Introducing search Zones!
Even with an excellent map and property type search facility on the site, we want guests to be able to enter search terms they are familiar with and easily provide them with what they are likely looking to find.
Our solution to this challenge has been to add a sixth area definition to the site which we call Zones.
A user does not need to know about this for it to work, because it functions completely behind the scenes. (Just like they are unaware that what they type in the location search box brings up any possible search terms based on a Neighborhood, City, County, State or Country.)
The Zone designation for a property is one that we create based on our experience, and with input from our owners.
Not all properties need to have a Zone assigned. Their actual location names coincide exactly with a Guest’s expectations, so they are easily found in a property search based on location. But as we saw in the last article, the bigger the area, the less this becomes the case. This is where Zones come in. Don’t worry if this sounds complicated. It isn’t. A guest only interacts with a Zone when it pops up as a search term.
Each Zone is a phrase designed to catch the most common search words that a guest might type into the location search box. In the case of our example from the previous articles, the new Zone created for all properties in that area is Disney / Orlando / Kissimmee / Central Florida / Universal / Theme Parks .
In effect, what we have done is create a sixth location moniker that is based on search terms that a Guest is likely to use. They are like keywords used to tell search engines what a web page is about. They are also completely independent of a property’s mailing address or physical location, so we can place any property in any Zone we deem appropriate. We can assign a property to multiple Zones, so if we see a need for a different Zone as time goes on, we can create it and assign properties to it without affecting their existing Zone placements.
In this example, the zone will instantly show up as a search term when a guest simply types “d i s” or “u n i” or “o r l“. Any three or four letter part of the Zone will make it appear.
Another example of our new Zones is the huge number of communities in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, that are not part of Tampa, nor have a County name that a Guest might know. We have created for them a Zone called Tampa Bay / Clearwater / St. Petersburg / Bradenton / Sarasota / Central Florida Gulf Coast and simply typing any matching three or four letters within that zone reference will bring up it up as a search term. The search produces all of the properties in that area that we have, even if their address or physical location names don’t match any of those terms! When the Zone is selected and Search is clicked, the site will go to the half-map Advanced Search Page, with all of the properties showing up on the map, and in the list in the right column. The guest can then also select additional search parameters at the top of the page, such as number of bedrooms, pets, etc., and the map and list instantly update in response.
The great thing about these Zones is we can maintain a strict policy that properties must be shown on this site where they actually are (within limits of security needs), but they can easily be found by users who may not know or use any of the particulars of any of the previously available (five) search index terms!
Put it another way; the Guest doesn’t have to know anything about the local area to find a property, just know a common term for it and recognize the Zone is what they are looking for when they see it.
Let’s say a Guest wants to look for a place along the Atlantic Coast. All of the Zones on the Atlantic coast include the term ‘Atlantic’ so typing ‘a t l’ will bring up all of the zones with properties on the coast. The Guest can then select the one they are interested in.
A big bonus with our new feature has been that because the Zone moniker describes what a user is typically looking for in such a complete and compelling way, the tendency to click on it to use it as a search term has been nearly 100% in all of our tests! Users love it when they see the Zone pop up, because it tends to be exactly what they were looking for!
The tendency for users to click on and use the Zone is overwhelming, and the response when seeing the results it delivers borders on delight! (We love making users happy!)
The programming for this has been a huge task. It is custom work that none of the conventional mapping software and search systems incorporate into their design. They all presume that people will know enough detail about where they want to go and can search based on a name associated with the location. But people are human and we had to come up with a means of showing location based data for an inquiry that is actually NOT location based. People may type Disney World in a location search, but they actually don’t expect to stay within Disney World. They may type Orlando but not realize that they actually don’t want to stay in Orlando. These are attraction and area references that don’t actually form any part of the location information that exists within mapping databases! (Addresses don’t include what a location is near too, for example.) This demanded that we create a system for working with references a user may expect to input, and incorporate it into a location based search that produces satisfactory results. This was the humane approach. People may think that way, but computers don’t, and the task to bridge the two in a method that will work anywhere in the world has been difficult and complex.
This new feature, in addition to the existing map and location based search facilities we have on the site, will provide Guests and Owners with everything they could possibly need in order to find properties quickly and easily. Just as importantly, Guests will be able to trust that the locations presented are accurate, and owners will know that they are all being treated consistently and fairly, with everyone adhering to strict rules for listing properties exactly where they are.
Owners don’t have to be concerned about the ‘dangers’ of listing their property accurately, even if it is in an area unknown to Guests, because the Zone ensures they will be found!
Owners can help us (and more importantly, themselves) by ensuring that the location information in their listing is correct. Some owners have been trying to trick this site to show results for their properties by using inappropriate (That’s generous. Let’s say wrong!) location names in the Address, City, County, or State fields. (We are aware of some owners even sharing this ‘information’ amongst themselves supposedly trying to help each other. This is not a help at all! Wrong place names in the wrong fields destroy the search functions on the site for everyone! No properties can be found, it wastes hours of our time fixing incorrect listings, and it victimizes owners who do properly list their properties!) For these reasons, this type of activity can’t be tolerated, and repeat offenders will have their properties removed from the site if necessary. We’re sorry to sound so negative here, but this is an important issue that needed to be specifically addressed!
In closing, we are very appreciative of the many owners who have been patient and supportive of us as we have worked on this new search feature. We have devoted all of our resources to it recently which means that some other issues that we wanted to be working on have had to wait.
We are very proud of the introduction of this solution on our site for a couple of reasons. First, it will greatly help owners to be found by guests searching on the site. Second, it demonstrates our serious commitment to improving the site and our Owner’s and Guest’s experience with it. There will be many other additional improvements added throughout the coming months and years. We pay very close attention to the feedback we receive from owners, and we will do everything we can to supply what best serves their needs.
From us here at UnitedVacation.Rentals, we thank all of our Owners for joining us on the site.
There is some more very important additional search information about this site to be released soon. Stay tuned! Owners are going to love it!
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