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The Myths of Santa Claus and Slow Januaries

3 minute read

Santa Claus: He’s easy to believe in, because when you do, you get lots of gifts. There’s a clear financial benefit to closing your eyes to reality in the case of the bearded fat man.

There are other Christmas-time myths that aren’t so beneficial. Yet, some people believe in them despite the cost. For example, most people know that traffic to realestate.com.au (and our similar sites around the world) is usually a bit lower in December.

The mistake comes when they assume the same is true in January.

In fact, the opposite is true. Every year in January, realestate.com.au’s traffic takes a big step up from December—and even from every month of the prior year.

Let’s turn to the numbers, as provided by Nielsen//NetRatings’s Market Intelligence service. In the 06/07 Christmas season you see something really striking. By the time November 06 rolled around, traffic reached a high point for the whole year.

Traffic slowed down a bit in December, but then came back so strongly in January that it surpassed November’s high by more than 10%.

I’m also told that realestate.com.au’s internal tracking reveals the website sends to up to 36% more email leads to agents in January than in November.

The same thing happens in other countries. To show you that this isn’t just a function of REA Group websites, I spent some time trolling around online for comparisons. What I found is fascinating.

The United States’ largest real estate website, realtor.com, exhibits a very similar pattern.

In January 2007, traffic to realtor.com hit a higher level than in any of the previous three months.

My personal reading of the data is that January is one of the most important months of the year to advertise online. You don’t need to believe in Santa Claus to know how to give yourself the gift of increased enquiries and new business.

Homebuyers (and sellers seeking an agent) are rearing to go after their holidays. They want to make post-New Year’s resolutions changes to their lives—for the better.

Agents planning a break might want to reconsider whether they want to be away from the office in January. That’s especially true in vacation and second home hotspots, where visiting renters from out-of-town might be interested in considering an investment property while they are in the area.

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22 Comments

  • Adam
    Posted December 11, 2007 at 7:30 pm 0Likes

    Whichever way you read that, its a promo for REA.

    *shakes head*

    Ho Ho HUM

  • Jason
    Posted December 11, 2007 at 8:45 pm 0Likes

    Peter, I know you said there would be promotional stuff from David but i am just not interested in reading what the chief communicator for REA has to say about REA. That’s just a nothing article which should be left to REA’s branded newsletter, not your website.

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted December 11, 2007 at 10:18 pm 0Likes

    Guys. I have read this article and I see what you are saying, however it has a message and it seems you are directing all of your energy towards the messenger. I am happy for Dave to write whatever he feels. You are also free to respond in any way you see fit (within reason of course).

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted December 11, 2007 at 10:19 pm 0Likes

    Dave. Maybe the figures also suggest that people coming back to work after Xmas want to do everything BUT work and spend their time dreaming of a new fresh start!

  • snoop
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 6:25 am 0Likes

    Keeping it generals fine.
    Most property sites have big traffic increases in Jan.
    But we are all sick of REAS endless self promotion.

  • Dave Platter
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 8:10 am 0Likes

    Peter, on reflection, I think Snoop’s, Jason’s and Adam’s comments are right on target. I appreciate your defending my post, but I have to admit these guys are right.

    Although you invited me on to talk about what REA is doing, I think the blog is too well established as an independent voice to make that appropriate. Think of all the pains you have gone to, avoiding endorsing your own products and services in your posts.

    I’ll make a unilateral decision now. From now on, I won’t use my posts to share the REA Group’s own news as I was asked to do. I’ll avoid, as Jason says, things that belong in our newsletter.

    Instead, I’ll limit myself to items of general interest, told from my perspective.

    Jason, Snoop and Adam, thanks for setting me straight.

  • snoop
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 8:30 am 0Likes

    I think if REA was doing something interesting and industry changing its appropriate imho.
    Just spruiking your traffic is passe

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 11:18 am 0Likes

    I love myths – I wonder if the rumour presently circulating that a major REA shareholder is well into discussions with a not so successful property portal about re-branding ? Appears they believe a major competitor is gaining significant market share and yesterdays findings by the ACCC was not exactly their perfect Christmas present.

  • snoop
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 2:04 pm 0Likes

    Is the subject and the result of these ACCC findings Public Robert??

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 2:10 pm 0Likes

    Watchdog acts on newspaper’s rebate system

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 3:16 pm 0Likes

    I think everybody has missed the important stuff in this article. Apparently Santa is a myth!!

