Paul Barchilon’s top selling Lotus Bloom Incense Burner on Etsy. Tags for this item include: Home & Living, Spirituality & Religion, Meditation, Islamic art, Sacred Geometry, Morocco, Moroccan Incense Burner, Buddhist Meditation, Japanese Incense, Zen, Incense Holder, Paul Barchilon, Bohemian, Emerald Green, and Heart Chakra.

Like many potters, I had been hearing about Etsy (a peer-to-peer e-commerce website focused on handmade items) from a number of artists and decided to give it a try. My initial experiment was dismal. I had exactly zero sales for months. I was about to give up and close my account when it occurred to me to try searching for some of my items. My coasters are super popular at craft fairs, but I hadn’t sold any online. So I typed in the search term “Moroccan Coasters” on Etsy. A whole bunch of items came up, but mine was nowhere to be found. At first I rationalized that these must all be people who have been on Etsy forever, but learned differently after taking a closer look. One of the first items listed on the page was from a woman who was using a heat-transfer process on travertine tiles to copy commercial images. So I looked at her shop stats. To my immense surprise, she had started her Etsy shop a month or two after mine had launched. While I had a total of four sales in six months, she had 40. I sent her a private message through Etsy, complimenting her on her work, and her success, and asking if she had any advice for me. She responded with an incredibly detailed list of suggestions, and even offered to look at my listings for me if I wanted. I took her advice, and my sales literally went through the roof! I have now come to understand that you need to invest a fair amount of time and thought into making your shop a success. The effort is completely worth it, and will definitely pay off if you take similar actions. Etsy takes only 3% of a sale, and charges just 20 cents to list an item. My Etsy account has become so successful that I have actually stopped doing craft fairs and retail altogether.

Lesson #1: Tags

The first and most important thing about Etsy is to understand that how you title your piece (A), and what tags you attach to it (B), will determine whether or not it ever sells. Each item is allowed 13 descriptive tags of up to 20 characters, and a title of up to 140 characters. To understand tags, you need to think like a buyer, and you need to use tags that people actually search for.

To get started, ask some of your friends to describe your items for you. Think about the function of an item as well as the places where it could be used. If it’s a non-functional item, think about ways of describing it that someone might look for. Now try searching for some of these tags, and see what comes up. Search for a general term such as “coasters” and you will get a page with all the top images for that term—there are over 158,000 results for this one. This is too broad a search, and your item will never get to page one for this search term unless you are doing a huge amount of business. The top listed item has 1083 items in their shop, and over 5000 sales. You’re obviously not going to be able to compete with that, but the problem is not your work, it’s your tags. “Coaster” is too generic, lets refine it a little. How about “Ceramic Coasters.” This pulls up 23,496 results—still a big field, but one we can compete in. Note: The top 3 or 4 items on a page are labeled as ads. Ignore these. You want to get to page one on the strength of your search terms, not because you’re paying to get there (although paying for an occasional ad might help if needed).

On the Ceramic Coasters page, look at the first several items, then click through to those maker’s shops to see how successful they are. Some people are on page one temporarily, because they just listed an item, and Etsy is trying to help them get started. You need to look at the permanent residents on the page if you want to learn how to improve. How can you tell the difference? Simple, just click on the item and look at two things: 1) how many items they have in their shop (C), and 2) how many reviews they have (D). If both numbers are low, this isn’t a shop to emulate.

Lesson #2: Titles

If you look at the titles on the shops items, you’ll notice they include many of these same phrases as the tags (see A). Remember how we got down to 23,496 results by refining the search? This seller has done several different refined searches, and included the relevant phrases for all of them as tags. This lets us know we can use some of these same tags successfully. Tile coasters, ceramic coasters, turquoise coasters, etc. Using phrases like this, we can get our items to page one. If people can find your item, they can buy it!

To be successful, you’ll need to invest time in searching for items, analyzing the results, and comparing what you’re doing to what a successful seller is doing. If you find an item that is similar to yours, you can actually copy most of the tags. Once you’ve started making these changes, you need to search (F) for your own work regularly and see where you show up. If you aren’t on the top ten pages for a search, no one will ever find you. If you show up on page 7, good, you’re moving in the right direction! Keep working on tags, and as you have more sales, more reviews, and more favorites, you will climb those pages. Etsy’s algorithm pays attention to success. The more you sell, the higher your items will appear in search results.

Lesson #3: Cross Promotion

Another way to get the ball rolling is by promoting yourself (G). Post a picture of a new item on Facebook or Instagram, with a link to your Etsy shop. One of your friends may buy it. As soon as that happens, you should renew the item!

Lesson #4: Recycling

Recycling your listings is the other big key to success: views, favorites, and purchases are all cumulative on items, and are inherited if you renew the same item. It doesn’t have to actually be the same, because you can edit the photos, the description, and the tags for an item, and it will still inherit all the properties. The higher the stats on an item are, the higher it will list in search results. You also get a temporary boost to all your listings when you list or renew an item, so do a mix of new and renewed items.

Try searching for Incense Burner on Etsy. My Lotus Bloom Incense Burner will be right there, within the top three items, and often number one. Click on it and you can see it has 13,406 views, 4369 favorites, and 150 treasury lists. These numbers were taken when I wrote this article, by the time you read it, they will be even higher. I have renewed this item in different colors and styles when I have run out of them before, and it still lists right there at the top.

Lesson #5: List Often

Don’t list everything you have at once, but list something daily, or every few days, to maximize the boost Etsy gives for adding listings frequently.

You can’t see how many times an item has sold, but if you click on a shop, and click on Number of Sales (right under the shop title on its home page), you can get an idea of how often something is selling. Sellers can look at their own stats. I have sold my green incense burner 152 times as of December 2016. Add in the other variations in color and shape, which I list separately, and I have sold 447 incense burners in the past 3 years, over $8000 dollars worth. This is the power of page one, spend some time getting here for multiple items and you will be very glad you did.

My incense burner is my best seller by far, but I also have page one listings in many other categories including Decorative Tiles, Hand Painted Tiles, Kitchen Tiles, Moroccan Coasters, Ceramic Coasters, and several others. Etsy wants to help you succeed, check out their Seller Handbook for great tips and advice on all aspects of the process. It’s linked at the bottom of every page on the site, along with links to their forum and other helpful info.

Paul Barchilon is an artist and teacher in Boulder, Colorado. He is fascinated with the mysteries of the circle, and was seduced by the magic of fire and earth at a young age. Visit his Etsy page at

Subscriber Extras: Archive Article and Images

Click here to read Die-Cut Stencils by Paul Barchilon, which was in the March/April 2011 Pottery Making Illustrated

Hand Painted Moroccan Tiles, cone 04 white earthenware with commercial slips. This ten dollar item has attracted tons of hits, and two different commissions, totaling over $1,500.
Topics: Ceramic Artists