Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hello Goodbye Hello Again

Well well here we are, the turn of the year already in site and - on this part of the world - settling down to winter's quiet. Tempus Fugit, eh? It's ridiculous that I haven't updated since October last... I swear I'm better at this blogging thing than it looks, I've been extremely busy, my head full of different projects and big decisions - nothing unusual there, but lately my brain tends to push out information once there's too much going on. With my internal thinking and pathways looking more like a cloverleaf interchange than a simple crossroads, I um... well, I forgot I had a blog! Oh dear.

Anyway, in light of all that, this post is about changes. Perhaps a boring post for some but for myself, very necessary. I've been in draft with it for a while now; funny that I'm finally ready with it while autumn is having it's brief turn on the stage here. One of the reasons this post has taken so long was the various Etsy changes that have happened in the last 5 months. We've had some real monsters - some not as friendly as you'd like - and I wanted to break them all down and analyse what they mean for sellers, and also give opinions because you know, I have them.

But last night I decided I don't care. At least, not enough to go on about them in great lengths. I've had this post in draft for 4 months, and they were really holding me back as I researched and soap-boxed and added things as they came. But really, apart from that I still have a shop there, I washed my hands of Etsy's convoluted machinations some time ago. That's not to say I will never speak of them again - far from it! But I don't want to focus on their changes any more - I want to focus on mine, because there are quite a few.

First- on the future of Sparrow Salvage.... this will be the last proper post on this blog.

But don't freak out; it is not the end of my blogging! In fact it's just a new chapter, as I will be starting TWO new websites/blogs quite soon. I know you're sitting there thinking 'you can't even update this blog regularly, now you're gunna do two??' Believe me I lectured myself on the same things, which is why all these deep life changes were made.

Sparrow as a shop will continue to run probably up until Christmas, or whenever I run out of supplies to list! I've almost finished sorting the studio but I haven't been buying any 'new' supplies for it; I'm happy to let it go now and let it run it's course. To be honest I did expect to close it in July when I move house (another huge change on the horizon), but it was far too stressful trying to box everything up in lots of reasonable value and non-nightmare shipping! I am happy to keep going; really I enjoy selling supplies - in fact the only reason I'm choosing to put it in the background is because I need the time to concentrate on the new blogs/websites. 

So let's talk about those. The first website is my teaching. For the last four years now I've been writing a book/course on how to sell handmade online, with specific focus on those of you who sell OOAK or limited edition products, people who feel their work is intimately connected to their creative core. In a previous newsletter I announced that I was developing it into an online course, but after a little thought I've decided to release it as a book after all. It's a lot easier on me and much less pressure than the weekly intensity of a course. Perhaps in the future I may turn it into a course, we shall see.

After the first ebook - what I consider the foundational stuff - there will be other books too; social media and pricing being two half-drafts so far. The blog itself will be free, updated every 2 weeks with practical advice on everything to do with branding an authentic handmade store. I also plan to do interviews with people who are 'getting it right' and seeking out guest authors to bring their own facet of expertise.

I'll tell you more about it in a couple of weeks!

The second project is much more of a labour of love - a sort of lifestyle blog where I can return to my roots as a photographer. It's been a kind of 'one day' idea up the back of my mind for some years now, and it's finally time to push it into the spotlight. It will be a blog centred around living a quiet, creative life in the country - or at least the vibes of the country, even if the landscape doesn't accommodate! I'm aiming to do it in magazine style, with lots of lovely big photographs and articles on things like countryside walks, visits to museums, antiquing day trips, traditional food rituals (picnic, afternoon tea, sunday roast) and all that sort of loveliness.

It was originally just a blog, but I am entertaining the idea of connecting a shop to it as well. that all rather depends on how soon I go to England, how much time the teaching blog takes up, what my energy levels become once I've moved house etc.  I try to take things one step at a time... who am I kidding - I don't try at all! I do all the projects right now.

So there we are. Short and informative, as I intended. It is time for things to change; big scary important real changes, and I rise to meet it. I will post again to let you know where you can find my new online homes. There is a season for everything, so they say - and my next season is upon me, bigger and better than ever before.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Drop In Dropout

Quick drop-in post! I'm working on getting some more business stuff done, but this is just a quick one for the old-school crew. 

So briefly - Sparrow Salvage now has listings in it again! But don’t get excited - I haven’t gone back to jewelry. I’ve changed the path for the shop; now it’s called Sparrow Salvage Studio and it’s a focus for a large destash project. Now that I am 100% sure I will no longer return to jewelry as it was in that form, I want to put Sparrow Salvage in the past with gratitude and move on with a clean studio, ready for new ideas that are waiting to come in. So there is a lot of stuff to come!

 Right now there’s mostly doily brooch kits as you see above; these come with a bunch of hand-dyed doily rounds, an antique button, felt backing and a bar pin - all you need is a needle and thread. Because this is a destash, this 'kit' is just supplies - like all the kits to come, nothing has a tutorial attached though if you need help figuring anything out you're always welcome to ask. Tutorials sell well but they take an enormous amount of time and I want this all done as soon as possible. so we're keepin' it simple.

After the doilies are listed (only a few more to go) I'll list the next wave of stuff, which is earring ‘soups’.

These are pairs of charms, beads and connectors and every pack has the potential to make at least 3 pairs of earrings; more if your designs are simple ones. All the beads are vintage and there are charms and bits, all either salvaged, handmade by me and from other artisans I bought from over the years. The one above has hammered hoops and sticks, 1930s faceted glass beads, tiny Czech and Swarovskis, 1920s metal connectors, Hmong tribal charms and 1980s capiz shell focals.

After I’ve got a fair few of those up, I’ll be continuing on with kits for textile necklaces, assemblage necklaces and cuffs, as well as just general lots of scrappy stuff, found objects, collector's beads etc. Some of you might remember the kits I once listed in Sparrow Salvage, these new ones are even better!

I'll be announcing every new round of listing on my Instagram - I might do them in big lumps, I might do them every day, depending on how my brain wants to utilise it's time (like I have any say in it!) You can follow me over there if you want to know as soon as anything lands! I'll be using Shop Updates as well so if you don't have Instagram you've still got a good chance of knowing when things land.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Hollow Muse, or: Rebuilding Penelope

This post started out being about the teaching plans I have for this year and the direction this blog would be taking. But as I wrote, it became more obvious that what I was really doing was delivering a personal story on my own creative journey - and what I want to learn and work toward.

