Why Etsy Stores Are At A Disadvantage Compared To Online Stores That Own Their Domain

As part of my weekly regimen, I like to read and participate in various small business forums and one of my favorites is the Etsy forum. For all of you who have never heard of Etsy, Etsy is a marketplace for do it yourself and handmade goods. Similar to Ebay, Etsy provides an easy way for talented crafters and artists to sell the fruits of their labor.

The reason I like reading the Etsy forums is because most if not all Etsy users are casual shopowners who have a strong desire to make some extra money on the side.

Many Etsy users would eventually like to quit their day jobs. Many Etsy users have the desire to launch their own full blown online stores but are afraid of the technical and marketing challenges in doing so.

Anyways, I was reading the forums the other day and noticed more complaints than usual from Etsy users about low sales volumes and increased competition due to the sheer volume of shop owners on the site. In addition, the last Google search update seems to have hit Etsy users especially hard resulting in lower search rankings for many shops.

So today, I thought that I’d try to reach out to the Etsy readers and let them know what they are missing by relying solely on an Etsy store for income. The truth is that Etsy users are at a major disadvantage when it comes to selling and marketing goods to the end customer compared to shops that own their own website and domain. Here’s why.

It’s Difficult To Differentiate Your Etsy Store From The Rest Of The Pack

Back in the good old days, I used to sell a lot of stuff on Ebay. Whenever you have a large marketplace like Ebay or Etsy and you want to sell something, you have a tendency to look at other people’s shops and listings to get an idea of how to structure your own product listings.

At the click of a button, you can pull up sales statistics and other useful information about other shop owners in order to try and emulate their success. And that’s when the copying starts. On Ebay and Etsy, there is always going to be rampant copying of product descriptions because it’s so easy to do so. Joe Shopkeeper sells a ton of handmade bags? He must know what he’s doing. Perhaps I will borrow his descriptions. No big deal.

The result is that a whole bunch of other product listings will look and sound exactly like yours. While it’s true that getting plagiarized can still happen if you have your own website, it’s infinitely easier and more likely to happen on Etsy because all of the shops are within the same marketplace.

The other problem is that the format of all Etsy stores look the same and feel the same. Sure, you can customize your store header a little bit but in the end, almost every single Etsy shop looks identical which makes it hard for you to stand out in the crowd of other users. The double whammy here is that Etsy’s shopping format makes it very easy for consumers to comparison shop your products with other listings which tends to focus the consumer’s attention on price as opposed to quality.

To further illustrate the point about how hard it is to make your listings more visible, here’s a quote from a frustrated Etsy user I found on the forums.

As you already know there is a problem getting your items seen on etsy these days. With the batch loading system and the the increase in the number of shops.. it makes it difficult to get views. The scenario goes like this… you list/renew on item and another shop batch loads 30 items right after yours… your item then gets sent to the 3rd page… not a good place to be for views.

What this illustrates is that as the number of Etsy users continues to grow, you will have a much harder time getting exposure for your goods. Today, it appears that some users are resorting to relisting items prematurely in order to gain more pageviews for their goods.

Etsy Stores Are Hard To Rank In Search

Lately, there have been a number of forum threads from Etsy sellers complaining about a big drop in views and sales. My guess is that the latest Google update completely removed many shops from the search rankings due to duplicate content across listings. Now no one knows exactly how Google decides which content is original and which is the duplicate which puts you at risk of getting penalized by Google if someone else steals your content.

Even if you write completely original product descriptions, it largely depends on the order in which Google crawls your site and the page strength of the other shops in determining who possesses the unique content. The fact that copying occurs so often in marketplaces like Etsy makes it harder for you to rank in search.

The other more important point to emphasize is that the search rankings are largely determined by the volume and strength of the backlinks pointing to your site. It takes a lot of hard work and patience to build backlinks back to your shop so you have to ask yourself whether you want to be doing all of this work for a site that you do not even own.

Sure, you can build backlinks back to your Etsy shop but all you would be doing would be strengthening Etsy’s position in the search rankings. If Etsy were to ever screw you over by increasing fees or closing up shop then guess what? All of that hard work would go down the drain. When you own your own website and domain, you own the fruits of your labor and no one can take that away from you.

You Are Completely At The Mercy Of Etsy

Recently, a similar site to Etsy called Artfire abruptly decided to cancel all of their basic accounts. And what was the result? Many shopowners suddenly got the boot without much warning at all.

Here’s a quote from one Artfire user who was lucky that he hadn’t invested too much time yet.

Just found out that Artfire is discontinuing all of their basic accounts… really frustrating after spending two days setting up my shop over there to try it out as a second venue. Anyone else know of this? Glad I found out before dedicating yet another day to making more changes I had planned. Heads up everyone!

The truth is that companies like Etsy, Ebay and Artfire don’t really care about you. They care about making money for themselves. So when the sh$t hits the fan, guess what? They are going to do whatever it takes to stay profitable.

