A quantitative approach to keyword selection and keyword nesting

Trying to find the right keyword on Etsy for your listing can be the world’s most frustrating multi-variant experiment. Etsy don’t tell us volume of searches by search term, so one of the few measures we have is how many other listings are using the same keyword.

Finding the competition (I call it the ‘size’) of a keyword/category is as easy as typing the term into Etsy search bar and looking at how many results come back, for example:

  • birthday card = 230k results
  • funny birthday card = 27k results
  • llama funny birthday card* = 50 results

(*because who doesn’t want a goddam llama card?)

But be careful about what this is telling you. It’s telling you that there are 230,000 other listings with the term ‘birthday card’ so if a potential customer types the term ‘birthday card’ into Etsy, they’ll get 230,000 results, right?

Actually they won’t. Etsy displays 56 results per page, and will only ever show 250 pages of results (which is pretty optimistic because I’m usually bored after 5). So the actual max limit of items displayed is 250 x 56 = 14,000 items.

So should you only be going for keyword terms that are less than 14k results?

Well, yes and no. Part of this is a risk/reward thing. If you can get into the first 3 pages of a 230k category, then happy days. At least, you’ll go from a dribble of orders to a trickle*. But if you can’t even get on the radar of a large category, your listing might as well not exist.

(*as defined in Rob’s Official Counting System He Just Made Up, 2017)

On the other hand, if you try to compete with ‘Llama funny birthday card’ at only 50 other results, you’ll probably get ranked highly if you follow basic SEO advice (or even if you just have a heartbeat), but it’s a pretty hollow victory, akin to running round your house shouting “I’m the best Etsy seller up in the hizzouz.” It might impress your dog, but you’ll still be broke.

The first conclusion I drew on finding this out was that I wanted somewhere less than 14k results, but probably more than, say, 2k results. But I didn’t want to limit myself to just 14k results work of customers, I wanted the big 230k category, or even bigger.

Now you’ll notice that the middle keyword above (funny birthday card) is 27k, so theoretically I’d ignore this if I was going to stick to a 14k limit. But I remember reading an Etsy article on How Search Works that talks about new shops and listings having a neutral score on many of the search factors, so I reasoned that of the 27k, potentially up to a half were less than neutral (lots of zombie listings on auto-renew or people not correctly implementing keywords). I was also happy that my photography and description and products themselves were good enough to generate a self-sustaining ranking score improvement (via Etsy’s ‘Listing Quality’ factor which rewards actions-after-search) so 27k was a reasonable starting category to be in.

But I still want the 230k category. I want ‘birthday card’ ranking, not just ‘funny birthday card’ or ‘geeky birthday card’ or whatever. I want the whole thing.

Actually I have it already. Let me explain.

Etsy search rewards exact matches. So if I think someone is going to type ‘funny birthday card’ then I need a title and tag to contain exactly ‘funny birthday card’. But ‘funny birthday card’ also contains another keyword, ‘birthday card’.

Etsy ignores punctuation like commas, hyphens, pipes and backslashes (though spaces are still important). These are for human readability.

So by having a ‘nested’ keyword, such as ‘birthday card’ nested inside ‘funny birthday card’, I can start ranking for two keywords concurrently.

Now this next bit is a personal theory, and it’s an untested hypothesis so don’t treat it as gospel. But what I think happens is that when Etsy adjusts your Listing Quality score, that score stays with the listing, not the keyword AND the listing. Which would theoretically mean that if someone searched ‘funny birthday card’, found your listing, clicked it, liked it and bought it then you would not only gain eg. +3 ranking_juice for ‘funny birthday card’ but you would also get +3 ranking_juice for ‘birthday card’ at the same time. See where I’m going with this? The way to compete on bigger generic keywords is to nest them inside smaller keywords and ensure people are liking and buying those.

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