This won't be a post about the mysteries of Etsy (thank goodness, I've had enough of their mysteries for now!) but it will be a heartfelt and hopefully not too long exploration of where I have lately been in my life, where I find myself and where I intend to go.

So if you're reading for the business... sorry! This one's a personal post. If you're interested in what business stuff I'll be offering I'll talk about that toward the end. For those of you who are interested... I want to briefly share my creative journey over the last few years in the hope that it might help others in a similar situation. And because it's my blog and it's what it's for.

I hope this post will be useful to people -  not least of all because it's honest. There is far too much 'cheerful façade' in the blogging world which leads us all to think everyone is motoring along on their own steam and perfectly happy with it too. Blogging the shadows is critical - after all we are here to help and share, and what help is it to pretend what you do is working when in fact it is not?

So, first a little background of the last 5 years. Most of my 'old' readers know about my car accident in 2011, in which my mother died and I almost did too. I've been fairly quiet about the lasting effects of that moment in time but I'm sure it doesn't take Sherlock to guess what sort of time it's been. Apart from the trauma, grief and healing difficulties, the accident became something of a catalyst to my life playing out as a country music song.

As a direct result of that event, I lost the house I was living in, my cat died and my parrot died. I underwent extensive therapy, wherein the true nature of some friendships was revealed and in order to heal, I had to let them go. This in turn meant I lost good mutual friends as well. Therapy also revealed a lot of pre-accident stuff that had been affecting me my entire adult life, and though pre-accident me had always been able to get a handle on it (read 'repress like a boss'), post-accident me had in addition so much more to deal with, and I crumbled under the weight.

I eventually became so worn down by the decimation of my life that I wound up living in my father's spare room in the town where I grew up. It was supposed to be temporary, but ended up being 3 years. I love my Dad and we get on well so I had no great trouble living with him, but the cottage is small and I took up space I knew he needed. I was just 'camping' in the spare room, and it felt transient.

I tried to move out once during that time - keen to 'get on with life' and regain my independence, but I was so unable to function in daily life and so riddled with anxiety and paranoia that I broke the lease and moved back to the spare room, fearing I'd never be able to live 'out in the world' ever again.

This then was my lowest point. The accident had come at a time where I had finally felt I was getting my shit together and creating a life I actually wanted. I was officially 'grown up'. Then my world was ripped apart; the more I fought, the more it crumbled. I felt the universe had dumped me in the gutter. Stripped of my home, my mother, my pets, my friends and my independence, there was little spirit left in me to care and I became numb from the effort.

Amazingly that's the short version, but as much as you need to know to understand that at the same time I was going through all this, my creativity was eroding rapidly. I kept up with Sparrow Salvage in the first couple of years just by going through the motions and doing what I knew. I didn't do it for creativity's sake, I didn't really even do it because I enjoyed it. I did it because it was virtually the only thing I retained from life before the accident. Perhaps in still making jewelry and still 'being sparrow salvage' I at least had one recognisable element of my reality, and I clung to it.

Eventually I got to a point where I had no energy to even go through the motions. Though I have tinkered with jewelry now and then in the last few years, it has never held my passion long enough for me to want to do it for a living. And that's a critical thing about earning a living with your art; you not only need to be passionate about it, but you need to be able to keep that passion when things become about the plain practicalities of retail. At that point I had passion for neither.I cut the cord and left behind the last vestiges of my old world, drifting in the void.

After a fair amount of void-drifting and a ridiculously huge amount of inner work, this year my natural fighting spirit was finally able to beat off the Dementors. Recently while reading the tarot (an invaluable psychological tool) I was struck with the realisation that because I had so much taken from me in these short years, there was a lot of empty space inside me.

And the upside of empty spaces is they can be filled with anything you want.

Slowly over the next few days I turned that concept over in my mind. I felt the excitement of possibility. That week marked the moment I was out of the woods, out of the darkness. I turned my face to the sun and I began to re-build myself.  I moved out of Dad's and this time into a sharehouse with someone highly compatible to me. (This was an extraordinary event in itself - you just don't get share houses in this regional area, let alone with my kind of people. Usually you have to go to the city for that!)I fought hard to reclaim my life, dragging back the jungle in my mind; revealing problems and dragging them out by the roots.

My time in this house has been critically important in healing. I have since purged much 'dead wood' from my spirit and cleared the ground to plant and good things are starting to show themselves. For the first time since the accident I feel like I'm 'back in the saddle' and on a path I want to pursue. I love this house and am content to be here until my journey to England is at last a reality. I am a grown up again, and this time I'm a grown up I want to be, rather than the one circumstance had made me.

The only thing that's remained firmly 'desolate' is my creativity, which I had thought best as left to it's own devices while I got on with my foundation stuff. But this past month, being an Aries, I figured if it hadn't done it's own thing by now it was never going to, and it was time to draw up a battleplan and force some kind of forward action.

source unknown

I'm a big fan of making lists and building strategies - heck I'm not just a fan of it, I'm a total nerd for it. I can build a strategy for anything. (Again, Aries.) I had a lot of stuff to consider but when it came to the subject of my creativity (or more pragmatically 'what am I going to do for money') and had what felt like 100 ideas.

When I say 'ideas' I mean 'things I'm capable of and won't run screaming from if I have to do it on a daily basis'. My ptsd means I can't work outside the home (unless conditions are dreamland perfect which we all know the real world is soooo good at...) so if I was going to get any closer to that light at the end of the tunnel, I had to build a boat and sail there myself.

I wrote out all the ideas I had - as detailed as possible - jewelry, print-making, photography, writing/coaching, doll making, fashion design, candlemaking, illustration, graphics...

Then went through them and crossed out everything that took too much energy, time or resources I couldn't easily obtain. I also got rid of anything that just didn't make me feel excited - in fact with ptsd rewarding me with a serious case of apathy, anything that did make me feel excited was such an event that I gave it extra points and moved it up the list of 'likely stuff'.