  • Dave Platter
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 3:36 pm 0Likes

    Thanks, Glenn, for noticing the important part of my post. I’m glad someone got it!

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 4:07 pm 0Likes

    No problem Dave… it explains why I have only been receiving socks and jocks for a few years now though.

    On a serious note though, we seem to be bucking the trend with a much higher traffic in December 2007 in comparison to November 2007.

    I think there are fundamental reasons why this is the case though as a site redesign last month seems to have just kicked in this month SEO wise and increased our traffic from the search engines even more (as a percentage, over 50% of our traffic is now generated by the search engines up from around 35-40%) .

    Then on top of that with a recent murder in the news at Clagiraba, an outlying acreage area from our office, generating interesting on the web we picked up a stack of visits incoming to our suburb profile. It peaked at 100 visits for the day after the murder and whilst many were only interested in the suburb details nearly 35 went on to view property for sale somewhere on our site. I guess we take web visitors no matter how they get to your site.

    I would be interested in different trends for different states. Have you noticed any of the states being overly or less effected by the December drop off yet?

    Also, what about the quality levels during December? Anybody looking these days is more than likely a serious buyer. Have you noticed that email enquiries delivered per unique buyer has increased?

  • Dave Platter
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 6:15 pm 0Likes

    Glenn, thanks for your questions.

    Due to a very helpful person (you know who you are), I’ve gotten my hands on some of the data you’re asking for.

    I’ll have to post a new post, so I can include the charts which I can’t include in commens. Watch for it later or tomorrow….

  • PaulD
    Posted December 12, 2007 at 7:19 pm 0Likes

    Some great posts Glenn. Coupla things. That thing in the Eastern Suburbs was ALWAYS going to happen – I’m surprised it didn’t happen ages ago. Secondly – interesting to note that your email enquiry per unique browser is increasing Glenn. I keep statistics on those things, and for the last 4 years I have noticed a steady decline in that ratio. The decline seems to drop 0.1 of one percent per year consistently over those 4 years. Now that is not a big number, but when you take it in context, it represents a 10% drop in the first year, 11% in the second year, 12.5% in year 3 and more than 14% in year 4. Those numbers start to be significant. So the “massive ” increases in unique browsers that everyone is crowing about, are (at least in my case) delivering less and less actual enquiry in percentage terms.

    The other thing that I asked Dave to look at maybe 4 or 5 months ago ( you may not have seen the post Dave) is that we are getting an increasing number of double emails. In other words, the person hits “Send” twice, and we get the email twice. REA used to be bad at that – they seem to have improved some but Domain are bad at present. This is not just a small amount, I’m talking a full 9% of our emails – we get twice. Does that mean that our email count is something like 9% above what it really is. There should be some mechanism whereby once an email has been sent, it can’t be sent again unless something is changed or it is a different property. I assume that has to be possible. I think it is probably the impatience of some people rather than some problem with either website.

    So my increase in unique browsers is well and truly shot to bits with double emails and declining enquiry. Still, I guess in absolute numbers the email enquiry is still static over the last two years, and higher than it was 4 years ago.

    The December v’s January thing in my case is exactly as Dave described it. Every January we seem to step up to a new level. And here I was thinking it’s all the new computers people get for Christmas. 🙂

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 9:48 am 0Likes

    PaulD,

    Just for the record, I have not done the numbers to see if our email enquiry per unique browsers is higher, but I suspect it is. I was trying to suggest statistics that would be more educational for the readers, rather than being promotional for REA.

    I can understand the core reasoning behind some of the comments made about Dave’s post but I truly believe he is in a unique position to provide some real enlightening stats using the REA numbers that would not be seen as chest beating.

    What about time on market national and broken down by state. Maybe something like the average/median listing portfolio value/numbers nationally and broken down per state and you could even throw in the numbers of listings as well. You could even look at movement from year to year and what about breaking them down to the different franchise groups.

    I could come up with hundreds of interesting stats that they could extract, or even better, be constantly tracking and reporting on.

    Who else could provide those sort of benchmarking numbers but REA?

    Funny you mentioned about Dave not replying to your posts.. I have actually suggested to Dave in the past that the email rate per unique browser was on the decline and had asked him for stats when he was boasting over his increasing numbers (so I really appreciate your numbers of course). I thought I might have been right when he never provided them despite following up on them a number of times.

