The launch 3 weeks ago of Google’s new mapping service for real estate search in retrospect slipped into life without great fanfare. It is only subsequently that the dust has been kicked up as the Australian media have started to report a growing stand off between the 2 major real estate portals – their media owned parents and Google.
At the heart of the issue is the question of whether Google’s move to provide map based search for property is anything more than an extension of the well established Google Search or whether this move takes Google into the operational domain of a real estate portal and as such states a desire by Google to compete directly with the established portals in Australia of Domain (Fairfax owned) and the market leading realestate.com.au (News Corporation owned).
At this time the two Australian real estate portals have stated that they will not supply a feed of listings on behalf of their customers – the real estate offices and agents to Google as in doing so they believe that Google is trying to compete directly for real estate buyers searching for property on behalf of agents. Google on the other hand sees its service as an extension of its well established natural keyword search – providing the public with a rich and engaging search experience, which then link to property portals and agents websites.
For clarification in simple terms (although not universally agreed) a real estate portal is a website that aggregates (for free or at a cost) a comprehensive selection of real estate listings and seeks to create tools to ease the property search process and provide the pubic with a great user experience around rich data. The end result may be in the form of a telephone call, an email or a referral web link to an agent or real estate office. The principle is based on the premise that buyers do not want to search multiple websites for property in a suburb when a portal can aggregate the results for very specific search – 3 bedroom house in this suburb at this price. Realestate.co.nz is a real estate portal.
This whole issue in my view revolves around this question: “Is what Google is doing with real estate map search any different from what they have always done in keyword search”.
Over the past decade as online real estate search has grown to become the first and last place people search for property, every real estate portal has spent directly and indirectly millions of dollars ensuring that their content is “found” and indexed by Google specifically so that the Google searches people do everyday for “homes for rent or homes for sale in xyz suburb” drives traffic to the portals. Most portals receive anywhere between 30% and 60% of their traffic from Google. To get this traffic they provide Google with no data, they simply let Google “read” and index their site.
Google therefore has always had an index of every listing of real estate in every country. The establishment of Google Maps real estate simply has added a single piece of data – the physical address. This is the piece of data that Google has found hard to access by indexing real estate websites, but is in the context of real estate so critical. With the address Google can places properties for sale or rent on a map.
So in Australia, these 2 major real estate portals and their parent companies have said they will not provide the complete data set for each listing with an address and further they have gone on to threaten the removal of advertising on Google search of their parent companies own media publications worth millions of dollars to Google.
What seems slightly ironic is the fact that the 2 major real estate portals in Australia have utilised the services of Google maps and been delighted to have had this excellent technology to feature on their own websites for years, allowing them to pinpoint the location of both individual properties and search results of multiple properties on Google developed maps; yet when Google takes that same data and presents it on a map on their own site the portals object.
A very clear principle of the web is open access to data – making content and data freely available – it is then the opportunities for business to find ways to monetise the aggregation of this data through advertising or premium services.
At this time only realestate.co.nz as the most comprehensive property website in NZ is feeding to Google maps on behalf of its customers – the real estate offices in NZ. Trade Me property as the other property portal has stated that they are not at this time feeding such data, although in this comment on the Fairfax owned Stuff website they state it is not a function of the decision taken by their parent company Fairfax in Australia.