Some of the ideas didn't make it very far through analysis for me to know they weren't viable. Things like doll making and fashion design are nice ideas, but I don't know if I'll ever do them on a level more than hobbies. Print-making, illustration and graphic design are all calling me again, but it'll be some time before I'm ready to answer.

I discovered this week (after what feels like an eternity of mind-changing!) that I am entirely finished with jewelry, especially in the Sparrow Salvage incarnation but in any form generally. I have a totally different aesthetic in myself now and it does not include anything rusty, crusty, worn out or overly rustic. This is a complete 180 turn-around for me; I now find myself attracted to clean, colourful, elegant things, and anything that represents the old sparrow aesthetic actually makes me uncomfortable to look at. No doubt there's some really juicy psychology in there, but the gist of it is that Sparrow Salvage is an old world to me now, and other shores are calling.

 source unknown - he's no relation, by the way. ;)

But Sparrow Salvage is not destined to go quietly into the night. I want to leave something of a legacy, and here's where the teaching comes in.

I still want to teach the business of handmade, mostly because I've built up so much useful information that I feel so many people can benefit from. But I've been putting the whole thing on the back burner for a while now because it seems that in order to do these things, one has to become a full-time 24/7 guru, and I don't really want to do that. I have knowledge I have built up, wisdom I have attained... but I just want to pass it on and leave it at that. In addition there just isn't much mental space for it right now with all the other rebuilding going on.

It will happen, I just don't know when. It might be in 3 or 4 weeks, it might be next year. I have books 'almost done' (as they have been for years) and am thinking of offering an online course that we do via email and a private etsy team or facebook group... I will keep you up to date on that via the newsletter so if you're interested in knowing when that part of my brain kicks in, make sure you're on it.

It caused me a bit of anxiety to put the teaching on the backburner. I have a fairly good mailing list for the blog now and every time I look at it, I'm filled with the knowledge of all those people expecting me to guide them. The more time elapses, the more guilty I feel that I haven't, and further that I don't have the energy to. I also feel a little fake teaching the nature of handmade when I don't do it any more.

So now we come to what I want to be doing with the rest of 2016. First to the future of this blog; I mentioned that sparrow salvage is an old world to me and that includes this blog. I don't know when I'll stop posting here; maybe this will be my penultimate post, maybe not. I do know I have other things to focus on. My teaching will have it's own blog and I'll be sharing that when it's time. I do have blogging in my future, I enjoy doing it as long as the subject motivates and inspires me.

See, what I really want to focus on is vintage. Specifically pre-1960s, specifically home décor which has been a life-long passion of mine. I've been working on a new website, a new blog and a new shopfront (to be revealed when there's something to reveal) and the whole thing is ripe with 'this is it' excitement. I have an idea this will lead me back to handmade, because as much as I'm focusing on vintage homewares I'm already having ideas about creating my own line of vintage inspired homewares.

I am still running Fagin - in fact Fagin has become the major influence in choosing to focus on antiques. I noticed one afternoon that all the things I'd written on my analysis were all art/creative... I hadn't bothered questioning Fagin because it was something I have continually loved since the day it started. There was simply no question of it being under review, but I was so focused on the loss of my creativity I hadn't stopped to consider it as the vehicle to my future.

And that was a bolt to the brain.

I love vintage and antiques and if there is any creativity left in me, Fagin gets it all. I am currently making a huge, wonderful, purging mess of my house in sorting out all my left over Sparrow Salvage supplies, purging everything. Coming regularly to Fagin is antique and vintage beads, findings, found objects, dyed textiles, scruffy old bits of paper and anything else I think might be useful to the assemblage artist.I have an Instagram you can follow to keep up with the new listings.

Once I have everything listed  - hopefully by December - Fagin will take a back seat (with a view to retiring) so I can devote all my time to a new antique shop I am building, one that is located primarily as a standalone but will have an Etsy outlet. I want to get away from Etsy because I feel it keeps me thinking of my businesses as borderline hobbies; a standalone is more real to me. I also don't want to have to apply for manufacturing should I design my own homewares, and frankly in my moral opinion manufacturing (while perfectly fine) should not be on Etsy at all. Let's save that rant for another time!

When January 2017 hits, hopefully my world will be a different place. Out with the old Sparrow, in with the new Penelope. I've made plans like this before, but more through the necessary flexibility you need when life dictates circumstance. Never really with such conviction that it is the right path. And that's because there's such an enormous amount of baggage I have unpacked, sorted out and tossed out. My load is lighter and my choices are easier for it. If you're travelling to the New World, you don't need old ways.

So there we have it - I hope that wasn't too boring! It's a little self-indulgent but this is a personal blog after all,  and it will hopefully help you understand why I've not been around and where I will be in the future, if you choose to be there with me. At the very least perhaps my 'life crisis walkthrough' has helped you realise some things yourself about where you are in your life, and if it's where you want to be. 

Rebuilding yourself after total decimation isn't something many people do and it's hard to understand, especially if you've never really felt you're on the wrong trajectory. It's not just a matter of gathering a few things together, sorting out some issues, laying it all out neatly and getting on with life. It's not like doing a jigsaw puzzle or making dinner, where you get the stuff you need, apply it how it needs to be applied and then you're done and you move on. It is long, it is very difficult, it is messy and complicated; there are issues within issues, you often have to double back or just 'sit' and wait for answers to reveal themselves. This requires patience and dedicated focus, both of which I have been forced to become good friends with.

But perhaps that is my creative outlet now, and for who knows how long. If it is, for the time being, am happy with it.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The New Normal - Etsy Changes Part 2

Well, I really didn't expect to wait 7 months between blog posts! There have been things happening all over the place and I've been caught up both in those things and in my own day-to-day navigation. For the last 3 months especially my brain has been like a ball of tangled fairy lights and I've had my energy and attention sucked up by the process of untangling (and finding more than one set in there). Some of that I’ll talk about another time.

As you can tell from the title I'm going to be doing more business stuff today, but before I get into that I want to let everyone who used to come here for my art stuff know that I had a studio clean out this week (apparently the muse is 'ready now' whatever that means)  so there's lot of stuff going up in the shop to snap up for super cheap. Most of it's photo prints that I'll never run again; photography is a whole other ball of fairy lights I'm struggling with. Blech.

