Look at any marketplace these days and you will find they all share one thing in common: the search engine. It is apparent the reason why many marketplaces have it on their interface; an effective search engine can enhance the user experience greatly.
Research shows that 44% of online shoppers begin shopping by using the search engine. It just goes to show how significant of a role the search engine plays in ensuring the transaction gets through on your marketplace.
We will now pore over a few essential features to consider as you build an effective search engine:
An effective search engine
If there is anything you should aim for in user experience, an effective search engine is certainly it. Typically, many marketplaces provide search functions via keywords and location. Behind this seemingly simple and intuitive process of sieving through information, there needs to be a strategic plan in order to maximise sales.
Think about how you abandoned an entire marketplace because of the hassle you faced when filtering tons of information, only to be brought to a page where “no results can be found”. To prevent that, one needs to be well-versed in the technicality of advanced algorithms to predict what your users want or mean when they type in certain keywords.
If that is too complex for you, then two of the most conventional ways of searching — keywords and location — can do pretty much the same.
A search engine is effective only if it churns out results relevant to the customers. Based on what is typed into the search bar, products with keywords in its title or name should be shown first. It is useful to have an autocompletion feature or to return results that are not exactly the same as the keywords for a more comprehensive search. An instance would be when you search for “bag” but “handbag” is included in the results too. However, it can have a negative impact on the user experience when the predictions are inaccurate.
Knowing the common and popular keywords your customers use can boost your sales. It gives you cues as to what type of product offerings to focus on, or what type of keywords will help to get more hits and business for your sellers.
Usually, the search for locations at which products and services are sold is based on postal codes, country, city, and the likes. While search results pertaining to locations do appear literally, maps do a better job as it is more visual that way. Besides that, location results should also be sorted in terms of their proximity and relevance, within a certain radius of the customer.
A composite of location and keyword search can be employed, especially when your marketplace involves searching for information on addresses and products. It makes for a much more optimised search as you get to your desired listing in one go.
Seamless categorisation to set the tone of your website
Depending on the characteristics of your customers, a search function may not always be ideal. Some customers take pleasure in digging through lists after lists of products as they want to be as exhaustive as possible in browsing through the available range.
If that is the tone you want to set for your site, you can take a leaf out of Craigslist’s book. They are infamous for an endless list of categories, which is good news for customers who like to be thorough in their searches. However, the categorisation has to be seamless, otherwise users will meet with roadblocks as they look for their desired listing.
Hierarchical category structure
One way to make navigation easier lies in using a hierarchical category structure. While it does narrow down the results, young marketplaces have to be more prudent in using this. As nascent marketplaces emulate the more established online sites in this aspect, it magnifies their shortcomings instead.
In spite of the order that categorisation brings to the search experience, empty categories could underscore their lack of supply as they are still in the midst of growing their supply base. That should not be the way to go when you first launch your marketplace. There is also simply no need to pigeonhole the already niched categories and subcategories. Would it make sense to you if Grab makes sub-sub categories of the types of vehicles used to transport their passengers?
So search or categories?
Choosing either one depends largely on the behaviour of consumers you are targeting. If your marketplace deals specifically with customers who are very clear about what they want, search takes precedence over categorisation. On the other hand, categorisation is better for burgeoning marketplaces still in the midst of growing their supply base. This prevents potential customers from being put off when they see that no search results can be obtained.
Depending which is more instrumental for your marketplace, boost the visibility of searches relative to categories. You can position the search bar in a highly prominent area, where customers are hard-pressed to miss. Faceted search with filters also makes the customer’s search experience a breeze, especially with vertical marketplaces, which brings us to our next point.
Ensure that filtering, sorting and displaying results are working well
Searching for a specific product is far easier with filtering options. In fact, a huge part of faceted search revolves around that. A technique that sieves through a colossal amount of information via various specific filters, faceted search streamlines browsing after picking out listings that best meet your selection criteria.
As intuitive as this specific search function is, you’d be surprised to know only a handful of major e-commerce sites and marketplaces have it. If the products or services on your marketplaces can be dissected into various categories and subcategories, faceted search will make for a wonderful user experience on your marketplace. Etsy, one of the most successful handicraft marketplace to date, can be used as a reference.
Before you go adding categories each time a new product or service type comes up, you need to know if the additional filter will add value. In essence, one should avoid having too many categories as the effectiveness of faceted search diminishes, with less relevant results from excess filters.
How is sorting different from filtering? In reality, we are filtering by sorting many times. Think about the times you filtered through a multitude of products with a sorting range on prices. The lines are indeed pretty blurred as you often see these two features used alongside each other.
However, price sorting does not necessarily work well for all marketplaces. The best ways to sort actually depends on the traits of customers you are targeting and the very nature of your marketplace.
We usually see marketplace offerings being presented in either a list or a map, sometimes even both if need be.
A list is standardised and easy to browse through. If your marketplace offerings are not easily captured in photographs, use something like a company logo instead of using just words. Also, keep the words alongside your product short and sweet, with the most salient points easily understood at one glance.
Pagination is one way in which browsing can occur on your marketplace, but it places a limit on the number of offerings shown on a page. The customer would have to click on the next page to view more of the offerings. It is less intuitive and not that convenient as compared to infinite scroll, where more product offerings are loaded automatically. In addition, a “load more” button can be clicked on to load more results.
Map is by far the best way to show a physical location, especially in relation to the larger vicinity or other related locations. Allowing location search to refresh on the map as the user hovers around is important too, as it makes search experience instantaneous. It would be ideal if the corresponding list of information gets updated at the same time and vice versa.
Being equipped with the knowledge of how users on your marketplace conduct a search can be really beneficial as you plan ways to optimise their search experience. Start learning about the various search functions and decide which works best with your marketplace today.