Google's real estate foray becomes competitive

Media heavyweights reconsider advertising spend in wake of new real estate aggregation service.

Google’s Australian trial of new real estate aggregation service as part of Google Maps has raised the ire of media heavyweights Fairfax and News Limited.

Users can now search for properties to rent or buy when browsing Australian maps, filtering by price range and property criteria, in a similar manner to the search functions of dominant Australian real estate portals domain.com.au and realestate.com.au. The websites themselves use Google Maps and StreetView services to locate properties and display photographs.

Google aggregates the listings through a new, free service extended to all real estate representatives, including independent agents and individual landlords. Users are directed back to the original display sites, but not before Google has harvested the click-through traffic generated in searching and browsing the results.

Fairfax Digital and News Ltd, both heavily reliant on Google to drive online traffic, have separately indicated they are reconsidering their extensive swathes of Google Australia’s advertising services following the service’s introduction.

Greg Ellis, CEO of the REA group, which operates realestate.com.au, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the organisation had not yet decided how to proceed.

“It will be interesting to see how Google reconciles its ability to encourage companies to purchase Adwords, buy Google Maps and DoubleClick services and then compete with those companies who currently or intend to buy these services,” he said.

“It's a discussion that should occur across the Australian Internet landscape, not just within REA. We are reviewing our options. No decision has yet been made.”

Google’s Australian real estate service was engineered in Sydney for the local property market using new enhancements to Google Maps technology, such as ability to display multiple results. The rollout of the Australian service was timed to coincide with the addition of the new features to the US real estate service, an indicator of Google’s resolve to expand its offerings in the sector.

Google spokeswoman Annie Baxter said the response from the industry has been strong.

"We’ve had a very large number of agents and real estate companies approach us, keen to have their listings appear on Google Maps. There are many more than when we launched, already enhancing the service."

Baxter said that Google is primarily focused on users and would not comment on any relationships with individual companies.

“What I can say is that we designed the feature to be used by small and large companies right across the real estate industry, from individual agents through to portals,” she said.

“In launching this feature on Google Maps, we knew we were connecting people with real estate information via a format they were already very used to using for their real estate searches and our top priority is to connect them with the information they’re looking for as fast as possible.”

Michael Callaghan, lecturer in Consumer Affairs and Marketing at Melbourne’s Deakin University, said a boycott by traditional portals would be more likely to significantly harm those companies than Google.

“It’s understandable that Google is going to move into a market where they already have the pre-existing skills and data to open up that business…Personally I think there’s the potential for all parties to win, because they are still sending those queries back to the originator of the data. In effect they’re creating a massively comprehensive database, where those parties are still able to compete freely.”

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