Demystifying the Etsy SEO algorithm in 2020: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE

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Time for a little #throwback…

Back in 2017 I wrote a blog post on SEO (10 Etsy SEO hacks to skyrocket your sales) and it went CRAZY.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how you originally stumbled onto my blog in the first place 😉

If you believe that content marketing/blogging is dead, I’m here to tell you— that post still drives THOUSANDS of monthly visitors to my sight.

IT IS CRAZY.

What’s even crazier is the fact that when I wrote that post back in 2017, it was filled with the most up-to-date strategies and tips.

It’s now 2020 and I figured it was probably due for a bit of a refresh since things have changed SO much in the past 3 years.

In fact, things have changed SO much so that I actually ended up creating an entire course around it– Simplify Your SEO— that breaks down your entire SEO process step-by-step in a logical way so you’re NEVER left wondering what to do with your listings. 

This course just launched in January 2020 to an intimate group of 130 students and while I was initially incredibly nervous– yep, I totally still get scared whenever I release a new product– the reception has been INCREDIBLE. 

I’ve been told the spreadsheet you get– yes, you get a spreadsheet that organizes and categorized ALL your keywords for you so you essentially just plug and play– is a complete GAME CHANGER. 

I’ve gotta admit, that’s my favorite part as well– it’s something I’ve wanted to create for a looooooong time and when I finally sat down to create it, it turned out incredible and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long, haha! It’s basically the tool I wished I had back when I implemented SEO for the first time. You will be SO stinkin’ organized that it will–ilterally– take you 5 minutes (if that) to add killer SEO to any new listings you create moving forward. It’s an SEO lifesaver. 

So if you’re like, I just want a step-by-step plan that takes 100% of the guesswork out of things for me– literally, it takes ALL of the guesswork out of it– then come over to the show notes at morgannield.com/blog/episode7 and I’ll have a link for you to learn more and check out the course. I’m ridiculously proud of it. I’ve also got a freebie sitting there for you as well– so if you’re looking for a little SEO booster, definitely head over to the blog to grab that. 

Straight from the course, today I wanted to share 10 SEO hacks/understandings that will help solidify your SEO standing and demystify a bit of the process for you hopefully– because there is A LOT of information out there and if I can streamline and ease it up a bit for you, then I am ALL about doing that.   

Really quick though– I want to address the question that a lot of people have– WHY should we even bother with SEO on Etsy? 

Truth: you could be setting your online shop up ANYWHERE online, but a lot of people choose to host on Etsy for a couple reasons:

  • It’s an easy and low-cost way to get started with e-commerce for those of us who are tech-challenged (*raises hand slowly*)

  • Etsy already has a brand, and therefore drives a lot of it’s own traffic. By listing your items on Etsy, you are exposing yourself to traffic that is already there just waiting for you to take advantage of it– once you implement good SEO practices. 

That second reason– the innate Etsy traffic– is why we’re focusing on SEO. There’s no point in setting up shop on Etsy vs. elsewhere unless you are taking advantage of the built in traffic. 

What is SEO + how does it work?

Alright, so now you know the “why,” let’s talk about the “what”

At its very core, SEO, or “search engine optimization”, is simply the way that people find your product on Etsy.

Seriously– it’s as simple as that.

  • Whenever somebody hops onto Google (or Bing or Yahoo) and starts typing a word or two into the search box, they’re using SEO.

  • Whenever a buyer hops onto Etsy and starts browsing by category, they’re using SEO.

  • Whenever a pin appears at the top of Pinterest, it’s using SEO 

A strong Etsy strategy begins with a solid SEO foundation, which will lay solid groundwork for your business growth moving forward. 

So…how does SEO actually work?

SEO works by using these programs known as “bots” – you may have heard of them before.

Bots—at their very basics—are a type of software component designed to scour the internet and discover what is out there, and then brings back that information and presents it to you– the casual browser– with what it has deemed “most relevant” based on keyword terms you are searching for.

And then what is a keyword? So keywords (or “keyword phrase”– I’ll use these terms interchangeably) are words used to describe your items to these SEO bots and are the BIGGEST factor in determining where a product will actually rank for SEO, both on Google and Etsy and any other search engines out there. 

So without further ado, let’s dive into that SEO list!

