Guide to Selling on Etsy

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When Collette Reiner first started selling color flower wreaths on Etsy, she treated it as a hobby. But it bloomed from a side-gig to a thriving business. In the first three months of 2019, she made $130,000 on her colorful wreaths.

We interviewed three sellers on Etsy with various levels of experience to gain an inside look at what works and what doesn’t work for sellers. One thing they all share in common: In order to succeed, you have to work hard and not give up easily.

Can You Make Money on Etsy?

If you were fortunate enough to get into Etsy on the ground level, your visibility would have been high, and your competition low. Today there are nearly two billion sellers on Etsy, and the competition can be fierce.

That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, however. There are also over 54 million active customers on Etsy which blows away the customer base of 2008. So while there’s more competition, there are also a lot more potential customers. If you want to know how to start an Etsy shop, this guide will give you a strong foundation to get started. We’ll discuss important, relevant, and tangible things you can do to start your business or to improve your existing one.

How to Decide What to Sell

Learning how to sell is the single most important decision you’ll make. You’ll want to choose something that will sell and you can reasonably make again and again. You’ll also want to choose a product that isn’t in a very competitive, highly saturated niche.

Picking the right products to sell is no easy task, so here are some tips to help you thoroughly research different categories.

Use Available Research Tools

Thankfully, there are a lot of resources available for people who are interested in selling on Etsy. Consider using these tools to figure out which products sell well on Etsy.

Etsy Rank

Etsy Rank, now called eRank, launched in 2016. It was created by Anthony Wolf, who used his SEO and programming skills to help his wife improve her sales on Etsy. He decided to use the same ideas to create eRank, a site that helps other Etsy sellers improve their sales.

eRank offers a variety of services for free including:

  • Keyword Research Tool
  • A listing audit that checks your listings and offers SEO advice
  • Spell checker
  • Ability to compare listings
  • Marketing calendar
  • Market report
  • Color trends to know what the most popular colors are for the season
  • Profit calculator
  • A social report keeps track of how many people liked, pinned, or followed your shop
  • Category tool to put your listing in the best category
  • Tag report keeps track of relevant information about your tags

For seller who want more in-depth information, eRank also offers a premium version called eRank Pro that costs $9.99 a month.

This version offers a keyword explorer to learn what keywords are most searched for on Etsy. It also shows you what keywords are most searched for on Google. Not only should you optimize for Etsy traffic, but you should try to rank on Google as well.

Other things included in the pro package:

  • Monitor terms or keywords and see how well they’re doing
  • Tracked competitors — see how well competitors are doing
  • Tag report with the ability to evaluate the competition
  • Tag information includes demand and engagement information
  • Listing details with tags that are color coded

Marmalead

Marmalead is another tool you can use to help develop your marketing plan. Marmalead costs $19 dollars a month and it offers:

  • Information on what’s trending
  • Keyword Suggestions
  • Similar Searches
  • Search volume to your Etsy Page
  • Engagement on your Etsy Page
  • Keyword seasonality

A special note:
One thing that used to be offered by Marmalead and is still offered by eRank is something that lets you know exactly where your page ranks in a search on Etsy.

This used to be a really good way to measure how well your site was performing on Etsy. If you showed up on the first page or two, there was a much higher chance of being able to land a sale.

However, Etsy now uses a different method to provide search results. Instead of giving the same search results for every shopper, they now provide a personalized experience. This new method is called Context Specific Results (CSR), meaning each person is going to view something different.

Marmalead explains this shift like this, “CSR means that Etsy is looking at each shopper’s customer profile and presenting listings to them based on that profile, their location, time of day, and hundreds of other factors.”

That is to say, if one person is searching Pennsylvania on Friday, and another is searching in Ohio on Thursday, they’re not going to see the same results.

In 2017, Etsy CEO Josh Silverman explained, “The more personalized approach means that you’ll no longer see the same results every time you type in a search term. And the good news is that we’re already seeing CSR drive more sales.”

Check Out the Competition

Another way to know what products are selling is to search on Etsy for the item you’re looking to sell. Your search results will produce sellers who are already selling something similar to yours. Their page will tell you when their store was established and how many sales they’ve made. This will give you a rough idea of how well their shop is doing.

You can also check out the number of reviews and their star ranking. Read through some of the reviews to find out what the seller is doing well, and what people like about their product.

