Etsy Relevancy Search 101

Photo: Print by Breeding Fancy

Etsy caused quite a buzz this past August 10, by switching the default sorting for search results to Relevancy instead of Most Recent. Read Chad’s Notes here. Etsy has attempted to help prepare sellers for the change with advice, videos and rule updates related to the change. The advice from Etsy is scattered over a dozen articles and hard to find, so I thought I’d make today’s post a resource for you to find all of this new “relevancy” information in one place, starting with the following…

From Etsy’s Blog
July 28th What is Relevant Search, how does it work?
August 9th Relevancy Launch
August 11th Labeling is changing too
August 18th How To Work This Relevancy Thing

I also would like to mention that most veteran sellers on Etsy such as myself have our own websites in addition to Etsy shops or use Big Cartel. Over the past 3 years I have noticed my sales dwindling down on Etsy, due to the hundreds of thousands of sellers all fighting for sales. You could say Etsy sellers are little fish in a huge pond now. Many veteran sellers have closed their Etsy shops and moved exclusively to selling on their own sites, Big Cartel or even have had shopping carts installed on their blogs. I still choose to have an Etsy shop because I believe it gives me (at the very least) double exposure. However I now use my marketing fund to re-invest into my website and make sure I’m SEO strong. Etsy has built in traffic and a great reputation with buyers so at this point I do believe it’s still a wonderful way to start your own business or in my case gain some new “eyes” I might not have found via my own site rankings on Google.

Photo: Print from Letter Pictures

First, why the change from Etsy’s successful “most recent” search to the new “relevancy”? The Etsy folks say it’s a way for the little shops to compete with the big shops who were spending more money on renewing items several times a day. FOR REAL? to renew a listing is .20 cents each time, we’re talking about maybe $1.00 a day to make sure your items were recent. Please do not humor a veteran seller such as moi, give me a more meaty answer than that.

Instead, I prefer to believe the relevancy search is more in line with how Google views Etsy shops now. Relevancy is one of the major goals of searches. Think about the last time you did a Google search and got a bunch of nonsense that wasn’t what you wanted, so frustrating, right?. Etsy’s own test lab shows that users prefer relevancy search 15 times more than recency – that’s a lot! According to Chad’s launch post the data that came in from having the relevancy search in place after just 48 hours was pretty startling…

  • The total number of shops with a sale was higher in the past two days than any other days this year.
  • The past two days saw more favoriting activity than any other other days this year. More individual sellers had an item favorited and more individual items were favorited than any other days in 2011.
  • Two of the four biggest overall sales days on Etsy in 2011 were the past two days.
  • Two of the four days with most individual items sold in 2011 were the past two days

Photo: Design London Blog

Love it or hate it, relevancy search isn’t going away anytime soon on Etsy. If your shop stats have dropped since the change, it’s time to get serious and learn to work with it. You might just find that you like it! Shops now have more power to affect their search position than just relisting. My own eyes were opened when on August 19th my friend Lauren of Sunbasilgarden Soaps and I were instant messaging and she told me how she just finished changing all her product titles and tags and had seen a huge jump in sales. This peaked my curiosity since the following is my actual data I was looking at and scratching my head trying to figure out the downward turn. Always an avid relister this whole relevancy “thing” just had not captured my attention, until now. I use the date of Aug 19th/20th as an important because these are the days I made my own shop changes, so please keep that in mind…

InkSpot Workshop’s Etsy Shop
July 2010 – 27 sales (Etsy stats do not have number of “views” for 2010)
August 2010 – 26 sales
July 2011 – 4,547 views, 10 sales (-63% vs 2010)
August 2011 – 5,350 views, 11 sales (-58% vs 2010)

August 1-10th (before relevancy search went into effect) 1,695 views, 3 sales
August 10-31 (relevancy search in full swing) 3,779 views, 8 sales
August 10-19 (relevancy in effect, no changes made to shop yet) 1,556 views, 1 sale
August 20-31 (relevancy in effect, shop changes made!) 2,223 views, 7 sales

As you can see from this data, my Etsy sales are still sad compared to 2010 due to the more than tripled amount of sellers now on Etsy. My views and sales made a noticable jump once I made a few simple changes to the items in my shop and used the new relevancy tools offered from the Etsy blog posts listed above.

