Etsy Changes How People Find Your Products

Chris CrumeCommerce

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Etsy is launching some changes to its search feature aimed at helping users find more items of interest, but the reaction to the changes from sellers is pretty mixed, if not leaning toward negative.

When you're selling products in any online marketplace, the way the search feature works is of great importance. Of course appearing in web searches on search engines like Google and Bing can help too, but obviously you really want the marketplace's own search functionality to point potential customers in your direction.

Now that Etsy is a public company, it's certainly within its interest to please buyers and sellers alike, and that starts with a good user experience.

Etsy's Jaime DeLanghe explains in a blog post:

Previously, shoppers who searched with broad keywords wouldn’t readily see the breadth of items available to them. With this update to search, our community will now be able to more easily find the most relevant products for them, whether browsing by category — such as home, wedding, or women’s products — feature, or product type.

With streamlined categories, our enhanced search will serve as a kind of guided conversation with visual cues that aid and encourage deeper exploration. For example, when searching jewelry, shoppers will now be presented with streamlined sub-categories like necklaces, bracelets, and rings, versus having to identify a specific type of product from the beginning. Similarly, someone searching with a broad term — like wool — will be led to relevant categories with items that more closely match their search, making it easier to narrow in on specific items. For example, wool accessories, wool clothing and wool craft supplies will appear as suggestions.

Let's say I'm a horror movie fanatic and want to see what kind of cool Michael Myers stuff I can find. I'll just search for "Michael Myers," and here's what I get:

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In addition to the lower section, which just lumps all listings together, I'm presented with Arts & Collectibles, Books, Movies & Music, Clothing, Accessories, and Home & Living.

Hmm, I probably have enough Michael Myers clothes and accessories for now. I surely have all the required media. My house could probably use a lot more Myers-related décor. Let's check out Home & Living.

Coffe mugs, ash trays, wine glasses, candles...ah pillows. Perfect. And what do you know? It's even a sponsored listing.

Screen shot 2015-07-28 at 3.37.47 PM

The category is broken down into additional sub-categories like: Home Décor, Kitchen & Dining, Lighting, Food & Drink, and Storage & Organization, which I can browse individually if I like.

Obviously as a seller, you're going to want to optimize your listings accordingly. That likely means being as descriptive as possible, considering the keywords you'd expect people to search for if they were looking for your product. I'd recommend taking the new search for a test drive and trying to follow the ideal path for arriving at your item and working from there.

Etsy has been testing the new functionality since the spring, and it says the response from the community has been great, "especially round its effectiveness to boost inspiration and a feeling of accessibility to Etsy’s vast array of offerings."

The company says it has seen an increase in search engagement metrics by over 10% with a "more pronounced effect" on the mobile web version.

"Respondents reported better experiences with product browsing, particularly with narrowing results and finding products they need, and even that they felt better overall about the range and quality of items available on Etsy," says DeLanghe.

Still, sellers aren't necessarily convinced that the new search is really in their best interest. Ecommercebytes covered the changes, and the reader comments were largely negative. Here are the concerns one reader expressed:

Here's the line in the article that raised my antenna: "It's designed to engage the shopper and guide them to products they may find interesting. "

This sounds very much like steering a customer away from what they are actually looking for and steering them to what some machine learning mechanism "thinks" that they are looking for. CASSINI anyone? On eBay, I can simply check completed listings on eBay to see what an item has sold for, and all of a sudden eBay think that I want that item. I am then bombarded with eBay showing me those items and anything related to them. Looks like this is where Etsy is headed.

Another commented:

Every time Etsy ''fixes'' the search function, it gets worse. The search function they had years ago, while not perfect, seemed much better than the current one. (I had fewer products listed and sold more.) Each time they ''improve'' search, my sales, and those of other sellers I know, go down.

Another who sells custom pet portraits, however, called the move "brilliant".

It could very much be a case of helping sellers in some categories more than others. Either way, the change is here, and sellers will need to adjust accordingly.

Etsy claims to have over 30 million unique product listings. The new search is on desktop and mobile web for now. It will hit the mobile apps in the near future.

Images via Etsy

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.