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Etsy 2021: Still Great For The Smaller Business?

2021-02-22 by Natasha Williams

Opening an Etsy Shop used to be so straightforward. Limits were placed on the type of products that could be sold and search results were based upon ratings, categories and search terms. Today, advertising fees, sales protection limits, personalised search algorithms and expanding product categories have turned Etsy from a near-Bohemian market stall to a massive shopping mall where, for many savvy sellers, the sky's the limit.

Etsy seller numbers have exploded since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a direct reaction to the increased online buying behaviours of the diverse Etsy buyer community. The company’s compound annual growth rate was 60% for Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA) by the final quarter of 2020, with revenue growth listed as 45%. So this must be one of the best places to sell, right?

The truth is, Etsy is one of the top places to sell certain goods if and when you understand the many ways in which its policies and internal algorithms are changing. And looking at recent forums, many existing sellers have been both unprepared and disappointed by these.

Etsy Policy Changes in 2021

A recent change to Etsy policy has been the introduction of reserve funds. Reserve funds mean that a percentage of some sellers’ earnings are placed on hold for 45 days. What percentage this is calculated according to the risk level of the seller account - and all new accounts are risks. While Etsy says that this change will only affect 1% of existing seller accounts, all new Etsy sellers are impacted. Existing store owners are beginning to report how similar to eBay these new Etsy policies are becoming. This is probably because former eBay executives are now involving themselves in Etsy operations.

The latest reserve fund policy change is a response to the increasing numbers of disputes on the site, primarily caused by counterfeiters and non-shippers. By stopping new (sometimes suspect) stores from immediately taking the money and running far away, funds are held for a period of time within which any dispute should have taken place. Even though Etsy did not take responsibility for such problems before, the steep rise in dispute numbers is causing much internal concern. From 2021 on, Etsy will involve itself in seller-buyer disputes.

Practically all Etsy sellers are required to use Etsy Payment and this is the system that holds transaction funds for 45 days. Some unhappy sellers see this as a way for Etsy to come up with extra revenue by earning interest on these held funds. Whatever the reasons, new sellers should be prepared to wait for any revenue. And as disputes are now moderated by Etsy, it is extremely important that your shop’s customer services are of an extremely high standard. Make Etsy buyers angry at your peril!

Similarities with eBay policies in combination with unpredictable changes to internal marketing algorithms are causing more than concern among some established sellers. Many have been unable to act appropriately and are experiencing sales nosedives. From removal of the Vintage category and stopping Vintage promotions to sales protection limits where Etsy stores are only allowed to sell so much on a monthly basis, selling in this huge shopping mall is becoming increasingly frustrating. Personalised search results have also upset the internal SEO metrics; to rank high on Etsy you need an Etsy Marketing PhD.

Etsy Geeks

To avoid the pitfalls of not keeping up with Etsy changes, it is important to not only understand how ranking and personalisation works on the platform but also to know how to be visible. Etsy sellers must become Etsy geeks. 

Etsy SEO is not linked to Google, Bing or Amazon search engines. It is a platform-based engine and, therefore, dependent on very different algorithms. The search engine of today is decidedly different from the engine of 2019. Just as you need to keep up with the latest Google SEO tactics, you must continuously review any changes to Etsy SEO. This becomes even more difficult when you can’t check your rankings by searching for your products; rankings are now completely personalised and products are listed according to searcher preferences, locations, buying history and Etsy search history. Other changes include the fact that renewing your listing no longer pushes your product higher up the search results page. The only true red thread that produces the same top listings throughout large target groups is the use of keywords. 

Even worse for new stores, your sales history counts toward how well you rank. This has created a vicious circle. Without a high Shop Quality Score (SQS), you don’t get ranked; without being ranked, you don’t get customers; without customers, you don’t improve your SQS.

Global sellers are also being forced to change tactics as personalisation is more likely to rank local sellers. How do successful small to medium businesses overcome these limits? By ensuring their online presence is everywhere. Gone is the time you could set up a store on Etsy selling an unusual handmade product and sell it to a quirky and appreciative audience. Etsy now requires a complete marketing package that integrates social media, website, blogs, influencers, forums, Google, influencers and traffic generation in every way, shape and form.

If you don’t have the time, energy or motivation to learn everything Etsy, you’re in luck. A pioneering team called, strangely enough, Etsy Geeks is a rare marketing specialist that deals solely with this changeable platform. With a 95% top 10 Etsy ranking success rate and a transparent money-back guarantee should your store be one of the unlucky 5%, you’re in good hands.

Generate Etsy Traffic

With every marketing channel focused on your products and/or services, you communicate with greater numbers. Whether these are composed of targeted niches or undifferentiated populations, familiarity with your brand is marketing 101.

Any small business taking on the Etsy labyrinth must have an attractive, well-performing website, a regularly updated blog, a number of social media accounts, backlinks from partners and perhaps an authoritative voice on applicable forums. Hard work, but by broadening your channels you multiply the footfall. And that is what web traffic generation is all about - virtual footfall. Converting that traffic is another story altogether.

A top tip for new businesses who have not had the time to create brand awareness before entering the market is to buy web traffic. This is in no way as dodgy as some people make it out to be. As long as you order from providers that deal only in human website traffic (not bot traffic), can offer scalable visitor numbers categorised in a broad number of optional niches, and supply this traffic over a term dictated by you (usually limited to 30 days) within a day or two of placing your order, you are completely safe.

With web traffic review sites being few and far between, finding the best can be difficult. Try web Traffic experts and Max visits - two of the best web traffic providers in 2021. Select regions, niche interests, age groups and visitor numbers from their selections of plans and - for once - sit back and wait for the near-immediate results.

While you won’t get the higher conversion rates of long-term SEO investments, you will get human visitors, brand awareness, and - an important but often forgotten advantage - bags of data. This means that paid web traffic can both support existing campaigns and prepare you for new ones. Paid traffic is becoming an important component in combined marketing campaigns the world over.

With every possible channel linked to your online store - Etsy to the website, blog to product description, review site to Etsy store, a backlink to the shopping cart, and so on - you create a business net that spreads over all of your target audiences. Fail to integrate multiple marketing channels, and you fail to maximise your Etsy presence.

Treat Your Customers Like Royalty

With Etsy now becoming involved in seller-buyer disputes, you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of your customers. Of course, this applies to any online transaction - negative feedback and angry reviews are never helpful and do a lot of harm. Paid reviews are suspicious when cheap and far from cost-effective when expensive. Transparency, the old-fashioned ‘customer is always right’ mentality, 24/7 availability, human assistance and non-dodgy dealings are expected in 2021 and will continue to apply to all but the most inexperienced buyers. And inexperienced buyers are becoming an extremely niche, low-volume group.

Give Etsy buyers an opportunity to complain and you may regret it. This means ensuring the shipping date is correct (shipping date is not the same as the date you printed the label), easy tracking, a thank you note and perhaps a future discount inside the packaging, and putting up with an ever more demanding public. It’s not easy starting up and maintaining a smaller Etsy store, but customer-friendliness doesn’t cost the earth. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated.

Etsy - It’s Still Worth It

Etsy is still going strong, even with competition from other global marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba/AliExpress, Wish, Walmart, Jet, Facebook Marketplace and Asos. The unique handicraft-niche that once singled Etsy out from its competitors is no more. Instead, today’s categories are broad - jewelry, fashion, home and living, party, entertainment, art and craft supplies. If you sell something that fits into any of these categories, are prepared to wait 45 days for revenue, and are definitely not planning on upsetting your customers, Etsy is very much worth the multi-channel marketing effort you will be obligated to make.

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