Advice from other Etsy Sellers on Choosing a Product

During our interview, we asked the Etsy sellers what people should think about when deciding on a product. Collette Reinier, the owner of EverBloomingOriginals, suggests trying to come up with something that isn’t already being produced.

She explains, “My advice would be to come up with an idea that’s different than everything else that’s out there. It needs to be a unique take on a product. You’re just not going to get noticed unless something is unique about what you’re offering. If you can’t show that to people there’s no way you’re going to be able to survive against other people who have been doing it longer.”

Reinier went on to explain that more experienced shops that have more sales and more reviews are going to show up in search results. Not only that, but shoppers are more likely to choose the shop that has a lot of sales and good reviews. This is related to the age-old marketing concept of social proof. When comparing a brand new shop to one that has great sales and great reviews, people are going to go with the one that has more social backing.

Katie Johnson the owner of DoGoodDecor said the biggest boost to her shop was coming up with a first to market product. She came up with an idea to make twig letters. At the time, there was almost nothing else available in this niche. Today, this product is still one of her best sellers.

Collette Reinner had a similar experience. She designed a bunny wreath that was a new and unique creation. While there were, of course, other wreaths already on Etsy, she was the first to come up with the bunny design.

Coming up with new and fresh ideas is going to be one of your greatest assets.

Digital Versus Physical Product

Another thing you’ll want to consider is whether you would like to sell a physical item or a digital one.

The bonus for digital items is you can create one design and you don’t have to re-create it over and over. You won’t be constantly laboring over each item. In addition, you won’t have to purchase raw materials or store them.

In her interview, Collette Reiner joked if she could start over again, she’d pick a product that didn’t take up so much room. She began her business in a corner of her house but quickly outgrew her workspace. She noted that wreaths take up a lot of space. In order to store all her extra inventory, she had to build two outbuildings and has plans for building another.

Examples of digital products include SVG’s for vinyl cutting machines, patterns for making things, and printable planners. Other examples include photography, artwork, graphic design, and recipes. There are many other options as well.

While a digital item may be a good way to set up your shop and not have to continue laboring, many people enjoy the art of making physical items for people. If that’s your thing, don’t worry, it’s still possible to be very successful.

How Long Does it Take to Make Money?

Creativity and imagination are a big part of what makes Etsy shops so special, but you also want it to make money and be successful.

You may be wondering how long it will take to start bringing in revenue. You may also be wondering what kind of time commitment you might expect to put into your shop.

These are excellent questions and ones we discussed with our three interviewees. Their answers vary, but this also indicates that not everyone will follow the same path to success.

New Shop Owner: Annie Lopez of SoapAndTonic

Annie Lopez is the owner of the Etsy shop SoapAndTonic. With the help of her husband, she opened her shop in July of 2018.  During the holiday season, she saw a good bit of traffic but is currently bringing in a few sales a month.

Her business is still very new and her Etsy shop is a side-hustle. She has a full-time job outside in addition to her Etsy shop. It’s very normal to see spikes in sales around holidays or times that are relevant to your shop. One thing Annie noted is a lot of people open their shops and close them within the first month. She explained that they grow discouraged very easily and give up quickly.

Her advice was to keep working and keep promoting your shop. It’s easy to give up, but the most successful shops keep hustling and keep strategizing ways to bring in more business.

Shop Owner: Katie Johnson of DoGoodDecor

We asked Katie Johnson, the owner of DoGoodDecor, what kind of expectations people should have about revenue sales on Etsy, and what amount of time they might spend working.

When Katie first opened her shop she was working 60+ hours a week and making very few sales. A lot of her time was put into research to better understand how to grow her business. Thankfully, the time she put in upfront really helped her in the long run.

She created her business to help support foster kids and foster families in her area. She knew she wanted to help, and found that crafting was a way to focus her energy while helping others.

As her business grew, she invited her sister to join her and they now split the work between them. The shop is currently making around three-thousand a month, and she has made as much as five-thousand during a busy season. Her time commitment has greatly reduced and she now works between fifteen and twenty hours a week on average. If her sales spike naturally her time commitment grows as well.

Since her business is part charity, she was also thrilled she was able to help support foster kids. She was able to give Christmas gifts to teenage foster kids, and the business sponsored school supplies for foster kids that attended a local school.

