There was a great deal of coverage yesterday about Google adding new capabilities to enable users to search for properties on Google Maps. Matt McGee wrote it up on SEL and Om Malik offers something of a cautionary note on GigaOM.
This was triggered by the launch of real-estate search on Maps in Australia. While the capability may be new in OZ, real-estate search on Google Maps (or Google.com itself) and the use of Google Base to upload listings have been around for at least a couple of years — at least. See, for example:
Matt correctly points out: “What you’re seeing is an updated and more comprehensive version of the real estate listings that Google Maps has shown before, along with a new search tool.” Google’s LatLong Blog explains:
Previously, you had to specify “real estate” from the search options menu, but now we’re making it easier to find available listings
You’ll notice that we’ve made some other enhancements that will improve your real estate searching experience. We’ve added lots of markers that will show not only the ten most relevant listings with pins on the map, but also show a small circle on every other listing in that area using the search results layer, so you can get a really good idea of the distribution of properties for sale. You can click on each marker and each small circle to get more detailed information about the property.This feature means you can now conduct a real estate search around a specific neighborhood, or see at a glance all the properties close to a BART stop. You can also pan the map to another area entirely to see listings there if you decide that another part of town is more your speed.
This is a set of refinements of existing capabilities that have been present for at least two years. Nobody should be surprised or not expect Google to try and refine its user experience. (Street View has always been a great real estate search tool and is incorporated into Trulia for that reason.)
Just as with behavior in the Travel category, people are going to rely on more than a single site for information about real estate. Google’s refinements and improvements may help move it up the list and improve its “curb appeal,” but it’s not going to dominate online real estate. And Google is never going to devote the attention to a single vertical that a dedicated site like Trulia or Zillow would. With a couple of possible exceptions Google always looks for scalable “horizontal-vertical” approaches.
Here’s Hitwise data on the traffic hierarchy in the real estate category: