Etsy sellers are so worried about SEO and exact word order matching on Etsy, they forget the big picture.
The Etsy algorithm is more complicated than just “put your best keywords in your title and tags,” and without understanding the way that it actually works, you won’t be able to reach the customers who might be interested in buying from you.
Table of Contents
- What is the Etsy algorithm?
- What are the parts of the Etsy algorithm?
- Things that influence search placement
- So what does this mean for Etsy sellers?
What is the Etsy algorithm?
The Etsy algorithm is the system that determines which listings are shown in which position on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). On Etsy, things that influence the algorithm include keywords in the listing title and tags, shipping speed and cost, previous sales, activity on the listings including favorites and clicks after they’re found in search, and customer-related factors such as shopping history.
The misconception that most Etsy sellers seem to have is that there’s a single linear formula that determines where a listing will show up in search results, when it’s actually more of a multi-step process.
When you understand that, you also understand that there are parts of the algorithm that can be influenced by sellers, and parts that can’t.
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What are the parts of the Etsy algorithm?
There are two parts to the Etsy algorithm, the first being the selection and the second being the ranking. Both of these steps can be thought of as separate algorithms, so Etsy sellers need to understand that the ranking portion doesn’t matter if they’re left out of the selection portion.
The Etsy developer blog posted an entry last year about how the search algorithm is being trained to take customer behavior and preferences into account. The process first chooses the most relevant listings, then ranks them.
Because the part of the process that involves ranking the listings is complicated, Etsy says that “…from millions of total listings, the candidate set retrieval step selects the top one thousand items for a query by considering tags, titles, and other seller-provided attributes.” (Etsy developer blog codeascraft.com) This means that out of all of the listings that could be considered by Etsy for inclusion in the search results, they use the information that sellers give them to choose the top 1000.
Titles, tags, categories, variations, and attributes are used as keywords to sort through the listings, but descriptions and materials aren’t.
Those are sections that give customers information, but they’re not used in search.
We can help Etsy figure out whether our listings should be in the first 1000 by providing accurate keywords that help the search engine figure out what the item is.
This is important to understand, because it points to the importance of using good keywords that accurately and thoroughly describe the item so that Etsy can correctly choose it to be in the top 1000.
How the search engine chooses these listings isn’t something that Etsy reveals, but the guide to Etsy search details how using exact word-order match and repeating the main keywords in the title and tags will send a stronger signal of relevance to the search engine.
Although search engines generally prefer an exact word-order match because that’s usually a more relevant result, the system doesn’t ONLY use keywords to place things in search.
The second part of the process is the ranking part, which starts to get complicated because Etsy adds in more factors about the listing and the customer.
Ranking the listings.
The developer blog points out that the 1000 listings is less than 1% of all listings on Etsy, and that the ranker chooses the most relevant listings for better placement in search results.
Etsy wants to show the most relevant results because they’ll most likely be a better match to the term that was searched, but there’s also been a shift toward including results that are better suited to each individual customer.
In the ranking process, Etsy mentions using criteria like clicks, favorites, add-to-carts and purchases to look at how customers interact with listings.
They use a formula that they’ve developed that takes these types of behavior into account, as well as other factors that show the quality of the listing. Those would be things like sales history, reviews, etc.
As Etsy’s formulas get more information about the customer’s behavior, it’s able to show them listings that are closer to the type of things they are predicted to like, and more likely to buy.
This will continue to change the final SERPs because as Etsy personalizes search results more, different customers will see different results.
Things that influence search placement
Things that influence search placement on Etsy include:
- Keywords in titles, tags, categories, attributes and variations
- Shipping cost and speed
- Seller quality rating (i.e. reviews, open cases, sales)
- Listing quality (i.e. sale history and conversion rate)
- Location (in some countries)
- Whether the listing has a video or not
- Bestseller status
- The customer’s previous behavior on and off Etsy
The specific criteria that Etsy uses to determine whether a listing will be selected to begin with, and how it’s then ranked, aren’t public knowledge.
Etsy is continually tweaking the algorithm to try to improve search results for individual customers, so something that is really important today might be “demoted” or reduced in importance tomorrow as the ranking factors are shifted around.
The important thing to understand is that the information that we give Etsy in the form of keywords is the most important factor in getting into that first 1000 listings.
If you’re not included in that set, your listings won’t even be ranked, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be seen or purchased.
It’s important to give Etsy a lot of good, accurate information about your listings in the title and tags, to choose the best category for that item, and to fill out all appropriate attributes.
Adding words into the title and tags that aren’t accurate can make the search engine think that your listing is something that it isn’t.
If all that Etsy has to work with is keywords that aren’t on point, it might place the listing in the top 1000 a few times, but that won’t help in the long run.
If people don’t interact with the listing by clicking or favoriting it, Etsy will eventually give it a failing grade for that keyword, and it won’t be shown as often.
Whether that means that it won’t be shown as often in general, or whether it won’t be shown just for that search term is the question.
Since Etsy isn’t 100% transparent about the specifics of the algorithm, it’s always better to assume that a listing showing up for searches that it’s not right for is NOT a good thing.
Don’t put terms in the title or tags if they’re not relevant and accurate for that listing.
To complicate matters, Etsy has started to add related but not exact listings into the search results.
They’ve said that they want to increase and improve the “browse and discovery” functions on Etsy, and they’re obviously trying to show people things that Etsy thinks are similar to what they’re searching for in the hopes that it will increase sales overall.
They’ve been doing this for certain low-competition searches for quite some time, but it’s increased recently to the point where pretty much every search that I’ve tried has additional results that aren’t exactly what I searched for.
So what does this mean for Etsy sellers?
Basically, we have to think about the search algorithm as two algorithms, not one. In the selection algorithm, the information that we provide to Etsy about the listing is the most important factor, and we control that. In the ranking algorithm, there are things that we can control but some that we can’t.
It’s also entirely possible that some of the things that get your listing included in the first 1000 are listing quality factors that Etsy doesn’t tell us about.
It would make sense to do that, since that would ensure that listings that have better conversion rates are the ones that are shown to customers.
When you’re choosing your keywords, be descriptive and accurate. The more information that you can give to Etsy, the better the search engine will be able to decide what your listing is and who to show it to.
When you’re writing your titles, make sure to say what the listing is. This might seem obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of listings that say things like “Best selling birthday gift idea for her.” Reading that, I have no idea what the listing is, and neither will the search engine.
When it comes to the ranking algorithm, think about the things that you can do to improve the things that you can control, like reviews, shipping factors, and videos in your listings.
You can also influence how customers interact with your listings to a certain extent by using excellent listing photos that encourage clicks to your shop and favorites.
There are clearly things that we have no control over in the ranking algorithm, such as our location and the customer’s shopping history.
Those are things that are major factors in search right now, so we have to live with that. As Etsy’s search gets more sophisticated and continues to show personalized results, we need to be aware that tactics that worked two years ago won’t work the same way.
The algorithm will continue to change, and we need to adapt and use additional methods of driving traffic to our shops in addition to set-it-and-forget-it SEO.
To sign up for a free Etsy workshop, click here: Navigating Etsy’s Stormy Seas
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