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Keeping it relevant: Etsy switches default search to sort by relevancy

Aug 9, 2011

by hirefrank

If you have searched on Etsy today, you may have noticed something different about your search results. Today we switched the default sort order to relevancy, while previously we had been displaying the most recent results. As we wrote about in the blog [1], forum [2] and discussed in an Online Lab [3] we’ve been focused on improving search sorted by relevancy for the past several months, and we’ve made some significant improvements [1].

We recognize this is a big change to both buyer and seller site experience, and we did not take it lightly. Defaulting to sort by relevancy is something that you have been asking for in the forums for quite some time, and it has been top of mind for us as well. In this post, we’ll break down our thinking and the process that led us to make this change, both at your suggestion and with your help!

For months now, we’ve been working on the changes to search by relevancy and running experiments to evaluate whether search sorted by relevancy is really the best overall move for the marketplace. We also recognize that the search experience has to be optimized for the best experience for two different types of members: buyers and sellers. Though search is primarily a tool for buyers, with a good search experience the whole marketplace wins: a buyer finds what they were looking for and a seller makes a sale. With that in mind, we have performed tests to look at how many items shoppers are purchasing, and the diversity of shops that are presented to them.

Drilling down into those tests, here’s how we decided to make the change. We’ve run dozens of A/B experiments and side-by-side studies [4] which compare member behaviors when given two different search results: sorted by relevancy and sorted by recency. We evaluated how many items a buyer clicks on from a search and compared the number of items clicked and hearted when the results were sorted by recency (the previous default) versus sorted by most relevant. The results spoke for themselves: when shoppers were given results sorted by relevancy, they were 4.4% more likely to click on a listing from a search results page. We also saw shoppers viewed 5.5% more listings per search visit when they were given results sorted by relevancy, vs. sorted by recency. We also found a similar increase in the number of items a shopper favorited: listing views and favorites were significantly higher when results were sorted by relevancy. And as you can guess, sales go up with increases in listing views and favorites. In a blind side-by-side comparison of the search results sorted by relevancy and sorted by recency, shoppers preferred the sort by relevancy results 15 to 1.

What’s the meaning behind these results? With search sorted by relevancy, the results of the search are, well…more relevant! See for yourself — try preforming a search for “desk” and check out the results. Then click on the sort by “recency” in the sort by bar at the top of your results — this will show the default results page you saw yesterday. With recency sort, chances are you may see a lot of items that are not in fact desks: desk lamps, desk chairs or other items that go in or around desks. If you’re searching for a desk, you really don't want to weed through results including stationary, pencils or other small desk related items, do you?

One of the other benefits of search by relevancy is that you will see a wider range of shops selling the item you are looking for. For example, in search sorted by relevancy, we optimize for showing as many relevant items from multiple shops so that a single shop doesn't dominate the results. In a search sorted by recency, we cannot control the diversity of the results since we are simply showing you the most recent items to be listed or renewed on Etsy. As a result, your search results page sorted by most recent could be dominated by one shop, even when several other shops were offering equally relevant items, which makes it difficult for smaller shops to get some visibility. It also leads to massive shopper frustration — most shoppers leave when they can’t find what they want, and sellers can’t make any money without shoppers! Now, we break up items from the same shop when there are others items that are equally relevant so that all relevant items get a better chance at making it into the first pages of search results. Of course, if you preform a very specific search, you may still see multiple items from the same shop on your homepage, as we will aim to give you the most relevant results to your search as possible.

For sellers, we recognize that there may be some confusion around how to make your items show up in the search results sorted by relevancy, and that’s why we’ve given you some tips and tricks in this forum post [2]. Previously, you were able to list new items and renew current ones in order to give your items a boost in the search results sorted by recency, and our relevancy algorithm isn't quite as straightforward. However, recently listed items will still receive placement across the site. Namely, we have added a section a the top of search results pages sorted by recency. This section is reserved for the four most recent items, with the ability to see more without leaving the page, by clicking the arrows. Recently listed items will also continue to appear at the bottom of the Etsy homepage, and the category pages will continue to be sorted by most recent. And of course, if you ever want to view your search results with the most recent first (like you viewed them yesterday) you can click on “most recent” in the sort by bar.

We will continue to post articles on search optimization in the coming weeks as we want to be as helpful as possible in helping you get your listings on top. For seller tips on revising your listings check out this forum thread [2] and this blog post [1].

We will also be streaming a Q&A with the Etsy Search Admin in the Online Labs on Thursday, August 11th 3 p.m. ET. [5]

Comments or questions? Please post them in this thread and we’ll answer the most pressing ones during our Q&A:

We appreciate your trust and patience with us in making this change. Together we are building the most diverse and exciting handmade marketplace!

Thanks, Frank & The Search Team

[1] [2][3], [4][5]