So that last post - wow! I've been amazed at the response, I had no idea it would get so much attention! To be quite honest if I'd known how much attention I probably wouldn't have posted it... Not because I don't stand by it; I just wasn't ready for the snowball effect it's had on my time, reading and researching and all that. But I did and it has, and now I feel obliged to follow up. It was shared in many places so I got a lot of fresh eyes coming over; this has been just as much a curse than a blessing because the nature of those comments made me realise I hadn’t been specific about who I was speaking to.

All good blogs know their audience and tailor their information toward them, but I was so used to talking to my audience I didn’t stop to think the article would get a lot of outside attention, which only goes to show how wide-spread the trouble is. But for a first time visitor here it sounded like I was speaking of all sellers on Etsy, which is not so.

To clear that up now, when I said ‘if you rely solely on Etsy search to be found, you can no longer put faith in being able to make anything more than hobby income’ I was specifically talking to the existing audience of this blog, which at the time was a small group of OOAK makers, mostly assemblage jewelry sellers. I've always been a maker of unique things, so everything that I try to lean and understand about business is done with a view to getting a unique product to succeed. Whatever I learn, I pass on to other makers of unique product. 

Except for today. Since the last post my newsletter has exploded, and I think many of you might be the kind of seller I don't tailor my advice to. So in the interests of setting things straight, this post is for all Etsy sellers. I'll go into more detail at the end of the post as to who I'll be writing for from here on in, but for now let's get down catching up on the last post and dissecting the various theories and ideas around Etsy's search algorithm and recent changes. We've entered a new Etsy paradigm and it's a highly complex beastie - in fact it's starting to look like anything more than a hobby income from Etsy search is out of reach of pretty much anyone...

As usual, LOLs provided to give your brain a moment.

First we'll do a catch-up from the last post. I’ve since learned more about the ins and outs of search, but more importantly because since my last post there have been no answers or change for the better in the drop of sales for most people - in fact since April (when the new look came in) things seem to have taken a turn for the worse. Sales have plummeted so badly for some that Etsy actually added a page to the seller handbook, ‘What to Do When You Notice a Dip in Sales’. As you can see by the comments below it, the article was more red rag than healing balm. The crowd of sellers who have gone from selling great to selling nothing in a dizzying short space of time grows ever more by the day and the forum is clogged with threads devoted to it.

This sort of thing is especially frustrating because as speculation and debate rages, Etsy admin almost never peek out from behind the curtain to clear things up. They pop up to defend the site, close threads and delete posts or provide mildly condescending advice but nothing on clarifying site operations. While they are much more transparent than almost any other marketplace, there’s nothing like silence to fuel a rising tide of dissent - if you don’t give people answers they have to come to their own conclusions, and it’ll be the worst thing they can think of.

I spend quite a bit of time browsing the forums and when it comes to the subjects of sudden plummeting sales the opposing sides seem to be up there with the battle of climate change; some say it is absolutely happening, some reject it outright, and some are still on the fence. Those who believe say ‘there is a pattern we can’t ignore!’ The critics reply ‘it’s just a natural part of things -ebb and flow’ to which the believers counter ‘there's too much of a pattern to be ebb and flow’.

Condescending Wonka - one of my favourite memes ever

With a part of the forum (including myself) now considering this state of Etsy as 'the new normal', it's come time to decide what happens next, and that involves reading and researching. What I’ve done here we can class as ‘theory based on heavy research, presented for your consideration’. Don’t take this as gospel - don’t take what anyone says as gospel. Look at your own shop, run tests and conclude for yourself. Every shop is different, what works like magic for some is useless to others.

When I pick up on something, I ask myself 'how would doing it that way make Etsy more money, improve their brand and/or improve the rate of buyers/sellers coming to and staying with the site?' ...and then I research as much as I can. There's no shortage of people complaining of low views and sales but I mostly look at shops on Etsy who have been 'doing great' up until now, to remove any niggles over poor presentation, SEO, etc. I also looked at shops who say they're doing fine or haven't noticed a change (while also making sure they're not getting anything from social media).

Okay, let's get down to it. 

Fairness algorithm

I'm going to tackle this one first - I broke most of it down in my last post but I consider this the 'mothership' that all the other theories nest into. From what I’ve read all about the place, it seems the one thing people really stick on about my last post is the central theme of Fairness, that you get shoved back in search if you make a sale.

I did say at the time it was a tiny bit conspiratorial of me, but I remain convinced the fairness algorithm or something very much like it is real, that specifically some listings can be dropped in rank based on your recent sales. How else can you explain the sheer number of people all reporting regular 'patches' of sales where once they were consistent (or consistently sporadic)? What's more, I have yet to find a quote from Etsy which directly denies that this kind of algorithm is in place.

However, I didn’t mean to say your listings get shoved to the end of the queue the moment you make a sale. When I tested I went to the last page of the search results because I assumed they would be listings either with very bad SEO, irrelevant to my search or from dead shops. But they weren’t - far from it. I don’t know where these shops ranked before they had sales and I don't know how long the drop back lasts, but even when you factor in the other elements of placement it seems very odd to me that I should find highly relevant results way back in the darkness of page 250. Page 250 should be filled with all kinds of weirdness. 

Having said that, it's certainly not the only facet to the algorithm and it's probably not operating on fixed time base, rather other factors of your shop like popularity, category saturation or keyword competition. In fact for some people who sell on Etsy you won’t get shoved back at all after a sale; if you have multiple quantity listings you are more likely to move forward in a process known as Listing Quality.

I've known for quite some time that Etsy’s system favours the multi-quantity listing; the process being when a listing with a quantity of 2 or more sells (as a result of being found in search), it gets a little boost in ranking. The next time someone searches those keywords it'll appear a little higher than before. It happens when your listing is clicked on and hearted too, which means 'quantity of 1' also benefits from listing quality, but a purchase result is much stronger.The higher your quality the higher you rank.

Etsy wants to encourage shops with multiple quantity because they're likely to sell more product over time, earning more revenue. They also tend to be 'serious' businesses with time and intentions invested, meaning they will advertise and bring traffic to the site. No surprise then that from what I could research, shops with 'quantity of 1' listings (which include vintage shops) seem to be most affected in the sudden downturn. From this you could conclude that the answer to ‘surviving’ Etsy search simply lies in having multiple quantity listings. But many sellers complaining of a sudden loss in sales are exactly these kinds of shops, selling everything in multiple quantities, so it's not the straight up answer it appears.

