We recently published a series of infographics named ‘Top Property Portals’. The idea to create a visual guide to the top property portals in the world was something that had come to me after starting this job back in March and seeing that Google searches such as “property portals in Eastern Europe” yielded very little. Getting to know the landscape, the incumbents, and the challengers in property marketing around the world and filling a Google gap while doing so sounded like a great idea.
The first question was, ‘how do we measure the portals in each country?’. As much as we might have wanted to base our infographic around the number of listings each portal has, we quickly found that there is a big disparity between how some portals are open, some are coy and others are secretive about the number of listings they market. And as much as it may have been possible to compare property portals using a financial metric in Western Europe where these figures tend to be published to appease investors, portal financials in other regions are far more opaque.
We quickly realised that the one standardised measurement we had available to us to compare the world’s property portals was traffic as given by SimilarWeb. SimilarWeb traffic, apart from not even being a freely available metric, is far from ideal. User engagement metrics, market coverage, financials, and market sentiment are just a few things our chosen metric can’t take into account.
Why So Secretive?
One portal boss we got to know over the course of the series was Nnamdi Chineme, CEO and Founder of Property Centre Africa (a company whose flagship portal features in the revised version of our Africa infographic). Chineme told us that unlike some in the region, his company doesn’t mind who gets to see their data:
“Most portals do not release their data. We tend to publish as much as we can. You can see stats on our homepage and in addition to that, we usually publish our yearly performance on our blog. You can see our performance going back 3 years”
Some of the most advanced property portals in Western Europe and North America go even further and have APIs that anyone can either use freely or apply to use. These APIs will deliver data from the portals’ property listings and are usually made available with the intention of having agencies build a search function into their own websites where the search widget carries the name of the portal. Sometimes though the portals don’t mind third parties using their APIs to use their data in creative ways for their own endeavors: for example, before being incorporated into Nestoria, findproperly.co.uk was a great little tool that used Zoopla’s API and geographical data to show commute times for home buyers and was effectively a white-labeled version of Zoopla. This is the gold standard of data availability and seems to be something that only happens among incumbent market leaders or #2 portals in more developed regions and settled markets.
Other property marketing sites, perhaps understandably, aren’t so forthcoming with the information around listing numbers, traffic figures or financials. There may be several reasons for a portal’s data not to be in the public domain: It could be the fact that ultimately the data that property portals manage is not their own, but rather that of their agent customers, it might be that I am not a native of the country and I simply don’t know where or how to look for it or it may be that it is simply not in a property portal’s interest to tell the world how many listings it has, how much money it makes or how many people use it.
The point here is that differences in the characteristics of markets seem to dictate the availability of property portal data. As soon as we understood this we knew that our infographics series was only ever going to be skin deep and that we would probably get a few chastening emails from those not included in our series whose grievances we might not be able to verify.
Parochial Property Portals
As part of the research process for the series, I would always begin in any country in which I did not know the names of any portals by translating the following search and sticking it in Google:
“Two bedroom apartment (name of country’s second city) (name of major area of that city)”
Curiously, Google’s results for this very generic search often did not include results from the market leader. Even in Western Europe, a portal market I am relatively familiar with, finding the leading portals in Iceland, Norway, and Finland wasn’t straightforward. Was I getting the search terms right? Do all leading portals care that much that outsiders like me don’t know about them and can’t always find them with crudely translated Google searches?
Property portals are, with a few notable exceptions, parochial in outlook. It is telling that very few brands in established markets are successful in countries outside of their native market. Even monoliths with exorbitant profit margins and little room for improvement such as Rightmove or Zillow have not dared venture behind their countries’ borders. The expectation among many leading portals we came across throughout the series seems to be that anyone who might want to buy or rent a property in their country will already form part of a demographic into which their brand awareness campaigns have penetrated. Here property portals are something of a business rarity in that in many cases brand-awareness in their native market is close to 100% yet outside of that market, it can be almost null. There is a dissertation or thesis in there for a Marketing or Business student I’m sure.
Community for Property Portals
Over the course of the series, we encountered quite a few bootstrapped property portals founded by locals (Ingatlan in Hungary and the above mentioned Nigeria Property Centre spring to mind), and we also found many which were founded or funded by non-natives. In an industry centred around most countries’ largest asset class in which there can be countless local intricacies and complexities, the question of whether a portal from Armenia, The Czech Republic or Angola might fare better with a native founder and without the capital from foreign investment funds is an interesting one and one which may take a great deal of research to understand.
One thing that did seem to leap out during the course of researching world property portal sites is that these companies can benefit from being part of a wide community of similar companies and the advice and insights that such a community can generate for their business.
That’s exactly what we’re trying to build here at Online Marketplaces. Whether you work for a property website in Cambodia, Uruguay or Belarus we want to bring you together with your peers. Come to our conferences, read our content, send us angry emails when we fail to include you on our infographics, it’s all good.