Why Google will win the war – it is not even fighting!

6 minute read

Google will overcome the teething problems with its real estate proposition and disrupt the business models of property portals across the world.

Every single property portal in the world is wary of the Google Real Estate presence over the past few years and every single portal is scared of the effect Google will have on both their visitor numbers and there revenues.

Over the past year I have read a lot of articles (from portals, their newspapers or individual shareholders) demonstrating how Google’s entry into the market place has not or will not effect either their visitor numbers/revenues. Well they would say that wouldn’t they!

Google’s Effect

It is true so far that Google’s effect has been minimal, however Google has never stated it’s intention to kill off or mame any of the leading portals in the world in a time limited period! In fact, Google is focusing on getting as many listings into their systems as possible, forming new partnerships with various entities to help them get their listings into Google and finally continually refining their systems to make it easier for people to find the property they are looking for, then shoot them off to the originators website of that listing for complete property information.

Once Google has these three elements close to perfect, they can then think about a mass marketing campaign through, yes you guessed it, the most powerful online marketing tool on the planet – the Google Search Engine!

The two big differences Google has that others who have failed before them do not – is time and money!

Google’s mantra is to “Don’t be Evil”. Think about this, who are they going to upset with a successful assault on the property market? In the USA MLS providers? Come one, hardly anyone thinks they serve any purpose other than hanging on to a business model that expired in the early 90’s. Fee based real estate portals? Just about every real estate agent in the world rates their fee based real estate portal only slightly north of Saddam Hussein.

The free listing portals may need to adjust their business models, but specialized search engines like www.estately.com would probably welcome the success of Google!

All in all a Google success would mean current successful businesses will have to adjust their business models, evolve into new offerings, improve their practices and innovate – after all, isn’t that what capitalism is all about?

Everyone is in a rush to judge Google on their immediate impact. Real estate is just another business Google is involved in and they will take their time before marketing the product globally. Just don’t expect any of the incumbents real estate portals (many owned by news organisations) to rush out with a headlines promoting their competition, like ‘Google having an impact, revenue and visitor numbers plunge for xxxx.com’ )

The incumbents will always find a light for their own real estate businesses whilst shedding darkness on their competitors. This is the toughest thing for Google in real estate – getting the free headlines they attract in different markets (search, telephony, Internet). With property they are playing against many of the largest media companies in each country, which means fewer free promotions for their real estate services!

Google is a publicly traded company, it is a profit machine and there is no bigger game globally online for revenue than real estate. To be the number one real estate destination worldwide for property listings would be worth anywhere from $3 – 5 billion in additional revenues for Google, they just don’t realize it yet.

This is not to say Google needs to improve what they are doing and needs to form new partnerships to do this – it does! One area they can improve upon is rewarding individual agents for feeding their listings directly to Google by giving them the referral . At the moment it seems a bit of a lottery as to who gets the referral when a user clicks on a listing to see the full information. It should go to the originator of that listing – the person who signed the vendor. Not some portal or directory. This should not be that difficult!

Google also needs to acquire a few tools in the long run. I do believe Google will acquire a listing system/engine and offer it for free for agents and web developers/portals to hook into. In full disclosure, this is the very business I operate (www.zooproperty.com). However the reason I think they need to do this is because it gives them some control over the cycle of a property from listing to sales/rentals to sales/rental history, it also allows for them to know who the listing originates from.

If Google launched an open system that allowed agents to manage their listings and then distribute them across a variety of platforms they would get 90% of independent agents on board within a year. Every single portal in the world would join up to get feeds from that system and web developers globally would rejoice in finally having a system they can play with. Google will also be able to integrate Google Adwords, Adsense and other tools directly to developers and agents.

Also, never underestimate the power of the open web developer, one only has to think of the success of the Firefox browser to showcase how powerful the common web developer has become. If you build something that helps the web developer, the marketing power of that alone is enough to propel a product into the spotlight.

