Thursday, February 22, 2018

The art & science of item descriptions

The opening paragraph of your item description is crucial. It is both a science and an art.
Item descriptions are important

First the science: your description should clearly inform the AI (artificial intelligence) algorithm*:
  1. what is for sale
  2. context for which the item is appropriate (example: "shower" ... is it wedding or bathroom? See "LSI" at the bottom.)
  3. type of query for which your item would be a good response
Craft your opening paragraph to match as many factors in the search query as possible. You must know your target market.

At the same time, your opening paragraph must engage your viewer, converting them into a buyer. Search engines and Etsy love a great conversion rate.

how do you set the hook
Catching buyers
Capturing the attention of a shopper is an art. It is where your personal writing skills come into play. 

Use your persuasive ability to market your product. Use a writing style and terminology that are comfortable for your target audience.

If you capture the attention of viewers in the first few sentences, they will continue to read the page. They will see all the interesting details you have provided that will convince them to buy.

If you fail to engage your shopper, they will never see the rest of what you have written. Instead they will leave the page, bouncing to another listing in another shop 😟.

Improve your bounce rate
Reduce your bounce rate
To restate, an effective item description must:
  • accurately convey what is for sale (to the AI in the algorithm*)
  • engage your viewer (so they stay and do not bounce out)
  • convince your shopper to buy (of course!)

How long should product descriptions be?


One school of thought is to keep listings brief. Use short paragraphs (even one sentence). Use bullet points.

Yet some guidance is saying to aim for 2000 words. Say what? Supposedly descriptions of that length are ranked better by search engines. (This is taken from advice that is directed to websites and blogs as well as selling websites. Note that even my most complicated my blog posts are not that long, let alone item descriptions...)

Which is best? Use the amount of text that is best for your target customer base. Higher quality writing can be a tool to make your products sound more appealing than your competitors’. And longer descriptions take longer to read, which pleases search engines.

Use longer descriptions for items that are extra interesting, have a backstory, or are ultra competitive. What will work best to engage buyers?

It can be difficult to provide long descriptions that are meaningful. Share some interesting or amusing details about the item. Educational facts are fine. But customers love reading short stories just as much.

Give it a try on a few listings. Craft longer descriptions for pricier items. Save the short and brief ones for low-end stuff. Mix it up. Observe if anything changes.

Insert a link to more items. Most websites try to keep you in their store by linking you to their "latest" items or picks "just for" their shoppers. That tactic works for online vintage sellers, too. 

Can I use boilerplate in my listings?


Boilerplate is repeating the same block of text in each listing. The short answer is "no." There are many reasons. Item descriptions should be just that, descriptions. It should not be returns or shipping information. 

Some feel that the very end of a long description could contain some repetitive material, so you could try that... But put your shipping and return information in your shop policies where they belong.



How to incorporate title words in item descriptions



From Etsy admin in 2016:

Q: Is it better to copy & paste your title at the start of the description, or to sprinkle the keywords from your title conversationally into the first few sentences?

Admin: we recommend using your keywords as naturally as possible throughout your item description because Google does not like unnatural keyword use. Therefore, describe your product in a thorough and accurate way to give yourself the best shot at ranking well in Google.

The importance of natural wording


Search engines do prefer natural wording. That is not the only reason to use it...

Consider the increasing importance of voice search. Many people now own and use Alexa or Google Voice.

(So artificial Intelligence is already here. It is in fact helping people to find what they are looking for online.)

Users of this technology speak their search terms. If necessary, they refine their query. They tell the device what they want, using natural spoken English language (in the USA). The words used are "LSI keywords" in SEO-speak.

Do item descriptions really matter?

*NOTE: Etsy does not use item descriptions in search right now. But indications are that they could begin to use them. For now, the algorithms referred to are only for outside searches by search engines. But that could change. Part of the goal of this blog post is to make you aware of possible changes in the Etsy pipeline.


Extra credit:

What are LSI keywords?


LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing. They are keywords related to your main keywords. So write in a natural way, not for a machine. For example, when writing about old things, you might include words like "vintage" or "antique" and "patina." Mention what it might have been used for, its history. 