Tip #1- Understand that you CAN’T check your ranking on Etsy anymore

This one used to be SUCH a big deal. People would waste HOURS of time constantly popping onto Etsy and searching for their items to see where they placed in search– if they’d show up on page 1 or page 6 or wherever. 

I’m here to tell you– THIS STRATEGY DOES NOT WORK ANYMORE. 

It’s been a SLOOOOOOW process, but back when Etsy went public and acquired BlackBird technologies to help with their search, the SEO landscape began to change in a big way…we talk about all of those ways in the Simplify Your SEO course, but one of those ways is working more closely with personalized shoppers searches

Meaning that the SEO algorithm has started to show customers search results based on your past searches, purchases, and interactions online– a whole slew of additional factors that didn’t use to matter– and factors that you, unfortunately, have NO control over. 

Now, what this means is that while you can search for your most common search terms and see your products pop up 4-5 times on page 1, that’s because YOU have been actively interacting with YOUR listings. So with this newer technology, that’s what Etsy will show you. 

Unfortunately, those aren’t the same results that everyone else sees. 

For example, in the past, you and I could both type “baby headbands” in the Etsy search bar and see the exact same results– the listings with the best SEO for that keyword phrase would show up first, regardless of any other criteria. Someone from Australia could also type in “baby headbands” and see the same exact results. 

This was awesome for a variety of reasons– the main one being that you could actually track how your item was performing in search by simply “searching” for it and taking note. It was VERY easy to see if your SEO was working or not and to adjust it accordingly. 

Not so in 2020. 

Nowadays I can type in “baby headbands,”  you can type in “baby headbands,” and someone from Australia can type in “baby headbands” and we’ll each be shown a different set of results– based on our personalized history and interaction on Etsy. 

This is absolutely CRUCIAL to understand. You cannot go in and check to see where you rank any longer (so stop obsessing over it!)– because you won’t be “ranking” the same with any search result– you’ll appear in different places for different people. 

Does this mean SEO is no longer relevant?

Hardly!

The items with the best SEO are still going to be shown first in these personalized results– just to different people at different times. 

Tip #2- Renewing listings has EXTREMELY minimal effect on your placement in search

Another big change to the game– you used to be able to manually “renew” your listings for an instant refresh in search. SO pay the $.20 listing fee and watch your item magically jump up a few rows in search, hopefully catching the eye of a potential buyer. 

But because of the personalized search results that we JUST talked about, this is no longer an effective use of your time OR your money. In fact, every time you do it, it’s essentially like you’re throwing $.20 down the toilet. And I’d much rather you use that money to invest in your business and tools to actually GROW it instead of wasting it. 

Tip #3- Keywords are NOT the only factor to consider with your search placement

So keywords are a BIG deal to getting found in Etsy search, but they’re not the ONLY way to get found (of course they aren’t…)

So I wanted to quickly go over the additional factors that Etsy takes into play that determines the who/what/when/where/why/how of showing up in search. 

// Listing Quality Score

Your listing quality score is essentially the algorithmic “score” that the Etsy internal algorithm has assigned to each of your shop’s listings. Based on what Etsy has told us in this regard, the factors that go into your listing quality score are: 

  • Strong sales histories
    Meaning that when people click on this particular listing, it leads to a sale on a regular basis.

    Items that are clicked on and then clicked out of nearly every time indicate to Etsy that something in the listing is turning people off from buying– and that’s not good for business!

  • Strong search engagements
    Meaning people are clicking on your items when they see them in search— that the keywords you have chosen are relevant for your product

  • Completed attributes
    This is one of those things you fill out as you’re creating a new listing with the shop manager.

    If Etsy EVER give you an option to fill something out, DO IT. Don’t leave anything blank if you can help it. It’s just one more additional way to get found– yay!

// Shop Quality Score

Alright, so it’s not enough to have high-quality listings– your shop has to be scoring high, too. So what factors does Etsy look into to determine your Shop’s Quality Score?

  • Excellent customer service
    This means you’re quick to respond to customer questions (within 1-2 business days is perfectly fine– don’t feel like you have to respond the exact minute every question comes through), you fill your orders in the allotted time-frame, and don’t have cases opened against your shop on a regular basis.) 

