The recent supplement in the February Estate Agency Times – (sadly not online) reflected on what was labelled Property Portals.
The opening editorial is titled Portal Power and is a summary of all the ‘property portals’. This led me to ask, what exactly is a property portal?
As with all such investigations I first approached this question from the users perspective and quickly concluded that users don’t use the term portal, they ‘search’ for property. You never hear people saying I used a portal, they just say I ‘searched’ for a property.
This would suggest that the term portal has greater significance in the industry and helps define the space and allows one to consider the question in more detail. To this end, I believe there are three types of online companies serving properties to the user: marketing portals, portals and property search engines.
I see rightmove, primelocation et al as what I would call ‘marketing portals’ or in other words you have to pay to be in it (and rather a lot at that). For the user they are just searching for property, but for the industry it is not a property search engine per se. The user has a limited choice of properties from agents who have paid to have their property in the system.
Nestoria, Zoomf and Globrix are what I would call search engines and Property Owl is what I would label a portal as we provide property feeds from others and properties directly from agents. We allow the user to search within our system, but we do not search and perhaps there lies the nub of it.
Where I am going with all this? Well, the EAT wrap all these companies under the umbrella of portals. This is not a criticism of the article, as I am sure it is easier for agents to work with the one term. But as the new generation of search engines enter the market I feel we need to establish a clear definition and educate both agent and end user.
Indeed, the confusion becomes clear when one looks at the top 20 portals chart provided in the supplement. The top 20 is based on traffic and introduces a few entrants that would not fall into my earlier categorisation. Indeed, there are overseas properties, estate agent directories, software companies. For example, Vebra and expert agent are included in the rankings, both of whom are property software development companies?! To be fair, Vebra has at least a search option on its site, but it is not used as a property search tool. You could argue it is a marketing portal, but its traffic is magnified by its brochure ware sites as they all point and direct traffic to Vebra. Furthermore, Vebra has www.thinkproperty.com, which is also in the rankings.
Not a sin by any stretch, but if I am an agent I look at the rankings and think they must be good, sign up, pay a small fortune and then still have to spend on rightmove et al to get any traffic to my site (which is the goal) as I am not sure my Vebra site will be picked up by the search engines.
Another software provider, expert agent, doesn’t even have a search for property so I am not sure how it gets into the property portal rankings.
It is shame that some of these players have been included as there are good search companies, such as Zoomf, who would probably have been included if these others had not. Perhaps a fairer chart would have been a more detailed analysis/comparison with places being awarded on a points based system.
This is not a rant at the article, but more a note to estate agents that this space is changing and they need to be able to identify the differences as they have serious cost implications (both in terms of capital and revenue). We will be expanding upon these issues and setting out some useful guidance on all the search engines, portals and the like in the near future.