The terms you use give clues to the search engines what your item is. Even better, those terms lead searchers to your items.

Search engines look for topic and context rather than exact words. Real people do too. So write content for real people. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Etsy Search: Titles - Sending the Right Signals

Can you reach every buyer with one title?

writing titles for etsy listings
Best practices for writing item titles

The new "machine learning" algorithms simulate how people look for things in real life. Think about it: they search for the few items that are tailored to a particular need.  

Buyers seek a specific item (not something that fits the needs of the entire vintage-buying population on earth...) 

Use your title to speak to the perfect buyer for that item. No need to worry about everyone else, as they are not buyers.


Speak to your target market


This goes back to basic marketing: who is your target market? You cannot reach everyone with one title. Narrow your target audience.

If you try to market your items  to everyone, you will hold back your shop. Besides, no one can afford to market to everyone. Not even huge companies.

Think about the commercials you see on sports events,  versus those you see on Saturday morning cartoons... Yes, different markets.

The importance of natural wording


Search engines prefer natural wording. But that is not the only reason to use it.

Consider the increasing importance of voice search. Many people now own and use Alexa or Google Voice.

(Indeed Artificial Intelligence is already in use, helping people to find what they are looking for online.)

Users of this technology speak their search terms. If necessary, they refine their search query. They tell the device what they want, using natural spoken English language. The words used are called "LSI keywords" in SEO-speak. (There will be more about LSI keywords in an upcoming post.)

Search engines look for topic and context rather than exact words. Real people do too. So write titles for real people. 

How do I reduce my bounce rate?


Make your listings appeal to the people your title is set up to attract. Use keywords and buyer phrases that are relevant to your target customers. 

Make shoppers comfortable. Convince them that you are knowledgeable and trustworthy. This is easier if you specialize in what you sell.

Here are more ideas for keeping buyers in your shop.

Why is it bad to use the same word combinations over and over in titles?


Some sellers get into the habit of using similar word combinations over and over again in their item titles. When you do that, you miss out on marketing to buyers who use different terms to search for your items.

Mix it up. I know it sounds crazy, but varying the wording of your titles could make a big difference in getting found. Change up your word combinations. What kinds of terms does your target audience use? Use a purchase phrase list.


One word that it is OK to have in every item title is the word "vintage." Do avoid placing the word "vintage" in the valuable real estate right at the beginning. Put it after the first five or so words.


What about "word salad" titles?


Avoid stuffing your titles with keywords. Although this may have been encouraged in the past, Etsy is switching over to artificial intelligence, or AI. "Stuffed" titles will no longer be rewarded in search.

AI is dealing with one searcher at a time. There is no benefit to stuff your titles with terms that make it unclear exactly what your product is. (An example is naming every possible holiday gift your item could be. Instead, aim for niche, long-tail searches.) 

Etsy's AI scours the site looking to match up searchers and the items they search for. When your title is unclear, AI will find lots of clear titles that do match what it is looking for. Those items get moved up in search. The “muddier” titles get pushed down in ranking.


Etsy admin answers questions about titles


Now let us look at some information from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Etsy has been moving toward AI for a couple of years now. 

In October of 2016 Etsy Administrators fielded many questions from sellers about getting items found in searches. Here are a few questions answered about titles:


Q: Is it acceptable to repeat a word in the title?
Admin: We don’t recommend repeating a word [the same word over and over] in the title.

Q: Must word phrases [keywords] within Titles and Tags match exactly?

Admin: Word phrases within titles and tags don’t need to match exactly. However, tagging your product for “red boots” and having “red boots” in your title will give you a better chance of ranking for “red boots”.

Q: If using commas within a title, is it recommended to put one space after the comma?

Admin: In general, we recommend making your titles as readable as possible while still being descriptive. This would usually involve putting a space after commas when appropriate. Google definitely rewards well crafted, easy to read titles.