  • Positive reviews
    Don’t stress too much about getting reviews on all of your orders (a 10-20% response rate is completely normal on Etsy. If I’ve ever purchased something from you, I’m in the 80-90% that always forgets to leave a review so I’M SORRY!), but DO make sure you’re doing everything you can to get those 5-star reviews.

    Will the occasional 1-star review hurt you? No (I’ve had them myself and noticed NO change whatsoever in sales), however, you will do well to maintain an average 5-star rating in your shop. This increases trust from Etsy as well as buyers purchasing from you. 

  • Shop policies
    It’s not a thing now, but you used to be able to create your OWN shop policies. If you still have those in place, consider now the appropriate time to drop them and adopt Etsy’s policies. Your SEO will thank you. 

// Additional ranking factors

  • Localization

    Where you’re based in the world does (unfortunately) make a difference in who Etsy shows your products to. Your items will be shown to YOUR home country first before being shown to international buyers.

  • Recency + renewals
    Manually renewing your items is no longer considered an effective strategy for placement in search (so don’t waste your money!)– we talked about it earlier– but if your item is selling regularly, it is getting “renewed” from each of those sales and that will give you a generally higher placement in search over time.

  • Photo recognition

    More and more with the acquisition of AI, Etsy is heading towards a more visual search experience– so your first photo needs to be crystal clear of what you’re selling.

    No busy backgrounds, no crazy props– make it clear what your item actually is. You can style additional photos to your heart’s content, however (although I still recommend keeping them relatively simple to avoid buyer confusion).

    ***Note that this is still in the early phases of rolling out, however, it will become an increasingly more important factor as time goes on.***

  • Free shipping
    Now, this one is important enough that I’m totally making it it’s own numbered tip in this podcast so….

Tip #4: Free shipping is NOT as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be

Ooooh, let’s dive into possibly the MOST #controversial topic on Etsy. 

Free shipping. 

If you went into a crazy panic when Etsy rolled out this feature, you were in good company. 

And I’m not going to debate the virtues of whether this is a good move on Etsy’s end or a bad one. That’s neither here nor there for our purposes. The Etsy forums can give you your debate fix if that’s what you’re looking for. 

Instead, I want to talk to you about whether free shipping is really affecting people finding your shop and listings in search results. 

Yes and no. (It’s never a clear answer, is it?!)

It all comes down to YOUR unique niche and what YOU are selling. 

So this is something you’re going to need to research for yourself to see if it’s something you should consider.

So what I’d like you to do is hop onto a keyword research tool like Marmalead, which is the tool I recommend, and you can EASILY check out what percentage of shops in your niche are offering free shipping with their orders…and what ones aren’t (and then able to check what they ARE charging for shipping).

This is EXTREMELY important information to your profits!

If hardly anyone in your niche is offering free shipping, you don’t have to do it either! Yes, it may give you a competitive advantage for someone looking for a shop specifically with that offering, but you’re not going to get “buried” in search because you don’t offer it– especially if no one else in your industry is offering it, either! (This might ring true to those selling heavier items– like wooden signs or furniture.) 

However, if most of your competition IS offering free shipping– which is a SUPER common thing in the baby industry where I was– I would highly, HIGHLY encourage you to do it as well. We want you to remain competitive in the marketplace and free shipping is another way to give your customers an “easy yes” in purchasing from you. 

So the bottom line here? Free shipping isn’t going to “break” your SEO strategy-– but it is something to consider as part of your overall business strategy– and whether for YOUR specific niche and product if it’s worth it or not. 

Tip #5- You should never, never edit the SEO of the original listing if it’s doing well

I watch Etsy sellers make this mistake all of the time– and I’ve done it too and it’s PAINFUL. So let me spare you the excruciating suffering that so many of us have gone through and share my top tip for adjusting your SEO WITHOUT tanking your views.

If you have a listing that is performing well, but you want to play around with the SEO (because SEO is such a fun way to spend your time) to see if you can make it even better, do NOT edit the original listing. 

Instead, make a duplicate and edit THAT listing. 

And no, Etsy does NOT punish shop’s for having duplicate listings. I have no idea how that rumor got started, but it drives me crazy. I had duplicates of ALL my best sellers and put the best SEO in each of them so both versions of any one listing were performing well and making sales Every. Single. Day.  

