The following article was first published by Khai Yin Fok, the founder of GoodPlace.my
Let me first get this straight. GoodPlace is not in the property classifieds business, and as such we are not in competition with iProperty, PropertyGuru and Propwall. However, as Google remains a major source of traffic as far as Malaysia property searches are concerned, we are all in a way competing for the same keywords, and by extension, the same SERPs (search engine ranking positions).
Over-dependency on Google is never a good thing, but the reality is that a good chunk of property buyers in Malaysia go to search for properties online to either research and/or to look at listings. Therefore, there’s really no breaking free for property sites from Google at least for the foreseeable future.
Having said that, iProperty’s dependency on Google is signficantly less than the other players in the online property space since being the market leader, it has somewhat achieved strong top-of-mind awareness (much like JobStreet.com in the jobs vertical). This means that iProperty enjoys substantial “type-in” traffic (both on the browser, and through mobile apps).
On the other side of the spectrum, Propwall still relies heavily on search (in fact I would estimate that as much as 75-80% of its traffic comes from Google) [PPW Editor's Note - according to SimilarWeb, 68% of Propwall.my traffic is from search]. PropertyGuru (the number two player in Malaysia) is somewhat between the two in terms of brand recognition (which correlates heavily with direct, type-in traffic) and reliance on search traffic. [PPW Editor's Note - according to SimilarWeb, 54% of Propertyguru.com.my traffic is from search].
(In the case of GoodPlace.my, about 40% of our visits are from search, with “direct” visits as well as email (from our GoodPlace Digest subscriber base) constitutes more than 50% of our traffic.)
We can all perhaps agree that traffic from Google remains of high(er) quality (especially when compared to social media and incentivized platforms like, shudder, Adfly). For this reason, unless there’s a drastic change in home buyer behaviour online, whichever site which achieves dominance in Google will have a leg up against the others.
As any seasoned SEOer will tell you, chasing “top” rankings is a typical rookie mistake. What property sites (or any website for that matter) really want is VISIBILITY, not any arbitrary search ranking position.
Alas, there’s no one standard way to measure visibility, and indeed, different SEO vendors and SAAS providers will have their own methods which are proprietary to their own product or platform. Do a quick Google search on “SEO visibility” and you’ll see some pretty divergent definitions and measurement methodologies.
What most of these SEO consultants miss out, however, is the fact that Google can behave rather erratically across different niches which means that a singular visibility measure is rather meaningless. There are three reasons for this:-
Now my interest in SEO is entirely selfish; I’m analyzing the SERPs only so that I can make GoodPlace more visible in Google. For the rest of this article, I shall be deriving a visibility measurement methodology for Malaysia property online. This methodology is vertical agnostic, so feel free to adapt it for your own use if you are into traction hacking for your startup like me.
Ultimately, the visibility metric is only useful if it describes how websites stack against each other in terms of garnering clicks from Google by virtue of their rankings. Therefore, in the context of Malaysia property, I will need to correlate the search ranking position in the Malaysia property niche with the click volume associated with that position.
For this purpose, I’ve used the CTR data of a site which has been collecting Google clicks for search in the past 18 months through the very handy Google Webmaster Tools
I’ve also cross-referenced the traffic numbers with my own server data and they are in a very workable +/-10% range.
Mapping CTR against SERP position yielded a very familiar curve which you would see in any SEO visibility analysis where we observe that the top three positions would take the lion share of clicks on the first page of Google:-
We shall then be assigning weightages to reach ranking position reflecting the share of the clicks (normalized to the total clicks on the first page of Google) associated with that position (see this table below) -
|1.6 - 2.5||19.2||17.7|
|2.6 - 3.5||14.8||13.7|
|3.6 - 4.5||12.4||11.4|
|4.6 - 5.5||5.1||4.7|
|5.6 - 6.5||7.1||6.5|
|6.6 - 7.5||6.2||5.7|
|7.6 - 8.5||4.5||4.2|
|8.6 - 9.5||4.2||3.9|
|9.6 - 10||3.7||3.4|
From here, we will be computing the visibility scores for all the property sites in our consideration set using the following methodology:-
We have performed the crawl on August 17th, 2014, and so this analysis is accurate based on the Google SERPs data on that date. If you’re running this analysis much later, you may well see some differences especially given the fluidity of the SERPs at the moment with the relatively frequent algorithm changes.
