Google, Yahoo, MSN, and the other major players in the search industry have
certainly taken notice of the arrival of vertical search and have made it clear
that they intend to continue their lucrative domination of the search market.
Yahoo has been paying attention. According to this week's Newsweek, it
is launching a major endeavor aimed at the non-technical consumer of digital
equipment. This site will be a series of vertical sites within a vertical site
with special features for consumer groups such as senior citizens and even a
five-minute reality show which will allow visitors to submit their problems
in a contest to be paired with technology experts who will "make-over"
the messy digital areas of their life.
Yahoo, however, has not yet extended its efforts to its real
site that, at present, is barely horizontal. The main part
of the site seems to contain less information and utility than it did five years
ago. Perhaps had we been willing to register with the sponsor - Prudential Real
Estate - we could have obtained a full property description but that required
filling out all of the information necessary for an agent to contact us - information
that may be sold to an agent who would expect or at least hope we were genuine
buyers. The Yahoo Classified ads ($49.95 for 21 days) is better but even there
only about 60 percent of the ads provided addresses in the towns we searched
and of course not every agent or owner wants to put out that kind of money to
advertise a property. The only way to make it work is to first do the search
and then switch to the classifieds to obtain more information on those properties
that are advertised.
Google, however, intends to remain the 500 pound gorilla of
search engines as indeed it must to justify and maintain its $400 stock price.
It has been widely reported that it was beta testing a vertical real estate
site which combined its satellite mapping database with its
search capabilities to enable a site which would mark the property location
on a map (as well as the locations of "comps" in the area) and enable the user
to identify routes to work, area amenities and so forth. Once the buzz about
the site started appearing on the blogs the site disappeared but the smart money
is betting that it will be rolled out with appropriate fanfare sooner rather
So, assuming that Google's rumored site comes on-line and Yahoo gets its act
together, what will be the effect on various market components?
Newspapers are probably not an issue. Real estate newspaper ad linage
is already down as agents are diverting money to websites and web advertising.
It seems, anecdotally at least, that even television is getting increased attention
from large national firms and some companies that assist FSBOs with marketing.
Newspapers are far from dead, but they are certainly no longer the only game
in town and their influence is likely to continue to diminish.
We have already talked about the advantage some of the new entries in real
estate searches would have over older competitors because of the advantages
of specialization. But, if these innovators bump up against the sheer weight
and money of Yahoo and especially Google, they may not have much of an opportunity
to prove themselves. Both of the big companies as well as MSN have already catalogued
billions of pages of content and are known and well traveled destinations for
consumers; both are valuable assets from which they can build their vertical
But even Google may have to tread lightly. Pay per click and
other ads from real estate companies, their affiliated mortgage companies, and
individual agents are a huge source of revenue for the company. Any move that
is interpreted by these paying customers as interference with the control of
their listings or their brand identity, misusing copyrighted information or
in any way cutting into their profits could cost Google or Yahoo dearly.
One emerging player - and one with a dog in the fight - is Trulia real estate
search. In a recent "white
paper" titled The Truth about Real Estate Search" it offered a number of
warnings and safeguards to agents and companies entering this brave new world.
Trulia suggests a proactive approach. Companies and agents should research vertical
search companies and decide if their business models are good or bad for that
company or agent, determine what sets one search company apart from another;
what the companies' true objectives are, and which are the friends and which
are the enemies of the industry of a whole.
Trulia points out those agents with web sites displaying their listings do
not have to be at the mercy of these search engines and their "spiders."
The technology exists to limit access to all or part of a web site and an informed
listing broker can, with the research suggested above, hand pick those companies
they wish to allow to partner with them so as to maximize the benefits of the
cost and effort that has gone into that website.