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Small business owners have been lied to about chances of success

Updated: Mar 18

And I'm mad about it.

I've always hated marketing. I remember learning at school that you can make a career manipulating people into buying things they don't need, and I've been angry about that ever since. It could just be pathological demand avoidance, but I don't want to be tricked into buying anything and I don't want to deceive anyone else either. This has unfortunately made it very hard for me to market my own products.

We live in a world where adverts are all around us - they're on billboards, in magazines, interspersed in tv shows and youtube videos, on buses and trains, and now they're all over social media too. We even have the ability to make our own ads now by paying marketplaces and social media companies to boost our posts. As a result of this (and the fact that google is an unending pit of search results), the success of small business owners lies in the hands of these internet giants. Let's not beat around the bush here, Etsy has become a cesspool of dropshippers and scammers. A marketplace that was meant to be for handmade goods and vintage pieces, it's now a sea of repeated listings, stolen art and no quality control (but that's a rant for another day). With over 7 million sellers it's almost impossible to be seen in the crowd, so they offer us ads. We can pay a small amount to get our listings boosted and promise us that we'll only pay when someone clicks on a sponsored listing, but does that mean we'll actually make a sale? No. I tried Etsy ads earlier this year to see how successful they would be. I had the campaign turned on for 76 days at $1 a day and it tells me I made $132.72 from this. This would be alright, if I hadn't spent $76 on the ads. With a conversion rate of only 1%, it's safe to say I won't be doing that again.

So I'm once again at the mercy of the Etsy rankings. When it comes to where your listing sits in the search results, I've come to the conclusion that it's completely random and there's no way to predict or influence how high a listing will sit without paying for ads. Our products have seen the highs and lows of this random system and I can safely say I have no idea how to make a listing successful. Etsy SEO experts will tell you it's all about key words or having the right images or using videos, but in reality, none of that means shit. We have had two very successful listings in the last 3 years - RAVEN Collar Pins and OMI Hoop Earrings. OMI is now inactive but the RAVEN Collar Pins bring us the majority of our sales. It's the first non-sponsored item for the search terms 'collar pins' and 'collar chains', which is pretty much the ideal situation as these are very generic phrases. There's over 21,000 listing results for each of these phrases but I couldn't tell you why this item is at the top! The picture isn't even that great and the description is shorter than Etsy suggests, but it drives most of the traffic to our store. I remember the exact day we started to get loads of orders for these pins and it actually freaked me out a bit because I had no idea why they were getting so much attention. I'm still scared to make any changes to the listing just in case it falls down the rankings! But despite having the most success you can have with an item, I'm not able to replicate it with any of our other listings. I've tried changing the pictures, tags and titles, uploading videos, adding alt text and nothing seems to work. So what about these people who say they know how to make listings successful?

Instagram and TikTok are full of 'experts' who will try to convince you they know how to 'hack the system' and your spam inbox will likely be full of the same. The message from all of these experts is generally the same - "we know the secret to boosting your visibility". While they may know more than the average person, that doesn't mean their advice will always work. We've been fed clickbait media for years (thanks Buzzfeed 🙄) so they'll try and get you hooked with bold claims, while failing to mention that a large portion of success on these platforms is due to chance and doing the things they preach about may only increase your chances of being seen. Some will even get you to pay for this golden advice, whether it's through a Patreon or hiring them as a coach, but is it actually worth it? I've been marketing BTD on instagram for over 3 years and I couldn't tell you what the secret is to a successful post. I've tried hashtags, posting at specific times of the day, using trending audios, making our grid look appealing, jumping on trends, doing educational bits, using key words in alt text, posting stories every day; you name it I've tried it, and I can definitively say that there is no pattern to success on social media. We went from having over 250k views on a reel to having less than 100 people see our posts, despite having more followers and the quality of our content improving. So don't beat yourself up if you try everything the experts say and it doesn't work. We're at the mercy of those who own the internet and they made changes on a whim without telling anyone. These experts are mostly just people who follow trends and only see the successes, all the while making us believe that they know what's going on behind the scenes. Just like the stock market, it's not an exact science and it can change in an instance.

So what do we do if we don't want to pay for ads and the advice from social media and e-commerce 'experts' doesn't work? I have no idea. The only thing I do know is that the more we pay the companies that own these online spaces, the more incentive they'll have to keep charging us. Money is power and there's power in numbers. Maybe if we all stopped buying into a system that's actively trying to suppress us, they might have to change their ways.

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