March 2, 2005 9:00 PM PST

Search going loco for local

NEW YORK--Local search is a central focus of all the players at the annual Search Engine Strategies conference here.

Google, for one, updated its local search tool Wednesday to include Google Maps, a graphical guide to regional addresses and directions. In addition, it now provides editorial reviews for local businesses, including such data as hours of operation or whether Wi-Fi access is available.

The company also has designed its maps service for Opera and Apple Computer's Safari browsers, in addition to Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

America Online is promoting new search tools that help people home in on local businesses and entertainment--buying movie tickets online or reserving a table at a restaurant, for example. The company plans to launch a new local search service for mobile phones later this year, according to Jim Riesenbach, AOL Search senior vice president.

Upstarts such as TrueLocal and Insider Pages are trying to get in the game with nascent services that digitally connect people to their neighborhood attractions.

Local search has drawn attention of late because it's thought of as a growth area for advertising. Because more people are booting up their PC or turning on a cell phone to find local services or to book events, search providers are banking on the draw for small- and medium-size businesses to advertise when people are most interested. As many as 20 percent of searches are locally oriented, according to estimates.

And while many small businesses have yet to come online, research firm the Kelsey Group forecasts that the local search market will be worth $3.4 billion in five years.

 

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