How to build the search engine of your marketplace?

The huge success of service marketplaces over the last few years is hard to miss but what has led to it? When looking deeper into this service boom, user experience and, more specifically, the search user experience stands out as one of the main drivers of this success.

Building a good search user experience is not always easy and if you are wondering how to structure your marketplace’s search engine you are not alone. In this article we provide tips on how to build your marketplace’s search engine and we cover the main elements that will help your users find the services which they are looking for as easily and effortlessly as possible, even during the early stages when you don’t yet have many published listings.

Optimize your marketplace’s search engine 

Whether you are creating a minimum viable product (MVP) or developing a fully customized marketplace, designing the user search experience is a key element of your marketplace business model. You might offer the best services but if users cannot find them you will miss out on potential bookings. 

The main goal is to optimize your search engine by identifying best practices and adapting them to your own marketplace project. In order to achieve this goal, it is important to understand that a marketplace’s search includes different stages and elements such as location, keywords, categories and subcategories, filters, sorting and the actual display of the services. These need to be taken into account when selecting the software to build your marketplace, as it needs to provide you with the necessary flexibility to combine these elements to really fit your marketplace’s needs.

For instance, if you are interested in creating a marketplace like Airbnb, location will be the core of your search engine, as users will not necessarily start by looking for a specific type of accomodation but rather the options available in a specific city, country, zip code or even street. Furthermore, this type of search is ideally combined with a map which displays the results not only around the exact location but also near it.

Yet, as a general rule, the first thing that you need to carefully consider is how you are going to categorize the services offered in your marketplace. Categories and subcategories will group listings and guide your users through your marketplace, letting them know at glance which types of services they will be able to find.

How to categorize your marketplace’s services?

Categorization is usually structured by hierarchy with categories, subcategories, sub sub categories, etc. Although it is important to identify all the relevant (sub)categories, adding too many can end up hindering your business, especially if you are just starting out. 

You might be tempted to replicate the category structure of marketplaces like Airbnb, Upwork or Fiverr but remember that it has taken them years to get to where they are right now! If your users have to browse dozens of categories and subcategories they will struggle to identify how to find the services which they are looking for and they will probably leave your marketplace. This is even more so if you have categories with little to no services in them because your users will often end up with no results that match their search. So if you are just starting out or if you have a limited number of offerers and services, focus on the categories in which you are strongest and leave the other ones out. Later on, when your marketplace business grows you can adapt your categories and add new ones.

Pro tip: when designing your category structure try to put yourself in the shoes of your users. The categories which you have created need to be precise and clear enough for users to immediately identify which category they need to select to find their services.

Once you have defined your category structure, you have accomplished the first milestone to optimize your marketplace’s search engine. Let’s move on to the second one: search refinement.

How to identify which search filters to create? 

Even if users select the right service category or subcategory, once they reach the results page they might still find themselves among lots of results, most of which will probably not fit their needs. This is why it is important for you to define the right filters that will allow users to refine their search further and easily find what they are looking for.

Filters will have to be varied enough to address different characteristics of the services while also taking into account the categories previously selected. All the filters will not apply to all the categories and all the filters will not have the same structure either. Some will be complementary and some won’t be so it is important for you to really understand the type of services which will be offered in your marketplace. 

Yet, as we have previously seen for categories, be careful not to split your search results too much and leave only the filters that will actually add value to your search user experience. If you have a limited amount of listings, the combination of too many filters will lead to no results so start with just a few and then add them later if needed. When in doubt, talk to your offerers since they might provide valuable insights about their services and how to find them.

Once you have defined your search filters, try them out! Go through multiple different combinations and see which results you end up with. An optimized search engine will display search results that are highly relevant to the type of service which you intended to find.

Applying this to a real marketplace

Now that we have gone through the theory of how to build your marketplace’s search engine, let’s have a look at a real example of a boat rental marketplace. 

This marketplace focuses on renting boats and booking experiences so the best search combination for it is to mix geolocation with categories and subcategories. However, when going through the categories, two stand out: “electric motors” and “boat batteries”.

If the marketplace focuses on boat rental and experiences, is the category “boat batteries” really relevant? And what’s more, is it really clear which types of services I will find there?

Furthermore, when I continue looking at the categories, several seem quite similar. How will the results differ when I select “electric motors”, “electric boats” or “electric services”? As a user I will struggle to understand how to carry out my search so I will probably either select only one of them, therefore potentially missing out on relevant results, or select all of them, which might lead to too many results that I will have to browse through one by one. 

This user search experience has already been anything but smooth but I am a persistent user and I decide to select “electric motors” to see which results I find, only to end up with a “no results” message. This is the exact type of scenario which you need to avoid and as a marketplace owner you would need to rethink your search engine to combine or eliminate the categories that have no results or that provide no added value.

Conclusion 

While creating your marketplace, the importance of the search engine can be easily overlooked but keep in mind that it is just as important as your design, monetization strategy and every other element of your business’ roadmap. An optimized search engine that leads to a good user experience can have a big impact on the number of bookings completed in your marketplace and therefore your business’ revenue. Aim to minimize user frustration making finding specific services easy and almost effortless.

If you wish to learn more about how to create your marketplace and how to structure your search user experience, contact us and discuss your project with a Hatch expert. Our Hatch SaaS solution provides you with the personalized expert support you need to successfully launch your marketplace today.

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Eve from the Hatch team 01/07/2021


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