Thursday, January 21, 2010

THE SKY IS FALLING!! and the New Relevancy Search on Etsy

As usual, an announcement is made and the forums go wild with complaints and speculation.  Rob (Rokali) announced yesterday that for the next few Thursdays the default search would be based on relevance rather than the current default which is by listing date, most recently listed.

The fact that they are only doing this one day a week, to test and tweak, and to gather information from both the forums and the data collected behind the scenes is actually kind of refreshing, for a change.  Of course, this is no guarantee that should this roll out eventually that it won't be fraught with problems, but at least it appears they are trying to do this the right way.

As per usual though, the moment something like this is announced people are quick to rush in and gush their thanks or lodge their complaints without even giving it a chance.  And I know, this is the norm for the Etsy forums, it just becomes a bit  comical after observing it for so long.

I read with interest a number of discussions of people decrying this change and I honestly hope those that make the final decision as to whether or not relevancy becomes the default search takes into consideration that the majority of the complainers are not using logic.  A few of the example searches they gave are clearly not based on knowledge of how a search engine would work.  One example that was given was an artist would now did not appear in the first results of a relevant search for "Bird Art".  And she's right.  A cursory search using the handmade pull down and those words put into the search bar brings up thousands of mixed results.  Everything from every category possible with a bird or art in their title, tags or description comes up, and for good reason.  For the casual browser who is simply looking for something (but nothing specific) can of course, wade through hundreds of thousands of items one by one, or they can narrow it down by the categories to the left. 

So, now I know that this person sells original mixed media bird art, so after narrowing my choices to the art category, I select the original mixed media category and voila, right on page 1 is this person's Bird Art.  Had I wanted a photograph, or something else, I would have clicked on that category and chose (or not) from there.  For the purposes of finding this person's particular items though, I went with the sub category they chose.

Another example given is someone who is concerned because their photograph title (the name she gave the photograph) lowers her relevancy.  A number of artists concur that the title the artist gives to their work is relevant and meaningful to themselves and their customers.  I don't doubt that, but when searching (at least for myself and others I have seen post) it's rarely a search term.  I tend to look for subject matter first.  One of my often used browsing searches is 'lighthouses'.  So, using the dropdown menu under handmade, I type lighthouses into the search bar.  Of course, my first result is everything on Etsy related to lighthouses, so from there I select Art from the categories on the left hand side of the page.  Now, I can peruse everything in Art pertaining to lighthouses, or I can select further from the choices on the left.  If I want a painting or a photograph or mixed media or a drawing I can select even further.  If I don't know for sure and want to just browse, I can stay where I am and go through the 73 pages one by one.  At this point, whatever the artist has named their work is really not of importance to me, but if I see something that catches my eye and click on it and read that it is titled "The Watcher" (and I don't know if this exists or not, just pulled that out of thin air) and that title resonates with me, I may purchase it, or put it in my favorites for now and keep looking.  If I am looking for a painting, no, I am not going to see your collage or your illustration so you will not be found.  But for my purposes, as a buyer, I am finding exactly what I want and it's irrelevant when it was listed because the search is returning results that are most relevant to my query.

I find it odd that there is so much controversy and energy and time expended trying to categorize the Art section so that everyone has a 'place' to list their art, and at the same time complain that they are not first in a search for whatever it is they do in a more general search.

Another seller of digital images used in collages and jewelry (and whatever else) is concerned that up until now she was always in the top of her category and now with the new search she is relegated to the back pages and 'can't be found'.  As someone who has searched for digital collage sheets in the past, I can tell you that I usually will search by subject.  Just searching digital collage sheets brings back 1165 pages of results.  No way would I slog through all of that.  I *might* click on the first few shops if their thumbnail or title was descriptive or enticing enough, but it's not likely.  It is more likely that I would narrow it down by subject matter since the category choices on the left hand side really only reflect where someone thought they should list since I"m not sure there is an actual category for these.  I could be wrong, though, but that's how it appears.  So, anyway, if I want gothic images, or images of fish or birds or cupcakes, I type that in the search bar and then I get more specific results and right off the bat, for one of those subjects, this seller is on the first page with several items.

Now will this work for every item?  I don't know.  Theoretically, it should.  If you have google analytics you can see the keywords people use to find your items, that is a big clue as to how you should title and tag your items.  Categories and sub cats should also be utilized, after all, that is where you are placing your items.

I really hope that relevant search will become the default, it has so much more potential for buyers to find what they want in a logical fashion.

In closing, I just want to give an analogy to illustrate the way I look at this.  Imagine your perfect handbag.  It has individual compartments so that you can find your cell phone or your keys or your checkbook.  Your wallet further separates your money, your credit cards, your change and receipts.  If you keep it free of clutter and clean it out regularly, you should continue to find the things you are looking for readily and easily.  You can tell someone else where to find something and because of the organization, they can find it easily too.  Much easier than a bag with no pockets and everything is just thrown in.  Sure, you can rummage around and dig out your wallet, or your keys, but if you don't find them right away, don't you often go looking around the house only to come back and rummage some more and then actually find them in there?  I know I've done that. 

I look at Etsy as trying to get the handbag organized, by giving sellers the pockets to put their items in, rather than the current haphazard way things are now, with the last thing you threw in that handbag being on top.

Believe me, I'll be one of the first ones to call Bullshit on Etsy, and I have.  Etsy is a very easy target for the disgruntled to shoot at.  They do a lot of things wrong, but at some point, maybe they have to do some things right.  I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now and see how this plays out.

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