I have been running my Etsy shop for just over two years now, and it has been a real learning experience! When I look back to where I started, I am amazed I ever sold anything. After two years and with over 700 sales under my belt, I feel qualified to offer a little advice to the new seller just starting out.
I have spent a lot of time reading in the Etsy forums, taking new photographs, creating new products, and finally got to optimizing my Search Engine Optimization (SEO). That last bit is where most new Etsy sellers get stuck, and without good SEO you may very well end up disappointed with your Etsy experience.
So, what is SEO? On the Etsy platform, your tags and titles are how you get found. Etsy's search algorithm is very literal. Most new sellers will put in single words, as Etsy's prompt is "Shape, color, style, function." When I started out I entered things like "red," "soft," "warm." Single word tags are not useful for the search function, as they return too many results. Also, no one who wants to buy a cute hat searches for "warm."
Tags should be short phrases that a buyer might enter to find your item. Two or three words work best, but it can be tricky to find good phrases that fit with the 20 character limit for tags. I will also add that you may want to change your tags as the seasons change. My current hottest tag is "stocking stuffers" but obviously once January hits people won't be searching for that anymore. You only get 13 tags, so I will go back in after the holidays to change that tag to something else.
Essentially, instead of using a tag for "hat" or "necklace" think like a buyer and try "crochet shark hat" or "green beaded necklace." I also get a lot of hits for things like "gift for mom" or "new baby gift." I recently did a test search to see how my hats fared with the phrase "crochet baby hats" and after twenty pages or so I still hadn't found a single one of my listings. I went back to the Listing Manager to see what was going on, and realized not a single one of my listings had that exact phrases in the tags or titles. Silly me!
Now on to Titles. The newest advice I have seen is to copy your tags, exactly, into your title (or vice versa if you wrote your title first.) Personally I like to separate my search phrases with commas or dashes, which seems to work fine. You can cram more tags into your title if you leave out the spaces and commas, but it does tend to look all run together. Whatever method you use, make sure your strongest keyword phrase is first. That is likely all your potential customer will see when they are browsing on Etsy. I see a lot of very short titles on Etsy like "Baby Hat" and those listings are very unlikely to be seen by a potential customer. "Crochet baby hat, new baby gift, newborn photo prop, baby shower gift, baby girl hat" will give you many more chances to be found among the millions of competing listings. Your tags and titles matching increases your "relevance" which Etsy says is a factor in your placement in the search results.
It also helps to have many listings in your shop, with a variety of items. There are millions of items for sale on Etsy, and if your shop has three listings you are basically a tiny needle in a giant haystack. I gradually built up and once I got to 50 listings I started seeing daily sales. I have seen 100 listings as the magic number, but I am sure if varies by category. I am always interested to see how new listings fare, some are instant hits and some languish unloved and unsold for months. It only costs 20 cents to list a new item, so there is very little risk involved. A lot of sellers list four or five things with dark photos and no tags and then quit four months later when they don't sell anything. I know, because the first time I opened a shop that is exactly what happened! I am glad I gave it another go, and took the time to learn what I needed to learn to be successful.
And of course, good photos are absolutely key. Etsy is a visual marketplace, unlike a craft fair or store your buyer can't handle your items or feel the softness. Your photos need to come as close to the experience of holding your items as possible. Get a good close up. Take a photo of the front and the back. Bribe your children or friends to model for you. Use natural lighting and make your item shine! Your first photo should draw your potential customer in to get a better look. This is a never ending process, I am still photographing items every day, and over time have invested in backdrops and lighting and a very expensive camera, but it isn't necessary to have all that when you are just starting out.
I have done trades with photographers, where I gave a discount on items in exchange for photos, and it has been very profitable for me. Just make sure you don't give things away for free, and check out the photographer's portfolio before agreeing to a trade. An honest photographer will pay something for the item (mine agreed to a 50% discount). I have seen a number of sellers who sent away items for free and never got any photos, or got unusable and not professional photos in return.
Most of all, believe in yourself and your talents! It takes a lot of work to be a successful Etsy seller, but it is also very rewarding. I am so happy to be able to stay home with my children, while also contributing financially to our household.