So before you ever do ANY edits to anything– and I’ll go as far as to say even with photos if you’re playing around with a new style of photo– make sure you DUPLICATE the original listing first and make the edits to the duplicate. 

6- Focus keywords are a KILLER part of your strategy and will give you a boost above your competitors not using them.

Wait…a FOCUS keyword? What the heck is that?!

Well, we have a whole lesson on it inside Simplify Your SEO and how to pick out profitable focus keywords for every single one of your listings, but I wanted to touch on it here in the podcast, too, because it is SO important to your overall strategy and I feel like it’s something a lot of people either don’t know about, or don’t know how to use correctly. 

Okay, so really quick if you’re just hearing this phrase for the first time– A focus keyword is a keyword phrase (2-3 words long) that you choose and have decided you wanted to rank for in any particular listing. 

Now you may be saying “well, all my keywords are focus keyword then! I want to rank for all of them!” and obviously that’s why we’re using multiple keywords– so you can appear in more places under more search terms. But this FOCUS keyword of yours enables you to place a greater emphasis on one particular keyword for a listing and then maximize your chances of ranking for it by listing it in multiple places strategically. 

Your focus keyword should be in your:

  • Listing titles

  • Listing tags

  • Item descriptions (for the benefit of Google + Pinterest)You’ll want to use it in your title, your tags, your description. This is where repetition becomes VERY important.

Make sure you put a good deal of thought into picking each one of them out– because there’s a fine line of balance between too broad and too niched– and you’ll want to find that middle ground with your focus keyword. Again, we talk about that super in-depth inside Simplify Your SEO if you’re wanting step-by-step instructions on how to research + analyze your focus keywords to pick the best possible ones. 

Tip #7- The most profitable title formula contains 3 DIFFERENT types of keywords.  

Okay, so we touched on focus keywords earlier but they aren’t the ONLY types of keywords you should be using. There are two others– broad and long-tail keywords– that need to be used in your listings as well: 

Broad keyword:
Broad keywords are simply 1-3 word keyword phrases that target a really broad category and have massive search result volume.

Why? because people searching for these keywords are not in the “buying” phase– they’re still browsing. They are going to refine their search a few times more before making a purchase. 

Examples of broad keywords would be:

  • baby headband

  • beaded necklace

  • art print

  • knitting pattern

  • t-shirt

Long-tail keyword:
(
Targeted) long-tail keywords, on the other hand are generally 3-5 words long and are more targeted in what they are describing. They get lower search results + engagement in general, but they tend to translate MUCH BETTER into sales.

Why? Because people searching for these more specific keywords are generally in the “buying” phase. They’ve already searched for that broad keyword and are now refining their results to what they’re actually interested in purchasing. 

Examples of targeted long-tail keywords:

  • knotted baby headband

  • gold beaded necklace

  • abstract art print

  • girl’s scarf knitting pattern

  • women’s graphic t-shirt

One important thing to note: You can see that the best targeted long-tail keywords are simply longer versions of the original broad keyword– and you can still find the broad keyword within the targeted long-tail keyword. So, the best targeted long-tail keywords include highly ranked broad keywords within (<– EXTREMELY important to remember with your SEO strategy). 

The strongest title formula will contain broad and targeted long-tail keywords also have their place in your strategy. 


Tip # 8- Short and sweet is NOT the best policy

Etsy has mentioned that shorter, easily readable titles are best for shoppers to be able to quickly scan your listings and determine what you’re selling. 

But if you’re not using nearly every ounce of available title space, you are missing out in a BIG, big way. Yes, make your titles readable and use descriptive keywords that describe what your listing actually is, but continue to add additional SEO .

I like to think of your title as broken into keyword “sentences.” This is a strategy we go into really in-depth inside Simplify Your SEO, but basically, you’re going to use your keyword phrases and write out little “sentences” and you should be able to fit 3-5 of those “sentences” in your title. 

Bad Example: Someone might write out a title like: Chunky Knit Scarf, Chunky Scarf, Chunky Knit, Infinity Scarf, gift for her, Scarf Women, Knitted Scarf, London Infinity Scarf

Why this is a bad example:

  • Too much repetition. Yes, repetition in a few areas is good, but that title is wasting A TON of space by using the word “scarf” 6-7 times, which is completely NOT necessary. 2-3x MAX is perfect. Any more than that and Google tends to classify you as “keyword stuffing,” which is NOT a good thing. So let’s not tempt them :).

