January 31, 2011

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Google’s Real Estate Search Bites the Dust

The big news for real estate agents this morning is that Google’s real estate search is to be discontinued on 10 February. Google says this is “in part due to low usage” of the feature. “We recognise that there might be better, more effective ways to help people find local real estate information than the current feature makes possible,” Google said in its announcement.

Some industry commentators are reeling from the news. “I can’t really explain enough how shocked I am that Google is ditching the real estate listings that currently show in Google Maps,” says smallbusinesssem.com’s Matt McGee, while vendoralley.com describes the announcement as “freaking huge news.” But for regular propertyadguru.com readers the news might not come as such as big surprise.

When Google’s real estate search went live in Australia in mid-2009, we outlined some of the challenges the search engine might face in making the feature a success. One year on, our sister website propertyportalwatch.com looked at what impact Google’s real estate search had had on the Australian market, noting that little had changed.

“It was clear from the start that the Google Real Estate model was challenged,” says propertyadguru.com publisher Simon Baker. “While sourcing listings was always going to be easy for them as agents and portals around the world are more than happy to syndicate their listings for free traffic, the challenges were always going to be in driving of traffic and monetisation.”

“Many people thought that because Google was behind this project it would be easy to drive traffic,” Baker continues. “However, by not displaying the results on the Google home page and keeping them as a layer on the Maps product, it was always going to be difficult for people to find the real estate search.”

“The other key challenge was monetisation. Google didn’t seem to have a real answer for this, especially since they would have to replace the lost revenue from AdWords.”

“In short, an interesting experiment demonstrating that not everything Google touches turns to gold,” Baker concludes.

Joel Burslem of 1000Watt Consulting agrees that visibility was one of the key challenges for Google’s real estate search. “Maintaining a national property database, and, perhaps more importantly, its concurrent accuracy, is a huge challenge that it looks like even Google realised is too big a pill to swallow,” Burslem writes.

“The good news here is that power is further consolidated in the hands of the current search leaders in this space – realtor.com, zillow.com and trulia.com – who no longer need to fear that elephant in the room,” Burslem adds. “The (rather mild) bad news here is for the smaller brokers and agents who were hoping to drive some incremental SEO traffic by syndicating their listings.”

Northern Ireland’s propertypal.com was one of the first property portals to comment on the news, stating that they were “a little disappointed” about Google’s decision but conceding that “on the whole, we experienced minimal traffic from Maps over the course of its short eight month lifespan.”

“Google had tried a number of strategies to promote the service including running Google Ads, none of which pushed any significant traffic, or increased uptake,” propertypal.com adds.

Despite the challenges Google faced in creating a viable real estate search option, not everyone is convinced that today’s announcement marks the end of their efforts. Matt McGee puts it this way on searchengineland.com:

“It seems impossible to think that Google would give up completely on real estate search — it’s too important of an activity in that industry, with the National Association of Realtors reporting in recent years that about 85 percent of all home buyers begin their search online.”

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Google’s decision in our comments, and to get your reaction to the news in the poll below:

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Related posts:

  1. Google Real Estate – Should Agents Bank On It?
  2. Google Maps Highlights Real Estate
  3. Google: We’re Not in Real Estate
  4. More Real Estate Upgrades from Google Maps
  5. Google Reveals Real Estate “Vision”
  6. The Challenges for Google Real Estate
  7. Google’s Latest Releases Part 1: Real-time Search
  8. What is The Future of Real Estate Search?
  9. Google Challenging rightmove.co.uk?
  10. Google’s Latest Releases Part 3: New Maps Perspective

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