As a longtime host (I signed up when Airbnb was a brand new startup, and have a low listing number to prove it!) I had never actually used Airbnb as a guest until recently. So I got the experience of searching through listings myself. We were looking for a place in the Old Town of a certain European city. Here's how I searched:
--Location. City center, or just adjacent. No exceptions. No places outside town. Map with prices the most useful tool. See a price, click on it, get to listing. Nice.
--Price. Certain places looked beautiful, but we are on a budget. Airfare over took most of our budget as we have to travel from Hawaii. Even with my Super Ho coupon, we are still on a budget.
--Reviews. Scanned the first few, didn't read the details. I know how guests can be.
NOT a factor in my search:
--Categories of any kind. They are simply fluff on the home page.
--Overall stars. It's really hard to maintain five because any downgrade in stars by one nitpicking guest drags your average down and you can never mathematically recover to five again.
--Superhost and Instant Book. SH can be hard to maintain and is not really a sign of a great host. Lack of SH is not the sign of a bad host. I have never been set on IB, so I wouldn't expect anyone else to be.
--Cancellation policy. I respect hosts' need to use this as I have to set mine on strict. Once my mind is made up I would not want to cancel on a host.