A crash course in Etsy

Ah, Etsy.
It’s sad to say I have a love-hate relationship with the place. On one hand, it’s a great way for someone to make some money on the side, which is excellent for people like me who have a whole lot of skills creating and not a lot of opportunity to market them. On the other hand, I despise the place for the “quit your day job” fantasy they’ve peddled to hourly workers and housewives for years.

Let’s be real, here. Selling on Etsy isn’t going to make you rich, even if you work at it full-time. It isn’t going to pay your bills, either. But with a little effort and an understanding of how to make your shop seen, it can give you a few hundred dollars for extra spending money.

I’m not a part of that rat race any more, I have too many other things going on to maintain an effective presence on Etsy. But I do appreciate what the site has done for me, so I’m going to be passing on what knowledge I have. There’s a million Etsy tutorials and guides out there, but few that lay things out in plain language, which is probably why so many friends keep coming to me for advice.

And hey, if you’re interested in starting your own shop, feel free to use my sister’s referral link – It’ll give you 40 free listings to get started.

So where do I start?

First things first, you need to make something. Once you’ve made something you think is worth selling, it’s time for the hard part: Putting it out where the world can see.
Speaking of seeing, we’ll start with photos.

If you ever ask for feedback in the Etsy forums, you’re going to get a bunch of people telling you to improve your photos. They’re not wrong – Product photos can take a while to master. I resisted for a long time, wanting to add my own special flair or style to the photography of the items I was selling. The best advice I have to offer on that front: Don’t.

For a long time, I tried to incorporate color and interesting props. This was a terrible idea, and I’ll show you why.

The photo to the right was what I used for my silver lily necklaces. I posed it on a book that I thought had particularly attractive pages. This was an awful mistake.

The photograph is busy, visually distracting. It’s hard to pick out the necklace at first glance. You see it, you see what it is, but you don’t see the fine details, which are really the selling point here!

Even though I loved the look of jewelry on books, I had to move on to something else. Unsurprisingly, when I switched to a less distracting, low-contrast background, the number of sales I made began to increase.


Compare the last photograph to this one. It’s the same lily piece, but doesn’t it stand out better on a plain background? Still, this wasn’t the best example of good photography. It was cleaner, less distracting, but it wasn’t as bright as it needed to be.

The best advice I can give you for photos is to put what you’re selling against a plain, stark white background. It won’t be pretty. You won’t like it. I don’t like it. But I do admit that it makes for really eye-catching product photos, and that’s what matters. If you don’t have access to a good photo setup for white background photos, try FotoFuze. It’s free. Remember, the first photo of your item is the most important. Make it bold. Make it stand out, make it burst from the boring white background of the Etsy pages. You only get one first impression, so you’d better make it good.

Okay, I’ve got photos down, now what?

Now for the part I always hated, the dreaded item description.

The description isn’t just the body of text labeled “description” in the listing form. The description includes the title, materials and tags. All of these have to work together to make your item seen. I regularly had items appear on the first page of search results, which is great, because Etsy’s internal search function is the best marketing tool you’ve got. Learn to use it and use it well. We’ll start by looking at each part of the description, starting with…

Knowing your target audience.
Contrary to what you might think, your target audience is not the person you picture using what you’ve made. Your target audience is the person shopping for it. Most people who bought from me on Etsy were not buying for themselves, they were buying gifts for others. Understand what they’re looking for, and that will help you tag and describe your items better than anything. If someone is looking for a necklace for their mother’s birthday, they’re probably not going to run a search for an item name, they’re looking for an item type. This means Blueberry Kisses Necklace is a horrible title. Nobody is going to be searching for a Blueberry Kisses Necklace. They might, however, run a search for March birthstone necklace.
If you don’t know your target audience, you should pick a few possibilities for what a shopper might call your item, then keep an eye on which keywords bring you the most traffic in your shop stats. That’s your first indication of who’s looking for your item. This is your target audience. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

So how should you title things?
Your item’s title should be a short description. All the different pieces of the description have to work in unison to make something appear higher in Etsy’s search results. The trick here is to find your target audience and then beat those keywords into the ground.
For this example, let’s say you’ve made a white pearl bracelet using glass pearls. There you go! That’s your title.
White pearl bracelet.
That’s a bit short, of course, but that’s the wording that will appear first. You can add some other keywords in as other descriptors, other things a shopper might try when they’re searching the site. Use whole phrases, not a jumble of words.
White pearl bracelet, handmade glass pearl jewelry.
You can usually fit about 3 descriptions in the title. Keep them concise. If you’re unsure of what to title it, try shopping for comparable items first to see what phrases you, yourself, use when searching for it.

Next is the actual description.
I cannot stress how important it is to have a thorough description. Of course, thorough might not mean what you think it does, here. All the keywords and descriptions you used in your title? They need to go here too. Even better if your very first line repeats the keywords in your title.
This white pearl bracelet has been handmade using white glass pearls.
Describe the shape. The style. Always list product measurements in both inches and centimeters. Repeat the keywords any time it doesn’t seem forced. If it comes in gift packaging, say so. If you offer gift wrapping as an add-on, say so. If you offer the item in different colors, say so! It can be a slog to get it out there, but your description should be around 250 words long. Less isn’t bad, but more probably won’t be read.

Then come tags.
Tags on Etsy are annoyingly short. Most of your time will be spent rewriting your tags to fit within the 20 character limit.
When you tag, remember that these are not just descriptor keywords. Your tags should never be things like ‘cute’ or ‘feminine’ because people don’t search for just one keyword when they’re shopping for something.
Tag like it’s a second description, be as specific as possible in seeking your target audience. It might be tempting to tag your white pearl bracelet with jewelry, but don’t! It will be lost in the sea of jewelry on Etsy if you do. Instead, make it specific to what you’ve actually made, what you’re specifically selling. White pearl jewelry. White pearl bracelet. Pearl jewelry. Pearl bracelet. White pearls. These are terms a shopper will use, terms you’ve stated in your description and title both. Always use all of your tags! I see so many sellers on Etsy who only use half or so of their 13 tags. Why would you do that? That’s like renting a billboard and then only covering half of it with your ad! If you’re having trouble using all 13, don’t be afraid to look at the competition to get ideas.

Finish with materials.
Materials give you 13 tags, as well. Try to use them all by using as many relevant key phrases as you can. Repeat the important ones. In this case, ‘white pearls’ is a must, but you’ll also want to include phrases like ‘pearl beads’ or ‘glass pearls’ or ‘white glass pearls’ or even just ‘pearls’ because the more times you repeat that word, the higher Etsy will rank you for relevance when someone’s looking for… well, pearls.
Most importantly, always be honest when you’re listing the materials. Don’t mislead anyone by using tags that aren’t truthful. They’re not natural pearls or freshwater pearls, so don’t describe them as that. You want your customers to know exactly what they’re getting and exactly what to expect.
Do these things, and you should be on the right track.

Questions? Concerns? Trouble understanding what I’ve said?
Comment here any time and I’d be happy to help you start building your own success.

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