Etsy Veteran Collette Reiner of EverBloomingOriginal

Collette Reiner, the owner of EverBloomingOriginal, opened her shop in 2011. In the beginning, her shop was more of a hobby than a full-time business. The first year she had around 150 orders which amounted to about $7,000 in sales.

Her business is now completely full-time. In fact, she said Monday through Friday she is working nearly the entire day. She works on the weekends as well, and she has been able to hire several employees to help her with the workload. On an average month, she makes $25,000, but during a busy holiday season, she may make as much as $40,000 or more. Her wreaths are very popular in the Spring and around Easter time, especially her bunny wreaths. In the first three months of 2019, she has already made $130,000.

In 2018, Collette fulfilled over 5,000 orders. Over the course of the last seven years, she has been able to continue growing her business and each year has been better than the last.

How Long Does it Take to Make Money?

How long can you reasonably expect it to take to sell enough products to bring in an extra $1,500 a month? When this question came up, several Etsy shop owners responded. The general response is, it is difficult to bring it revenue right off the bat. But if you stick with it, it’s very possible to be a sustainable shop. Developing a presence and brand takes a lot of time and energy, and most shops don’t start making a lot of money right away.

It’s also common to see a fluctuation in sales. One month may produce a lot of profit, but the next might be very slow. One seller had been opened for five years and said they made between $450 and $2000 a month selling costumes. Another shop that sold jewelry and had been open for six months said they made $200 a month on average.

How Do I Get Traffic?

Apart from choosing a sustainable product that will sell, asking how to gain traffic is probably the most important consideration. You may have the most beautiful handcrafted items, but if no one can find it, you won’t sell anything.

Here are some really helpful ways to help drive traffic to your Etsy site.

Etsy SEO

Etsy SEO is an essential factor in people finding you. If you’re not already familiar with SEO, it refers to the phrase “search engine optimization.” In other words, it’s the way people find your shop when they’re searching for you. Most websites on the internet today are trying to beat the competition to be ranked number one on a Google search. If you punch into the search box: “How to Open an Etsy Shop,” someone is going to have the top ranking hit on Google.

Etsy SEO is very similar to this. While Etsy no longer uses the same kind of ranking system, if your keywords, tags, titles, or descriptions are unclear, no one is going to be able to find you.

Here are some ways to rank better on Etsy SEO:

  • A common trick people use when describing their items on Etsy is to imagine they’re the ones searching for it. What would you type in if you were looking for your product? Chances are, other people are going to be searching the same way.
  • Make sure your descriptions or titles actually match your product. If people search for something and it leads to your page and they don’t make a purchase, it may hurt your ranking. Try to avoid using click-bait names to draw people in because it doesn’t help if you can’t provide people with what they’re looking for.

To help make your product keywords more specific, make sure to use long-tail keywords. Since there are a lot of sellers on Etsy, it’s difficult to be found with one-word keywords. For example, if you put in something generic like “crochet” into the search box, there’s going to be a LOT of hits. Instead, you can use a long-tail keyword which would be something like “cotton crochet dishcloth.”

Here’s what comes up when you search for “crochet”: 1,420,828 Results

Here’s what comes up when you search for “cotton crochet dishcloth”: 11,777 Results

Both searches yielded a lot of results, but the second one was significantly reduced. Under the long-tail keyword, there were 11,777 results. If you only had the word “crochet” as a keyword, they would never find your shop. They may, however, find your shop if they’re specifically searching for a cotton crochet dishcloth.

Build a Social Media Presence

There’s no doubt social media can be an awesome tool in your marketing tool belt.

More than ever people use social media to connect with products. According to Hootsuite, “More than 40% of digital consumers use social networks to research new brands or products.”

Using social media can really bolster your sales and get the word out about your shop. Here we will focus on Instagram and Pinterest because they’re two social media platforms that lend themselves well to vintage and handmade shops.

Instagram

Instagram is a popular platform for every age demographic, but especially for millennials and generation Z. These generations are more tech-savvy and often rely on influencers and friends to learn about new products.

