How to Make Money on Etsy: Avoid These Five Mistakes

Reading time: 8 minutes

Want to know how to make money on Etsy? I’m Pam Duthie, and I’ve been an Etsy seller for over 12 years. On my YouTube channel, I have videos about how to grow your Etsy shop – and to save you making the mistakes I made. So, especially if you’ve got a new or small shop, read on. Today, let’s talk about five mistakes that waste your time, money, and keep your sales low. Let’s get that gold stacking up!

Photo of a little wood house, gold coins stacking up beside it, and little growing green plants like eRank's logo

Keyword research must be the most overlooked requirement for making money on Etsy. If you neglect keyword research, you’re wasting your time and not making the sales you could be. And if you also pay for ads, poor keywords actually cost you money for nothing. (More about that in a bit.)

Let’s begin with a definition. Keywords are the search terms that shoppers type into Etsy’s search bar to find what they want to buy.

“The right keywords are key to selling your stuff online.”

Why? Because if people shopping for your product can’t find it, then no matter how amazing, it won’t sell. And you need to do keyword research to be sure you choose the right keywords.

Mistake number one: not thinking like a buyer

Believe me, I was there, I did that as well! With me, it was my needle-felted sculptures. Back when I started needle felting, nobody knew what a felted sculpture was. So it didn’t matter how high I placed in search (“ranked”) for the keyword “needle felted sculpture.” Because the only people entering that keyword in Etsy search were other needle felters. Eventually I learned I had to think more along the following lines. “What does a buyer want when they don’t know about this method, but they’re going to love my item when they see it?” How about “personalized dog sculpture”?

I had to think differently about how I title and tag. Let’s say you make beadwoven jewelry. It sells well at your in-person shows. People are packed three-deep around your booth. But you list it on Etsy, and you get crickets. Hmmm. I did a quick check just now. I typed “beadwoven” into Keyword Explorer. Guess what I got? No search volume, no clicks, no click through rate. But 8,112 competition. Just like my needle felting used to be. Some buyers don’t know what your technique is called in your industry. And some buyers don’t care what method you used to make it.

What about the materials it’s made of? They might care whether it’s made of wool or acrylic. They might know they want silver not gold. Going much beyond that though? That’s another keyword mistake we makers make. The majority of Etsy buyers don’t know or care what your stones are. They are more likely to want a certain color to match a favorite dress. They may know they want something dainty. Maybe boho. Or floral. Or they’re looking for a gift with May’s birthstone. But they don’t care whether it’s Columbian or Zambian, natural or dyed.

That’s not to say that you don’t include what carat gold it is, or that your wool is ethically sourced. But unless “ethically sourced” or “14K gold filled” shows good search volume and click rates, it shouldn’t be your superstar. That is, it shouldn’t lead your title or be your main focus. For that, you need to do keyword research to discover what people are searching for.

Mistake number two: your keywords have too much competition

If you type “ring” into Etsy’s search bar, the results are a right mess. You might get craft supply jump rings; curtain rings; even Ring doorbell stuff. Even if you filter for jewelry. You get nose rings, toe rings, even earrings! Filter for men’s or women’s and for fingers. Still, there are so many different types and styles, the chances of me spotting what I want mixed in there is nil. So even if you worked your backside off to rank for something like “ring” or “gift for her”? Making the front page won’t help you. Because shoppers who use these “broad” keywords tend not to have decided yet what they want to buy.

But all that was purely hypothetical. Because ranking on Etsy for broad keywords like “ring” and “gift for her” for 99% of us is impossible. By trying you’d be wasting your time. And your title’s precious real estate. And your limited tag space. For nothing. Or even worse than nothing if you’re running ads and you get shown for “gift for her” to customers shopping for leather handbags. Because they might click out of curiosity, then go back to handbags. You’ll still pay for that click.

