How Gumtree is addressing online fraud and ad blocking to become the biggest website in the UK

Classifieds website Gumtree wants be known as Britain’s biggest digital brand, revealing an ambitious plan to become the go-to site for every internet-using adult in the UK. Currently, it courts 15 million users every month (representing around a third of adults in the UK) but to reach its goal it faces significant challenges, namely in convincing people it’s a safe place to transact, as well how to generate revenue as the threat of ad blocking looms large.

In what has been the most substantial update to the brand since it was founded in 2000, Gumtree has overhauled its website and mobile app to introduce a simplified design and improved search functions, as well as a raft of safety features and live communications tools.

General manager Morten Hueing, who joined Gumtree from the Danish division of parent company eBay four months ago, told The Drum that ambition to overtake the likes of Facebook and Twitter as the most visited site is not unrealistic, pointing to classified’s giant dba.dk in his native Denmark.

“If you look abroad to where classifieds have matured you will see that reaching over 60 per cent of the population is not unusual, the engagement is sky high,” he argued. “Our sister site in Denmark dba.dk is one of the biggest websites in the country [14th most visited site in Denmark according to analytics firm Alexa]. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be on the same path in the UK [Gumtree currently ranks 46th most visited in the UK according to Alexa].”

Heuing has given himself two years to get at least half the UK population using Gumtree on a monthly basis. To date, its apps have been downloaded almost 12 million times but Hueing believes “by the end of 2016 we will have doubled the number of downloads of our mobile apps.”

To hit this target, Gumtree's strategy is underpinned by the revamp to the service to show it is modern and simple to use. Among the more cosmetic changes has been a refresh of the logo, site and app design, which have all been modernised with a stripped-back colour palette and slicker design to put it in better alignment with brands like Facebook and Twitter.

Safety

It’s little surprise that the main challenges in attracting new users will be proving it’s a safe place to transact, a fact that has seen it already make substantial investments into improving safety features.

Apprehension of sharing details online is at a high following a year in which the likes of TalkTalk and other well-known brands become subject to well documented hacks on their services.

Gumtree has long been challenged by proving its safety credentials to users, more so in the last 18 months after the Citizen's Advice Bureau publically issued a warning to users that one in every six of the consumer complaints associated with the classifieds site are the result of a scam or fraud.

Heuing promised that with the improved website and app, users will find it easier to report fraudulent activity through a 24-hour customer service live-chat feature and a dedicated Twitter feed that will be manned round the clock to respond to potential queries.

Ramping up its marketing efforts

Heuing anticipates twice as much will be spent on marketing activity this year compared with last, which could potentially see it sign up to more partnership opportunities.

Last year, Gumtree had an endorsement deal with Celebrity Big Brother and inked its largest ever sponsorship package with BT Sport for its coverage of 2015/2016 Barclays Premier League matches to drive awareness of the motors setion of the marketplace.

Heuing is mulling the option to extend or renew the BT contract come May having seen “it create tremendous momentum and success”. In Q4 last year the number of motor listings on the marketplace was up 67 per cent and the number of visits to the cars category was up 29 per cent year over year.

“But we are spending significantly more than last year, so we will not be limited to just one activity,” he hinted.

More pressing is a nationwide TV and digital campaign set to roll out in the coming weeks that will show people how Gumtree can better their lives. To support future efforts Hueing is in the process of staffing up its marketing team, which was streamlined last year amid wider redundancies across eBay. In the coming months hires will be made across traditional marketing, digital, social and CRM.

Ad Blockers

Heuing's final concern to growth, although he admits not a major one at present, is the rise of ad blocking. While a portion of Gumtree’s revenue comes from business owners – such as estate agents - who are charged a fixed price for posts, a significant part comes from advertising inventory on the website and app.

Recent research from the Internet Advertising Bureau suggested as many as one in five internet users have installed an ad blocker, which could have a severe impact on the likes of Gumtree.

“It’s obviously a concern for anyone with an advertising-based model and we are of course watching closely. But when we ask our customers, they understand that we need advertising on the site to make it a free experience,” he said.

The City AM model of stopping people using ad blockers from viewing content on its website is not “the way forward” for Gumtree and instead Heuing is looking at how to ask users to exclude it from ad blocking lists.

“But that also means we have to make sure he ads aren’t intrusive. We’ve spent a lot of time making sure ads are relevant and contextual.”