    Maybe they see these as negative performance stats and don’t want to confirm them, I for one believe that its the public learning not to email agents because they often get no reply. Phoning is a much better option for a response to most agents.

  • Lucas Ng
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 2:37 pm 0Likes

    “I have actually suggested to Dave in the past that the email rate per unique browser was on the decline”

    While the number of emails per unique will fluctuate depending on seasonality, promotional activity and the state of the economy (eg. renters are more likely to email then buyers) I would hazard to guess that both REA and domain.com.au have seen a year-on-year increasing trend in emails per unique browser.

    Also, from a quick look at Fairfax’s dashboards, quality of traffic remains high in both Dec and Jan, with the only difference being the quantity of traffic (low Dec, trendsetting high in Jan).

    Finally, despite the chest-beating, Dave makes a valid point – while agent activity might be sluggish in January, property seekers go crazy after they return from the New Year’s holiday.

    With the new year comes the ‘I-want-to-change-my-life’ (new job, new car, new house) mentality. Additionally, a whole new crop of online property seekers can be found from new university students, new internet connection subscriptions, new entrants into the workforce, new computer/laptops etc.

    -Lucas (Fairfax Digital search marketing manager)

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 4:22 pm 0Likes

    Lucas,

    PaulD’s and my own experiences differ although mine are more anecdotal whilst PaulD obviously tracks his fairly accurately.

    I really am only interested in the sales side, and I am really after yearly trends… not daily or monthly fluctuations. It’s nearly the end of the year so it should be easy enough to caclulate…

    2006 emails / 2006 Unique Browsers = 2006 Email Rate
    compared to
    2007 email / 2007 Unique Browsers = 2007 Email Rate

    Is it going up or coming down ?? We know ub’s are going up, and email totals are also probably on the increase, but at the same rate? I believe until given better feedback than a guess that buyers are less likely to email and more likely to phone.

    Hopefully Dave will share REA’s results this time but is there anyway you can tighten up that “guess” of yours to be a bit more solid.

  • PaulD
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 5:12 pm 0Likes

    Good points Glenn & Lucas, regarding the increases in the January traffic. We are definitely moving towards the tech savvy x and y gen users. I’m guessing that trend is only going to increase. It’s a sad situation where people get no answer via email, so they have to phone. That method you suggested for working out the enquiry ratio is exactly how I did it Glenn. The base year (03-04) was 1%, the ratio over the following 3 years was 0.9%, 0.8%, and 0.7% respectively.

  • Lucas Ng
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 10:05 am 0Likes

    Emails per unique browser from 04-07 are clearly up year-on-year on domain.com.au.

    Your own mileage may vary; if you’ve made site usability changes, if you cater more to renters than buyers, if you’re in a growth region then you may see a different trend.

  • Glenn Batten
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 4:49 pm 0Likes

    Lucas,

    Thats a little better than a guess, but have you any more info than that? “Clearly Up”.. how much is clearly up?

    Up every year with a continual growth or was 04 a particularly low year… ? Is 07 higher than 06?

  • PaulD
    Posted February 20, 2008 at 5:53 pm 0Likes

    So how did we all go in January ????

    Well, lets see how the myth of a slow January panned out.
    I have compared REA and Domain for the month of January with respect to previous Januaries. Just for my office.

    The total number of Unique Browsers this January (18,498) was 4% down on last year (2007) and about the same as 2006.

    Interestingly REA was 8.5% up on last year, but Domain was down substantially. The ratio of REA to Domain has always been around two thirds- one third. This year was no different. Domain in fact showed a drop of 31% in unique browsers over last January. I suppose you could imagine my surprise when I received my Domain renewal with a 36% increase for this year. I guess someone has to pay for the Agents that are getting Domain subscriptions for free, if they advertise in the local Fairfax paper.

    Interestingly the ratio of emails to unique browsers has stopped falling and lifted slightly to 2006 levels of 0.8 of one percent. The thing that puts these figures way out of line is the repeat emails. I spoke of this previoiusly. This is where someone hits the send key repeatedly. In Domain’s case in January 16% of the emails were sent at least twice. In the REA case it was 10%. I suppose it is worth just ignoring that fact if you are either Domain or REA because the numbers just keep piling up, and why let the facts destroy a great number !!

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