Overture Starts Local Search Ad Program

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Overture Services is expected today to roll out its local search platform allowing advertisers to target their ads within a half-mile radius.

The Pasadena, CA, company said Local Match would encompass national and local advertisers, letting both target their paid listings to searchers on a local level. As a further boon to small businesses, Overture Local does not require a Web site, instead returning basic business information on a separate Web page.

Local Match will operate as a separate marketplace from the paid search company's search and content ad programs. Overture parent company Yahoo will use the local search listings on both its search and yellow pages sections. MSN, ESPN.com and the InfoSpace search properties also have signed on as distribution partners.

Geoff Stevens, general manager of local search at Overture, said the company would give distribution partners flexibility in how they implemented the listings. For example, Yahoo could pass along ZIP code information for searchers signed in as members, while another search partner could use IP targeting to determine location. Many will ask users to identify their location for local results, he said.

"It's not a cookie-cutter, one-product approach as some of our competitors are providing," he said, taking a shot at the new local-targeting options unveiled by Google in April.

Google also offers advertisers the option of targeting within a mile radius, but the minimum distance is 20 miles. Stevens said Local Match's half-mile radius option would provide more precise advertiser targeting and more relevant listings for searchers.

Another difference between the two local advertising options is that Overture requires a business to have a physical location to participate in Local Match. Stevens said it decided to do this after researching what users wanted from local searches. In most cases, he said, they were searching online in order to buy something offline.

"Chances are if you're looking for a dentist, you're looking for someone locally," he said.

Yet most dentists do not have Web sites. A Verizon study in late 2002 estimated that 63 percent of small businesses lack Web sites. To solve this problem, Overture asks each Local Match advertiser to fill out a short business questionnaire including hours of operation, address, credit cards accepted and a short description. The business information is presented to a searcher clicking on a listing, along with a map showing the business's location.

The Kelsey Group has estimated that the local search market could reach $2.5 billion in 2008, depending on how successful Google and Yahoo are in deploying local search opportunities. The researcher thinks that 10 percent of all searches are for local commercial information.

One major problem facing its widespread adoption is the self-service ad model. Stevens said Overture would look to partner with yellow pages and newspaper publishers that already have sales forces, in addition to promotion through direct mail.


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