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I'm looking at different ways to display search results in a directory where there are three levels of premium member.

The current way is to display the Gold, Silver, Bronze results first, in that order, and then the free ones last. The user cannot change the order by a-z or relevance or rating.

I'm wondering if anyone has any experience or thoughts on displaying banded results? Although Google paid results are often cited, this isn't really an option as there could be a lot of premium results on certain searches.

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You shouldn't just ask for examples of how other people do it - they may not do it particularly well. As this is a site of UX experts you should ask the direct question of how to do it. Bypass the middleman and we'll give you direct advice on what to do, rather than just listing loads of sites that may or may not do it particularly well. –  JonW Sep 11 '13 at 10:31
    
Oh sorry, I've only just come across this site. But it's good to have examples to back up your thoughts in a meeting sometimes. I shall edit my question. –  jenthomson Sep 11 '13 at 10:33
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Oh I'm not saying that examples are bad, just that they should support the answer itself, rather than just say 'company X does something' without any reasoning as to whether it's a good approach or not. After all, just because Company X do something that's not really going to help you, but what would help if if Company X did something that works well because.... –  JonW Sep 11 '13 at 10:37
    
I don't really understand what is being asked here. What is the problem with the current solution? What are the business goals and what you reckon the user goal is? –  Izhaki Sep 12 '13 at 0:36
    
Who is your customer? The advertiser or the searcher? They have conflicting interests. I'm inclined to believe "the advertiser" since you state that the searcher cannot sort for relevance. BTW, read up on the single reason why Google wiped out its established competition, and then rethink your plan to compete with Google. –  MSalters Sep 16 '13 at 8:00

2 Answers 2

My take is that the value of single dimension (i.e. linear result position alone) banded results for users and advertisers are severely limited and plateaued (or even decreased) as the number increased. In fact, for your case, inability to sort result is a huge drawback. Eventually your site are for advertisers as well as users.

The outcome of the UI should really depends what kind of business decisions are there. Nevertheless, as designers, you can influence the outcome of the design depending on how strict or flexible the business owner is.

For example for your case there are some unfurnished details which can aid you and business owner to formulate a more valuable banding. 1. is there limit on how many premium results are displayed at any one time (Google sets it at 3 on top) 2. Is the location of the results fixed or is there room for negotiation. 3. Is there some kind of others discriminants to decide which premium members of the same class belongs in the higher position

There are many more creative ways to deliver more valuable premium listings without sacrificing on usability. Some samples:

  1. Multiple premium location - top, left, in between normal result (not displayed in screenshot)
  2. Multiple level of premium - different shades and location
  3. Multiple type of items to be featured - seller and products
  4. Accessories - ribbon, color, pics, icons

enter image description here

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Thanks @Aditya, that's given me some food for thought. The problem is that there are unlimited numbers of premium profile who are paying to be first, second or third level in the results. The client is reluctant to strongly colour code them or to limit how many premium appear. I presented some results including subtle banners and additional featured profiles. –  jenthomson Sep 18 '13 at 9:41

The key to consider here is what is the user paying for. That should entirely drive this design decision. It looks like in your case, the search result status is one of the products you're selling and you should treat it like a product in its own right, not merely a design element of a larger product.

If they want their search results first, make them first. If they want a guarantee that their result will be on the first page, create a separate section on the first page for those results. You need to think of these things as features in your product. They might want a logo next to their search result or basic subnavigation or a special summary blurb.

In other words, you probably shouldn't be asking that question here. Thats probably why this question looks like a poor fit to the other responders.

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I hear what you're saying but these things have all been sold as part of the product already before my involvement. The problem is more the ordering within the parameters the client has requested. Making it work best for both the advertiser and the searcher. –  jenthomson Sep 18 '13 at 9:46

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