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Google Hits Home

A local ad push turns to the buoyant real estate market.



is expanding its foothold in real estate advertising, as it looks to win more business from local companies.

Typing the phrase "homes for sale" on Google will yield a search book asking users for the location of the property they are interested in and whether they want to buy or rent. The listings, which are linked to Google Maps, come from A Google flack couldn't be reached for comment.

The feature, which was noticed by bloggers Wednesday, expands Google's free classified listings service, which already has real estate ads. Google has made no secret of its interest in capturing more offline advertising dollars, particularly in the $100 billion classified market.

"Google is positioning itself as being the place to go to find everything that you need," says John Zappe of the trade publication

Classified Intelligence Report

. Real estate "is obviously a play toward classified that Google has been driving for since last summer."

Investors are on the lookout for any new Google feature that might help the Mountain View, Calif.-based company improve the relevancy of its search results, which are the backbone of its business. Investors remain concerned about Google's growth prospects as they await its first-quarter earnings report on April 20.

The new features are "an interesting incremental thing," says Sasa Zorovich, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. who rates Google shares buy with a $550 price target. He adds that he won't be changing his earnings estimates because of them.

Speculation on Wall Street abounds about Google Base. Analysts have speculated that the payment system might pose a competitive threat to



PayPal network, though both companies have downplayed such talk.

The classified advertising market may not be as easy to crack for Google as the search market. For one thing, Google released Google Base into beta testing before many bugs were worked out, and that annoyed some advertisers. Then there are strong incumbents, including

craigslist, which is now more popular with Internet users than ever, attracting about 9 million unique visitors a month, according to comScore Networks.

Google has been adding new features such as a simpler version of its AdWords keyword buying program to attract more local advertisers, which are spending more on search and for keyword advertising.