The REA Group actively promotes in their most recent Investor and Shareholder Presentation (8th August 2014) that casa.it is "Italy's leading property site" with an "average audience 1.3 times greater than the nearest competitor".
Accompanying this message is a unique monthly audience chart showing that casa.it had 2.6m average monthly unique visitors versus its nearest competitor which had just over 2m. That nearest competitor is Immobiliare.it.
On the October 1 2014, Property Portal Watch received a press release from Aida Partners Ogilvy (Ogilvy PR) on behalf of casa.it stating that "Casa.it, with 6,100,000 unique users/month, is the leading real estate portal in Italy."
While the August numbers were attributed to Audiweb, the October press release numbers had no reference. However, as the company is reporting these numbers and claiming leadership, the question has to be raised is how did they manage to generate such an increase in traffic in such a short period of time and where did all these visitors come from?
Similarweb is a good tool for analysing traffic. Some of the key stats reported are:
The main source of traffic to casa.it is referral traffic. For most market leading sites, direct or search are the main traffic sources with referral traffic around the 20% market.
According to Similarweb, for casa.it, 59% of the total traffic (equating to 3.54m out of 6m visits) was from referral sites. Sites such as Trovit and Mitula rank well for casa.it as referral sites and are well known to the industry.
However the main referrer is a mysterious "Videosit.foxtv.es" accounting for over 2/3rds of the referral traffic. Therefore, this referrer is probably generating over 2m of the 6m visits per month to the casa.it site.
This site is very hard to track down and doesn't exist if typed in as a URL. Strangely enough, www.foxtv.es is Fox TV in Spain rather than the home country of casa.it, Italy.
So what appears to be happening?
In short, casa.it appears to be using pop-unders to increase traffic numbers.
The approach is simple. A person visits a site, any site, and while on that site another site, which they never had any intention of visiting, is opened in the background thus being counted as a visit (and unique visitor) for the background site. Usually the person finds this page open when they leave the site they visited and closes it without even engaging with the site.
The video below shows it all and it is remarkably easy to replicate.
[video width="3804" height="2296" mp4="http://www.propertyportalwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/casa.mp4"][/video]
In this case, the user goes to a legitimate site, for example napolitoday.it, looks through a few pages, and then, in the background, a page opens, initially on Videosit.foxtv.es (see below) and then redirects to casa.it - a site that the initial user never selects.
So if this is true (and it appears to be), it is consistent with casa.it having high traffic numbers, low time on site and a high bounce rate.
Of course this now raises many questions but the most important is, who is the real leader in the Italian market? We will explore this tomorrow.