Q: I would like to ask why is it SOOO important to use the same keywords and combinations in your title, in the description and again in the tags. .... We are constantly working to improve our internal search practices though and eventually we hope to not rely as much on the quantity of times you use a certain phrase when listing your product.

----------------------------

What signals are you sending with your titles? Are you reaching your target market? 

More on item descriptions next...

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Etsy Quick Trick: keeping buyers in your shop


Etsy Quick Trick banner
Improve the bounce rate in your shop
It is hard enough to get shoppers into your shops... sometimes they bounce right back out. (This increases your "bounce rate" which search engines do not like.)

How can sellers prevent that?

Photography


Have lots of interesting items, photographed well.

On every item page, eight of your items are displayed to the right (from your shop section). Fourmore are on the top right, your most recently listed items. Make sure everything has enticing, clickable photos. Style your photos for your target market.

Item descriptions


Write compelling item descriptions. Tell a story. Do it in the way that your target audience prefers. Make your product listing descriptions appealing to the buyers who are searching for them.

Link to more similar items


Another way to keep buyers in your shop is to provide a link lead at the bottom of every listing. Most websites try to keep you in their store by linking you to an attractive gallery of similar items.

Use phrasing that you see on other websites:
More things you might like [link]
My picks for you [link]
Browse my latest listings [link] 
[Style or item type] selections [link]
[Style or item type] gallery [link] 
[Style or item type] finds [link]  
[Style or item type] selections [link] 
Or personalize it in a way that your target buyers might prefer:
Check out the rest of our [style or item type]: [link]
We have more [item type] here: [link]
More similar items here: [link]
Please see the rest of our [item type] here: [link]
If you liked this/these, you might like more of my [item type] at [section link or shop search]
Shops that sell limited lines of items have an advantage, as you can really target your shopper. Shops that sell a broad range of items and styles will require more work to implement this.

On a page with an animal item, I present a link to other animal items. On a listing with sterling silver brooches, I show other brooches. You could show more art deco items on a deco piece, more mid-century modern items for that style. "See more great baby shower gifts here." Whatever items you have that might be of interest a shopper for that particular item. Sometimes I use two or three lines (farmhouse, bedding and boho for example) if the item for sale fits those genres.

This method requires careful attention to tags. It works best if your items that will be presented together have a similar look, make an attractive collection. Think... treasuries!

I put mine at the bottom of each listing. They can go anywhere within your listing text, though. If you think that a buyer might not finish reading the listing and move on, try placing your back links higher in the listing. "Grab" them, prevent them from bouncing out.

According to Etsy admin, these back links do not affect rankings in Etsy search.

Tip: when making the link to your similar shop items, be sure that you you are in the public, customer-facing shop view, not your shop manager view.

Tip: use short links from a site like Bit.ly to streamline (and track) your link.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Keywords: develop and use a purchase phrase list

making a list of keywords for online selling
Etsy search is all about keywords and key phrases. 


Many sellers still try to draw buyers with general phrases. Phrases with a lot of competition like "[holiday] gift" "vintage gift" and "silver necklace" have thousands of search results on Etsy. There is no need to be concerned with placing highly in broad searches.

Instead sellers need to concentrate on long-tail keywords. These are browse-phrase keywords and purchase-phrase keywords. These are words, specific phrases, that a customer types in to the search bar when they are ready to search for something and buy.

Use specific keywords that say what the item is. Select terms that tell people what the item actually is in different ways. Use terminology that your target customer would use.

Advice is out there to have at least 100 relevant keywords available. Have terms at your fingertips for any product genre or type you might sell. If have 2 or more types or genres of products on Etsy, consider having 100 keywords to use for each one.

That might seem like a lot, but it is not.


How to brainstorm for more keywords


Other sellers can help out with this. Check out listings on Etsy or other venues. What keywords are they using? Check out their sold items. Titles are at the top of course. Tags can be found at the bottom of any listing page. (Recently those disappeared for some sellers, so changes could be afoot there.)

Follow a blog, like Apartment Therapy. Note terms that they use to describe items, trends and styles. Their readers will also be searching using those keywords.

Here is another method of market research.


