Customising the listing form with categories

December 9, 2010
Your listing form can be customised to collect details that are relevant to your students. Studystays gives you standard form fields like address, number of bedrooms, and rent amount by default. To collect other information such as included bills, parking, or internet access, you use Categories.

Categories allow you to collect structured information. If you compare this to the "Additional details" field which allows providers to enter any text they like, categories organise information in a way that makes it easier for students to find listings which match their requirements.

Getting started with categories

You can define custom categories for your Studystays website through Admin > Settings > Categories, under the "Additional categories" heading. To add a new category, click the "Add a new category" link at the bottom of the page. To modify existing categories, move your mouse over the category and you will see options to delete, rename and edit the category. You can also drag categories to change their display order. Any changes you make here will show up immediately in the "Add a listing" form.

Once you have added a few categories, you will want to add some values for the category. Values are the options that providers can select for a category. For example, values for a category named "Included bills" might be "Electricity", "Gas", "Internet" and "Telephone". To add new values, you first need to edit the category by clicking the "Edit" link when you move your mouse over a category. When editing a category, click the "Add a new value" link at the bottom of the page. Like categories, you can delete, rename and re-order values by moving your mouse over the value.

Some options to consider

You will want to set some options to control how providers enter information for the category. These can set on the "Edit category" page which you get to by clicking the "Edit" link from the page that displays all your categories (Admin > Settings > Categories). I'll continue with the "Included bills" category example to illustrate some of the options you'll need to consider.

Required category

Is the information essential for students, or just nice-to-know or only relevant for certain listings? Included bills would most probably be a required category because most if not all students will need to know this to determine their living expenses. An example of an optional category might be whether smoking is allowed in the house - it's not a big deal if providers don't specify this information. By making some categories optional, you make it easier for providers to complete the form -- they can skip fields that they don't think are all that important. If you have more than 5 or 6 required categories, you should consider making some of them optional so that the listing form doesn't become a challenge for providers to complete.

Allow multiple selections

Can the answer to the category question have more than one answer? The "Included bills" category should allow more than one answer (bill), or one, or all, or none. Rather than create values for each of the many possible combination of bills, "Electricity", "Electricity & Gas", "Electricity & Internet", "Electricity, Gas, Internet & Phone" etc., you can tick the "Allow multiple selections" option and you only need to define the 4 possible category values: "Electricity", "Gas", "Internet" and "Phone". This also makes it easier for students to search: they only have the 4 possible values to choose from.

Note: for a multiple selection category, you can choose more than one value by holding the Ctrl (PC) or Command (Mac) button and clicking values.

Allow users to enter other values

Do you want allow providers to enter other values besides the ones you specify? For the "Included bills" category, it's possible that some providers will include other bills in the rental price, such as cable TV.

You have some decisions to make here: do you want to only allow the most common bills, do you want to try to specify all the possible bills, or do you want to specify the commonly included bills and allow providers to enter others? If you choose the last option, you can tick the box to "Allow users to enter other values".

Keep in mind though, that when providers enter "other" values, they're harder for students to find in searches. Try to specify the most commonly used values to make things easier for students, and providers too.

Only applies to shared housing
If you choose this option, the category will only be shown to providers when they're listing a room in a shared property, but not when they're listing a complete property. This is useful if you're asking preferences like age and gender – it's fine for shared housing but for non-shared properties it could be considered illegal in Australia and NZ under anti-discrimation law. So you wouldn't use this option for the "Included bills" category, but you would use it for a category called "Preferred gender".