Google has launched a beta version of a local-information search engine, highlighting growing interest in the still-nascent local search market.The local service started up last Tuesday at the Web address
One potential pot of gold is the $15 billion that advertisers now annually spend on print yellow pages. But to get a piece of that, Google and the other companies have to get people in the habit of turning to the Internet, not the phone book, when they're looking for listings like a local plumber or carpeting retailer. They've also got to lure the advertisers, too, after several less-than-successful attempts over the past few years to crack open the local market. Though Google is privately held, its revenue prospects should be of key interest to investors. Not only is it battling Yahoo! for supremacy in the search engine and pay-per-click ad business, Google is also widely expected to file to go public this year. Google's revenue -- derived from its AdWords program enabling companies to key their advertisements to words typed into a search engine or editorial content on a Web page -- hasn't been publicly disclosed. Like the flagship Google search, the Google Local Search page presents a simple box for users to type in what they're looking for. But, with the help of another box for indicating the relevant address, city or ZIP code, Google returns relevant business directory listings in that area, along with Web sites that its computers deem relevant to those listings. In addition, a mapping option lets users see where one or several businesses fall in a particular geographic area. A recent noteworthy development on the local front at Yahoo!, says Sterling, is its introduction, announced earlier this month, of maps with what Yahoo! calls Smart View. Among other features, that enables users to see points of interest pop up on a map when they pass their cursor over a relevant area. With Yahoo!, Google and other companies providing local information online, says Sterling, consumer use should increase. "All of these sources should cause more local searches to happen on the Internet, because now people know you can do local searching on the Internet," he says. "You can find local information on the Internet."