Psst! This blog post was updated on 22/09/16 - some portions have been edited for clarity, accuracy and to keep up with Etsy's changes. ;)
UGH. I hear you. Relevancy, SEO, tags, search words, blah blah blah. Yes it's confusing and yes there's a lot of info out there and yes a lot of it might as well be written in ancient Greek. I know there are plenty of you out there that don't understand SEO so hopefully this will help!
Before we get in, just one thing - there is more to being seen than Etsy relevancy!! I wrote a post about how you can improve other windows of visibility here - try to keep that in mind as well. No don't go reading that now, read it later. Read this now!
How relevancy works
Etsy SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is just using keywords to help people find your listing. When shoppers look for something on Etsy search, the Etsy searchbots return the listings which have those words in their titles and tags. So if someone searches for 'sterling silver leaf pendant' the searchbot is going to return everything that has those words in the title and tags. The more those words appear, the more relevant the searchbot thinks it is. If the title or tags matches the exact search phrase then it's even more relevant.
Imagine you went to the supermarket and you couldn't shop - you had someone running around for you instead. If you said to them 'cookies' they'll run off and come back with a trolley full of cookies of every kind and you'd have to paw through them to find the ones you wanted. So you'd be more likely to say (for example) 'choc chip cookies'. If you have more specific requirements you might say 'giant choc chip cookies' or 'gluten free choc chip cookies' or even 'choc chip cookie ice cream' (damn that example made me hungry...)
But you see what I mean, yes? You gotta be specific. And that's all there is to it - pretty basic huh? Yes well, unfortunately it gets more complicated! Not in terms of SEO, that's straightforward and what we'll be talking about. The complicated bit is your SEO (tags and titles) are not the only thing that defines your rank in search.
Some of them are within your control, others are left to the Gods of favour. If you want to know about them, you can read my post on the recent Etsy changes here - just scroll down to the section under the cute kitty wearing glasses.
In addition to that post there is a more recent element of search, and that is based on the browser's history. Yes, every search is different, based on what the person searching has looked at in the past. For example, if I look at a lot of vintage celluloid jewelry, the next time I look for 'vintage yellow necklace' I'm more likely to see ones with 'celluloid' in the titles and tags as well. Even though I didn't use that term, my browsing history shows it used repeatedly so the searchbot knows I like it and am more inclined toward it. I might also see listings I've previously hearted or looked at, either celluloid or just vintage yellow necklaces in general.
So you see, you can't just search for your listings and assume because you're seeing them on row 6, spot 3 that everyone else is too. You might think this renders everything useless, showing just how little control we have over our listing placement. In fact it's actually quite helpful, provided you're using your keywords properly.
This discovery method relies on the exact thing we're dealing with today - tags n titles! In my search for 'vintage yellow necklace' Etsy is returning listings that are in part related to my browsing history, but the way it finds how they're related is by looking at the tags and titles and getting those keywords. By having your tags and titles both accurate and targeted toward the kind of person you sell to, you'll benefit from that.
So let's get stuck in!
1. It's all in the title - well most of it
I don't believe there's any one most important factor in Etsy SEO, but a good title will definitely carry you far. When you list earrings for example, you can't just say 'earrings'. You can say 'pink earrings' but that's a bit generic- there are thousands of results for 'pink earrings' on Etsy's search. But if you say 'pink lampwork earrings' or 'pink enamel earrings' or even 'pink hoop earrings', you'll be doing better.
Making a title for the right buyer is somewhere we meet our old friend 'Know Your Market'. Get inside the mind of the buyer - what kind of person wants your item, and what keywords would they use to find it? If it's a pair of earrings with crosses hanging from them, are they earrings that will appeal to a religious lady, or are they more gothic in style? Are they upside down crosses? They'll appeal more to occult people. Get the picture? Buyers will narrow down their search according to their desires, so you've got to understand who your customer is and what kind of thing they want from you.(And that's an entirely different post!)
So let's illustrate this tutorial with an example - these earrings as seen above. I'm going to show you how I arrived at the words I used in the title. First I had to give myself a bit of an idea what I want to call them. Clicking on 'add listing' and scrolling down to use the description field as a notepaper space, I started typing in words I could think of that described them until something clicked together. You want two or three words that can sit together as a search term and descriptive name. So I started with earrings, hoops, hoop earrings, beaded hoop earrings - oh wait! Beaded hoop earrings...that sounds like a good title!
The next thing I do is go to Etsy's search and type in my title idea. As I type, suggestions come up in a drop-down menu. These are search terms a lot of people have searched for in the recent past, so clearly these are the terms people are using to find what they want. The higher in the suggestion list, the more popular it is. If you're unsure what to call your item you can use the search bar to generate ideas.
When I start typing 'beaded' I get a whole load of suggestions, but the only one relevant to my listing is 'beaded earrings'. That's okay, but it's not specific enough. So I start typing 'beaded hoop earrings' comes up as a suggestion! Ladies and gentlecats, we have a title. I click back to my listing page and add those words to my listing title.
