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Keeping it relevant: Etsy switches default search to sort by relevancy

If you have searched on Etsy today, you may have noticed something different about your search results. Today we switched the default sort order to relevancy, while previously we had been displaying the most recent results. As we wrote about in the blog [1], forum [2] and discussed in an Online Lab [3] we’ve been focused on improving search sorted by relevancy for the past several months, and we’ve made some significant improvements [1].

We recognize this is a big change to both buyer and seller site experience, and we did not take it lightly. Defaulting to sort by relevancy is something that you have been asking for in the forums for quite some time, and it has been top of mind for us as well. In this post, we’ll break down our thinking and the process that led us to make this change, both at your suggestion and with your help!

For months now, we’ve been working on the changes to search by relevancy and running experiments to evaluate whether search sorted by relevancy is really the best overall move for the marketplace. We also recognize that the search experience has to be optimized for the best experience for two different types of members: buyers and sellers. Though search is primarily a tool for buyers, with a good search experience the whole marketplace wins: a buyer finds what they were looking for and a seller makes a sale. With that in mind, we have performed tests to look at how many items shoppers are purchasing, and the diversity of shops that are presented to them.

Drilling down into those tests, here’s how we decided to make the change. We’ve run dozens of A/B experiments and side-by-side studies [4] which compare member behaviors when given two different search results: sorted by relevancy and sorted by recency. We evaluated how many items a buyer clicks on from a search and compared the number of items clicked and hearted when the results were sorted by recency (the previous default) versus sorted by most relevant. The results spoke for themselves: when shoppers were given results sorted by relevancy, they were 4.4% more likely to click on a listing from a search results page. We also saw shoppers viewed 5.5% more listings per search visit when they were given results sorted by relevancy, vs. sorted by recency. We also found a similar increase in the number of items a shopper favorited: listing views and favorites were significantly higher when results were sorted by relevancy. And as you can guess, sales go up with increases in listing views and favorites. In a blind side-by-side comparison of the search results sorted by relevancy and sorted by recency, shoppers preferred the sort by relevancy results 15 to 1.

What’s the meaning behind these results? With search sorted by relevancy, the results of the search are, well...more relevant! See for yourself — try preforming a search for “desk” and check out the results. Then click on the sort by “recency” in the sort by bar at the top of your results — this will show the default results page you saw yesterday. With recency sort, chances are you may see a lot of items that are not in fact desks: desk lamps, desk chairs or other items that go in or around desks. If you’re searching for a desk, you really don't want to weed through results including stationary, pencils or other small desk related items, do you?

One of the other benefits of search by relevancy is that you will see a wider range of shops selling the item you are looking for. For example, in search sorted by relevancy, we optimize for showing as many relevant items from multiple shops so that a single shop doesn't dominate the results. In a search sorted by recency, we cannot control the diversity of the results since we are simply showing you the most recent items to be listed or renewed on Etsy. As a result, your search results page sorted by most recent could be dominated by one shop, even when several other shops were offering equally relevant items, which makes it difficult for smaller shops to get some visibility. It also leads to massive shopper frustration — most shoppers leave when they can’t find what they want, and sellers can’t make any money without shoppers! Now, we break up items from the same shop when there are others items that are equally relevant so that all relevant items get a better chance at making it into the first pages of search results. Of course, if you preform a very specific search, you may still see multiple items from the same shop on your homepage, as we will aim to give you the most relevant results to your search as possible.

For sellers, we recognize that there may be some confusion around how to make your items show up in the search results sorted by relevancy, and that’s why we’ve given you some tips and tricks in this forum post [2]. Previously, you were able to list new items and renew current ones in order to give your items a boost in the search results sorted by recency, and our relevancy algorithm isn't quite as straightforward. However, recently listed items will still receive placement across the site. Namely, we have added a section a the top of search results pages sorted by recency. This section is reserved for the four most recent items, with the ability to see more without leaving the page, by clicking the arrows. Recently listed items will also continue to appear at the bottom of the Etsy homepage, and the category pages will continue to be sorted by most recent. And of course, if you ever want to view your search results with the most recent first (like you viewed them yesterday) you can click on “most recent” in the sort by bar.

