Etsy Ad Campaign Boasts Handmade Items When Many Are Made in Production Facilities

I’ve recently had the opportunity to see several Etsy ads on television. If you would like to see some Etsy TV spots, just watch the Magnolia Network and wait for a commercial break, it seems as though an Etsy ad runs in every break. Each ad billed Etsy as the place to go for ‘handmade’ one-of-a-kind products (strangely, none of the shops that produce the products in the advertisements were ever mentioned – essentially Etsy is using products from shops on their website to market “Etsy”. ). After watching these ads, I feel the need to write this blog posting.

Since Etsy went IPO, they have been on a steady pace to make the site much less about handmade and much more about selling mass produced foreign produced (outside of the USA) products. Although Etsy has been working overtime trying to push individual shops to the background and bring the “Etsy” brand to the forefront (as mentioned above by not even showing the name of the stores featured in their ad campaign), Etsy is responsible for this movement to inferior products. They have inspired the move by allowing “production partners” whereby a shop can have their ‘handmade’ items produced in a factory. According to the original announcement (several years ago) all a shop has to do is state in the listing that they have a production partner and name them. That has become a slippery slope. In my experience, most shops don’t bother to identify any production partner, much less identify who that partner is. Case in point, velvet ring boxes. At the time of this writing, of the dozens of shops selling velvet ring boxes, I could only positively identify two that actually make their boxes by hand, Weft and Whimsy ( and The Family Joolz ( Of those, Weft and Whimsy appears to have been on a ‘short break’ since 2020.

Even though the vast majority of velvet ring box ‘makers’ are using a ‘production partner’ in China, few, if any, actually identify the fact that their boxes are mass produced, not handmade. In most cases they outright claim that they are handmade. How do I know that these boxes are made in China? Well, a couple of tell tale signs. Several sellers on Etsy are so lazy, they don’t even take their own photographs (oddly another Etsy ‘requirement’ that is being ignored by the site – a shop must take all their own photos). Many photos are lifted directly from Alibaba or other sources. Actually, I have had my own photos (and product descriptions) stolen from my pages and used in other shop’s listings. Here are some examples, on Etsy, really creative, but, $13? Under the “Details” it says it is a handmade item. But, wait… . Uh oh, same photo! What a beautiful use of fur in the back… wait a sec… , again, same photo. In addition, the fabric used in these boxes is the same (and often no longer referred to as velvet). Nap, color, luster are all the same. It also seems as though several overseas production facilities are outright copying The Family Joolz innovations with respect to shape, ring slots and more.

When I started to realize that there were so many shops not adhering to the Etsy policies, I started looking around for additional examples. Often times I found multiple shops that have the exact same photos. Another red flag that they are just lifting those from the production source. I also found many shops selling products so inexpensively that there is no possible way they are being made by hand, especially in the US. Going back to the velvet ring box example, boxes that are $10 wouldn’t even cover an artisan’s material cost, let alone the time and effort that would have to go in to producing it. Never mind the Etsy fees, taxes and other expenses. No, cheap prices are either unsustainable or a mass production red flag.

As I looked further, I started to notice some of the larger shops, some that had been open less than a year or two and had thousands of sales. What kind of pace would an artist have to work at to fill (in some cases) tens of thousands of orders in that short time? The answer I repeatedly came up with was that they were not making the items by hand. They were buying them and reselling.

There is no doubt that there are hard working artisans on Etsy. The site, in an effort to maximize their bottom line, however, is strong arming those artisans out of the picture. It troubles me that Etsy has now turned back to an advertising campaign that trumpets Etsy’s products as handmade. They are most certainly not all handmade. Some are, many aren’t. It takes a lot of work on a buyer’s end to insure that you are purchasing from an actual handmade artisan.


Part 9 of 9 Conclusion

This has been a multi-week look at marketing your shop or site on the internet.  I have been trying to drive traffic to my site(s) for over 10 years and have used all of these methods at one time or another with varying degrees of success.

What I can say about many of these methods is that at one point or another, I believe they worked.  Some worked for a while and as internet tastes and practices changed, no longer brought in the traffic they once did.  Others have always worked.  Some are hit or miss.  In other words, they may work when you use them with a particular site (such as paying a site for advertising space), then not work on others.

The smart marketing campaign includes elements of all of the above.  I am a firm believer in not putting all of your eggs in one basket.  This is certainly true here.  No matter what avenues you choose to market your site, you can count on one thing, you will have to invest both time and money.

Part 8 of 9 : Search Engine Pay Per Click Services

Search Engine Optimization often works for a keyword or group of keywords that are closely related.  There may be, however, a whole category of words and phrases that your site doesn’t appear under when searched.  Remember that it is tough to be all things to all people.  You will inevitably have to decide on the most important words and phrases for SEO purposes and abandon many in favor of creating a page that displays high on certain search words.  That’s where pay per click services offered by most search engines come in.

