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Web search finds local angle

One software company aims to make searching for local businesses on the Web more intuitive, especially on future Web-enabled mobile devices.

One software company aims to make searching for local businesses on the Web more intuitive, especially on future Web-enabled mobile devices.

Metamend, based in Victoria, British Columbia, this week introduced new technology that helps businesses feed data on their physical location to Web search engines. That data is stored in a tag on the business' Web site and contains Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data such as the location's latitude and longitude. Search engines with their feelers out for regional data on Web pages can pick it up and deliver query results related to Web surfers' location.

"Any physical address on a Web page has GIS data," Metamend CEO Richard Zwicky said. "This service will marry them up so that any Global Positioning System (GPS) tool--more wireless Internet devices come GPS-enabled today--when they're running a search, the location of the site becomes part of the relevance of the query."

For example, if a traveler is visiting New York and types in "sushi" to the cell phone's Web search service, the phone could call up restaurants relevant to the current location with the aid of such technology.

Momentum is gathering for location-based navigation among search engines and mobile device makers. Web search technology companies including FAST Search & Transfer and Google are working with wireless phone companies to power mobile search that can benefit from locally targeted results. In addition, wireless Internet devices are more often equipped with GPS technology that can track the user's physical whereabouts. Both parties want to localize Web search to make it more relevant and draw more regional advertising dollars.

Metamend, which sells technology that helps companies optimize their Web pages for search engine submissions, developed a service that eases the location-tagging process for Web sites. The technology is said to have a 99 percent accuracy rating on a city level when address data is present within the Web site.

Industry executives say that such an effort could help search engines deliver more targeted, local results, but there would likely have to be adoption of a tagging standard to make it work. "Unless it's a product that everyone uses, I don't see it being useful," said Tim Mayer, vice president of FAST Web Search, which has a partnership with mobile phone provider Vodaphone to power Web search. "You need an independent agency or large company to push a standard."

FAST recently updated its Web search engine, AlltheWeb, to deliver results tailored to the country location of its visitors.

Mayer said that location targeting is just one new direction in which search engines are headed as a way to deliver more relevant results to consumers and more targeted advertising opportunities to marketers.