We will continue to post articles on search optimization in the coming weeks as we want to be as helpful as possible in helping you get your listings on top. For seller tips on revising your listings check out this forum thread [2] and this blog post [1].

We will also be streaming a Q&A with the Etsy Search Admin in the Online Labs on Thursday, August 11th 3 p.m. ET. [5]

Comments or questions? Please post them in this thread and we’ll answer the most pressing ones during our Q&A: www.etsy.com/teams/7718/site-help/discuss/8808254/

We appreciate your trust and patience with us in making this change. Together we are building the most diverse and exciting handmade marketplace!

Thanks,
Frank & The Search Team

[1] www.etsy.com/blog/en/2011/putting-your-shop-on-top-etsy%E2%80%99s-m...
[2] www.etsy.com/teams/7716/announcements/discuss/8755743/page/1/
[3] www.livestream.com/etsy/video?clipId=flv_ec3e5a14-9793-4dda-9de9-bb...,
[4] www.etsy.com/teams/7716/announcements/discuss/7612087/page/1/
[5] www.livestream.com/etsy?rsvptoeventid=410816

2 Responses

Hey-

Thank you for sharing all of your feedback about the default switch to sorting by relevancy. We appreciate you taking the time to learn about it, and we’ve gotten a lot of good questions and suggestions. As search is certainly never a finished project, your feedback is needed in order to continue to improve. We’ve been watching this forum for the past day and collecting the most frequently asked questions, and their answers below.

1) I’m seeing items when I perform a search in one marketplace (vintage, handmade or supplies) that I don’t think belong there, why?

We determine which marketplace an item belongs in based on the top 3 questions asked in the listing process in the about this item section. In this section the seller must answer 3 questions:
1. Who made it?
2. What is it?
3. When was it made?

The answers to these questions determine whether they appear in vintage, supplies or handmade searches, and depending on the answers, an item can appear in more than one search marketplace. For example, if you answered “who made it” with “I did,” and you answered “when was it made?” with a date over 20 years ago, your item may appear in both the vintage and handmade searches. Another example I recently found was handspun yarn-- which would appear in both supplies and handmade marketplace.

If you are curious as to whether an item is handmade, vintage and/or a supply, you can scroll to the bottom of the item’s live listing and it will say “supply, handmade or vintage” (or a combination of the two like “handmade supply”) in the “About this item” section, below the payment methods on the item page.

2) I’m not seeing the diversity of shops that you mentioned in your post: “in search sorted by relevancy, we optimize to show many relevant items from multiple shops, so that a single shop doesn’t dominate the results.” What’s going on?

Our primary goal is to show shoppers the most relevant search results first. After that, we aim to show as many diverse shops as possible, provided all other factors are equally relevant. This is best seen when there are more than 100,000 results for a search. We are constantly exploring ways to improve search results and making sure we are displaying as diverse relevant content as possible at the top of our list.

3) Some of you have mentioned that the results to relevant searches are very stagnant...

Again, our primary goal is to show shoppers the most relevant search results first. As we mentioned in our blog post last week, when a broad search (like “dress”) returns over 100,000 results, we give some priority to the most recently post items. Broad searches return lots of results, and we view recency as a tie-breaker when there are lots of equally relevant results. Stagnant results are not ideal for shop owners and we are currently evaluating how best to proceed, especially when there are less than 100,000 results for a search.

4) Does the order of tags matter? Do I need to put words in my tags that are also in my title?

Unlike the order of words in a listing title, the order of tags does not matter. Lifted from our blog post last week [1]:
….as a first order of business when listing an item, you should make sure you have accurate and descriptive titles for all of the items you list. Additionally, we look at words at the beginning of your title first (just like your buyers do!) and pay less attention to words toward the end of the title. In practice, you should make sure the first words of your title explain what your item is.