Let’s see how the property sites stack up against each other in terms of visibility on Google.
The biggest property portal in the country, iProperty seems to be relying less on Google searches now than, say, three years ago. I’ve also observed that they are also buying much less PPC traffic off Google nowadays (leaving the field wide open for the likes of PropertyGuru – more on this later). In short, they seem to be scuttling their investment in SEO/SEM, preferring to spend their marketing monies elsewhere.
Here’s a sample of their SERPs since end September last year (Binjai Residency as proxy for KLCC, La Grande Kiara for Mont Kiara and One Menerung for Bangsar); many other keywords that we track are occupying the 4th to 6th position range in Google:-
Market leaders for classifieds businesses (jobs, cars, properties) typically have strong “direct” channels by virtue of their top-of-mind brand awareness. It makes sense at this stage for iProperty to disproportionately invest in branding (i.e. through expos and traditional PR) than to continue dabbling in SEO.
PropertyGuru is the second biggest property portal in Malaysia according to Alexa (ranked #104 in Malaysia overall; iProperty is #50). Since we started tracking its SERPs in September last year, we have noticed a slight “dance” between the 5th to 8th positions. The coveted Top 3 positions are usually taken up by Propwall, developer websites, Google services (notably YouTube and Google+ profiles), and in the light of competition, PropertyGuru is fighting an uphill battle to gain good visibility in Google.
I have also noticed the ramping up of Adwords spend for the last couple of months; perhaps this is to compensate for dipping organic search traffic? Well, your guess is as good as mine.
Make no mistake about it – as far as SEO goes for Malaysia property, Propwall is the big kahuna. Its SERPs appear in the Top 3 for a good majority of our keywords universe, nd as such, our visibility analysis, it’s the winner by a clear mile. In fact, its visibility in the Mont Kiara and Bangsar SERPs is about three times (!) the next guy, iProperty.
We will analyze the reasons for Propwall’s superior rankings in the search engines in the Key Takeaways section below.
Despite being the newest kid on the block (our maiden post at GoodPlace.my was published in June 2013), we have been holding our ground in the search engines. Our visibility in the Mont Kiara SERPs is comparable to iProperty, and we are just behind Propwall in searches for KL city properties, ahead of both iProperty and PropertyGuru. Not too bad for a one-year-old network of websites.
Our visibility in KL city property SERPs is pretty much driven by our sister site KLCCcondominiums.my where we have got a number of #1 rankings under the belt. Propwall still reigns supreme here, but we find ourselves in a good place to garner more organic clicks especially when our rich snippets (ratings and author name) actually show up in the SERPs2.
Comparatively, our performance in the Mont Kiara and Bangsar SERPs is rather mediocre, but this is perhaps a consequence of over-investing in KLCC as part of our pilot SEO project (at the expense of the other areas). We could have just repeated what we did for KLCC for Bangsar and Mont Kiara, but at this stage of our startup we are focusing more on referrals and product development, and as such, don’t expect much SERP movement at least in the next couple of months.
This may be seen as self serving for me since GoodPlace sites are primarily content plays, but I’m merely explaining the reasons behind Propwall’s dominance in Google here.
I’ve analyzed Propwall’s backlink profile, and while it’s not too shabby, there’s really nothing that really stands out about apart from the obligatory backlinks from its parent (The Star) and a couple of property agencies. In comparison, iProperty has arguably better backlinks (save for the sitewides from its partner portals – not good) with an aged domain with stronger authority. However, since Propwall seems consistently outrank iProperty, we can safely conclude that Propwall wins on the back of its superior on-site factors.