Read magazines for keyword ideas

Read a magazine for keyword ideas
Try magazines for keyword research

Try magazines for keywords. Magazines that are of interest to your target audience. You will not necessarily be reading the magazine, but rather the advertisements.

Magazines devote teams of staff dedicated to using proper keywords in their ads... key words that cause viewers to want to buy the product! Those marketing people have done their keyword research. Why not apply it in your own shop?

Note the terms used for products in magazine ads. These writers must be on-trend with their use of key words.

If you could, which vintage magazine sums up your customer base? Use it to harvest new terms to attract buyers.

There is no need to subscribe... look at them at your library, or supermarket check-out. (You might even stay there until they kick you out.)


Make a keyword list


Once you have keywords, make a list. Keep that list handy when you compose listings.

While writing your listing text, keep an eye on your keyword list. Your goal is to use important keywords in a natural, conversational way. 

Be sure to write your first paragraph for your target buyer, not for a machine. The more you understand about your buyers, the better you will be able to write for them.

Happy vintage selling!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Who is afraid of free shipping?

Mailboxes... can packages ship for free?
Do you have free shipping?
I do some reading on Etsy. I see a lot of US vintage sellers who are afraid of free shipping. Deathly afraid.

(Perhaps it is an issue with shipping in general, but that is a subject for a different post.)

Repeated studies indicate that buyers (in the USA at least) love free shipping. Although they know it raises the cost of the item, they still prefer it. Not logical (free shipping is not really "free") but there you have it.

Is now the time to think about it?

shipping from Maine is expensive
Geographically challenged?

First, what is holding you back?


Heavy items, those over two pounds. If that is all you sell in your shop, then you can just stop reading this right now. This is the time when Etsy's Calculated Shipping shines. You are good to go.

(Living in the northeast corner of the USA, I understand the issue of zoned shipping. Most of the west and deep south are expensive shipping zones for
 me.) Items over two pounds are the exception. Leave them be, safely ensconced in Calculated Shipping.

Yellow ware mixing bowl
Heavy items are the exception.
Almost everything else? I add some, most or even all of the shipping to the cost and call it good.

(A caveat: although January's visits are down, my YOY revenue this month is now showing "up 28%".  With the shipping bundled in there, revenue is inflated.)

Can a shop really do that? 


I am. I have not converted everything (items under two pounds, that is) over to free shipping yet. (Some sellers call this "shipping included.")

How: I set up a manual shipping profile called "FREE." When renewing I open the item, check attributes, listing text and tags. I look at how I have shipping set. Most of the time, I increase the price to accommodate the "free shipping" model. Then I click the new "free" shipping profile. Done.


Will free shipping discourage multiple purchases?

Weighing bubble envelope
Small packages are easier

It will not if you give a corresponding discount off of multiple purchases. I have my shop set at 15% off for purchases of three or more items. That way my multiple buyers get their "free" shipping back and feel like they are getting a bargain.


Another benefit of offering a percentage-off promotion is that my shop shows up on any search for items on sale.... (And of course searches with free shipping...) I get fewer requests for lower prices, too.

Here is a little bit of Q & A on the subject from Etsy CEO Josh Silverman.

Who is afraid of free shipping now?

Happy Etsy selling!

free shipping is easy on etsy
Once your free shipping profile is set up, the rest is easy.

etsy seller screen for shipping setup
Setting up a new free shipping profile

Afterthought: I find that converting my listings to free shipping helps me see my pricing in a new light. Perhaps some items are too expensive to ship, and not worth carrying in my online shops.

Another afterthought: offering free shipping forces sellers to be on their game as to the cheapest shipping options. Make friends with regional boxes and the many other nuances of the USPS (or other postal service if you are not in the USA).


I wanted the graphic smaller, but...

What about international shipping?


Because it can be so expensive, small sellers have difficulty offering free shipping internationally. If item prices are raised to compensate for free shipping to domestic locations what can be done to sweeten the deal for international buyers?

