The Jam

What Do Grades Really Mean?

Have you ever wondered why in the world your best selling listing on Etsy has a C grade in Marmalead? Or maybe why in the name of everything handmade your listing that’s never sold at all have an A grade in Marmalead?! If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, stick around because this post all about grades is just for you and will help you reach even more Etsy shop success!

What we’re diving into

We’re jumping into it by breaking the grades down and talking through some definitions. So to start off, what factors go into your grades? When you go into your listing details inside of Marmalead, there’s lots of info but not all of those numbers on that page are a part of your grade. It’s just the stuff at the top that goes into your grade. The stuff on the bottom is helpful if you’re trying to hone the sales ability of a certain listing. 

The only factors that affect your grade are in the SEO factors box on the listing details page.  Things that go into your Marmalead letter grade are:

  1. Whether or not you’re using all 13 tag opportunities.
  2. The number of long tail focus keywords you have. 
  3. Your focus keyword engagement. 
  4. How many of your tags are long tail keywords.

These are the things that are taken into account when we show you the grade that you’ll see in Marmalead for each listing. And all the factors are not weighted evenly. We weigh these factors by what we’re seeing in the Etsy landscape. Etsy tells us these are the things that are important, which is why they are a part of your grade. But as we see things shift and move around, the weights will adjust accordingly for each factor. The number of tags that you’re using for your listing doesn’t necessarily count for the same amount of long tails that you’re using.

Don’t forget

So remember, it’s just the things included in the SEO Factors box on the listing details page that are factored into your Marmalead grade. Don’t think you can go change your description length and it will affect your grade. Neither will changing your title sentiment or adding more photos. We often have users write in and say that they only have six photos on a listing and they say: “No worries, I’ll add more photos and that’ll bump up my grade a little bit!” But nope. The photos you have or don’t have doesn’t affect your grade.

Definitions for the win!

Tags Used

You get thirteen tag opportunities inside of your individual listing. You want to make sure you’re using all thirteen of those! That’s thirteen opportunities to get in front of thirteen different audiences. We want you to be in front of as many people as you can be that are interested in your product. When you use eleven or twelve tags, you’re intentionally giving away the opportunity to be in front of one or two more audiences! Don’t do that! Take every opportunity you can!

Focus keywords

What we mean by “focus keywords” are keywords that exist in both your tags and your title. This can also be a combination of two tags. So, if you have a keyword in your title that’s really long and it doesn’t fit inside of a tag and you have two separate tags, as long as these match character for character between your tags and title, that is a focus keyword.

When you put a keyword in both your tags and title, you’re showing Etsy that you’re super relevant for whatever that keyword is. You’re saying that this keyword is a fantastic way to describe your listing and when people are searching for whatever this keyword is, you’re saying Etsy should show your shop because it’s in the title and the tags and is a focus for your listing. You’re telling the algorithm, “Hey, this is really important to me and my listing!” 

Non-focus keyword

On the flip side of this, a non-focus keyword is a keyword that is not matched exactly in your title and tags. And realistically you’re going to have both focus and non-focus keywords in your listing. It would be crazy to try and match all your keywords in your tags and title! If you did this, you’d probably end up with a title that’s not written well because you tried to finagle it so that all of the keywords would match up. 

Long tail keywords

This is something that Etsy talks about a lot. A long tail keyword is something that exists outside of Etsy in other SEO realms like Google. Basically all this means is that you want to be using a more descriptive keyword instead of a less descriptive keyword. So for example, a long tail keyword would be something like “Gnome House.” That’s pretty specific and we’re talking about a space inside of Etsy that’s really niche and will be something that not a lot of results will come back for. If you’re on Etsy searching for “Gnome House”, you probably know what you’re looking for and you’re going to be ready to make a purchase. 

Gnome Houses and long tail keywords

We have a lot of users write into us that think long tail keywords mean that the keyword itself needs to be long. This isn’t really the case. Long tail more accurately means that it’s a keyword focusing on a niche and has a higher degree of specificity. To show you the contrast, “Gnome House” is pretty specific and is a long tail keyword, as opposed to “anniversary gift for her” which is a longer keyword but it’s super broad and not niche at all. So this would not be considered a long tail keyword. Just to clarify, longer keywords do not make them long tail keywords, the difference being they need to be niche and specific in order to be classified as long tail.