Pushing this hypothesis a little further, note that Propwall has both content (property reviews) and classifieds pages devoted for property keywords, and guess what – (usually) the content pages get ranked but not the classifieds. Content on pure classifieds plays such as iProperty and PropertyGuru is comparatively thin which puts them at a disadvantage as far as Google is concerned. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the classifieds portals were actually slapped with a light variant of Panda (dropping them from the top to the middle of the first page) given the thin and duplicative “content” in the form of copy-and-paste listings and pictures.
Finally, as an additional point of validation of this hypothesis: GoodPlace Network websites are purely content play, and we can attribute our visilibity in the search engines (despite our short existence) to one thing – our content.
Post-Penguin, on-site factors, user engagement, brand and domain authority are getting amped up at the expense of backlinks volume and keyword anchors. Also, as searches tend to be in the form of [property name], [property name price] and [property namereview],”local” factors such as proper KML / Schema.org tags as and local citations can also be important.
Consequently, in the context of SERPs in Malaysia property, the following types of websites get a leg up in Google:-
To illustrate, here’s the screencap of the SERPs for the keyword [marc residence] in Google.com.my4 minus the paid placements (Adwords):-
As shown, a Google+ profile occupies the top spot. Upon further checking, the profile is scarcely populated even with the basic NAP information and local reviews with absolutely no backlinks. It’s astounding that Google thinks that this page deserves the top spot since it offers little value to the searcher. However, the reality is that the algo seems to heavily favour local business profiles to appear whenever a local search query is entered.
Occupying the second and third spot are “deep” pages from Marc Residence’s developer, the Beverly Group. These clean, static HTML pages benefits from its branded parent domain, inclusion of NAP information (again, a “local” effect) as well as some local citations from contextually related sites like Hotels.org.my (Malaysia’s association of hoteliers), PropertyCafe (a property blog) and another property portal.
KLCCcondominiums.com.my’s entry on Marc Residence occupies the fourth spot – we have in fact dropped from the third the last time we did a crawl a month back (possibly due to another yet unconfirmed Google update widely rumored to take place at the end of July). Our rich snippets are showing up in full force (the numeric and starred ratings as well as the author’s name – mine) despite being filtered out in the last Google update on rich snippets spam in the end of 2013, and our internal data showed that CTR improved by some +15% from the display of rich snippets.
Rounding up the first page SERPs is another content-heavy site Propwall, followed by listings pages from “pure” classifieds websites like iProperty and PropertyGuru. We have indeed observed a fairly consistent “local & content sites over listings” pattern across the SERPs, and this presents a good opportunity for property sites to get more clicks from Google – see the next section.
Iwill repeat the disclaimer at the start of this article here: while GoodPlace is not in the classifieds business, we are competing with the others (notably iProperty, PropertyGuru and Propwall) for the same clicks on Google for the same property keywords. Unfortunately, search is a zero sum game (there’s only X number of SERPs on page one of Google), and as such, an increase in our visibility correlates to the decrease in another. For this reason, logically I would presumably have no incentive to share with anyone else what’s working for GoodPlace so far, SEO-wise.
But having said that, I firmly believe in open sharing even in an industry which is “closed” or opaque (by design) like property. Indeed, GoodPlace exists to make information flow more freely in the Malaysia property industry, and this blog post is therefore completely in line with our raison d’etre.
In fact, I believe that the industry will greatly benefit from an initiative such as Simon Baker’sProperty Portal Watch which organizes a series of conferences around the world which gives a platform for (often competing) property portals to share ideas and work on collaborative projects. But alas, something like this may not attract much traction amongst players in the Malaysia property industry which is seen to be more “combative” rather than collaborative these days. But I digress…
Alas, SEO will never be my bread and butter; I’d prefer to work on building a rockin’ product and drawing inbound traffic without an intermediary (this also explains why I’m also not that enthusiastic about building up a Facebook or Twitter following). However, if you’re running a property portal and you want to fortify your search engine visibility then consider these ideas:-