Growtion Case Study: Primelocation.com

The first internet bubble

Primelocation.com was born in 2000, just as the first internet bubble was popping. 

It was created by a hundreds of estate agents who, presciently, saw that they could end up with having to pay someone else to advertise their properties online if this internet thing really took off. So they banded together and listed their properties exclusively on Primelocation.com for 5 years until it was bought by the Daily Mail General Trust (DMGT) Group for £48m in 2005.

What appears to be a relatively straightforward business tale actually masks – as most do – a huge amount of strategic pivots, revenue searches, near failures and desperately late nights/early mornings. In particular, we completely changed our revenue model from seeking payment from third-party advertisers, looking to target our high net worth visitors to the site, to one which charged estate agents for their property listings.

Unique Selling Point

But the Unique Selling Point (USP) remained. It was about being the property portal with the best quality property stock on the market. The way that we went about that was by requiring that each agent list all of their properties on Primelocation – and exclusively on Primelocation. These properties to buy or sell were genuinely not discoverable on any other aggregated website. 

If that sounds crazy now, in 2000 it was eminently sensible. “Content is king”, they say, and it’s true. It is what draws people to a website. It’s what gets people buying magazines, newspapers, TV sports’ packages and reading this Growtion blog. If you cannot find that content collected together anywhere else on the web then you’ll have to go to the site. It’s why Primelocation sold for £48m and a very similar competitor, with similar traffic and property numbers advertised, called Findaproperty was acquired by the same DMGT for £14m - 3.5 times less - just months earlier.

This USP required some upkeep, for sure. There were many times that I would have to get in touch with an agent whose properties had mysteriously appeared on Rightmove. This website – now the UK’s most-visited property portal – started around the same time as Primelocation and was supported by the 4 biggest estate agents in the UK. Their footprint amounted to around 20% of the UK market and they were incredibly disciplined in ensuring that every single branch had a Rightmove logo in its window. From a consumer’s point of view, they dominated. 

Exclusivity

Still, Primelocation retained its “Exclusivity Clause”, as it was known. Whilst Rightmove was cementing its place as the portal to go for if you wanted to see less expensive properties, we continued to dominate the quality end of the market because you simply could not see these properties anywhere else.

Once Primelocation was acquired by DMGT, however, they removed the “Exclusivity Clause”, enabling all of the agents to advertise wherever they liked. This meant that the content on the site became more plentiful – more agents listed more properties – but it also meant that Rightmove suddenly was able to access many more properties themselves and to become “whole of market”.

Whilst you can argue – and many still do – about the ethics of deliberately restricting access to content, what is unavoidable is the conclusion that as a USP it was incredibly valuable. Over a decade later, the same agents that set up Primelocation and benefited from its sale are now paying Rightmove multiple-times what they used to pay Primelocation and every year the prices increase. Rightmove’s “whole of market” USP now turns over nearly £200m and has a 75% - that’s right, 75% - profit margin.

Get your USP right and you’ll have something that pays you back in many, many ways.