Site owners can setup an account that allows you to specify certain keywords to display a link to your site when searched.  If a person clicks on your link and goes to your page, you agree to pay the specified amount.  Clearly this can add up fast.  Often clicks cost between $0.10 and $1.00 depending on the popularity.  You are, however, allowed to specify a budget in most cases.  Monthly charges can be as little as $30 on major search engines like Google.

In addition to displaying your ad when someone searches, sites like Google also sponsor ads right on privately operated web sites.  You can display an ad for your site on a web site that has related content.  When someone clicks on your advertisement, a portion of the click cost goes to Google.  A portion also goes to the site where the ad was shown.

Google and other search sites have (like Facebook) done a good job of displaying relevant advertising to perspective clients.  They also provide methods by which to track the clicks that actually purchase or take some action on your site.  So, you can more accurately evaluate what methods and sites are providing useful leads for you and adjust your advertising campaign accordingly.

Part 7 of 9 : Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

This is the granddaddy of them all.  This is the one internet marketing avenue everyone wishes and strives to achieve.  For those of you who don’t know what SEO is, basically, it is optimizing your web page so that when people search various search engines like Google and Yahoo, they get your site.

First thing you needs to understand is how a search engine finds your page and how it evaluates it.  There is nowhere near enough manpower for a human to come to every site Google lists and take a look to figure out what it is about.  So, a computer has to perform that task (the program is called a web crawler).

Now, contrary to popular belief, computers are stupid.  They are only as smart as the programming (or instructions) given to them.  So, they cannot take a look at your page and infer what it is about from the graphics or implications on the site.  Really the only way a computer program has to determine what is on your page is to collect links and text, figure out what appears most frequent and then display it when those words are entered in a search.

So, you can see that it is very important to have the correct words appearing on your web page in order to steer people to it when those words are typed into a search engine.  The truth is, all a search engine does is display pages that have words and phrases similar to the one you typed in.

Now, there are other criteria that a search site uses to determine which pages should be displayed first.  This includes the number of hits on your page (page rank or PR to Google), how many other sites are linked to your site and some other things.

The long and the short of it is that if you have an optimized page, that displays to people when they type in related keywords, you will start getting traffic to your site without working too hard (after the initial work to get it there) and without much cost (actually any cost).  That’s why this is the holy grail of internet marketing and why companies pay handsome sums to SEO professionals to get them to the top of search engine listings.

Part 6 of 9 : Social Media

The jury on the social media sites as a marketing tool is still up in the air.  Although I did talk about how well facebook allows you to target very specific demographics, when I refer to social media, I mean opening a ‘fan’ page and trying to get sales and exposure through it.  I am not talking about paying the social media network for exposure.

Although it is fun to post all of your newest creations, products or updates on what you are doing, I have found that few (if any) people that stop by my online shop care enough to like my page on facebook.  In addition, I have also found that very few of my followers on facebook take action when new items are posted for sale in the shop.

This may have to do with the fact that some people seem to ‘like’ just about anything on social media, it may stem from sites like facebook starting to filter the information that is presented to you based upon what you seem to have clicked on in the past and tossing the remainder away, or it could simply be that when asked, people will choose to like your page, but, aren’t really all that interested in the end.

For all the marketing I have done for my shop (which has a link to the facebook page) I can track 90% of the people who ‘like’ my shop back to less than 5 of my friends who encouraged them all to join.

Admittedly, I may not completely understand what to place on my social media page and therefore not be taking full advantage of it.  So, I reserve the right to change my opinion of social media and the benefits of having a business page.

Part 5 of 9 : Relentless Self Promotion

This method of advertising your site, I have found, is one of the cheapest and most effective, yet, extremely time consuming and you may not make friends with the sites you use to spread the word.

The world of the internet has many, many, many sites, blogs, message boards, social media sites and more.  Those sites have people viewing topics, posting and otherwise browsing.  If those people came across a comment, a blog, a posting or any mention of your web page, there is a chance that they may be compelled to visit.  If they like what they see, maybe they will turn into a customer.  So, if you continually contribute (by posting or commenting) to any of these sites that pertain (even remotely) to your business, it is likely that someone will eventually stop by and use your site.

As I mentioned, there are a couple of pitfalls to doing this.  The first one is that it takes a heroic effort (time wise) on your part to advertise this way.  I would estimate at least 4-5 hours per day just perusing blogs or message boards so that you can contribute something meaningful to the discussion and work in exposure to your web site.  The exposure part is the second pitfall.

