OnTheMarket.com, the new property website from the Agents’ Mutual group of estate agents, launched with much fanfare this week with an apparent threat to the “duopoly” enjoyed by Rightmove and Zoopla.
Zoopla, as the less well-visited of the two property portal giants, seemed in particular danger as one of the requirements of OnTheMarket.com meant participating agents could only list on one other rival.
Its share price had been on a downward trajectory ever since investors first got wind of the new player in the market, dropping from above 240p in September to below 150p earlier this month. But now it is on the rise again.
Part of the reason for the bounce is likely to be down to analysts dismissing the launch as not living up to the hype but it may also be because it’s currently pretty tough to come across OnTheMarket.com on the web unless you specifically seek it out.
To win in online property search you must win on Google, as that is where the majority of prospective buyers start their search – and that battle for the best search engine optimisation (SEO) is a tough one.
To illustrate that point, try searching for “2 bedroom flats for sale Camden London”. Rightmove and Zoopla top the list, unsurprisingly, but the issue for Agents’ Mutual is that its site does not yet appear on the first page, the bare minimum to have any chance of people clicking through.
It’s the same story if you search for a specific property which OnTheMarket.com lists on its site: “2 bedroom penthouse for sale - Wilmot Place, London, NW1”. Again, plenty of evidence of Zoopla and Rightmove flexing their SEO muscles in this space but no sign, so far at least, of the young upstart.
It’s early days, and gaining a foothold in search rankings inevitably takes time, but the estate agents’ site is pitching up in a battle which already has two seasoned experts fighting it out and will have to catch up quickly.
Simon Schnieders, who up until recently was Zoopla’s head of SEO before leaving the company, says the prize for topping these rankings is a big one, with about 60 per cent of all property portal traffic beginning on a search page.
"Organic search traffic is still the largest upstream source for both Zoopla and Rightmove. Given Agents’ Mutual are competing in the non-branded space [searches not including the company name] for the short to medium term, they will be severely disappointed in their organic visibility.”
He adds that links from other websites are the “lifeblood for SEO” and, despite a fair amount of media interest pre-launch, there appears to be “no compelling reason to link to them as an asset or authority”.
OnTheMarket.com is clearly taking this challenge seriously and insists that "SEO has been at the heart of our business from day one of the website build”.
“Bearing in mind we launched 72 hours ago, it is fair to say this is a longer term game,” says the site’s chief executive Ian Springett, adding that it is “also investing in producing high-quality unique editorial content which is shareable across social media channels”.
With a “multi-million pound” advertising campaign due to hit TV, press and digital media on Sunday there is clearly a big push to come from OnTheMarket. But only time will tell if that is enough to get noticed in arguably the only place that really matters – on Google.