Changes will come

Now, a long tail keyword can definitely change depending on the market. If everyone on Etsy all of a sudden starts making Gnome Houses and there’s a flood of Gnome Houses on  Etsy, well now all of a sudden what was a long tail keyword no longer is and you’re going to have to be even more specific.

So instead of just using “Gnome House”, you’ll have to talk about what kind of Gnome House it is. Is it a miniature Gnome House? Does it incorporate the Gnome’s birthstone? Whatever is it, it’s going to have to be more specific. This is just one of the reasons you have to keep on top of your keywords. Over time they’ll definitely change. Some markets will grow some will shrink. You may be able to use new keywords you never have before, while keywords you’ve always used will no longer be relevant. 

We do have a long tail keyword indicator inside of Marmalead that tells you whether or not the keyword you’re looking at are long tail or not. And remember, we talked earlier about a focus keyword being anything that’s matched exactly in your title and tags. So a long tail focus keyword is any long tail keyword that’s matched exactly in your title and tags. And we’re looking for this inside of your grade. If you don’t have either of these, work on that! 

Focus keyword engagement

This is the engagement level (as indicated by the Engagement Marmameter) of your focus keywords which you most definitely need to keep an eye on! These are your main keywords, the ones you’re telling Etsy that are really, really, really, really, about your particular listing. We’d even say that the engagement of your focus keywords is more important than the engagement of your other ancillary keywords. 

Remember, we have the engagement meter that shows you the engagement level for each of your keywords. Focus keyword engagement is looking at the amount of people that are actually interacting with the listings that have those keywords. And of course you want solid levels of engagement because you want to be in front of audiences that are actually interacting and engaging with products that have those keywords. 

Don’t stress

Also, we know that it’s really hard to find keywords that have full engagement bars and also have a reasonable amount of competition. So, when you’re trying to put your high engagement keywords as part of your focus keywords, you don’t have to find keywords that have full bars for engagement. We recognize that not all of your keywords are going to look like that. Just try to use the keywords with the strongest engagement levels alongside reasonable levels of competition as your focus keywords. They don’t have to max out the bars all the time. 

It’s all about balance

Don’t get frustrated if your keywords aren’t green across the board. Instead, focus on balance. You want to do everything in your power to avoid bottoming out the search and engagement meters. You also want to do everything in your power to avoid topping out the competition meter. That’s like opposite ends of a spectrum.

On the one end, if you’re getting less than 25 instances of search and engagement for a particular keyword market in a given period, it’s going to be really tough for you to find the movement you’re looking for when there are so few people searching and engaging with listings that have that keyword. On the other end of that spectrum, if you have awesome search and engagement but there are 50,000 other shops competing for that keyword, you’re swimming in a REALLY crowded pool. Again, this will make it challenging to get the kind of movement you’re looking for. So seek out the balance between the two. 

Long tail tags

Basically you want to make sure that you have as many long tail tags as possible so that you can get in front of as many audiences as possible that are closer to making a buying decision. As opposed to audiences using broader keywords and who are more than likely at the beginning of their search process. Again, all of your tags don’t have to be long tail.

A lot of our users use a strategy where they’ll pick a few long tail keywords and some general keywords so that if shoppers are searching a combination of the two, they’ll collect more searches that way. Use the bar that we show in the SEO portion of your grades on your listing, which will indicate how many you should be shooting for. As that bar fills up, you’re getting to a point where you’ve got a good number of long tail keywords in your tags. 

One more time for old times sake

We just want to remind you again that your grades are based on the factors we just talked about above. They’re not based on sentiment, descriptions, shipping, none of those things. Now, these are absolutely still helpful and you need to be mindful of them, especially as you’re trying to improve your listings. So things like the quality of your photos are still incredibly important even though they do not factor into your Marmalead SEO grade. They don’t factor into your grade because Etsy does not use them as a determining factor for where you’ll place in search. But again, your Sales Factors are still VERY important.

A bad grade that’s selling well

Yes, it’s absolutely a thing! Why? It could be that you’re killing it with the keywords you have on this particular listing, and you could be doing even better! Or maybe your photos are basically earth-shattering and you might not show up in search very much, but when you do, you crush it and buyers can’t resist your product. It could be any number of things honestly. 

