This is the first in a series of blog posts designed to teach you everything you need to know about launching and running a successful apps marketplace.

The searchability of your apps marketplace can make or break your user experience.

Picture it: you’ve set up a brand new, cutting-edge apps marketplace, and packed it full to the brim with your partners’ apps, tools, and tech. The payment gateway is secure, the branding is on point, and you’ve even created pre-bundled offers that give your customers neat packages of integrated apps in one go.

All of that will count for exactly nothing if your customers can’t find the apps or tools they’re looking for in the first place. If customers find your navigation structure confusing, can’t find the search bar, don’t understand your filtering system, or keep coming up with “no search results”, they’re not going to stick around long enough to make a purchase.

Here’s how to set up your apps marketplace to make it easy for customers to browse, filter, and find the tech they need.

1. Make your search bar easy to spot.

Let’s start with something easy: the search bar. Jonathan Ellins recommends placing the search bar at the top of the page as this is where most marketplace users instinctively look for it. He goes on to recommend using auto-complete functionality that shows search suggestions as users type to make searching even faster.

That’s not all: remember that modern B2B buyers often browse marketplaces via tablet or smartphone devices. For this reason, Ellins says it’s important to make the search button big enough to hit with a clumsy finger tap on a small screen. In addition, make it even easier for smartphone users by setting the ‘search’ button to display in the user’s on-screen keyboard.

2. Use filters strategically to help customers narrow down search results.

Sharetribe CEO Juho Makkonen says that most marketplace visitors will kick off their app search in one of two ways: either by typing a query into a search bar or clicking on a product category. Both types of users then go on to refine their search by using filters, and how your apps marketplace filtering system is set up has a big impact on whether users end up clicking ‘buy now’ or ditching your marketplace for one with more relevant results.

According to research from the Baymard Institute, only 16% of major e-commerce websites offer a reasonably good filtering experience. “The great part about filters is that they can be used to classify your products in various ways,” says Makkonen. For example, Morphed’s filtering system allows you to dynamically display a filter set based on topic, use case, provider, or category. Filters are also stored in a user’s session, making it easy for them to return to the directory listing with the original results set.

That said, Makkonen cautions against adding too many filters. “Every time you are considering adding a new filter, ask yourself: “Does this really improve the usability of my site?” If you add too many filters, your site easily becomes crowded, and your customers will have a hard time finding the filter they are looking for.” Another problem with providing too many filters, especially for smaller apps marketplaces, is that applying too many filters to a search might yield a “no search results” message. That’s why it’s a good idea to start with only a few key filters, and only add new options if the need is truly warranted.

3. Use categories to help customers discover the tools available in your apps marketplace.

When a customer isn’t sure which tool they need or don’t know which provider they prefer, help them browse your marketplace effectively by prompting them with a set of categories to choose from. We recommend categorizing solutions by use cases or topics. This way, customers are able to identify with a pain point or use case, and then explore the apps and providers listed beneath that particular category.

Echoing his earlier advice around using too many filters, Makkonen warns against providing too many categories or designing complex category structures, as browsing reams of options can be tedious. How many categories your apps marketplace needs depends entirely on the selection of providers and apps on offer. “A good rule of thumb is that no category should be empty when you launch,” adds Makkonen. “If you do not have enough supply for 100 subcategories, consider only having 5-6 top-level categories and no subcategories.”

4. Leverage your CRM data to customize the user experience.

Personalization is a great way to streamline a known contact’s search process, so think about creating customized workflows based on your CRM customer data. When a contact lands on your marketplace, use data to serve suggestions or recommendations of relevant partners or solutions. Base these recommendations on the customer’s industry, business size, or previous purchases.

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