So what are the implications for you? At a moments notice, Etsy could raise their fees dramatically and put you out of business. It doesn’t matter how much work you put into your store. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve made in the past. All of your hard work could be flushed down the drain because of factors outside of your control.

It’s Time To Take Charge

So you need to ask yourself why you are building up a shop that is controlled by someone else? Do you want to be in control of your own business and costs? The only way to do this is start your own web property. So stop relying on the Etsys, the Ebays and the Artfires. These sites are good for getting your feet wet but will prevent you from ever growing.

It’s about time you started writing your own rules. I’m not saying you should abruptly stop using Etsy. Instead, you should plan on transitioning your business away from a model where you call the shots and are in control of your own destiny.

Any Etsy users want to share their thoughts?

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98 thoughts on “Why Etsy Stores Are At A Disadvantage Compared To Online Stores That Own Their Domain”

  1. Good thing I made my own website even if I have an Etsy shop. You were right about “being at the mercy of Etsy, etc.” Earlier last week, I have been getting consistent sales till later last week when they changed the search to “relevancy” as default from “recency.” It did impact my sales and views. They all dropped and flat lined. I am currently in the middle of doing all the suggested tips from the admin. It is their business plan and that’s the way they want to profit and at the same time I agreed with their policies (that it can change anytime they want) from the beginning . That is something I do not experience in having my own website (not unless Paypal will start their own drama). So after I have changed what needed to be changed in my Etsy shop, I am going to focus more on my own website.

  2. I nearly forgot about this discussion.

    It has been a good one, nice healthy debate. (no I’m not in the least bit offended, I love my artfire, plain and simple.)

    Fyi I do have my own domain and you can search scarlet impressions on google, my own site comes first followed by artfire even though my own site is just a landing page it is there. (etsy doesn’t show up for another couple of pages.)

    I just never saw the point in maintaining a full blown e-commerce site on my own when artfire has everything.

    Someone mentioned the products you sell too, for me that certainly is a factor I make lampwork beads, what better place to be than among a community of people that make jewellery.

  3. According to Google Analytics my visits have increased since the new seller studio look that was launched by Artfire on August 5th.

    As of a couple of days ago, the average number of daily visits has remained above the average number of daily visits before the new studio look.

    I haven’t looked at the statistics in a couple of days.

    In one of my studios I just removed my studio announcement from the item pages and I like the look of the pages without the studio announcement.

    My other studio has featured items and a studio announcement. It is nice to be able to customize the look of your Artfire studio.

  4. I could identify with the article point about – all the stores look the same on etsy .

    we have developed an online shopping mall software and all the stores can have custom themes , branding

    to create an online marketplace – http://www.kodemall.com

  5. I could not agree with you more. I have never had a sale off my Etsy shop, but they happen on my own site. I have complete control there over display and everything else associated with my own shop.

  6. People on Etsy are too competitive..everyone fights over everything like two dogs fighting over an old shoe!

    It is true..you list something and it gets buried.

    Like your content and your little girl is so cute..like the logo;)

  7. Gloria Sanchez says:

    Love the story, logo. OK I had a successful store on Etsy selling thousands a month, after Etsy suspended my account because some items did not meet the handmade criteria. True some of my headbands I use brooches or anything with bling bling and create a beautiful headband. After they closed down I decided WHO needs Etsy and started my own but it is painfully expensive, yes you get your online store and then what, without SEO your store is just another fish in the ocean.
    SO I am now selling at Artfire.com Luulla.com & new one that I have been waiting for to launch is TrEmbu.com since it will offer the same as Etsy except I can list even if it not handmade by me!

    1. HI Gloria,
      That is true, but it’s your ocean and you have full control over your business. You can easily do a better job getting discovered online than Etsy does for you. You just have to know what you are doing.

  8. I don’t know how old this article is, but etsy, once the first of it’s kind and once real darn good, has been bitten by the stupid bug. They have ZERO support what so ever. (I have emails sent to assorted etsy staff that have gone unanswered other than auto responders for well over a year.)

    It’s true they will do what ever they want to. Like it or lump it. But… when they resort to kicking off the very people who bring in traffic, and then fix it so those people can’t even shop? Isn’t that the number one rule in business 101? Keep customers?
    I think they flunked.

    Also I see mentioned about Artfire doing away with the free shops.
    Listen, NOTHING is free. They only did that as a fledgling business to try to bring in some new people. But sooner or later you have to expect that won’t last.
    And why should it? Where can you sell to the entire world no less, for free?
    Besides, part of their reasoning for doing away with that is the sheer number of people who would park a few items then totally ignore the shop. No promoting, no adding anything new. It hurts the entire site to have dead unattended shops like that.

    Now I was slow to up on board over there. My thinking was they charge rent. No motivation at all for me to sell. And I have my own site I pay rent for.
    but… after getting etsys fine boot print engraved in my back side, I took another look at Artfire.
    They DO care.
    They have marketing people who know their stuff and work tirelessly to improve SEO, and give us sellers the best tools. It is in their best interest to make it a good venue to sell. Otherwise their renters would move out.

