There’s an interesting Pinterest and Etsy connection that I just can’t stop thinking about. Etsy and Pinterest make for a one-sided love story. Etsy's biggest champion is an utter failure at following through.

Pinterest is a visual "idea board" where images can link to other site's that have more details about recipes, products, and designs shown in the "pinned" photos.

Pinterest users often see their favorite pins pointing to an Etsy item. Pinterest’s emphasis on visual appeal and creative ideas makes it a good match for Etsy. In fact, almost no one is surprised when I point out that Pinterest is Etsy’s top referring social channel.*

It beats out Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. (Twitter barely makes a blip.) In fact, over the 3 month period that I tracked sessions (both new and return visitors) on Etsy, Pinterest brought more people than those 3 big channels combined.

( sessions measured from February 1, 2019 to May 1, 2019)

Knowing it’s the social king for Etsy, here’s where the surprise lands. Pinterest is also Etsy’s worst converting channel.

On average, Google (both organic searches and paid ads), Bing, email, and Etsy affiliates convert above a 1.5% rate. Pinterest limps in at 0.31%.

(Conversion rates measured from February 1, 2019 to May 1, 2019)

To be fair, the Russian site Yandex converts at a lower rate, and it’s within Etsy’s top 10 referring channels. But consider the bigger channels that push traffic to

When Etsy sends an email, those clicks convert better than a link from Pinterest does. When someone gets to Etsy by clicking a Google search result, they are 4 times more likely to buy than someone coming from Pinterest is.

Clicks from Pinterest to Etsy just fall into an empty pit.

I had customer behavior data for both Etsy and Pinterest, so I looked at the patterns from both directions.

Why does this happen to such an extreme?

The fact that Etsy gets more traffic from Pinterest than it does from Facebook or Twitter makes the case that this is a solid audience match. These visitors should be more qualified than others.

I think the answer lies in their searches.

What are people searching?

Search intent on Pinterest is different than search intent on Etsy.

Pinterest's searches help to prove its role as a discovery path. Searches for Etsy reinforce it as a destination for unique items.

Look at the two from the lens of the wedding industry. Using analytics from both sites, I’ve got a window into what customers search on Etsy and on Pinterest.

It makes sense that Etsy searches prioritize products higher. It’s a marketplace, afterall. Their top ten wedding searches include invitations, cake toppers, and guest books.

Pinterest search terms focus on ideas and examples. You can see searches for hairstyles and dresses dominating their wedding top ten--with “wedding dresses” (and dress) as the clear powerhouse.

Top ten "wedding" related searches for each site in early 2019

A few items overlap, but notice which ones don’t make the top ten in the other’s list (bold items). In fact, some Etsy strongholds don’t even make the Pinterest top 50:

  • cake topper (84)
  • gift (89)
  • guest book (54)

Google Analytics also includes a search refinement metric. It measures how often the user tries a new search immediately after getting results from their last search.

If search exit is seen as a type of bounce rate, I think of search refinement as the “uh, maybe try this” instead action. It's an attempt to get better results. In fairness, it could also be “ooh, show me more like this.”

Either way, this is a metric where we finally see a big shift between the two.

Metrics gathered from analytics measured February 1, 2019 to May 1, 2019

We can finally see what's happening on Pinterest's site. Their users are virtually shouting: “Give me more ideas!”

The structure of Pinterest sets it up to be high usage, but low sales conversions. It’s an idea machine with little required of a user.

Pinterest is aspirational.

It’s aspirational because it trains its users to think big with few boundaries.

Pinterest is the digital equivalent of tearing pages from a magazine to save for later. Only there’s less commitment. You can pin as many items as you’d like into as many “boards” or categories as you’d like.

Like that haircolor? Pin it.

Like that tile for your bathroom remodel? Pin it.

Like that city “Top 10 to do with kids in NYC” article? Pin it.

Are you planning a trip there? Doesn’t matter.

You don’t need any level of commitment before pinning an item. There are no limits to how many items you can pin. Nor are you incentivized to click through on each pin’s link. Even if you do click through, that doesn’t necessarily signal an intent to purchase.

For some, it’s a pre-shopping idea corral.

One last metric

Let’s recap where Pinterest stands as an Etsy referrer.

  1. Top social channel
  2. Worst converting channel

And now one more…

3.  Highest bounce rate

Channels listed left to right by order of referred sessions. Sessions and bounce rate data for measured from February 1, 2019 to May 1, 2019.

Is Pinterest a bad referrer all around?

I’m starting to wonder: maybe it’s not about why Pinterest isn’t good for Etsy. But is Pinterest a good referrer for anyone?

If we look at the top 50 searches on Pinterest, we can see dozens of visual-driven, instant-gratification requests:

  • Memes
  • Logo
  • Illustration
  • Nails
  • Short hairstyle for women

There are seasonal trends like “prom” and “Easter,” but  we don’t see a lot of shopping intent.

Top 50 search terms on Pinterest from February 1, 2019 to May 1, 2019

Even if we argue that searches like “wedding dresses,” “poster,” and “art” could ultimately lead to purchases, there aren’t many of them. I counted about 10 in the top 50 (italicized).

Each of these is a bit of a stretch. We don’t know the exact user intent, but patterns of the surrounding high-ranked terms give us a big clue.

Plus, none have the word “buy.”

I reconsidered when I noticed “bullet journals” in the top 5. That’s an actual item, but it’s also a trend built on aesthetic appeal of infinite layouts and design ideas.

I searched it on Pinterest, and the top results show me ideas of what to write and how to artistically enhance my journal. There’s not a particular type of “must have” journal to pin. Most of these are DIY ideas.

Even the suggestions that Pinterest gives me (shown in the buttons below the search) lean toward the visual aspect of bullet journals:

  • How to start
  • Ideas
  • Layout
  • Inspiration

Let’s zoom out and return to the full search list. I’m curious if there’s a dominant theme that shows up in the analytics.

Since “ideas” came strong in the wedding list and again in the bullet journal list, I stuck with it in hopes of digging up a bigger story.

Sure enough, Pinterest saw more than 4.5 million searches for “ideas”--and anything using that term--over a 3 month span. (“Wedding ideas” ranks 4th of all of these.) At 2.38% of items searched during that time, it’s a major theme.

That percentage might sound small, but Pinterest is diverse. In this same window, people used 652,085 different search terms. Of those, they used some form of “idea” in 15,493 of them. These numbers will be small. Anything over 5% would call for more than 32,000 similar terms for people to search on Pinterest.

Variations of “design” take the crown. People asked about some form of design more than 20,000 different ways. That made up 3.12% of all terms searched across the site. Those results tend to show concepts, inspiration, and even do-it-yourself pieces. The champion might sell products, but people are window shopping.

Love the Pinner, Hate the Bounce

That data convinces me that most people turn to Pinterest for ideas, and aren’t as close to buying mode as they are when starting with another channel.

Pinterest could fuel us to think bigger than what we had imagined. It’s encourages us to *want* things we never knew existed. Maybe it teaches future brides about hair vines--something they never would have thought to look for on another site.

Embrace your Pinterest referrals. Just don’t expect a lot in their carts.


My methodology: I used Nacho Analytics to track the analytics of and starting in February 2019. I removed PayPal from the list of referrals. This is the pesky fly for Analytics users as Google hasn’t found a clean way to exclude third party payment options from referrals.

*Update| A word about our access to the analytics and experiments shown here:

This original article ran in support of a marketing service called Nacho Analytics. At the time, we had access to behavioral data about how people interacted with websites, and we visualized it through the Google Analytics tool. All of that information has since been removed, and the service is no longer available.