Use Attractive Images

Annie Lopez said she uses Instagram to drive business to her Etsy shop. As an Instagram user, she was already familiar with the way the algorithms worked. She has been able to use her account to showcase her beautiful soaps and grow an interest in her business.
Using quality pictures and creating a cohesive look is something that will appeal to many Instagram users, and this is something that SoapAndTonic does an excellent job with:

Annie’s images are bright and attractive and they tell a story about her brand. While many of her pictures showcase different products, the images still look like they are part of a collection.

Another good example of an effective Instagram page is LaurenSchoredDesign:

The branding is on target and the images are appealing. Her use of color and black and white is also visually interesting. As with SoapAndTonic, LaurenSchroderDesign’s pictures are very varied but they still feel like they are part of the same collection.

Use Effective Hashtags

Another effective strategy for Instagram marketing is to use relevant hashtags. Hashtags are one of the primary ways people find posts and accounts on Instagram, so make sure you are using ones that will connect with people who would be interested in your product.

Examples of Instagram hashtags include:

  • #handmadejewelry
  • #handmadesoap
  • #supportsmallbusiness
  • #wreathmaking
  • #soapcraft
  • #creativelifehappylife
  • #etsyseller
  • #etsylove

There are loads of good examples of hashtags on the internet. If you’re looking for some fresh ideas, try searching for hashtags on Google.

You can also see what hashtags other people are using in your niche.

Keep in mind, Instagram only allows you to use 30 hashtags per post. A good rule of thumb when choosing hashtags is to pick ten that are very popular, ten that are semi-popular, and ten that are very specific to your post and may only have a thousand or fewer hashtag posts.

For instance, #etsy currently has 27,504,840 posts and counting. This might be a good choice for your popular hashtags. Another good choice would be #handmadejewelry which has 12,139,807 posts. If you’re looking for something more specific, you could try something like #handmadeearringsforsale which has 5,952 posts.

For your final ten hashtags, you want to choose something that people are actually searching for but isn’t overrun with competition.

Pinterest

When people think of crafts and DIY projects they often think of Pinterest. People who search on Pinterest are already in that frame of mind which makes it a good place to market your Etsy business.

Tara Jacobsen from Marketing Artfully writes, “As a social media site, [Pinterest] is pretty weird! Instead of needing constant attention like Facebook does, you can pin a product onto your Etsy boards and it could be shared hundreds or thousands of times over the years.”

The more hands-off approach of Pinterest can make it an ideal social media platform for busy sellers.
Katie Johnson says Pinterest generated the most traffic for her Etsy shop.

If you want to use Pinterest to help your business, here are some tips to get you started.

Choosing Images for Your Pins

Believe it or not, not all pins on Pinterest are created the same. There are several types of images that might appeal to different demographics. In her article, Tara Jacobsen identifies three major types of images:

  • “Lifestyle shots” which show your product being used in everyday life or with some other interest.
  • Images with your product with a white background.
  • Images with your products and words.

You can market your products using each style and see which works best for your business.

Once you discovered what works for your shop, stick with it. This is a very important step in your branding process. You want your pins to be recognizable. If you do this effectively when people see your pins they will associate it with your business.

Do keep in mind that Etsy uses horizontal images and Pinterest prefers vertical ones. You may need to change your images or use different ones to promote your shop on Pinterest.

Writing Descriptions for Your Pins

When you write descriptions for your pins it’s very easy to find the keywords that are applicable on Pinterest. In fact, Pinterest provides them for you. If you sell jewelry, you can go to the Pinterest search bar and type in “jewelry.” A list of keywords will appear in a bar at the top. The ones on the left are the most searched for.

Click on the keyword that is most applicable to your business. If you sell rings, click on that tab and it will give you a new list of keywords associated with rings.

Keep following the keywords until you find a set of keywords that match your products. These will be the words that you include in the descriptions you use for your products.  

Your title should include a keyword, and your description should include at least two. You can also use hashtags to generate traffic. Your descriptions should be easy to read and conversational and should always include a call-to-action. You want people to know that they can locate your items in your Etsy shop so make sure to tell them to click through.

Conclusion

If you’ve been dreaming of opening an Etsy shop there’s no time like the present. Make sure to do your research and use available tools like eRank and Marmalead. Set realistic expectations for yourself and don’t expect to make thousands of sales in your first year.

Arm yourself with marketing tools like social media, and research how you can take advantage of Etsy SEO.
Finally, it’s easy to give up when sales are low, but keep pressing on.

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