Photo: Doomby

TITLE IT OR FORGET IT

There’s one message that Etsy has pushed about relevancy search – titles are the most important factor in your listing. Titles are more important than tags, descriptions, recency, attributes and views. Real estate’s mantra is “location, location, location” – Etsy’s is now “titles, titles, titles!”

Titles are king with good reason – besides the picture, they’re the best source of information customers have about your item in search results. Customers searching for “red desk” expect to see the words “red” and “desk” in the search results – otherwise the search seems broken. Tags and descriptions don’t appear in search results – and the listing date only shows if you purposefully choose the list view.

Etsy weighs the position of word pairs in your title. In our “red desk” example, an item with the title “Classic Red Desk” will be favored more than “Shabby Chic Primitive Antique Red Desk”, since the word pair appeared earlier in the title for the first item. Hindsight is 20/20 – if the customer had searched for “shabby chic desk” the latter item would have been positioned more prominently.

Most important is to use the best phrases for your item in the beginning of your title. How do you determine the best phrases? Etsy Shop Stats to the rescue! Log in to Etsy and go to Your Account > Shop Stats. This page will show you all sorts of interesting things about the people who found your shop – most importantly, the Top Keywords section will give you the best phrases for your titles and tags. Read this great post on Etsy Shop Stats.

Another great source for keywords is the Etsy search box itself. Start typing a phrase into the Etsy search and you’ll see suggested search terms pop down. These suggestions are popular search terms from real users. Try a few combinations that relate to your item and see what pops up!

Lastly, Etsy recommends title variation – don’t use the same title format for similar items. Changing up the title will help diversify where your item appears in searches. Etsy’s HeyMichelle gives this example for women’s trifold wallets:

  • Women’s wallet – art nouveau floral – trifold
  • Wallet – womens art deco cotton trifold
  • Retro womens wallet – black and white floral

Personal Example: I had many items listed in my shop with “cutesie” names that I gave items, therefore the cutesie name was one of the first three words listed. Madison Personalized Note Cards is how I actually described one of my items. Honestly, unless your name is Madison, you probably won’t be searching for these, right? The new and improved name is Flowered Note Cards For Girls Personalized. Makes sense, right?

WORD PAIRS

Etsy’s new search feature for relevancy now gives word pairs a tremendous amount of weight. Word pairs are phrases of more than one word that people use to search – think “silver necklace” or “beaded napkin rings”. Items that match the searched phrase exactly are given priority and displayed above other search results. Exact matches in both the title and tags boosts an item even higher.

The word pairs are scored much better if the match is exact, but it doesn’t have to be. A search for “red desk” will favor a title of “Classic Red Desk”, but might also show “Red Sox Desk Set” or “Red Tulip Desk Lamp” further down in the search results.

TAG YOU’RE IT

In the last few months, Etsy has taken a stance against tag “stuffing” – putting multiple words into tags like “blue coral turquoise”. With the relevancy search change, Etsy has updated the DOs and DON’Ts to refine the rules about tags. The pertinent rules for tags now read:

  • You may use a short descriptive phrase as a tag if it accurately describes your item (for example: “sterling silver,” “messenger bag,” “steampunk cufflinks”).
  • You may not stuff multiple words into a single tag that do not comprise a descriptive phrase (for example: “beach water sunset,” “handbag purse clutch,” “green red blue black.”)

We’ve already covered “descriptive phrases” – also known as word pairs – that you’ll absolutely want to put in your tags. If you can manage to get a commonly-searched word pair in both your title and your tags, you’ll be ahead of the curve.

