Google tests local search

Mirroring a move by rival Overture Services, Google experiments with search results tailored to a person's geographic location.

Google is experimenting with search results tailored to a person's geographic location, after a similar move by rival Overture Services.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said Monday that Google Labs, the search company's research-and-development arm, unveiled a program that lets people type in a search term, along with an address or ZIP code, to find Web results and a miniature map from within the area.

Like many Google experiments, the new function may or may not be widely incorporated into the company's well-loved search engine, but Google has hinted at its ambitions for geographically targeted search in the past. Local search and advertising is also pegged in the financial community as a massive opportunity for major portals and search providers.

"The technology behind Google Search by Location is one of the first of its kind and is an exciting new direction for Google users seeking local information," a Google representative said via e-mail.

The move comes a couple of weeks after Google's main competitor, Overture, began testing its own local-search features. Overture, which is being acquired by Yahoo for about $1.7 billion in October, unveiled a demo Web site for local commercial advertising, and its search property, AltaVista, is testing a local Web search service. Pasadena, Calif.-based Overture said it plans to launch its service in the fourth quarter of 2003.

Overture estimates that local-search Web advertising will be a $1 billion market by 2008. Still, that's a fraction of the $15 billion it projects for the overall pay-for-performance search market.

To serve local search results, Google technology crawls the Web to collect and analyze data on the physical location of a Web page and then matches that data to specified queries and their designated addresses, according to Google's Web site. It "extract hints, or what we call 'signals,' about the geographic nature of a page," according to Google.

Similarly, Web surfers can type query terms into Google's main search engine with a street address or ZIP code to find very limited local results. But the local search prototype concentrates on the physical location of Web pages and pairs them with location requests.

"Google's goal is to connect users to the information they need, whether it's half way around the world or just around the corner," the company said.

Google is also building partnerships to get into local-search advertising. In mid-July, the company teamed with Switchboard, a telephone directory site, in one of the first local-ad deals for a major search player. Switchboard licensed Google's text-based ad service, AdSense, to serve up promotions that are tailored to specific pages. For example, an ad for a national pizza chain might appear to the side of a Web page that displays results for a local trattoria.

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