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.