The 'lights out' theory (otherwise known as rotation)

This theory goes on the idea that Etsy periodically 'turn off the lights' in your shop, removing you from search visibility. It's similar to the fairness algorithm but instead of individual listings having their rank altered, it's groups of shops periodically rotated out of view using unknown criteria. Belief in this theory is generated mostly by the uncanny 'sameness' of sudden selling patterns - not just in one shop, but multiple sellers all agreeing on the same pattern - a sale every 3 to 5 days. Lately too many sellers have found their sales are like a lottery; nothing for days then ding ding! 4 sales in one evening. Then dead again. What's more - those sales are often curiously either just from one area of the country or from buyers who's last names all start with the same letter.

The ‘lights out’ theory is a popular one because it makes sense, but it might surprise people to know I don’t believe Etsy are doing this. Sort of. Mostly because they’ve directly said they don’t:
 "We do not just shut off shops or pull you from search or initiate rolling blackouts... If your items appear in a search of your shop, you are indexed and fully searchable..."

But you don’t need to remove shops from search to effectively render them invisible. As I mentioned in my last post, if there’s 56,102 eligible listings for a search on ‘red beaded necklace’ and Etsy's search results can only 10,500 that means 45,602 listings aren’t getting into the results of that person's search. For those 45k+ shops, the lights have effectively been turned out. They might get in the next person's search results, but not every time. Every shop is included in a search... you just might not appear in results.

It's nothing personal on Etsy's behalf and it's not deliberately keeping certain people down - quite the opposite. When browsing search results, forum users say they don't search past 3-5 pages and Etsy have data revealing that shoppers don’t tend to go past page 17. I can't find the interview where they said that specific number, but it was around 15-18 pages. Placement within those first 15-18 pages is hinted at in their article on how search works:
"Since listings at the top of results tend to receive more buyer attention than those at the bottom, Etsy’s search algorithm adjusts for the expected buyer behaviour for these different locations."
 What that essentially means is they arrange search so stuff that buyer is likely to want (and stuff Etsy wants them to see) is in the first few pages. So if you’re listings start on page 22 it’s as good as being in the dark. Here we come back to the notion of spreading sales around, giving people's listings a turn in the front seat.

Etsy only have so much room to show the search results for any given keyword, so they need to make judgements on who goes into those first pages and how often - and it only makes sense that they want to change that to keep as many sellers happy (and listing) as possible. But how do they make those decisions? Time for another theory!

The Bucket Theory

For those who are convinced of rotations and lights on/off, there’s a further theory that the shops are organised to a ‘bucket system’. This theory claims sellers are lumped into groups based on their shop being a hobby project, a casual interest, a part-time pursuit or a full-time job, with a 'top bucket' for the golden sellers who have high turnover. According to supporters of the theory, these are the ones who’s listings are never messed with and who are featured time and again in promotional material etc.

While I think there’s some merit to a bucket system, I don’t think it’s happening as status quo, but I do think the general idea of it holds water (pardon the pun). To explain, I'll share a quote from the article people originally got the idea from. Here’s what was said:

"We might look at it from a pure data analytics point of view, we might look at that and say, “Oh, we have five buckets of sellers, we have brand new sellers and we have these small scale sellers and then medium and big and then super top sellers.” I think what that misses is the attitudinal dimension. For some of these sellers it’s really just a hobby and they are perfectly happy to be in that, what might look like from one point of view a less successful business. Then there are other people maybe in that segment of lower sales who really have an aspiration to grow their business. From a data analytics point of view, they might look like the same people."

 Directly after that, he says:
“I think trying to deepen your understanding of the attitudes and the expectations that some of these people have, then gets you to the point where you could then target those different types of sellers with different kinds of messages like, “Do you want to grow your business or do you want to just get better at knitting or something?” [laughs] “What is your intention? Or is it maybe you are doing this for fun or is it serious business?”
Many people have taken this quote as saying in essence 'we have and use these buckets'. But what he's really saying is 'we don't have these buckets because it's too hard to quantify'. I just assumed it was down to misquoting and threw that theory back in the water. Until recently, when I registered a new shop on Etsy for a project I hope to make full-time. I came across something in the registration that suddenly bought that theory right up again. In the sign up section there is a little multiple choice that asks 'which of these best describes you?'

Click the image to enlarge

That is bucket-filling in action. Note the grey text 'this is just FYI for us, it won't affect the opening of your shop'. Very specific choice of words there - it won't affect the opening of your shop, but will it affect how you appear in search, or how often you appear?

To my way of thinking, this tells me Etsy don’t have these buckets yet - but they are working on it. They’re looking at who’s in it for the fun versus who’s in it for the long haul, but why? How does knowing that help them make money? Because it helps them figure out who needs exposure more than others. If you have a shop who's in it for kicks and a shop who's in it to be huge and they're both selling the same thing, it's in Etsy's best interests to nurture the one who plans to stay. Just two people there's room for, even just 100... but up those numbers to several thousands of sellers all selling the same thing and you can see where the choice becomes one of 'who makes us more money'.

Arranging things so people earn the level of money they expect would not only mean more sellers are happy (and stay), but also enable Etsy to make sure what's being bought is balanced with whom it's bought from. It might sound a little over complicated but remember this is a billion dollar company that builds it's house on data. Etsy does everything based on what testing and researching defines and of course now they have investors who expect Etsy to raise performance every quarter.

But what about established shops where it's too late to ask this? While they have data from surveys, things change constantly - someone who was full time last year might have knocked back to casual; someone who was just in it for fun may suddenly need it to be their whole income. It might be impossible to understand... unless you had access to a ton of data and were able to monitor every movement of every seller. Using this data you have a better chance of quantifying who’s here for fun and who’s here for money and the best way to do it is by looking at a shop's listing activity. A shop that wants to grow and a shop who’s wanting a full-time income are both going to be listing new stuff fairly regularly, whereas a part-time or hobby shop is only going to list once a week or so.