But just having three words isn't enough, I'm going to need more. I need more because it's more chances to be found with other search terms, and it also helps the viewer understand what it is exactly I'm selling. They do have the picture to look at but if the human brain can see an image and read words that describe it, they are more likely to take in that information.
So I do that process again, this time coming up with words that describe the individual elements like Swarovski crystals, as this is a popular search word in jewelry. I also added 'romantic assemblage jewelry' because it helps the human mind observing to understand what pigeon hole my jewelry belongs in. This is one of my sales tactics; it's about connecting with your audience using words they understand; the more they relate, the more they will automatically like your stuff. They will read that and think 'oh hey I love romantic/assemblage jewelry, so I like these!'. And on the SEO side of things, those words will give me a chance on keyword phrases like 'romantic jewelry', 'romantic earrings', 'assemblage earrings' and 'assemblage jewelry'. Remember this isn't just for search, this is in all the places Etsy uses like tags and titles to show related content.
Now, Etsy has put it out there that the first 3 words are the most important. Untrue. What they should have said was 'the closer to the start your keywords are, the more search weight they carry'. The most important words in this listing's title are 'beaded', 'hoop' and 'earrings', so I put those as one search term immediately after my arty title.*
Pro tip - If you sell similar things, don't give them all the same title. For example, if you make three necklaces that can all be described as 'moonstone and amethyst choker', don't use that search term as the first phrase in every title! Someone might search that phrase, but someone else might search 'crystal choker' or 'moonstone amethyst necklace' or 'gemstone short necklace'.
This is where your keyword brainstorming comes in handy not just for one title but for getting in different searches with similar product. Since you can only have one listing in every page of results, this is especially important to ensure you get on every page of a relevant search.
2. Tags mean everything - okay half the thing
Now we have our title, you might think it's time to work on the description. Surprise! I scroll right on past all that and start on my tags! Why? Because brainstorming is still fresh in my mind, and I might have a whole list of useful words sitting in my description notes. So I keep going with the task my brain is settled to, and then do description after that. It also means most of the tedious SEO work is over and I can loosen up for my description. More on that in a minute, first tags.
Getting tags right is actually really simple, and now you've brainstormed your words and done your title, most of the work is done! All you have to do is repeat those words in tags. You need to have your tag phrases match the keywords in your title. If your keyword in the title is 'lace earrings' you need to have 'lace earrings' as ONE tag for your listing to even start being relevant. Tags are just as important as your title. A wedding dress should be tagged 'wedding dress', a red balloon should be tagged 'red balloon' etc.
So- here's a close up of my tags on the earrings:
They look like pretty good tags huh? Well they're not! Not really. See, way back when I listed these earrings I only knew a little bit about relevancy on Etsy, now I know a whole lot more. Fact is while these tags are ok, they're not A grade; I'd actually give them a B- and that's simply because I didn't echo the exact phrases from my title. (I could've shown you a listing where my tags were 'perfect' but - full transparency! - since I stopped selling jewelry before I knew everything about relevancy, I couldn't actually find one! Shows we are all always learning.)
So to correct those tags, I'd do the following - copy my title. Easy!
My title was 'Milkweed - beaded hoop earrings with Swarovski crystals - romantic assemblage jewelry'. So my tags should included terms from taken exactly from that title; if I were listing these earrings today, my tags would start out with 'beaded hoop earrings' 'Swarovski earrings', 'romantic jewelry', 'romantic earrings', 'assemblage jewelry' and 'beaded hoops'. These are search terms I can think of (and that are showing up in the popular drop down) that use the words in my title.
I treat my tags as a little list of potential search terms I would like the listing to show up for. I used 'romantic earrings' as well as 'romantic jewelry' because I had spare tag space and they are both search terms. I didn't use 'Swarovski crystals' as a tag because that would be something someone uses to find just the crystals in supplies - it doesn't help me and I'm better off with 'Swarovski earrings' - even though it's not the exact way the words appear in my title, it will still get me into searches for that phrase.
Now I start thinking of terms that are more broad, and that might also relate to the listing. here's where we start seeing the tags my original listing used, things like 'feminine earrings', 'rustic wedding', 'vintage bride' and 'white hoop earrings'. This was just leftover brainstorm terms. They're not likely to get me into any high rank in searches, but they might give my listing relevance in related search, such as connecting to browser history or the slider that appears under people's favourites. Really once you have the same phrases in your title in your tags, whatever space you have left is where you leftover brainstorm goes just for those extra chances to be seen.
What you'll notice hasn't changed in my tag improvement is that every one of them is a double word tag. Single word tags are no good! Two words in a single tag carry more weight - having two tags 'wedding' and 'dress' will not make you anywhere near as relevant as the single tag 'wedding dress'. This is why I tend to repeat words in my tags - you might think having the word 'earrings' in my tags multiple times is an exercise in redundancy but I want every tag to be a search term, and I want every tag to be a double (or triple) word tag. It just makes sense to me to do it this way and I have noticed my search rank has risen from this practice.
Now we've done the critical elements of relevancy (at least the ones you can control) it's time for you to actually fill out your description.
