Monday, October 23, 2006

White Paper - Part III

Vertical Search

Vertical Search in real estate refers to websites that are solely dedicated to real estate property search. More and more consumers are today choosing to go directly to such sites for their search, rather than through natural search engines. Examples of vertical search sites include, and

Growing Search Options

Over the past year, with the Web 2.0 craze, we’ve seen new real estate vertical search engines pop up everywhere. Trulia, Propsmart, Extate, RealEstateAdvisor and others launched within relatively short periods from each other. We’ve seen many of these new companies innovate the search experience to levels unseen before. Still, many generate content from scraping other real estate websites. In an effort to improve their accuracy and to operate more cooperatively with real estate companies, the majority quickly started to accept structured data feeds as a preferred way to generate their content.

For the purpose of this paper, we will include classified search sites as part of the vertical search discussion. Classified ad sites include Craigslist, LiveDeal, Oodle, Yahoo! Classifieds and perhaps Google Base. Again, over the past year we’ve seen rapid growth in free classified ad sites. Founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark, Craigslist was one of the first free classified ad sites out. Today, the site generates billions of page views each month. While Craig and his team have not aggressively monetized the site, most of the other classified ad sites will move towards generating revenue from selling enhanced advertising placements. In addition to classified ads, Yahoo! and Google allow users to place structured data into their systems. Google Base now provides users with a structured way to search for real estate listings that have been added to its database.

Because most vertical search sites do not charge any fees for uploading listings, they have created new advertising opportunities for real estate companies. For Realtors® who have been accustomed to paying high fees to advertise listings on sites like, this is welcome news.

Numerous real estate search sites have also brought on new challenges. They have dispersed consumers, making it increasingly difficult for brokerages to effectively target their advertising, optimize their online marketing efforts and focus their resources and efforts. Widening the net, beyond exposure on search engines, the MLS® and, has become critical.

Another issue we must examine in the context of online listing exposure is the practice of data scraping by vertical search sites in addition to the use of different listing publishing sources to generate content. Open access to listings comes at the expense of, whom else, the listing broker or agent. It is crucial as such to control listings, for a number of reasons, the least of which is the fact that they are the most valuable marketing asset a Realtor® possesses. Another good reason is to leverage the data to generate analytics and reports that can enhance Internet lead conversion, as well as secure and benefit from a full menu of advertising options available to the real estate professional, on the Internet.

Point2 Technologies was one of the first companies to offer syndication solutions for real estate companies to manage and drive listing feeds to vertical search sites. Over the past year, we have worked closely with the Google Base Team, the Yahoo! Classifieds team, LiveDeal, Trulia, Oodle and other, new startups. In the process, we’ve gained significant insight on syndication:

- Many of the vertical search sites and classified sites have their own feed formats. This means that to send listings to these sites, a separate feed will have to be provisioned for that partner. In their quest to maintain a positive quality of search experience for their consumers, many maintain their feed specifications such that real estate companies must maintain their feeds up to date.

- Real estate vertical search is relatively new. In 2005 and 2006, new companies in this space focused mainly on securing content. What lacks right now, almost across the board, is the ability to provide listing publishing reports to the listing provider. Wide exposure through these new sites can be a powerful addition to listing presentations, but when included, consumers will invariably want to check for their listings. If they are not found, the Realtor® would likely receive a call from the customer, and syndication becomes more of a hassle than a valuable tool. When listings are sent to a search site as part of a structured feed, a real estate company will want a report confirming its listings have been successfully uploaded, along with a URL directing right to each of those listings. Should the upload fail, the report would provide an explanation that can help to resolve the issue quickly and efficiently. To allow better integrations with 3rd parties, vertical search sites that consumer listing feeds need to provide machine readable XML documents - something that is not yet commonly done.

These types of services have been the focus of recent work Point2 has undertaken with its syndication partners, and are proving extremely valuable to real estate companies in incorporating vertical search as part of their marketing.

- The next step is receive analytics back from publishing sites on views and clicks that can be shown to home sellers, to demonstrate the added value a real estate company is bringing on the marketing side. Very few vertical search sites today provide these statistics, but they will soon need to in order to effectively sell enhanced advertising placement products. Once more sites begin to provide useful statistics and reports, real estate companies will gain the added confidence they need to spend advertising dollars on those sites. They will also need an integrated dashboard to efficiently help measure ROI.

The reality is that listings have to show up where consumers are looking online, but the task is daunting and costly. Automating the process is critical, and the collective effort can be a substantial technical investment even to brokerages with strong IT (Information Technology) departments.

Real estate companies will be working with more educated consumers in the future. Companies will need to syndicate their listings to as wide an audience as possible, and they will want to provide their clients with ways to view that exposure and understand its reach, coverage and impact.

The best and easiest solution for leveraging vertical search is to syndicate your listing content. Send structured feeds to listing sites and ensure your company’s website is not being scraped. Your listings get distributed automatically to specialty websites across your markets, and as more of these sites emerge, your service provider is likely to expand their partner network to cover them. Seek one point of data entry, a single menu of syndication sites with the option to opt in or opt out, and an integrated reporting interface with analytics to help you figure where your leads are coming from, for better decision making.


1 comment:

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