If Google take their time and work with agents, developers, portals and listing systems they will have an impact, it will come down to how much they control as to their next move, however once they start seeing the revenues flow in you can be sure Google will expand their presence.

If you are a real estate agent, you need to get all of your listings to Google, talk to your web developer, for them to build this into their system (if they already haven’t) should only take a few days.

You need to do this anyway, invest the time and you will be rewarded.

Note: A Version of this article first appeared on Global Edge UK.

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  • Pete Richards
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:16 am 0Likes

    Great post, food for thought for sure. I have two comments to make on this.

    Firstly, you never get more than one chance to make a first impression…. and google’s was pretty bad to be fair. This time last year they had the entire industry freaking out, waiting for the google “Mammoth” to appear over the horizon and take the industry by storm….. it didn’t happen…. and the industry seems to now look at it like an annoying fly rather than a huge beast!

    Secondly, at the end of the day it’s all about the consumer, the end user. At the moment consumers default to realestate.com.au and, in each state, the alternative (domain.com.au here in NSW). For the google “sleeping giant” to wake up it needs traction at consumer level. I think they’re a long way off that.

  • David Crombie
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:17 am 0Likes

    We have been involved with Google since day one and it has been interesting to sit back and watch the various parties with different vested interests and the reactions and comments made. The reality is that Google don’t have to change too much in their strategy to significantly change the landscape. They have a long term plan.

    In a recent article on Google and real estate in the FR Greg Ellis was being quoted saying they (REA) did not need Google’s help, this and other comment made said it all!

  • Alistair Helm
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:49 am 0Likes

    As we here in NZ with Realestate.co.nz have been feeding a stream of fully comprehensive listing representing 95% of the NZ licensed agent content to Google from day 1 – we are in a great position to evaluate and comment.

    We benefit today as a leading Portal from Google map search of real estate in NZ. We have gained a small but critical traffic – nothing of the scale of main Google search service. However this traffic is valuable to all our customers (agents and offices) as through us they are all fairly and equally well represented on Google map search.

    For the future Google does present a threat – but only to those who do not innovate – most vulnerable (exactly as you cite) are those who operate simple search portals. The winners will be the ones who as you say can integrate the rich data output of a portal to be fed back to customers as a powerful planning and marketing toolset to assist their business. Portals will in focusing on this solution integration, always be ahead of Google as they hold a strength in local knowledge and human interaction.

    That may at the end of the day be the deciding factor – human interaction. Google are not about people to people, they are and always have been about machines, machine algorithms and machines to people. A local company of whatever scale is always going to have local presence, local support, local advice, local training.

    As is often said – what happens when you call 1-800 GOOGLE to ask to have a fictitious or spam property listing removed from Google???

  • Michael
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:52 am 0Likes

    I think Google could loose a war if they decide it is going anywhere. Last week they announced failure of Google Wave. In this case I think there is a huge potential in utilising real estate listings.

    Noone can argue how powerful Google has became and sometimes it is clearly up to them what they want to do.

    I wonder how much money portals and agents are spending on Google Adwords.

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 12:00 pm 0Likes

    Alistair Helm – Great insight and thanks for your comments. I agree local sites like Domain and REA have a great advantage in that they can give a deeper more personal commitment to agents and advertisers.

    However, they too are looking at shrinking workforces and support, so it will be interesting where it all leads. One thing is for sure, innovation will be paramount.!

  • Craig
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 12:46 pm 0Likes

    One thing to remember is that it can take years to become an overnight success. Twitter which has become huge in the last year was launched in 2006. Facebook in 2004. But it took 2 or 3 years before anyone other than a few people had heard of them. I think we will need to wait at least 1 to 2 years before making any real judgement on their success.

    Another interesting thing lately has been the discussion about an industry portal such as REV is trying to be. I think the industry would be better off long term if Google became that portal instead. It is free to list and traffic is sent directly to the agents own web site.

