Google local search shows image ads on maps

Local Business Ads system allows merchants to offer more details on their map via pushpin ads.

As anticipated, Google is launching a feature Thursday night for businesses that want to target customers based on geography.

Marketers will be able to place photos and logos inside balloons that pop up on Google maps exactly where the merchants are located.

A handful of advertisers, including Barnes & Noble and Ralph Lauren, have purchased keywords such as "New York books" and "Ralph Lauren New York" and tested the new Local Business Ads system over the past few weeks, said Dominic Preuss, product manager for Google's local advertising.

Users will notice that with certain searches on Google Local, icons representing types of businesses will appear on the map corresponding with a particular merchant. A given icon might be a coffee cup, a shopping bag, a grocery cart, a car or, in the case of Ralph Lauren, a flower. When someone clicks the icon, a balloon pops up containing more information about the merchant, including a logo or photo and maybe a link to the merchant's Web site.

With Local Business Ads, merchants bid on keywords and pay per click as they do for ads now on Google AdWords, said Preuss. The ads show up on the maps as well as on Google's main search results page as regular text ads, he said.

The ads will not show up on any of the Google maps used by Web sites that have used the Google maps API to create a mashup, according to Preuss.

Greg Sterling, an independent analyst who covers the local search market, predicted that the balloons would eventually be used to enable searchers to contact the company directly and do other things beyond just providing information.

"There will be more interactivity," he said. "We may see chat and video and click-to-call."

Preuss said that was not in the works at this time. "We have no plans to do video or anything more interactive than the images," he said. "Anything is possible. We just don't have any plans."

Word of the new type of ads surfaced earlier this week, but Google was mum on the details at the time.

Yahoo Local also offers icons related to advertisers on top of maps, but the presentation is different, and the balloons contain only text.

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