It’s often said that ‘the more you list the more you sell’ with the reason being you end up in more searches. But that only works if your keywords have enough variety to reach different searches. I think the more you list the more you look like you want a full-time income, so the Etsybots arrange things to make that happen. If you're barely listing, you look like you're not relying on the money - or you're just not present, and active shops is another thing Etsy want to favour.

A minor sub-theory that sits within the bucket theory (it's like an onion in here!) is one I'll simply call the Order/Revenue capping theory. I couldn't find much info from it but it's worth mentioning, as many people in the forums have noted they can't get past a certain number or orders or revenue in a month. I've noticed if I get a big sale in my own shop, it's a huge stats killer.

Two weeks ago I hit what I consider to be my order max for the month. I worried this meant I wouldn't get any sales for the next two weeks and sure enough, my stats froze over. The only order I had was a return customer I was convo'ing with at the time. But- add this very important element into the mix; depressed at the seemingly lack of control I had over orders coming in, I stopped listing. I stopped acting like a shop who needs the sales.

When I read through forum posts, countless people mention something about not listing any more because they either don't have the energy or they just feel it's not worth it if what they have there now isn't selling. In dropping down their listing frequency are they just digging their own grave?

When it comes to listing regularity, currently I’m treating both my shops like they’re barely a hobby and I’m seeing results that reflect that. The easy solution there is of course that if your shop is your full-time, treat it like a full-time. It's not like eBay where you can list a bunch of stuff and sit back. Like Pinterest, Etsy requires constant attention.

So the solution is to just start listing stuff like a mad thing, right? Well.........maybe not.

Are you too old for this shit? - the downside of being established

I have noticed in my research that shops who are suddenly doing poorly despite once being successful are often what we call ‘Etsy old-timers’ - they’ve been around for some years and so have their listings. I theorise this could this be an element as these shops are likely to have a lot of listings that have been around for quite some time, which is bad. Let me explain...

In the Etsy-published article on sale downtimes, one of Etsy’s ‘tips’ for boosting sales was to make sure your inventory was fresh and to add new product lines. While they allude to trends and returning customers (and while keeping things fresh is a great idea) it could also be theorised that brand new listings will get you better search rank than your old listings you've been renewing forever.

Andhere's where we come back to listing quality. We know that new listings from new shops get a small boost when they first appear (I call this the Honeymoon Effect), but new listings in established shops are placed in search based on how that shop's other listings perform in their searches. This means your listings are all affecting each other - giving your shop something of a 'grade point average' in search performance.

Now let's think about how this applies to a shop full of older listings. Etsy considers fresh shops/listings as ‘better’ because they’re likely to be more relevant to what shoppers want. They also want to keep the popular, constantly selling stuff up there too. In order for this to happen, after a while listings start to fade in their quality so that the fresher/popular stuff can better leap-frog ahead. So the fact that a listing has over a thousand views and 600 hearts in it's 9 months of existence means nothing... if it’s not hearted/purchased enough to keep its ranking 'fresh' - the listing starts to decline in quality and gets out-ranked by the more successful listings from other sellers.

It therefore stands to reason that if your listings have a low performance overall, it's unlikely your new listings will rank any better. This would further go to explain why people claim that they've been listing things like mad and still not getting any improvements.

This applies to 'quantity of 1' listings just as much as multi quantity, which of course also means vintage sellers. It also might affect some who sell at very high price points in a saturated category - a perfect example is jewelry, where a search for 'moonstone ring' can bring results from $3 to $10k. If enough people are clicking on an expensive listing just to admire the piece but never intending to buy, they could be dragging down that listing quality.

But there's another spanner in the works here- best-selling listings that keep regularly getting attention will keep doing well only in as long as it can stay on top of the pile. But if you sell something that's easy, quick and/or cheap to make you'll find it harder and harder to stay on top. Why? Because you're being pushed out by competition.

Competition and the decline of listing quality

Competition appears on Etsy at an alarming rate; then again it’s not really that alarming when you consider the site is A - astonishingly easy to register a shop on, B - there's no ‘doorman’ to ensure you comply with site rules, and C - it costs so little to 'fill' your shop ($4.80 gets you a page worth).

The kind of shop who gets copied is the kind of shop who is selling something that's quick and easy to make, but also has a product with a wide appeal. Wide appeal markets are tough to stay buoyant in because they're such tasty bait to people who are ready to exploit the market. From what I've observed, most high seller shops complaining of the drop-off make something that’s easy to copy. The easier it is for you to make your stuff, the easier it is for someone else to come along and do it too.

Imagine a shopper coming along like they always have and searching to find a listing for a certain thing, say for example, a stamped ‘bridesmaid’ pendant in sterling silver.  They spy the established shop’s listing, click on it… then instead of buying it, they just heart it and go back to search to see what else is around - they want something cheaper, bigger, better shipping... whatever. They find another shop’s listing and they buy it.

For the shop who was passed over, that click did them more harm than good; the newer shop now has better rank simply because it was the one that was clicked and purchased. Where once they ruled the roost, the established shop’s listing slips down the rank as Etsybots consider it ‘not as relevant’. For every click the listing gets that doesn’t end up as a heart or sale, it adds dead weight. Meanwhile the other shop is out-ranking you with listing quality, and if they're a new shop they're also in their honeymoon boost period - it's like a double bonus for them.

If you're concerned this describes you, try researching how popular (read: competitive) your keywords are. I've noticed also that people complaining of sudden sales dives are selling with keywords that are highly popular such as gemstone jewelry or crochet patterns. While there's endless variety to the products within those keyword fields, much of it is going to have more competition simply by way of not being unique enough to be a stand-out offer. For example, I can search 'amethyst and rose quartz earrings' but how many of them are going to be much the same thing; a couple of beads on a hook? (Hint: a lot.)

The more niche and unusual your product is, the better chance you have at succeeding on The New Etsy. If you don't want competition, make something that can't be copied; if you want to earn a living, sell to a market that brings enough revenue for you, but not so large that others come sniffing. Find the niche in your product and get your keywords reflecting that niche. The answer to a good Etsy search result is strong keywords - Etsy still maintains good tags and titles are the best way to be found, and I agree. This is especially evident in one aspect of search which I'll talk about later.

