Google’s yellow man puts his hand round Domain’s throat

It’s been less than a year since Google Maps launched its real estate service for Australia.

At the time it launched, I wondered if it was going to kill off the likes of domain.com.au and realestate.com.au.

By the looks of a new ad for the service from Google, they’re now ready to bury the bodies on Bondi Beach.  

Indeed, this is one of a series of local ads for the service that Google has released this week.

And while the sinister yellow Google man is enough to give anyone nightmares, real estate listing sites should be particularly scared.

The service is now well and truly populated.

While it may not yet be comprehensive, there are enough listings to make it worth home hunters’ while using it, whether to rent or buy. And speaking as a punter, it’s an easier site to use than the established players.

This growing audience will motivate an increasing number of real estate agents to make use of it. That and the fact that it’s free, of course.

As is its model, Google will make its money through the sponsored links it serves up alongside the data. Ironically those links currently include both realestate.com.au and domain.com.au.

The service is tilted towards the real estate companies rather individuals.

That seems like a smart strategy. It would make sense for stage one of the campaign to be to take the listings off the current aggregators. That relies on the real estate agents getting on board – and they wouldn’t do so if the service directly threatens their livelihood, which it would if it became too easy for punters to directly market their properties themselves.

Of course, once the Google Maps real estate service is the main market for home hunters, it would have no such barrier to opening up to individual listings.

(It’s nowhere near being that main market yet, by the way. Search Google for “search for home to rent au” or “search for home to buy au” and domain.com.au and realestate.com.au both come up in the first page of its natural search returns. Google Maps Real Estate does not. Yet.)

For the likes of Fairfax Digital, owner of domain.com.au, and News Corp, majority owner of realestate.com.au, it must be doubly infuriating. First they lose the print classifieds rivers of gold to the internet. The Google comes in and threatens their online businesses too.

That, of course though, is where they still have power. While estate agents still need to use print to advertise too, that’s a relationship they can force into online – which probably explains why some of the big real estate agents don’t seem to be on board yet. There’s a significant amount of money changing hands through the print relationship.

When we wrote about it last time, one of our commenters pointed out:

“Agents deal with Domain (and I assume RE.com.au) because of factors other than the quality of a mashup’s UI. Fairfax pays massive subsidies or refunds or bulk discounts to agents in return for their ads. I heard it said by an agent a number of years ago that agents can make more money from buying ads than they do from selling and renting houses.

“In theory, this money for unused or refunded marketing budgets should be returned to the vendors but, I am told, this rarely happens unless the vendor jumps up and down. And Fairfax (and, again I assume, RE.com.au) takes agents on junkets overseas and supplies them with all-expenses holidays. A mate of mine went on one of these to Cambodia a few years ago.

“And in print the biggest part of any ad is promotion of the agent, not the vendor. Where this is likely to have an impact at least in the near term is on agents’ revenue themselves because they make a huge income from selling ads in their custom publications and on their sites.”

This front of media owners’ war with Google may not be as visible as some, but the stakes are just as high.

Tim Burrowes


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