In this guest post, homethinking.com founder Niki Scevak shares his thoughts on what Google needs to do to make its mark on real estate search:
Google is a company you might think would succeed in an area like real estate: The problem involves aggregating, cleansing and being able to search across hundreds of thousands of sources. And that’s why whenever the firm announces something related to real estate, competitors freeze with fear and the media loves to cover it.
Consumers, however, simply have not cared for many years. Considering the core values of Google, being the default homepage of the majority of Internet users and the oodles of ‘smart’ engineers, that’s a pretty big flop.
And why have they failed thus far? I believe it’s because they are too wedded to the concept of real estate = maps. The renaissance of real estate web sites in 2005-2006 were all led by ‘Maps mashups’ because that was new at the time (AJAX was gaining mainstream developer awareness) and it was assumed that they helped users find real estate in a quicker and easier way.
But you don’t see maps that often as the primary way to search in real estate. Trulia, best known for being one of the most outstanding instances of Google Maps integrations when it launched, now de-emphasizes the map as a primary way to find property and instead uses it as a secondary tool to provide context. Zillow, another successful site, is a counter-example and still prominently uses maps as a way to find property.
Maps have a large impact on page load and so pages load slower. Users have a vociferous appetite for information at this stage of their lives and slow loading pages just piss them off. People may scorn Craigslist but one of the reasons they are so successful is that they have identified the most important user requirement and added little else.
Also, the most important component of real estate search is not the location but photos. In my mind, it makes more sense for Google’s real estate efforts to be housed within Google Images rather than Google Maps. Something more like PicClick (a visual search engine for products) or Like.com are more innovative in user interface design.
Google will never be successful in real estate until they recognize that Maps are a poor cousin to other types of user interface designs for real estate. But there is no suggestion that the deeply seated belief within the organization will change anytime soon.