Google of Mountain View, Calif., on Wednesday launched the public beta of its local search features. Google is drawing results from its main index of 4.28 billion Web pages as well as from structured data provided by Yellow Pages and other companies. Google declined to name those providers but did say it has partnered with MapQuest.com Inc. to include mapping information with its local results.
"We do see that a lot of users today are on Google.com to do local queries, and were recognizing the consumer demand and need," said Sukhinder Singh, general manager of Googles local search effort.
To power its local search, Google has created a separate search algorithm for ferreting out local information. The algorithm is triggered when a user enters geographic information such as a city name, state, zip code or street address, Singh said.
Google first began testing its local Web search in October through Google Labs. The public release heralds the integration of local results with Googles main Web search and the addition of mapping and driving directions, Singh said.
By entering geographic specifics in a query in Googles home page search box, users can retrieve Google Local results labeled with a compass icon. The results cover local businesses and include addresses and phone numbers. Clicking on those results brings the user to the Google Local site, where more detailed information such as driving directions, maps and related Web results are available.
By launching it publicly, Google joins a growing wave of search engines and providers incorporating results with locale-specific information. Yahoo Inc. last week expanded its local search offering with Yahoo Maps integration. Yellow Pages providers also are entering the space. Among the most aggressive has been Verizons SuperPages.com, which earlier this month relaunched its directory site and moved into local, pay-per-click advertising.
Google, holding the highest market share in search, is likely to draw interest and gain immediate use of its new local features, but it remains to be seen which search engines and sites will deliver the most useful local results, said Greg Sterling, a program director at market researcher The Kelsey Group Inc.
"Its not simply that Google can put this out and carry the day, but they have to spend the time and energy to make sure the refinement process is continual," Sterling said. "Ultimately, the ones that can provide the best user experience with the most accurate and relevant information and depth of content will gain the most traction."
The Kelsey Group and BizRate.com, in a survey of 5,000 online buyers released in February, found that 25.1 percent of search queries were for finding a business near ones home or workplace. Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they were conducting more local searches than they were a year ago.
While search providers hope to gain more users through local search, they also are eyeing the broader advertising opportunities. Local search-based advertising, especially from local, small businesses, remains largely untapped but is expected to reach $2.5 billion in the United States by 2008, according to The Kelsey Group of Princeton, N.J.
Google already has added geographic targeting to its AdWords program, in which advertisers bid on keywords to return paid links. For now, Google Local is ad-free. But the company does plan to introduce AdWords to its local results, said Singh, who declined to specify when that might occur.
"Certainly our goal is to monetize the property and take advantage of AdWords over time," she said.
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