Mobile on the rise for REA

Australian internet real estate business REA Group this week said it was seeing a rapid uptake of mobile use of its flagship realestate.com.au portal, with over 150,000 unique users per month.

Australian internet real estate business REA Group this week said it was seeing a rapid uptake of mobile use of its flagship realestate.com.au portal, with over 150,000 unique users per month.

REA Group CEO Greg Ellis
(Credit: REA Group)

In an interview this week with ZDNet.com.au, REA managing director Greg Ellis said he believed there was a growing trend toward mobile internet offerings, catering for these on-the-go users. He believes mobile will "become the more critical device in the medium to long term".

"We're seeing north of 10 per cent growth per month, with well over 150,000 unique users per month additional to the internet site," he said. "So that's not substitution traffic, but additional. We are also seeing varying peak times for both — more users are on the website during the week, with the mobile site seeing more traffic over the weekend."

Mobile internet use has seen a sharp rise year on year, with increasing numbers of consumers turning to the new wave of smartphones spearheaded by Apple's iPhone to use the internet away from their desk.

According to the Australian Interactive Media Association's 2009 Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index (PDF), 71 per cent of survey respondents used their phones to access the internet, with an 80 per cent increase in mobile email in the last year (2008 to 2009).

And it's not just users who are turning to their tiny screens for information, with Juniper Research predicting mobile internet ad spending will reach $2 billion per year by 2014 — a significant increase from 2009's $500 million.

That downswing
Ellis also spoke of the impact of the global financial crisis on online advertising and the REA Group's strategic goals for 2010. When asked about how 2009's financial difficulties affected realestate.com.au, Ellis believed the GFC actually helped rather than hindered realestate.com.au's advertising growth.

"The GFC helped our business as it forced agents to look at the cost-effectiveness of print [advertising]," he said. "It assisted a behavioural shift forced by agents having to address cost base and reaffirmed the use of internet for advertising."

While some saw 2009 as a difficult year for the REA Group, as it divested seven of its 11 international businesses during the period, Ellis is confident that the remaining operations in Australia, Italy, Luxembourg and Hong Kong will create significant strategic opportunities for the company.

With realestate.com.au leading its vertical by almost 50 per cent (the closest competitor being Fairfax's Domain) and casa.it (REA's Italian real estate site) attracting over 1 million users per month, Ellis believes REA has a strong position to build on over the coming year. "You have to win the number one position," he said. "For listings and for your audience, and then profitability will come."

Greg Ellis was appointed CEO and managing director of REA in September 2008. He manages REA's global operations and 500 staff in the company's four international offices.