NEW YORK — Google’s recent refinements in the real estate space — which include creating "place pages" for individual listings — don’t mean the search-engine giant is moving to create a national multiple listing service, the company says.
But the refinements have improved the quality of traffic the search engine delivers to advertisers — including big brokerages that Google is out to sign up as clients, said Sam Sebastian, the company’s director of local and business-to-business markets.
In a one-on-one discussion with Inman News founder and publisher Bradley Inman at Real Estate Connect New York, Sebastian said it’s his job to help big brokerages make the most out of what Google has to offer.
"Agents have always been pretty engaged" in buying keywords and targeted ads from Google to drive traffic to their Web sites, Sebastian said. "But the big brokerages that can really do this in scale, and work this into their marketing programs — that’s where I think the future is."
Since Google got into targeted advertising, agents and small real estate offices have been "very entrepreneurial" in taking advantage of its ability to deliver potential clients, Sebastian said.
"They could compete with the big boys, and we were building a good set of users," Sebastian said. Then third-party listing aggregation sites emerged, packaging and selling the leads traffic to their sites generated to brokers and agents.
Google got into the listing game itself, through its Google Base service, which accepts listings from agents and third-party aggregators.
Aggregating listings is not nearly as controversial as it was when third-party aggregators started cropping up more than a decade ago, Sebastian said.
But Google has captured the attention of the real estate industry in recent months by creating individual "place pages" for listings and making it easy to find them in map-based searches (see story). …CONTINUED
Place pages, Sebastian said, were originally created not for real estate, but as a way to give local merchants a presence on Google. Place pages pull content from around the Internet, such as reviews, photos and other information Google has tracked down, organizing it in one place.
When the implications for real estate became clear — that Google, in theory, could amass a database of every property on Earth — not everybody in the industry was thrilled with the idea.
"We got a little bit of hemming and hawing," Sebastian said. Some wondered if Google was taking the first step in building a national MLS, he said.
But the sites providing the information indexed by Google are finding that the quality of traffic the search engine delivers to their site has improved.
The plan was not to take business from real estate brokers, but to provide a better user experience, Sebastian said.
"It’s not some evil plan we have in Mountain View (Google’s headquarters in California), with millions of folks talking about how we want to take over the real estate markets," Sebastian said.
Asked about reports that Google has been talking to real estate search site Trulia.com about an acquisition, Sebastian said he could not comment. (A Trulia spokesman told Inman News in December that the company "does not comment on rumors or speculation.")
But Sebastian did say that Google is likely to continue acquiring one to two "small and nimble" companies a month, a pace it’s kept up for the last 18 months.
With the exception of YouTube, Sebastian noted, those acquisitions have been of horizontal, rather than "vertical" companies like Trulia that are focused on a category.
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