Many site operators, bloggers, message forum moderators, etc., don’t like to see posts specifically designed to advertise a web site.  In fact, in most cases if you do something like that, the post will be deleted and your access to that place will be removed.  As mentioned, you will need to work your site name and URL into the conversation in a backhanded way that actually contributes to the conversation.  Including it in your signature (at the end of a post) or referencing it as part of the conversation (while on topic) are both great ways to insure that your web site appears to other people.  I would be very careful about including it in every post you make (if not in your signature file).

This method worked very well in the early days of the internet.  It has lost some of its effectiveness now because moderators have gotten wise to people hawking their site in the middle of their message forums.  People who come to the site to read postings don’t want to be accosted by ads every other message.  Please keep that in mind when trying to perfect this method of advertising your site.

Part 4 of 9 : Banner Exchange Networks

Banner exchange networks are networks of sites that display member site banners in exchange for having their banner displayed on other member sites.  These ‘networks’ are basically sites that say, ‘I will show yours if you show mine’.

Although these networks are typically free, they usually have ratios of 2:1 or worse.  That means that you have to show two banners on your site for every one of yours shown on another site.  That really isn’t all that big of a problem as long as you have traffic coming to your site.  If you don’t have any significant visits to your site, you aren’t going to save up enough credit to get your ads displayed on other sites.

It is difficult to track actions through these networks.  Often times site owners would have a difficult time ascertaining if they are getting any sales or action through banner exchange networks.  Although the network stats will tell you how many ‘clicks’ there were on your banner and how many times it was displayed on the network, many of these exchange networks won’t specifically allow you to target a group of sites that perform well for you.  They also won’t tell you which sites those are.  A lot of that is probably due to the fact that they are free.  You get what you pay for.

All in all banner exchange networks are a way to toss some advertising for your site out on the internet, but, don’t expect too much activity in return.  Plus, your site will then need to be cluttered up with advertisements.  Those advertisements often look and feel cheap.

Part 3 of 9 : Advertising on a Specific Web Site

Most (if not all) web sites are more than happy to take your money in exchange for placing an advertisement on their page.  There is no hard and fast rule about how much a site should charge for advertising.  It is completely up to the site.  It is your responsibility to determine if the price you are paying is economical.

Part of what would determine ‘economical’ is if you are reaching your target audience.  If you are paying to reach a group of people that are not in your target audience, you may be wasting valuable advertising dollars.  Even if your target audience is a subset of the group you are reaching, you are still likely paying for exposures that are not helping you sell products or drive people to your site.

Sites with highly configurable controls on who your ads are exposed to and who can identify those people are in high demand for advertisers.  Keep in mind that for the most part a person can be anonymous online if they so choose.  Someone who doesn’t want people to know they are a male could take on a persona of a female.  This doesn’t just apply to chat room stalkers.  Many people are very concerned about their internet anonymity.

One site that has a pretty good idea of the demographics of their users is Facebook.  Facebook is actually a very good place to advertise.  Since the point of the site is to connect people with others that they know, much of the information is typically truthful.  As an advertiser you can therefore accurately target a subsection of the population.  In fact, since Facebook gathers information on people’s ‘likes’ you should even be able to target people who ‘like’ things similar to your site.  Of course the large population size on Facebook combined with the accurate and specific targeting methods is certain to cost money.  There are many sites that don’t have that kind of control or volume that may be much less expensive.

Advertising on specific web sites is something that will take some trial and error.  You will have to test out a site for a week or a month to see what kind of increased volume you get and how that translates into sales.

Part 2 of 9 : Target Audience

The most important thing when spending time or money on advertising your site is that you know who you want to advertise to.  Are you looking to reach women aged 18-35?  Are you trying to market to kids, aged 8-14?  Do you want to show ads to people who live in Atlanta, GA, own a home and make more than $100,000 per year?  The more specific you can be about your target audience, the more bang you can get for your advertising dollar (or your time).

So, the question is, how do you know who you want to reach?  There is no simple answer.  Much of the time you can get an idea by who has purchased things in the past, who stops by your booth at a craft fair or who you feel would benefit most from your product, page or service.  In addition, you can do research or even take survey’s.

Let’s say you are running a web site that evaluates restaurants in your area, posts a menu, reviews and offers a phone number or makes online reservations.  You are going to want to reach people that eat out.  That would likely mean fairly affluent individuals.  You also wouldn’t want to waste time with children as they don’t typically make buying decisions on what restaurant you are going to go to.  In doing some research, you find that 72% of the dining decisions are made by the female of the family.  So, now you can reduce the size of your target audience further.

Once you have determined what segment of a population you wish to reach, you can start to shop for places to advertise online.