Etsy has also recently introduced a feature where you can hide your past sales. If you’re a shop that makes something over and over again using simple materials and which has a broad market appeal you would probably do well to hide your sales. Most are using it to prevent shooting themselves in the foot; they argue that having visible sales is like doing the research for other people wanting to get into selling that thing... and I have to say I agree. Being able to see what sells well makes it astonishingly easy for new shops to get on board.

The New Etsy Policies

For those who don’t know, Etsy's new look allows you to adopt 'pre-written' policies they provide for you. They claim these are great to use because they are short and to the point, and they say they have research that shows buyers are put off by long and detailed fine print (again - the build their house on data). These auto-policies cover all the subjects you need to cover in a way that's Etsy approved and there's an FAQ section you can add any additional policies to.

Most shops I see who say they are doing fine have the new policies; most who are suddenly having problems have their own policies. This is something I've noticed with frequency - enough to conclude it's having an effect. I do at least know that Etsy have confirmed if you adopt these canned policies, you get a boost in search. Which is just a positive way of saying 'if you don't use, you lose'. While your own policies help you get a boost in search over those who have no policies at all, using Etsy's policies will get you even better results. 

It's not known how much of a boost you get, but of course wouldn’t you know it, new shops that sign up on Etsy have to use the new policies - they don’t get a choice. So now, new shops are getting a Honeymoon boost in rank and a boost from their site-provided policies. Established shops were given the option to adopt the new policies, thus giving high-selling shops a chance to keep their search rank - after all, why wouldn't you? No one who makes great money on Etsy is going to leave in a huff just because they need to simplify their policies.

The new policies aren't fancy by any stretch, in fact they're basic to the point of coldness. But most of the big shops don’t need fancy policies; they sell what they sell in a simple and quick manner, don’t have ‘complicated’ buying requirements and will refund you for any problem. Which of course Etsy loves as it's a 'high quality customer experience'. Any shop that's complicated for a buyer to understand is a worry for Etsy - they want all buyers on the site to be 100% happy all the time.

Often transactions go bad due to customers misunderstanding; to Etsy, the customer's inability to understand what's going on is irrelevant. Customer experience is king - no matter how at fault that customer was, if the experience was bad it was bad. And in the new look your feedback is much more noticeable than it was, meaning people work just that little bit hard (read: pander to the customer) while living in terror of anything less than 5 stars. (Sounds like another 'e' site we know...)

Boosting all shops with the auto-policies does something else Etsy considers very important - it keeps popular, fresh content up where you can see it. If Etsy give new shops their Honeymoon boost and policy boost while also allowing uncomplicated high sellers to take on policies and earn consistent listing quality, then that fresh and popular content is more likely to be the majority of results in the first 15 pages.

One more thing - and this thing is certainly no less valuable for having been left until last; in fact I think this is probably the most important thing. Etsy recently tested buyer behaviour to determine if showing them results tailored to their history would improve their likelihood of purchasing. I can't find any confirmation that this has gone beyond testing but this quote seems to confirm it has:
"Clickstream data doesn't have a lot of information about the user who is doing those clicks. It’s just information about their path through the site at that time. To really get a value-add on that, you want to be able to join on your user details tables, so that you can know where this person lives, how old they are, or their buying history in the past. You need to be able to join those, too, and we do that in HPE Vertica."
That quote is from this article, which should give you some idea of the immense focus Etsy puts on data. It's Etsy's main goal to present search for the buyer as an 'experience' or 'discovery' rather than just returning mechanistically relevant results, which means predicting what people want to see. A while back though, Etsy realised that just because 100 other people liked that particular necklace, doesn't mean everyone will. So by tracking every individual user's browsing habit they 'learn' what you like and therefore want to see. Assuming of course everything you look at is something you're considering buying, which I know with myself it certainly isn't the case!

In simple terms it means every search result shown on Etsy will be different, because it brings results based on what that person has historically shown interest in. Which means you have no idea what-so-ever where you're placed on any given search, only that your listing's relevance is based on whatever else that buyer has viewed/hearted in the past. They already do it with suggested shops and items in your home page feed, but now it looks like it happens in search as well.

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 shows the browser items from shops they've visited and bought from as well as listings they click on, heart and buy. The listings are of course matched up based on the thing Etsy recommends as the most important factor - tags and titles.By having your tags and titles both accurate and targeted toward the kind of person you sell to, you'll benefit from that.

Complicated huh? Quite frankly if you read all that and your brain is still with us, you deserve a medal; but I didn't want to do all this research and then give you a 'top ten tips' type post that doesn't teach you why I think this and what it means to not do it... or even assumes I'm right. And as I said earlier, none of this is gospel - what works for me might not work for you.

And really, with all those theories under our belt, in truth I think it’s all a bit pointless. If they work - great! But how long will they work for?  We spend hours and hours learning how to operate the system, and by the time you’ve got your finger on it a change has been implemented site wide and it changes all over again. In addition to that, there are tests going on all the time - Etsy makes hundreds of tiny changes to the site every day; how many of them affect the way search is displayed is unknown, but likely to be a great percentage since their main goal is to build buyer activity. 

The frustrating truth is that virtually nothing about how you get into search is within your control beyond a bit of SEO and adopting 'boost factors' like an About page and new policies. Etsy’s search is a complicated beast now - more sophisticated than ever and operating based on each individual's interests. It’s been a great ride for many, but eBay manipulates search, Amazon manipulates search, Google manipulates search… it would seem that we’re not suddenly experiencing terrible times, we are simply all arriving at the end of the line because Etsy has finally gathered enough data to start doing what everyone else has been doing for years.

And that’s why it hurts so badly. All this time Etsy have billed themselves as a place for the little guy, the humble maker who wants to earn a living with what they do. They bill themselves as a friendly corner where everyone really cares about you and your success… and now very suddenly it’s a whole new playing field. And you better get real popular, real quick.

But while I think it’s important to talk about all that stuff, it doesn’t really matter how much we understand about the Etsy algorithm (this week) or how it got to be what it is now, all that matters is what we do going ahead from today onward.