Tags should accurately describe your item, think of them as common words that buyers will search for in looking for your item. You may consider putting the most important keywords in both your title and tags. Most importantly, make sure your item titles are easily readable for potential buyers to understand, click, and buy.

5) There have been a lot of questions about what our policy is on tagging and tag stuffing.

The search and policy teams have been looking at this very carefully, comparing what the policy says to what works best in relevancy-based search. Our top priority is a search experience and a policy that best serve the marketplace. This may mean changing the rules for what kinds of multi-word tags are allowed. We want to be sure we get it right, in the best interest for both shoppers and sellers. Looking back, we wish we would have worked things out a bit sooner in regard to clarifying this matter, to have avoided this confusing situation.

We appreciate the keen attention to detail and respect for the rules the community has demonstrated in the Forums on this topic. We are working as quickly and carefully as we can to ensure we do the right thing and hope to have clarification very soon. I appreciate your patience.

Thanks again for all of your questions, comments and feedback regarding the relevancy launch. We could appreciate it all very much, and are working hard to create the best possible search experience for buyers and sellers in the marketplace.

For sellers who are wondering how search sorted by relevancy has affected their shops, we recommend checking out shop stats to learn about how shoppers are finding your items.

As always, we want to remind you that search on Etsy is by no means a solved problem, and the launch of search sorted by relevancy is not the end of our search story. We will continue to improve search, and we will continue to do testing and experiments, as well as taking your feedback and suggestions into account -- so keep it coming!

Also, we will be a Q&A in the Online Labs later today: Thursday August 11th at 3pm EST where we’ll be answering your most pressing questions about search sorted by relevancy. Join us here: www.livestream.com/etsy?rsvptoeventid=410816.

Thanks,
Frank & The Search Team

[1] www.etsy.com/blog/en/2011/putting-your-shop-on-top-etsy%E2%80%99s-m...
ABOUT MAKING YOUR ITEMS MORE RELEVANT

Hello everyone,

I'd like to offer some tips so that you can make sure your listings stay relevant.

1. Look at your Shop Stats for the last 30 days. Compare your views for yesterday, Wednesday, Aug. 11 (we first instituted Relevancy on Aug 10) to previous Wednesdays. As today is not over yet, it is difficult to compare since these numbers will go up. In other words, please allow a day to pass before analyzing your stats for that day).

2. It's normal to have some fluctuations. If you do see a significant drop: please be aware that things like being featured (on or off Etsy), and listing/relisting items will play a role in your views.

3. Warning: August is traditionally the slowest month for retail. Sadly, many people's views and sales will go down throughout this month, which would have happened if we had switched or not (we wanted to do it well in advance of the holidays so sellers can get prepared for the holiday shopping season). The upside is that this makes August a good month to tweak your shop and generally get ready for the holidays and fall season- things should pick up in September.

4. Now, that said- if you are experiencing a significant drop in views, or want to know what to do to make your items appear higher in relevancy search, please read this article:

www.etsy.com/blog/en/2011/putting-your-shop-on-top-etsy%E2%80%99s-m...

As well, please see my post about a very common problem that happens when sellers redo their SEO:
www.etsy.com/teams/7718/site-help/discuss/8807455/page/1/

I would advise everyone to make changes slowly so that you can see the effects of your changes before changing your whole shop. Use your Shop Stats to judge the effectiveness of the changes.

We are preparing an article that will identify specific issues in shops to provide a more methodical approach to improving your relevancy ranking.

We will pick several shops for this, however, the tips will apply to all shops. Please post here if you would like to be considered:

www.etsy.com/teams/5002/etsy-success/discuss/8808843/

Thank you, everyone, and we look forward to providing more in-depth help with making your shops more relevant.

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