A great grade that’s not selling at all

On the flip side of this, you might have a listing that has an A but it’s just not selling. Remember, the SEO factors look at how you’ve applied the keywords. We can’t tell you whether that keyword is the right keyword for you and your shop. So, let’s say that you’re selling Gnome Houses and it’s a house that’s specifically built and engineered for those gnomes. Now, let’s say you use the keyword “birdhouse” on this listing, and you apply it perfectly. Well, people who are looking for birdhouses aren’t expecting or probably even wanting to see gnome houses.

So while you may have an A grade on that listing, you’re not going to sell it because you’re using the wrong keywords and targeting the wrong audience. You can totally have an A grade and not be doing well with sales because you’re not targeting the right audiences for your product. It seriously doesn’t matter how perfect a keyword looks and how great the numbers look if it doesn’t apply to your listing. 

If something is working, let it work!

We’ve said this before but we’ll say it again. If something is working, let it keep working for you!  DO NOT change what is already working for you, no matter what the grade is! Some of the worst emails we receive that we have to respond to is when a user says they went into their listings and changed EVERYTHING, because they had all B grades and they were trying to get them to A’s. And now their best sellers are suddenly not moving. Again, do not change what is working for you no matter what the grade says. Always start to make changes on your lowest performing listings first and then work out from there. The grades are there to help you see where there’s room for improvement IF improvement is needed.

This might be confusing

We feel like what can be confusing for users is that when they see they have a grade that isn’t great, they’re assuming that grade is the end all be all. They think “If I just get an A, everything will be perfect from there.” But that just isn’t the case! Grades are definitely important, but you have to remember they are not the whole picture. They’re just one tool that we’re giving you out of a lot of different tools with the primary goal of helping you get everything headed in the right direction in your shop.

Yes it’s helpful when you’re working on listings that aren’t performing well and you’re able to move that grade up the scale. But again, if something is already working for you, don’t change it. Grades are one piece of the puzzle and they are not the total picture for listing health. 

So aside from grades…what else should you focus on? 

Definitely your photos. This is huge on Etsy! You can have the best grade in the world and be showing up in search, but if your photos are terrible you’re not going to get clicks. And if you’re not getting clicks, you’re not getting sales. While it’s important to invest time in your keywords, it’s equally important that you invest time in your photos.

An example

Think about it this way: you’re in school and all you care about are your grades. You miss all the different school outings, you never go to any dances, you don’t join any extracurricular clubs, and really don’t invest in anything outside of the books. You’re definitely going to have an awesome GPA! But you’re probably going to totally miss connecting with people.

So, how much are those grades going to do for you if you haven’t taken the time to build relationships and make connections? For most of us, the grades aren’t going to be the bottom line for future success. But, if you work to balance your grades in combination with focusing on people and building relationships, while you might not have perfect grades it’s likely that the balance between your work ethic and the connections you’ve made will equal it all out for a better chance at success!

How it relates

We like to say that your sales factors are your chance to build relationships and connect in the e-commerce setting. Your photos, descriptions, branding, the space you create in your shop, all of these are your opportunity to connect and are essentially the equivalent of dances and extracurriculars in the school analogy. They’re just as important as grades are within Marmalead. We want you to balance these things because we want you to have every opportunity to be successful in this space and it’s the balance between these things that we believe will get you there most efficiently. 

Final Thoughts

One last thing to remember is that your grades are going to change over time even if you’re not making changes to your listing. We talked about how engagement is a component of your grades. As the market changes, so will the engagement on the keywords that you’re using.

So if you go into Marmalead one day and an A grade is suddenly a B grade, or a C grade has suddenly gone up to an A without you making any changes, that’s because the markets are changing and the landscape inside of Etsy is changing. And so the way that your listings are optimized for a particular market will need to change over time along with the changes you observe in the market.

And that’s maintenance folks!

Maintenance is a HUGE piece of the puzzle! Logging in every two to four weeks to make sure your market hasn’t changed and if it has to adjust accordingly, is SO important. Stay on top that maintenance schedule, remember that grades are important but not the entire picture, and always, always aim for balance!

Happy grading, everyone! 


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8 replies on “What Do Grades Really Mean?”

This is probably one of the best ways I have heard your team describe grades. Thank you! Keep on keeping it simple

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