That IS a good question. Perhaps you can lower your international shipping prices to a degree to coincide with the discount you are giving to your buyers who are receiving "free shipping." For example, if a particular item you added $4 to the price to cover shipping, why not take approximately $4 off shipping your international buyers?

I do not ship internationally except by request. I am not sure if there is a full answer of how to make some sort of equitable "free shipping" for international buyers. A case-by-case basis? Set up a bunch of individualized profiles and use the one that fits the size of your item? Please let me know if you come up with a workable solution.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 2017 Updates from Etsy's CEO

Etsy's CEO Josh Silverman
Etsy's CEO Josh Silverman
On December 13, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman updated Etsy sellers.  He also shared information in a video on December 5, 2017.

Here are some highlights about search improvements.

First, from his earlier video chat:
In September, we introduced a major improvement called Context Specific Ranking, or CSR. Through CSR, we’re personalizing the search experience by using information about the shopper, time of day, and other context-specific factors to rank results in real time… The more personalized approach means that you’ll no longer see the same results every time you type in a search term. And the good news is that we’re already seeing CSR drive more sales.
 We’re also working hard to get better at understanding what your item actually is, based on all of the information in your listings, with less focus on your titles. Eventually, as search continues to improve, our goal is to enable you to include all the relevant data about your products as you list them, reducing the need to continuously refine your SEO terms.
Let us break this down a bit.
 "...you’ll no longer see the same results every time you type in a search term."
That means that doing test searches to determine ranking of our items is no longer possible. Every time someone searches, they will see something different.

This is where Josh introduced the term "CSR" or "Context Specific Ranking."
Through CSR, we’re personalizing the search experience by using information about the shopper, time of day, and other context-specific factors to rank results in real time.
He let sellers know that any need to stuff item titles full of keyword phrases is fading:
We’re also working hard to get better at understanding what your item actually is, based on all of the information in your listings, with less focus on your titles.  
He finishes this section with this statement:
Eventually, as search continues to improve, our goal is to enable you to include all the relevant data about your products as you list them, reducing the need to continuously refine your SEO terms.
This is good news if you dislike tweaking listings. It means more time to pick great vintage to sell, right?

Adjustments to search and discovery


Regarding improvements to search and discovery, this continues to be a major focus for us. As I mentioned in my video, in addition to rolling out context-specific ranking, or CSR, we’re working hard to get better at understanding what your item actually is, based on all of the information in your listings, including image recognition, with less focus on your titles. Eventually, our goal is to have you design your title and item description in a way that most appeals to customers. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.
 We boost new shops and new listings in relevant search for a very brief time to give them a chance to be seen. After this quick boost the new items will appear as they normally would in search results. This practice, which is common in ecommerce and retail in general, has been in place on Etsy for the past few years.
 I’d like to address search “clumping,” which has been a hot topic lately. Our system limits the number of listings per seller that can return within the first few pages of results for any given query. This allows us to help buyers experience the breadth of items available on Etsy, which, as we’ve learned through data and testing, increases the likelihood they’ll make a purchase. We’ll continue to analyze the data to make sure we’re helping buyers find what they’re looking for within our diverse collection of listings. We need to do a better job at delivering Breadth, and not just Depth. I agree this is an area where we need to improve, and we are making significant investments to do so.
…the search algorithm, the way we match search terms to listings hasn’t changed and our guidance remains the same, including recommendations for keywords, titles, and categories. What has changed is how we rank search results. Through context-specific ranking, we’re personalizing search rankings in real-time using information about the shopper, time of day, and other context-specific factors. This new approach is leading to an increase in sales in the marketplace. 

