Local Search Race

By John Pallatto  |  Posted 2004-04-02 Print this article Print

Google is currently testing local-search features based on its main search index of more than 4 billion Web pages. The company created a specialized local-search algorithm that users invoke whenever they enter geographic information including city, state, zip codes and addresses.

Click here to read about Googles local-search plans in detail.
Users are sure to value search capabilities that give them a wide range of data within the context of a basic map. Many people on vacation or traveling on business in an unfamiliar city have encountered the frustration of trying to find an ATM close to their hotel or on the way to a restaurant. Local-search capabilities also would come in handy when youd like to find a good sushi bar within walking distance of your hotel without puzzling over paper maps or the verbal directions of a hotel concierge.

Whether these searches will generate robust new advertising revenues for Yahoo, Google and others remains an open question. Small and midsized businesses have limited advertising budgets, and they regularly get pitches from a phalanx of traditional advertising channels–local newspapers, telephone directories, guidebooks, direct mail–not to mention radio and television.

But many business owners may be willing to contribute part of their advertising budgets to lock in prominent placement in a local Web search. In the meantime, the upfront investment by Google and Yahoo both in technology and in advertising sales support is massive. A check of the Yahoo and Google Web sites internal job postings show they are continuing to build up advertising sales staff across the country and globally. Their national and local sales campaigns will have to be an unqualified success to justify this investment.

But the development of local search hardly comprises the majority of what Google is doing to challenge Yahoo on its home turf. Googles latest move is to announce a free e-mail service to compete directly with Yahoo, MSN, AOL and the rest.

The Google "Gmail" service reportedly will allow users to archive and search every e-mail theyve ever sent or received. Google plans to sweeten the offer with 1 GB of free storage, far more than what Yahoo and other free e-mail services offer. Yahoo, for example, offers 4 MB of e-mail storage for free. Users have to pay for additional storage capacity.

With this powerful addition, Googles spare and uncluttered interface could prove an irresistible draw for Internet users, even those who have made Yahoo their default home page since the early 90s.

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John Pallatto John Pallatto is eWEEK.com's Managing Editor News/West Coast. He directs eWEEK's news coverage in Silicon Valley and throughout the West Coast region. He has more than 35 years of experience as a professional journalist, which began as a report with the Hartford Courant daily newspaper in Connecticut. He was also a member of the founding staff of PC Week in March 1984. Pallatto was PC Week's West Coast bureau chief, a senior editor at Ziff Davis' Internet Computing magazine and the West Coast bureau chief at Internet World magazine.

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