In an attempt to bolster local search, Yahoo will start letting small businesses build Web sites for free.
Yahoo Inc. plans to announce the free Web hosting feature on Wednesday and to provide it as a companion to a business listing submission program it launched on Yahoo Local about four months ago.
The free sites will be available for U.S. businesses. Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., will host them through a "yahoo.biz" domain and will allow businesses to create as many as five Web pages of business information, said Paul Levine, general manager of Yahoo Local.
"For our local strategy, really a key tenet is to have the freshest local content for users, and one of the challenges is finding comprehensive data, especially for businesses that are not online," Levine said.
Despite the rapid growth of the Internet, only about 40 percent of small and midsized businesses in the United States have a Web site, according to The Kelsey Group Inc., an online directories and local search researcher.
By signing up for a free Web site, the businesses also are included in Yahoo Locals search index, Levine said. Yahoo also has a small-businesses division that offers more advanced Web hosting services for a fee.
The free-site feature is Yahoos latest attempt to expand the scope of local businesses included in Yahoo Local. Already, Yahoo lets businesses add themselves to its local index either by submitting basic information for free or by paying to include detailed descriptions.
Similarly, Google Inc. in March started accepting direct listings from local business for Google Local.
Just this week, another local-search battleground intensified. Google Local went mobile with both local search results and maps, a move that matches Yahoo Locals earlier mobile move.
In another search development this week, Yahoo is losing one of its top search researchers to rival Microsoft Corp. Microsofts MSN division has hired Gary Flake as a distinguished engineer to work on its portal, Web and desktop search efforts and upcoming advertising engine, according to the MSN Search Weblog.
Flake had joined Yahoo as a principal scientist from its acquisition of Overture Services in 2003. He had overseen the Yahoos Research Labs, which was created last year.
On Tuesday, Yahoo tapped Usama Fayyad, its chief data officer, to oversee the labs. Fayyad will continue to serve as senior vice president of strategic data solutions, while also being responsible for setting the strategy for the labs, Yahoo announced. Yahoo also said it plans to expand the scope of its research activities.
In other search news, Ask Jeeves Inc. this week updated its personalized search service, called MyJeeves. MyJeeves now is integrated into the Ask Jeeves browser toolbar, so users can quickly navigate to MyJeeves, save searches and clip Web pages.
MyJeeves can store links to images on the Web and supports imports of bookmarks from the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers, Oakland, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves announced. The service also has begun supporting keyword tags as a way to organize saved searches and links.
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