  • Sal Espro
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm 0Likes

    Alistair, any group such as yours who has the interests of their members at heart will work with Google to expand agent enquiry catchments.
    I hope on behalf of agents that I don’t hear an undertone of ‘us vs them’ mentality in your speil, however, in talking about ‘being ahead of Google’ – why should that matter to an industry group? (Anyone know what REView’s perspective on this is/would be? I know they say they send listings to Google but 10/34 Darling St is for say on REV and Domain but not Google maps real estate!?)

    Getting more savvy online
    Sal 🙂

  • Alistair Helm
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:10 pm 0Likes


    I note your point – however an effective portal (whether industry owned or media owned) is constantly challenged to retain relevancy and to accede to Google simply because it is thought to be in the best interests of its customers would be very naive at best and grossly incompetent at worst.

    One other matter to consider in the Google debate is the question loosely highlighted in my earlier comment – who polices Google real estate?

    Google is open and free for all – will accept uploads from anyone. What will stop someone capturing property listings from Townsville and feeding them to Google (by way of an extreme example) as a way to gain traffic and maybe at worst deliberately spam the marketplace with fake listings.

    Portals do act as curators who ensure that the content is accurately representative of what is being marketed by professional agents. That service has value – a service Google cannot easily cost effectively or within their business model replicate. As stated earlier “who you gonna call ? .. when this happens and Google RE is the #1 site?

  • Craig
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 2:18 pm 0Likes

    Although Google doesn’t have people to contact directly unless you are a big spender, they can be contacted like here http://base.google.com/support/bin/request.py

    I would be surprised if there were lots of spam listings that got through the system and lasted any huge amount of time.

  • Sal Espro
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 3:48 pm 0Likes

    Thanx for your response, Alistair. I have noticed you are very good at this unlike our parallel Aust, reps e.g. on explaining the ownership and decision-making structure of REView)
    My point was that industry portals/services should not view working with Google as acceding/conceding anything to them/it. Rather, simply that they should use them as much as possible to assist their agents/vendors.

    Thx again,

  • Vic
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm 0Likes

    I have consistently said that those who treat content as a free commodity will not be threatened by Google. A good early warning to REV.

    Merge REV fully with MyHome make it free, then every agent will list every listing in australia on their site and kill two birds with one stone ie REA and Google.

  • Jeroen
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 7:10 pm 0Likes

    As an account manager for Domain in WA, I frequently have conversations with agents about Google and the “Free” model they offer.

    I have no doubt that when Google put wheels in motion on a new project they do so with only one thought in mind. How can we monetize this?

    Once Google becomes “the place” to find property, agents will seek ways of making their listings and brand stand out more compared to that of the agency around the corner. We allready see this on the current portals through top spots, priority placements and other products available for purchase. Google revenue is generated by people sitting at their pc and clicking. I have no doubt that Google real estate will also end up here where agents will bid for the highest click rate to increase exposure for their listing.

    VPA discussions with vendors will revolve around the budget they are happy to part with on a click campaign. This has the potential to become a huge expense. Review your portal results and look at the amount of property views you are receiving, on a Google model you could potentially be paying for each of those clicks.

  • Wayno
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm 0Likes

    Hi Vic
    Exactly what I think as well and I have told REV already, they could not see by doing it they would gain but give them time and they will. As I said if REV do it right they have a real opportunity here and now to knock them all off, it’s been a long time coming and for those who say it can’t happen because REA are too big well think again.

  • James Dunbar
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:09 pm 0Likes

    “Just about every real estate agent in the world rates their fee based real estate portal only slightly north of Saddam Hussein.”

    Now what do you think rest of the population think of estate agents ? Padre Pios and Mother Teresas ?

    I think Google will not only streamline advertising in the realestate space but also eventually make it easy for vendor to list their properties directly and coupled with an extra service to make the paperwork hassle free, it’ll reduce the direct involvement of estate agents.

    If it works, it’ll truly be a game changer.