The words in your description only matter if you care about Google - Etsy relevancy doesn't look at them. Most advice will tell you that you should care about Google since it's what people find us with if they don't know what Etsy is. Pleasing Google is again about those keyword phrases; your description should have the words you have used in your title and tags. Simple. So for my listing of 'beaded hoop earrings' I should have those words in the first couple of lines in my description.
To see if you're getting it right, under where you write your description in listings manager, you see a 'Preview listing as a Google search result' text block. The words you see coming up here are the words Google will use and show in it's results, so make sure the keywords you used in your title and tags show up here as well. Don't just cut and paste the title! That looks spammy - write them in as part of the natural flow of the description.
Having said that (and this is just my personal opinion), I don't find much value in working hard to please Google. I would much rather concentrate on my human customer who after all is the one buying my stuff! (Hopefully.) I write my Etsy descriptions to appeal to my customer, and my customer wants a story. Anyone who likes to buy unusual, creative product that is a little more art than anything else wants a story; they want to hear the details. Writing listings for unusual/creative products is a different method than one any 'ordinary' Etsian might use. But again, that's a subject for another post. Suffice to say I write to tell a story, not to appeal to Mr.Google.
I also feel in general, the more effort you put into your social media, the less you have to worry about SEO. I know more than enough successful handmade shops who don't bother with SEO and they do just fine on their social media traffic alone.
So that's the essentials of Etsy SEO! tags and titles, with descriptions if you feel it.
But wait! Like the expected free set of steak knives, that's not all. Here are a few other things you should consider...
3. Categories matter
The category drop-downs (the 'what is it?' drop downs you fill out when you're listing) are not a factor in relevancy, but they are still very important in being found. Almost no guides to this stuff mentions them, but they are an important part of search. When you shop, you don't just enter 'earrings' and then sit there wading through 13,303941 listings to find something you like. (If you do, you gottalotta patience.) People are going to be specific about their search such as 'sterling silver earrings' or 'amethyst bead earrings' etc, like the cookies (oh don't mention them again!) Then after that they're highly likely to narrow down their search on the left side- from Handmade to Jewelry to Earrings... and then they're going to pick something from that (rather unhelpful) list of styles.
So when you fill out your categories, don't just think 'eh who cares' on the third category. I know they leave much to be desired, but work with them the best you can. If you're not sure where to put them, go to search and look for a similar item, then see where people are putting them. I have the earrings above listed in 'fiber' because although I think fiber jewelry is stuff made from spun wool or felt, looking in the category itself it seems to be where 90% of the lace earrings live (second to 'dangle', which is a really vague and unhelpful term in my opinion). And technically crochet lace is fiber. If you have a few similar listings try choosing different sub-categories and seeing what works best.
4. Linking back
Link backs are just links that send people either to your shop storefront or to other departments in your store. If you have a link in your description that goes back into your shop, people are more likely to stay in your shop, they'll just automatically click it after they've read the description. This isn't anything much to do with relevancy, but once you are found you'd like them to stay awhile, yes? I found I've upped the traffic to my store front by having these 'link-backs' in my descriptions so clearly it helps people navigate my shop.
Not all of my listings have them (more forgetfulness than anything) but when I do them I switch it around, some times it's a link to my shop front, other times it's a link to a particular section. Sometimes on custom orders I'll link to my sold page to help people realise I can re-make some things. To make a link-back, all you have to do is type your full URL (including http://) in the description box and Etsy's listingbots will take it live for you.
Also remember that if you're number 5 most relevant listing for 'angel costume' and you can't figure out why the person ahead of you is more relevant- relax! It matters not. You're on page one, that's good. In fact if you're on page 2 that's fine too. There are many factors in where you rank in search, and still more in why someone would pick your listing over another. Price range, materials, picture, etc- these all factor in being clicked on.Sometimes I will browse pages and pages before I find what I want. (Etsy have calculated the average shopper goes about 15 pages in before they give up and try something else.)
I know it seems like a brain drain now, but once you do a few listings it'll become easier. Do your listings a few at a time and don't panic about it. Generally speaking if your stats say Search is in spot #3 or higher on your Etsy traffic sources, you're good.
So in conclusion:
1. write a bunch of keywords, then search them on etsy and find the one that fits best
2. write your title with the best key phrase and add a couple more for 'backup' searches
3. replicate your key phrases in the tags
4. use categories
5. use linkbacks
And make sure you have an About page and completed policies (yours or Etsy, just have them!)
*There's a lot of talk about which says having arty titles like mine are no good. Granted this may be true for hooking in Google, but in terms of search results on Etsy I find no problems. Also, the suggestion not to have arty titles is for 'regular' shops, but my shop (and I assume yours as well) is a creative space where the product is a little on the arty side. My arty titles are a part of my shop's character (AKA brand) - people like them and when I experimented with removing them, my sales dropped. I would much rather keep customers engaged than bother with SEO perfection! Also just like considering Google in descriptions, I find the more you lean on social media, the less something like an arty title is going to affect your success.