RELISTING AND RENEWING (RECENCY) STILL MATTERS

Relisting is much less important with the search changes, but it hasn’t entirely gone away. There are still places that recency is a factor:

  • Category pages are still sorted by Most Recent. Customers that navigate to categories like Coffee Tables will see the most recently renewed or created items.
  • The Etsy home page still has a Recently Listed Items section. It’s the easiest way to get on the Etsy home page – although if you blink, you might miss it.
  • Broad search queries – searches that return more than 100,000 results – will use recency to sort the top matches. Etsy’s example is a search for “dress” that returns nearly 180,000 results – “jewelry” returns over 2 million. In these hotly-contested areas where so many items match exactly, recency will still put you on the top.
  • Searches – while defaulting to Relevancy for sorting, there is also a prominently-featured strip along the top of each search showing Recently Listing items that match the search. There are 4 items showing, but 40 total if you page through with the arrow buttons.
  • Naturally, the Most Recent sort option is still available on searches even though it’s no longer the default.

Even searches that aren’t broad enough to hit the 100,000 mark seem to factor in recency. Switch to the list view in a search and you’ll see that even though some items are a few weeks or months old, there’s no real dinosaurs hanging around at the top of search results.

WHAT DOESN’T MATTER

The Etsy search team has confirmed that these things do not affect search placement for relevancy search:

  • Descriptions – although Google scans descriptions, so these should still be written with SEO in mind.
  • Tag order – though Etsy recommends having the most descriptive tags first, since it may someday matter.
  • Item location (even for heavy items).
  • Number of views.
  • Number of listings in your shop.
  • Attributes – for now. Etsy encourages sellers to fill out the attributes, as they are being given a serious look for inclusion in relevancy search in the near future.
  • Punctuation in titles – this is automatically stripped out for search purposes.
  • Pluralization – titles and tags are stemmed before indexing, so having both “earring” and “earrings” in your tags is not necessary, and verbs like “beaded” will also match “bead” in a search.

As Gregg Donovan of the Etsy search team put it, “search is never done”. The team will be looking for ways to improve relevancy and fine-tune results. In the meantime, Etsy has given sellers a great tool with Shop Stats and lots of information to digest about relevancy search.

There you have it. I hope to have opened a few eyes with this post and make Etsy’s new relevancy search a bit clearer. I’d love to hear how your stats improve after you’ve tweaked your titles and tags, be sure to post your success here.

25 comments

  1. Deb says:

    Great, informative article! I’ve been busy the past couple weeks since they’ve changed their guidelines – so I think I’m one of the people it may have helped. As always, it’s best to understand your items and see what works best for your shop. I look forward to your next insightful article!

  2. I am elated that Etsy has finally chosen to go with ‘relevancy’ on pulling up search results over most recent (though it’s a nice feed on the current action on thier front page). Ever since I opened my first shop I have always been utterly loathed to give in to the con of the relisting malarkey. Hooray for Etsy finally giving the little guys a fighting chance! Who knows, maybe they’ll be the champion of the starter business owner once more…

  3. Cyndy says:

    Thank you for this info. I have notice a jump in views and sales in both of my shops since Etsy made this change. I still have not managed a complete redo of all listings in my shop, however. Your post has reminded me to stay focused…

  4. Joanne says:

    Stacey, you’re super for collecting this with your personal insight. My sales wer spotty all summer–picking up this month. 2 issues for me: I find the new anatomy of titles very challenging (as you pointed out the missed sales on the shabby chic desk vs. the plain red desk…) so I crazily describe the same item differently in 3 awkward listings and don’t know which one to renew! Also, when you fix tags the new ones end up on the bottom which you point out may be a problem someday. Hope drag and drop tag rearrangement will be a feature before this becomes an issue. Do you have admin influence fellow readers? Thanks.

  5. MOXIELisa says:

    Awesome article Stacy! I have to say that I am relieved that Etsy finally switched over the relevancy vs. time listed. I usually shop that way anyway but I love that now I don’t have to worry about relisting all the darn time to just show up. Those fees can get expensive!

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