So here comes the bad news. As far as I’ve been able to discover, there is no golden answer to getting your sales and search rank back. I can't give you a 'top ten things to get good search rank on Etsy' because the elements are just so interconnected. You can list like you mean it...but if you've got low listing quality on other listings, you might not get anywhere. You could sharpen your SEO, but if your keywords are highly competitive it might not matter. You could release a new product range... but your listing quality might affect it and it'd probably only work if you've got return customer potential.

I read a lot of Etsy source material where lately they've taken to putting some pretty strong clues about what kind of shop gets by on Etsy. I've recently noticed the pattern of 'fresh product' over and over again, talk of replacing and adding to your inventory. Exhibit A is this article, where the seller talks about changing what she sells on a regular basis - right now she has clothing, lingerie, accessories, jewelry and home decor.  No surprise - she's not a one-woman show and she utilises Etsy allowable manufacturing.

That shop's process is what Etsy want you to do, and it's not just that article; the seeds of the same advice are lately in every article they publish. When what you sell stops selling, change what you sell; the product type, design, trend point, quality etc. Etsy is pushing to be a favourable site for shops that are willing to change their inventory if and when they need to; whatever gets the buyer in the door.

Etsy now is not Etsy as you knew it; the change hasn't been sudden - 3 years ago I wrote a huge article on Etsy's intent to favour the multi-quantity listing and it's moving from handmade to... well whatever they call it now. Manufacture-assisted design? Anyway, I took it down about a year ago because it was attracting spam like nobody's business, but I'm sad to say it played out just as I said it would; pushing out quirky, unique handmade and favouring whatever can be made in as factory-level like output as possible.  I warned things would get very bad if sellers continued to be innocent of Etsy's changing face, and I wish I had been wrong. I really do.

I feel like I haven't left you with a lot of good news (especially if you're not a seller who's happy to just 'go where the money is'), but then again there might be many of you reading this who feel a new wave of enthusiasm. Really this article was for all sellers, the purpose to explore and inform you of the mechanics of the Etsy machine. At least hopefully you understand a little more now and can govern yourself accordingly depending on what kind of shop you have. Believe it or not I’m not an expert on this stuff, I’m just one person trying to figure out how to succeed for the benefit of others as well as myself.

Of course, we have to remember one thing. All of this really only applies to shops who rely on a good portion (if not all) of their traffic to come from Etsy search. There are many on the forums who say they've had enough of it and are moving to another marketplace or their own website. If you're considering leaving, please understand that Etsy is 'easy living' when it comes to traffic! All you have to do is list things and people show up. With the addition of the community to be a part of, you really can't ask for a better launching pad for a self-run business. Whatever Etsy's problems are, they are just a platform - the rest is up to you.

Other marketplaces like Zibbet and Artfire have a tiny flow of traffic in comparison to Etsy, and having your own standalone (Shopify, Big Cartel, Squarespace etc) means you're 100% responsible for your own traffic generation through social media and targeted advertising. If you can accomplish that, why even leave Etsy? It's the traffic driving that has the power there, not the platform. The reasons for leaving Etsy should be things like high fees (for a high volume seller), price cutting competition or no mailing list options. A 'crappy' search is certainly no reason to uproot.

The nutshell is this: if you make an effort to become a high quality shop with unique, desirable, well made goods that cannot easily be replicated, polish your brand, understand your customer and use your social media properly (by which I do not mean just update it when you add new stuff to the shop), then you can - and should - happily roll the entire 'how to show up on search' thing into a tight little ball and pitch it out of the window. Which one is more work? That really depends on what kind of shop you are, how close you are to your product and above all what you consider 'work'.

And that I’m afraid is where my Etsy advice ends today - and where my general Etsy advice gets thin on the ground. I do intend to keep talking about the business of handmade but I don't want to get any further into Etsy's mechanics or hoop jumping - I'm firmly on the side of pitching it out the window. In my view there are much more efficient and authentic ways of selling genuine handmade, with or without Etsy.

That authentic stuff is what I’ll be focusing my future content; aiming squarely at those with whom I have the most empathy and ‘been there’ experience - high creatives, small batch artisans, OOAK makers and people who have a strong emotional/moral attachment to what they do. People who make what they make because it's an intrinsic part of who they are. People who are not 'Etsy perfect'.

If you don’t consider yourself that kind of shop and feel like it’s the end of the road here in regards to useful info for you, I am genuinely sorry. I’m always happy to help anyone, but there is no 'one size fits all' in handmade business. In order to truly help to a level that is practical and applicable I have to focus on one kind of seller, and it’s best to go with what I know and love. But fear not! There are others you can turn to and I’m going to recommend them based on the level of personal and emotional connection you have to what you do.

If your work is naturally a part of who you are and you feel every part of your life relates back to it in some way (and not just because you work at it 24/7!) you should stick with me. I'll be taking you to a place where there are no SEO nightmares, you don't have any competition and your social media process is a breeze - and more importantly, a place where all of that crap up there about Etsy does not apply.

It'll be a thorough process- I don't consider where my business is now to be anywhere near what it should be so you'll be witnessing a step-by-step 'makeover' as I apply everything I've learned in the last 3 years while sharing how you can do it too. But you have to be a certain kind of maker... Much more on that in the next post.

If you are connected to your work and you feel it’s a passion, but you also know that business is business and you’re highly flexible and whatever you can do to improve, you will do it - even if that means radically changing what you sell… go to Jess from Create and Thrive. She has a fantastic website full of clear, practical (and free!) info for building a whole branded business. Her podcast is awesome and her paid membership 'The Thriver Circle' has even more. I've seen it, it's good and it's a ridiculously cheap $15 a month. There’s also Abby Glassenberg from While She Naps; she focuses on quilting and sewing but also general creative business stuff and has a very honest approach like myself, callin’ it like it is.

If your handmade business is strictly a business just like any other job would be, and you don’t care what’s involved or where you have to change as long as you make your monthly sales, Mei Pak from CreativeHive focuses very strongly on this aspect of running a creative venture. She has a no nonsense approach that many of you may find highly motivational.

These three are ones I'm comfortable recommending and are probably the ones closest to what I will be offering. But really, no one is offering what I am going to offer. My approach is left of centre, thinking out of the box and colouring outside the lines. This is no surprise really, being that I’ve always been that way and the makers I try to help are exactly the same. I'm weird, and so is my tribe.