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:45 pm 0Likes

    James. I have been saying for years that agents must prepare for this, you can advertise on domain and REA (or a partner site) will not be far away. However, agents will always provide a service a home owner cannot, this is not to say many home owners cannot sell their own home, it’s just that many do not have the time and believe an agent can do a better job and provide better results. Agents really need to streamline their services and provide true reasons as to why a seller will choose them over any other agent or model.

    Jeroen. I don’t think your idea of the Google Model is correct, for me it is all about competition. Do you really think agents look at featured listings, priority placements and other advertising spots on portals being viewed as ‘differentiating’ or simply portals trying to weed more money out of agents and getting them to compete against each other? I would say that if a Google Representative was on here talking about real estate portals they could say much the same thing.

    Domain and REA should have an important role to play in the future of real estate listing marketing but good competition is what drives innovation and price stability.

    You only have to look at the average spend on portals from 2000 to 2010 and you will see why agents are nervous about the control portals have on their advertising budgets.

    So a new competitor should shake thinks up and should be welcome! Google is a competitor that cannot be bought out as well 🙂

  • Jeroen
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 1:13 am 0Likes

    Peter. Competition in any industry should always be welcome, however, I do not believe that competition is what Google is looking for in any projects they develop. I believe that most Google projects are developed to dominate and swallow up the competition.

    Google has reported revenue figures of $6.77 billion in Q1 2010. The Google page on Wikipedia states that 99% of all revenue generated by Google is from advertising. Real estate is traditionally an industry that spends big on advertising so it would be a perfect slice of the Google pie.

    Most agents I speak to here in Perth talk to me about their frustrations of portal domination and about their desire for a level playing field where all portals offer a unique audience for a fair investment. I am not convinced that being part of a level playing field is high on the Google list of priorities.

    These are my personal views and not necessarily those of my employer.

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 1:26 am 0Likes

    Jeroen of course you are right that they want to be a leader – swallow competition? Not so sure this stands up, they do play in search, office applications, mobile phone OS’s but one would argue they are up against stiff opposition in all categories from the likes of Microsoft ,News Corp and Apple.

  • Vic
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 5:51 am 0Likes


    Glad to see someone else is taking a helicopter view. There is absolutely no doubt that a paradigm shift is occuring here and REV should definitely get above the melee on the ground and view things afresh from on high.

    There really is only one group who can really/trully look after the interests of their agents. Somehow this group seems to want to follow the business model of the paid portals who are the ones under threat by a google model emergence.
    The general consensus on google is that they have the power by virtue of their eyeballs, which comes from the credo of FREE content, to do what they want when they want. The obvious counter is for our industry is to get ahead of them with free content and who better to take a pivotal role than REV/Myhome.

    This “industry” group should gain the content, by not charging agents, and share it with google maps re.

    The internet real estate advertising world at present is a bit like the current election campaign, everyone playing around and throwing heaps of money at old type business models thinking that this is what the majority of voters want.

    Emerge a visionary and the support will come thick and fast. It’s now up to the owners of the content, the agents, to let their views known to their “industry” group.


    and ps. lets not quibble on who “owns” the content. It is the agent who determines where it gets placed.

  • Sal Espro
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 11:11 am 0Likes

    Which leads us back to the REV ownership and decision-making structure. i.e. REView ain’t gonna be free (or even be 100% focussed on agent needs) if it’s been set-up to make money (as distinct from break-even)!

  • Vic
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm 0Likes

    Sal Espro

    The model I’m suggesting will make them more money than a subscription site. As at 2008, something like 20% of all advertising spend was being directed to internet advertising, and the growth was exponential. i dare say that it would probably be around 30% now and growing. This is what is worrying the news print media.

    Real estate advertising sites are seen to be the most appealing by thrid party advertisers and as you may have read a few weeks ago in this blog, advertising agencies falling over each other trying to access ad spots on high activity sites.

    So REV can keep going the way they are and annoy agents like you or get smart, get the content, get the eyeballs then start rolling in the ad spend of the corporates that are more and more looking at internet sites to get exposure.