Mistake number three: you’re being too specific

Conversely, is your keyword too specific? We touched upon this when we talked about methods. What if you’ve made that wonderful bronze and opal steampunk engagement ring? Apart from me, there will be very, very few people using that search term. It’s so niche, maybe only two people a year. So if only two people a year are searching for that item, then you’re not likely to make very many more sales than two. Instead, consider leading your title with “opal engagement ring” rather than focusing on the whole keyword in one chunk. Of course, those long tail keywords can be broken into shorter keywords, so that’s not quite such a bad thing. And you do want to make sure your keyword is descriptive of your item. Just don’t lead with something that nobody’s searching for, other than maybe me and one or two others.

Mistake number four: trying to get listings perfect

To paraphrase Shakespeare, Voltaire and Churchill: Perfection is the enemy of progress. The archfoe of Just . Getting . It . Done! Especially given how quickly trends change and keywords churn! So many of you are spending too long trying to get listings perfect. I hear from people who are researching keywords many hours every single day of the week. And they take weeks and weeks to list just one item. Because they want to make sure that all 13 of their tags are absolutely perfect.

My fellow sellers, I say unto you. The perfect thing to do here is to aim for “good enough.” First, figure out a couple of promising keywords for your title. Throw in whatever tags you can think of. Don’t focus on them too much! Then get your listing listed. Because if your listing isn’t listed, I’m 100% positive it cannot make any sales. For most sellers, not all 13 of their tags drive views and sales. That’s normal! Don’t fret about that.

Because here’s the perfect part. Once you get that listing up, imperfect as it is, you can start gathering that golden data. You can see what keywords might be working. You can look in your stats. Especially the marketing search analytics beta page. You’ll get to see what keywords you might be showing up for. Look all the way down through the search. There might be combinations of words you hadn’t thought of. And you can tweak these a bit and improve. So, rather than holding off and wasting all that time on striving, dive in there. Spend an hour. Even just 20 minutes! Do some keyword research; create your listing; post it just as-is. Then leave it for 30 days! After 30 days, get the stats, and then you will see what actually needs tweaking.

Mistake number five: doing keyword research backwards

It doesn’t matter whether you sell in vintage, supplies, or handmade. If you get your item first and then afterwards you start looking around for keywords to sell it? That’s backwards. And will work about as well as running backward in the Olympics, racing against competitors who are facing forward.

Everywhere, Etsy sellers are posting, “Here’s my beautiful thing. What keywords should I use?” What this tells me is they started with no plan, no target in mind. When they were making the item, they didn’t know who they were making it for. They didn’t even know if something like what they were making was popular. Whether it had a market at all.

Keyword research works like market research in this way. You find out what people are searching for. What they are wanting to buy. If you don’t research first, you might make piles of stuff before you stumble on something people want to buy. This can be ever so expensive and time-consuming that it can be disheartening. Having a mountain of inventory nobody’s buying can cause anyone to want to quit.

Instead, try this. Do your keyword research first. Find your inspiration there. Spot a gap in the market. A trend that’s just begun blowing up that nobody’s noticed yet. This way, at least you’re giving yourself a better chance. Because you already know that people are looking for the kind of thing you can make.

Now, obviously you don’t want to hare about, darting at everything you see. Like, “Oh, look! Bookmarks are trending up!” And then, “But wait, it’s slime!” and next it’s face masks, and oh, but hold on! It’s key rings! And a zillion other completely unrelated things.

Rather, during your keyword research look for what can fit into your niche. Let’s say you like making spiral earrings but find that nobody’s searching for those. Could you make another style of dangle earrings with similar supplies? They would cost about the same but save you making something no one wants just now. Conserve your time, money, and creative energy for what sells.

Please! Look before you leap! Confirm that people are looking for the type of thing you make before you make it. I promise you: this is the secret to how to make money on Etsy.

See you next time!

Photograph of author Pam Duthie

Pam Duthie

Etsy Coach


Here’s the video version of this article on my YouTube channel

And check out this video on how to use product research and keyword research to spot a hot product. It takes you step by step through from the beginning. If you’d rather read than watch a video, here’s the blog post version I did for eRank