What’s the deal with variations?

A special guest post from Kara of A Cake to Remember!
A Cake to Remember makes cake decorations and supplies so that you can make your friends jealous of your decorating skills.


Every now and then a question about how listings are structured comes up. Is it better to have one listing with a lot of variations or separate listings with a single color?

The argument for the single listing is that when it sells, it will improve the listing’s quality rating on Etsy, which will improve its ranking in search results. (Assuming that it’s something that can be made and sold more than once.) If you have individual listings, you’ll be spreading out the sales and the listings won’t be impacted at the same rate a single listing would.

However, a single listing has an advantage that people don’t usually think about, and that’s the power of the listing photo.

I did a search for “green edible butterflies” on Etsy. A bunch of listings came up, and many of the photos weren’t green. I asked a few people if they would click on those photos if they were looking for green butterflies, and the answer was always “no, those aren’t green.”

What the potential customers didn’t know was that each of those listings had green as a variation. There’s no way to tell that from the listing photo itself, though, you have to click through, then click on the variations menu to see it. Etsy’s search might pick up on the variation colors in search results, but unless the customers know to check, they’ll look at a photo of a different colored item and skip it.

If leaving one listing up with color variations as the default isn’t a reliable way to be found for the specific colors you offer, what are you supposed to do? I did a little experiment that resulted in an increase in sales, so I plan on expanding it to other listings in my shop. It’s simply to eliminate the listings with multiple color variations and make separate listings for each color. Sounds simple, but I think it works for a couple of reasons.

First, having only one color per listing allows you to use the color attributes, which will give you an advantage in filtered searches. The attribute will also act as a tag, so you can use that space in your tags for another keyword if you want to.

Second, and most importantly, customers tend to scan photos when they’re shopping, and if they don’t see the color they want in your photo, they won’t click on it even if the listing shows up in search results. If someone’s searching for “green edible butterflies,” my listing might show up if Etsy’s search picks up the “green” in my variations or attributes. But if the photo that’s on the listing has the rainbow assortment, the customer isn’t likely to click on that photo. They wouldn’t know that there’s a green version of the butterflies unless they clicked and saw the variations to choose from.

It’s a different story if they see a photo of green butterflies, though. That fits into what they’re shopping for, and they’re more likely to click on an image that matches their search.

Another benefit of having separate listings for each color is that it simply gives you more listings, which will help populate your shop, which then gives you more chances to be found overall. The more listings you have, the more unique keywords you can use, which gives people more chances to discover your shop if they’re just browsing. Plus, it gives you more items to link to on social media sites like Pinterest.

I took one listing for the butterflies and made it into ten by eliminating variations, using the color attributes, and doing only one color per listing. That increased my opportunity to add more keywords and attract more shoppers. I also added a link to all of the other colors of that style of butterfly in each listing to allow them to find coordinating colors inside my shop. I only changed the first photo, so there were still photos of other colors in the set, but the main photo was the single color.

So did this work? Yes, yes it did. As I mentioned before, the photo on the original listing had a picture of the rainbow butterflies, and that color combination has always sold fairly steadily overall, but I didn’t sell very many of the other colors. When I separated the colors out, I started seeing other colors selling more often, and the rainbow assortment also started selling faster. Since “rainbow” is an available attribute color, I assume that people are finding it that way now.

Since I’ve only had about a 60-day time period to test this on, this is highly unscientific, but it’s still telling. Before dividing the listing up I sold about 3 colors of butterflies on average per month, and most of those were the rainbow ones in the photo. In the 60 days since I divided the listings up, I’ve sold 8 colors and tripled the number of sales overall. Having the photos for each color as the first one in the listing lets people see them instead of having to imagine what they look like, and I think that makes people more likely to purchase. (People are very bad at imagining what things look like.) I’ve also noticed an increase in the number of people who buy multiple colors in the same order, so the internal links seem to be working.

Another style of butterflies I changed doubled their sales, and I sold 6 times the number of individual colors that I did before separating them out.

If you think that your listings would benefit from this, try it out on one and see what happens to your sales and traffic. Having customers see the photo of the actual item plus the extra opportunities for being found in search seems to be a powerful combination. It can increase the visibility of your items and may result in more sales.

And if you’re worried that you can’t find the right color attribute for your color, choose the one that’s closest to it, and also put in a second color choice. Or do two listings with a different color that’s close to yours (blue and green for teal, for example.) As long as the actual color is in the title and tags you’ll be fine.


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8 thoughts on “What’s the deal with variations?”

  1. Awesome article! Thank you 🙂 What do you think about having different listings for each color but still adding color variations so that customers that click on a green butterfly see all color variations nevertheless?

    1. Hi, Antoniya, I actually tried that for a while, but I found it confusing because people would order from a listing of one color, but they’d choose a different one. I always felt like I had to double-check with them that they meant to do that, so it ended up being less effective than I thought it would be. I do know that there are people who set up listings like that, though, so if you’re less paranoid than I am it might work out for you.

    2. This might post twice…I did that as a trial for a while, but I found it to be too confusing and I wasn’t sure if people knew what they were ordering. I find it easier to just separate them all out.

  2. I have done exactly what the comment before me suggested and have had great results- I list as many of the variations as I can as individual listings, but I do include all available colors on each- it seems to be working wonderfully, and has significantly reduced the number of “can I get this in a different color” questions that I get:-)

  3. I am able to use two colors in one photo as my main photo and list both colors in the title. So far so good, but I do like the idea of keeping it simple with one color per listing. I wonder though how it will work for items that have size variations.

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