    They can also sell features to agents if they wish, but I would dare say that this would be a small proportion of their income when compared with the growth in third party ads.

  • Scott
    Posted August 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm 0Likes

    “I do believe Google will acquire a listing system/engine and offer it for free for agents and web developers/portals to hook into.”

    Google Places would only require a few teaks to provide this tool. Open up a write API (they already have a read API for Places) and away they go …

  • Bill
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 7:51 am 0Likes

    I have no doubt Google will change the face of real estate online sometime in the future but there current model/system has a major flaw in that it cannot really control what is being submitted.

    They need to introduce some sort of verification process of who actually submit listings similar to their Adwords programme. Maybe an industry of qualified real estate listing organisations will spring up once again similar to their Adwords Professionals programme.

    Monitoring content is a real issue for Google, their Local Business search is awful even though they introduced a “Claim this listing” in the hope of listings being authenticated but it’s a failure with absolute rubbish being displayed in lots of search results.

    Before Google can control the real estate market they will need to control who sends listings, either by third party qualified partners or doing it themselves which is unlikely.

    Once they can control the content the world is their oyster, then we’ll see real estate popping up in their generic search and on “partner” networks but I doubt they could do that in the uncontrolled environment they have now.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 8:43 am 0Likes


    All Google real estate listings are already in a listing Engine… Google Base. its a general listing engine rather than a purpose built real estate one… All they have to do is extend it a little and plug it into Places. In the scheme of things a very simple thing for Google to do.

    The only problem with that is that it still does not provide a central portal of all agents listings. That really goes back to google maps, google base and all the mashups that are popping up. To enter real estate properly they need to create a true vertical solution. Google does do verticals (gmail, adwords, voice, finance etc etc) but as a percentage of the markets it touches with horizontal solutions its very small. A vertical real estate portal is when Google would deliver real trouble for the existing subscription portals.

  • Charlie
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm 0Likes

    Great post and great discussion. I’ve commented a few times on this subject on previous posts and I’ve not changed my view that “great changes happen slowly” – which I think was oneof the main points of Peter’s post.

    Google has US$30 billion (yes, billion) cash in the bank at the moment. Not bad for a 12 year old company. So they have the means. Now, the inclination?

    It would be fairly easy for them to flick the real estate search into the main search results if someone did any ‘real estate’ or ‘property’ search (in the same way they did the google local for any recognised business search) and then it really could be game over for the portal centric subscription business models.

    Both property portal companies I have worked for fed to Google on day one last year; and already we both receive traffic from this (rather obscurely positioned) real estate search – imagine if it went mainstream …

  • Easy First Sale
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm 0Likes

    When I first heard of google entering the property market I really thought they would demolish in a quick time the other portals.

    Coming from a marketing background they would have to out advertise the competition in a significant way to succeed in the short term. Probably not going to happen. In WA the two major real estate portals are realestate . Com and REIWA . Com. Both have heavy advertising and radio presence, which puts them in front of e market, something that google isn’t doing.

    However with the way that technology is moving forward and becoming digital, how long till the paper isn’t as prominent as it once was?

  • PaulD
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm 0Likes

    The paper is already not as prominent as it once was. I remember a couple of years ago, when they delivered our SMH to the office on Saturday morning. They would have to divide it into two sections to fit under the (fairly generous) gap under the office front door. It would fit easily now, but we don’t get it delivered anymore. Those were the days of the “Rivers of Gold” Most of the classified advertising is now on the internet, as well as the real estate section. Too slow – too costly – too little information – too short a shelf life – too little response – too little flexibilty. I can probably think of a few other things but, who cares anyway. Great for cleaning the bar-b-que plate, and the bottom of the bird cage.

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    Posted August 31, 2010 at 12:07 am 0Likes

    Peter, I tried contacting you last week, through the agentpoint website, but didnt receive a response. Would you please contact me at http://www.realestatewebsitedesign.com/contactus.asp

    *please delete this message :0)

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