Google's addition of street maps and local business listings, accessible through consumers' cell phones and other mobile devices, earlier this week is the search giant's latest attempt to compete in the increasingly competitive local search space.
Yahoo has been offering driving directions and similar services for mobile devices since October, and other smaller players are involved.
“It's the new frontier for search,” said Richard Hagerty, CEO of search marketing firm Impaqt, Pittsburgh. “They're all doing local search.”
The ability to be able to walk down the street and find local businesses from a cell phone is a great opportunity for marketers — potentially a bigger market than the Internet, Hagerty said.
“There were 170 million mobile phones in North America in 2004,” he said. “Those users dwarf Internet users. It's going to give information to people when they need it, perhaps right where they're standing.”
When mobile phone users enter search terms on mobile.google.com/local on their XHTML-enabled phones, they can find business listings, driving directions, zoom in on an area using Google Maps and click to call the listings. Google SMS users can send a search query as a text message and receive Google Local, Froogle, finance, weather, movie listings and driving directions.
“Google's Mobile search and Google SMS services are important advancements in our goal to provide users immediate access to valuable information anywhere and anytime,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, vice president of product management at Google.
Though Google did not say if ads are being sold against the local information on mobile devices, that is the next step in the space, Hagerty said.
“The ones [search engines] that have local presence will do paid search,” he predicted.
However, the industry is still not sure how to match local business advertising with those types of searches.
“I don't know if that problem has been solved yet,” he said.