  • Choppy structure. Feature just keyword after keyword after keyword makes it hard for shoppers to read and understand fully what you’re selling. 

Okay, so what would a good example look like? Instead of listing “scarf” 5 bajillion times in choppy keyword fragments, you’d be better off creating a title that looks more like this:

Good example: “Chunky knit infinity scarf for women, red winter cowl gift for her…”

…and then using the additional space to craft 1-2 more keyword “sentences–” or phrases using keywords that sound natural and are easy to read.

Why this is a good example:

  • Readability for shoppers. A browser can EASILY tell what you are selling by taking a look at the title— it makes sense and it’s just a random jumble of keywords

  • Readability for Google (and other search engines)- Google LOVES more natural sounding keyword “sentences” that aren’t trying to “outsmart” their system

  • More keywords. Now that you’re not using the word “scarf” 7 times (#hallelujah), you can use words like “cowl,” “winter accessory,” etc. to optimize your chance to rank for even MORE keywords.

Tip #9- Driving your own traffic to your shop actually BOOSTS your SEO. 

Say what?! I know, I know– it’s easy to get caught up in the SEO research hamster wheel and forget that anything outside of researching endless keywords for Etsy actually exists as a strategy.

But guess what? Driving your own traffic– be it through Instagram, Pinterest, email marketing, blogging, wherever is actually going to help BOOST your SEO– no additional keyword research required 😉

That’s because when you mention your product OFF of Etsy and people take notice and click into your shop, you’re creating BACKLINKS and Etsy finds those INCREDIBLE valuable and rewards you with higher overall placement in search results. 

So maybe those social media posts aren’t such a time-suck after all 😉

(pssst! This also answers the question of what’ the heck is going on when you see a shop on Etsy that has CRAP SEO and yet they keep showing up highly in your search results. While there’s often more going on behind-the-scenes than we realize, it’s likely that they’re driving A LOT of their own traffic to the shop— and Etsy rewards that accordingly (and why wouldn’t they?! You’re sending people to their site 😉

Tip #10- SEO adjustments TAKE TIME.

I know we live in this incredible age where it’s possible to get a package ordered and delivered from Amazon in less than a day (although that may just be because we’re only 25 minutes away from a major Amazon distribution center, so we might have an unfair advantage there– but regardless, we live in this “instant gratification” age). 

And it’s incredible and wonderful and also incredibly OPPOSITE of how SEO works. #ofcourseitis

You’ve GOT to give your SEO time to work it’s magic– and 2 day Prime isn’t going to cut it.

Plan on leaving your SEO ALONE for 4-6 weeks before you go back in, check your stats, and make any adjustments to it. Any sooner than that and you’re not getting an accurate picture of just how well (or poorly) your keywords are doing. 

Now, SEO for Google usually takes about 8 months (!!!) to go into effect, so by comparison, Etsy is actually quite speedy. Just sayin 😉


Alright, and there you have it. We have just hammered out some KILLER SEO strategy together and I’ve hopefully helped demystify the Etsy SEO algorithm a bit for you. But now you’re left wondering, “ So what’s the take action for this episode?”

TAKE ACTION:

Well, If you’ve been putting of implementing a strong SEO strategy in your shop, I want you to commit to getting that in place ASAP. While I never recommend SEO as the ONLY marketing strategy an Etsy seller should rely on, it’s a foundational strategy that you MUST implement if you want to see exponential growth. SO many things build off of your keywords and you’re making it harder for yourself to get found in ALL areas of your business if you haven’t given your SEO much thought.

So commit to implementing a strong SEO strategy in your Etsy shop as soon as you can. If you’re like, “I just want someone to tell me exactly what to do in a logical and ridiculously step-by-step organized way in a 2 week time period so I can cross this puppy off my to-do list FOR GOOD” then you are in luck because that’s EXACTLY what I teach inside Simplify Your SEO.

Down to the 2 week time period EXACTLY.

I mean, what are the chances?!

Ready to go from 0 —> SEO HERO in just 14 days? Enroll now! >>


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