa.
Something Etsy needs to tackle is the use of Star Seller business names in the metadata of less reputable companies. This is something your business can’t prevent but can observe and react to.
On a huge marketplace like Etsy, disreputable sellers are going to slip through the net. If they sell an inferior product to your own but intentionally use your store name in their metadata, there is a good chance many of your long-term customers will suddenly find strange results in their SERPs.
There is only one way to stop this from happening, and it means making the name of your company a Trademark. And then having your lawyer contact the search results that use your Trademark in their metadata … and Etsy.
Because it might actually be Etsy’s fault.
Even reputable companies can get caught in a legally damaging trap.
The Etsy algorithm sometimes attributes or even adds search terms to your listing that you can’t always see. If you sell a heated blanket, there is a chance the algorithm will add the name of a highly popular branded one to your metadata. This is because consumers often call items different names according to the brand most attributed to them, and not the description. Like Crocs for any lightweight, open shoe. Or Hoover for a vacuum cleaner.
And Etsy AI might not yet be in touch with the legal issue of copied Trademarks, especially when it comes to smaller brands.
Obviously, Etsy will have to amend this problem. In the meantime, any contact your store might receive that tells you to stop using their brand name should be referred to Etsy. After all, if you didn’t add that information to your descriptive data, you’ve done nothing wrong.
As you’ve seen, the Etsy search algorithm can be extremely tricky to navigate; it has at least one uncomfortable legal issue, too.
Old, traditional strategies like renewing listings and offering free shipping no longer have the same positive effects as they had, even when compared to the beginning of this year. In fact, the face of Etsy marketing is changing month by month.
Keeping up with these tiny to immense changes requires focus, time, energy, and money. Services like Etsy Geeks focus on single-channel marketing; this means you don’t have to take a marketplace marketing course or establish your own marketing department. Smaller businesses especially might rank high on Etsy SERPs during the initial search of a new signup or guest visitor, but once that person’s habits are noted, this ranking can quickly take a nosedive.
One thing is for sure, search engine algorithms are extremely interesting and diverse pieces of code. And they will continue to keep online businesses on their toes and in continuous motion for many decades to come. While we can’t expect to know the ins and outs of every change, it is vital to keep up to date with how these changes affect your business and your Etsy marketing strategies.