Now we will break it down a bit.
Etsy sellers now can host more photos
Etsy recently added five photo fields
...In addition to rolling out context-specific ranking, or CSR, we’re working hard to get better at understanding what your item actually is, based on all of the information in your listings, including image recognition, with less focus on your titles.
Fill out all of your attribute fields (things like color, size, capacity, style, occasion). Include lots of pictures, as image recognition is on the horizon. Think about it, the more photos you have the more chances to be matched up with a buyer's search!
We boost new shops and new listings in relevant search for a very brief time to give them a chance to be seen. After this quick boost the new items will appear as they normally would in search results.
Our system limits the number of listings per seller that can return within the first few pages of results for any given query. This allows us to help buyers experience the breadth of items available on Etsy, which, as we’ve learned through data and testing, increases the likelihood they’ll make a purchase.
Clumping is the new normal. You can be sure that Etsy would not be doing it unless it resulted in increased sales over all.

guessing at Etsy's search changes
Best practices are the same
What are sellers to do? Has anything changed? Josh addresses that:
…the search algorithm, the way we match search terms to listings hasn’t changed and our guidance remains the same, including recommendations for keywords, titles, and categories. 
Etsy's "best practices" have not changed. (As always, use a variety of long-tail keywords. Use concise titles and accurate tags. Those are the best ways right now to capture different queries that buyers might make.) Try this prototype team for an improved way to find Etsy's categories.
What has changed is how we rank search results. Through context-specific ranking, we’re personalizing search rankings in real-time using information about the shopper, time of day, and other context-specific factors. This new approach is leading to an increase in sales in the marketplace. 
But how search results are served up has changed. There is that term "CSR" again. How items are placed in search are personalized (using information about the shopper, the time of day and other factors to be sure).

Josh Silverman is saying that he has the shareholders' backs. And sellers, as there would be no marketplace without them.

Happy selling!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Who is in the driver's seat?

What is up with Etsy's search?

Etsy's search algorithm has changed
Hold on tight!


Reports vary... some shops are doing all right and some are not: theories abound.

Things have changed with Etsy's search. That is a fact. As one seller put it,"relevancy is no longer relevant on Etsy."

This may sound radical, but it is time to reassess everything that what we think we know about how search works. Everything. The entire ball game has changed.

Why are sellers holding their breath?

Artificial Intelligence is now in the driver's seat of Etsy search. 


Etsy feels a bit like driverless car... No one, not even the programmers, know exactly where the search "vehicle" is headed with the new "recommendation technology." Sellers will have to be patient. "Machine learning" has to do its thing. It will be seeking connections between searches and purchases. Its goal is to figure out what searchers want to see, what motivates them to buy.

Artificial intelligence at work
Analyzing data takes time
It takes time to examine millions of pieces of data. The algorithm will be looking for connections, called "context-specific results." This new technology will be seeking common factors between millions of buyer search queries and actual sales. It will be connecting the dots.

Add to that personalization of results. Everyone will see something different.

Etsy's search has become more complicated than any human can understand... "machine learning." That is why no one can even begin to predict search results at this point.

The thought is that search will change all the time for a year or two. Search results may at times be bad due to the learning curve. Of course, sales can suffer in the short term.

This "deep learning" technology is calculated to "deliver even more relevant search results and a shopping experience that can be even more tailored to individual buyers." Ultimately, things should improve.

Google's driverless car goes places... It is basically doing what it has been "trained" to do. Eventually Etsy's search will get there.

Can Etsy's machine learning figure out vintage?


Vintage is vulnerable at Etsy. It seems like the proverbial red-headed step-child. Etsy is stressing its "made by someone" mystique, which is not vintage.

Etsy stressing creative goods
Etsy is stressing handmade in this sale banner from late 2017
Being in on the ground floor of a revolutionary new search experience has its pros and cons. Etsy sellers are about to find out the good, the bad and the ugly.

What can be done now?


Until more information is provided, making major changes would just be a shot in the dark. Let common sense prevail.

For now, the rules appear to be the same as always... When listing, accurately describe your item. Use understandable and descriptive language. Carefully word your titles and tags. Fill out any slots for attributes. (Those are material, size and other search factors that are different for each type of item). Use great photos.

Etsy's instructions have not changed. Yet at least. (Please let me know if you see that they have.)

Hang on tight, though. It could be a rough ride when machine learning is driving search.

Want to know more? Here is some more in-depth information about recent changes in Etsy search.

The art & science of item descriptions

The opening paragraph of your item description is crucial. It is both a  science and an  art . First the science : your description s...