    And UNlike etsy, our shops can be made to look like our own shops and at the same time keep some uniformity so shoppers don’t feel like they suddenly left. (ebay is notorious for some darn ugly shops.)

    As for the advice here to build your own? (Along with several very UN appreciated pop ups in my face about it.)
    Well…. trust me. you will never get the volume of traffic the big sites like etsy, artfire, ebay etc etc etc can get.
    Sure your the star of your own show. But that’s like a single ant on the beach.
    If your trying to be found, you need to be one ant in a huge ant hill. Yea your one of millions but… much more likely of being seen than as a single little ant all alone.

    Personal sites are good to have. When Artfire gets bit by the stupid bug, (and I have no doubt at some point it may happen. Seems to happen to all good sites.)
    Then I can simply change my own site accordingly. No worries about my business cards either. Visit my site. Where I am currently selling is right there.
    So for that it’s very good to have your own site. But as for selling? I’m convinced the staff at a huge site like Artfire will be much more on top of what google is doing and so forth and keep the site updated accordingly.

    1. Hi Jenny,
      For the most part, I agree with your comments except for this one.

      Well…. trust me. you will never get the volume of traffic the big sites like etsy, artfire, ebay etc etc etc can get. Sure your the star of your own show. But that’s like a single ant on the beach. If your trying to be found, you need to be one ant in a huge ant hill. Yea your one of millions but… much more likely of being seen than as a single little ant all alone.

      If you know what you are doing, your own online store will be able to get much more traffic that your Etsy or Ebay listings. But if you don’t know what you are doing, then Etsy and Ebay is a good starting point. So as a beginner, Etsy and Ebay are probably good ways to dip your toes into the water but the best long term solution is to own your own shop.

      I would be willing to bet that my tiny little online store gets more traffic than the majority of ebay, etsy stores out there but feel free to prove me wrong. Plus, I’m in full control of my site.

      Are you basing your comments on personal experience?

  9. Yes. Personal experience. A lot of it. Do you really want me to spell it out here and put a big long pin in your bubble for all to see?

    I’d guess not. So good luck to you.

    1. connie says:

      I don’t know how old these posts are because I cannot find dates on the blog or posts. My online store sells thousands compared to the 7 or 8 hundred that my ebay store sells. I do have a niche. I started SatinCordandMore.com before the jewelry making craze went viral. I have been doing it for 10 years, but my website was a success after a few months.
      If you have a niche product and know your keywords, etc, you can do it!
      As for etsy, I rolled out a few sales 6 or 7 years ago, but that went dry quick, so I vacated.
      I think a lot of it depends on your product and the need or craze for it.

    2. I think what Steve was trying to say (and I really wish I knew how old this conversation is), is that while it’s true that a site like Etsy gets millions of views per month, that doesn’t mean that YOUR listings or shop are getting all of those views. And so, being part of that “anthill” really doesn’t mean very much. With just a little bit of extra work and a willingness to learn my market, which is what any serious business owner should do, I get tens of thousands of visitors per month. That may not be the millions that Etsy gets, but I would way rather have those thousands of hits of TARGETED traffic, people who have found me because they were actually searching for the things I offer, than the few crumbs that Etsy can throw my way from their millions of hits.

      That doesn’t mean I hate Etsy at all; I do keep a shop there. I just treat it as the business tool that it is, not as my entire business. Etsy owns that shop, not me.

  10. Grace says:

    Hi, I’m a middle school student and I’m about to open an Etsy store. I’ve considered your argument, but I really don’t have enough time to start a website at I can’t exactly quit school. What do you recommend in my situation?

    1. Hi Grace,
      I commend you for getting started so early! That’s great! If you want to dip your toes in the water with online selling, then by all means start with Etsy.

    2. Your in middle school? So under 18 then right?

      You cannot legally sign up on etsy and sell there or anywhere else. Any sale is a legal contract which you cannot engage in until you turn 18.

      Now if you have an adult running things who is in charge of the money and so on, then fantastic! Be a great learning experience. Be sure you mention this in your profile somewhere.

  11. Shawn says:

    Thanks for this very informative article.I have been toying with the idea of opening an Etsy or similar store but am now seriously considering just doing my own e-commerce site.How do you recommend I approach SEO? I’m not computer literate but do have a modest budget to do this.Any specific recommendations?
    Thanks for your time.

  12. I’ve sold on Etsy, Artfire, and on my own website and I can tell you that anyone starting out on Etsy now, as opposed to those who have been on there for years, will not be getting external traffic to your store but you will on your own website. I think people have to come to a decision about what their longterm goals are for their business and how much their willing to stake for it.

  13. i am currently selling digital scrapbooking supplies on etsy. i feel etsy is a good way to get started. i wasnt even sure if i would sell anything when i first started! atleast etsy got eyes on my product without too much effort from my side. all i had to do was constantly create more products.
    now that im more confident, i am planning to start my own website too. honestly steve, you make it sound like i can! :) ive been thinking about it for a while, but now i am gonna jump in! though im not planning to shut my etsy store. i think i will keep both.

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