Searchable “Best” Listings

My Role

Research, UX Design, UI Design

Team Members

Chris Combs, Tom Shafer


Washingtonian’s “best” listings (Best Doctors, Best Private Schools, Best Wedding Vendors) are difficult to use and are complicated and time-consuming to update. For users, there are no search or filtering options to find people or vendors, and the information offered with each listing is not useful for online users. Internally, advertising operations managers and web producers find the process for updating listings difficult and time-consuming because of the way the listings are managed within our content management system.

Washingtonian's Wedding Vendors listings before the redesign.

Washingtonian's Private Schools listings pre-redesign.


To tackle the user-facing issues, we conducted competitive analysis and layout comparison and quantitative Heuristic evaluation of Washingtonian's finders compared to similar online resources. We looked at what other data-driven sites did well and applied those UI properties to our own designs. We also looked at our analytics to determine whether or not people were clicking through to listing profile pages and engaging with the product.

To address the internal issues, we interviewed staff who managed the listings. We asked exactly what was difficult about managing the listing and what they believe would make it easier to manage.

What we learned

A lot of other sites use a database to manage their online listings, which makes it much easier to manage and ensure consistency. Most sites we analyzed also had search tools for users (a search box, filters and sorting methods), something that Washingtonian was lacking. We also found that the session times for users visiting any of our listing pages was very low, meaning that users were not engaged.

Our staff interviews were very educational. We learned that the production of the listings was extremely difficult and time-consuming because every single listing was hand-coded with within separate posts in our CMS and not everyone on staff was comfortable coding. Every image had to be edited before adding it to the listing, and for listings that had an upwards of 700 entries, that would take weeks for one person to do on top of their current responsibilities. The takeaway message: we needed a way to manage listings in one place and make it possible for those with limited coding skills to update.

Early wireframes for the new Wedding Vendors listing designs.


Our digital team decided that the best way to address the related challenges was to move our listings to a database and use a search-engine API (Algolia) to make it easy to search and filter our listings. For production, we decided to manage the listings through a medium our staff was familiar with, Google Spreadsheets, and use a csv converter plugin (WP All Import) to import the spreadsheet data into our CMS. Everything is set up to run automatically every 24 hours, so whenever changes are made to the spreadsheet, they appear without any additional production work.

Design-wise, we needed to create a better way for users to search and filter listings to find exactly what they’re looking for, and the results need to have usable information, such as websites, phone numbers, emails, and social media information.

Since we have 13 “best” listings finders (and counting), we chunked out the process throughout a year. Basically, every time new editorial updates were available to the listings, we would make the switch.

Early wireframes for the new Wedding Vendors listing designs.

Final product for Wedding Vendors.


We decided to measure our success by the average session duration on our listing pages and by staff satisfaction. Post-launch for our Wedding Vendors listings (the first listings to move over to a database structure), we met with staff to see how the process for updating listings has improved. People’s responses were positive and really appreciated how the new production process is “faster,” “streamlined,” and “less confusing.” And a year post-launch, the session duration for Wedding Vendors has increased 16%, from 3:43 to 4:19. Our other listings have followed suit, and now our focus is shifting towards creating more listings (like our recent Best Private School listings) how we can earn revenue from these products.

Washingtonian's Private School listings, below.

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