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Yahoo Adds Local Search to Maps

Yahoo added a local search feature to its map tool yesterday, part of its bid to establish itself as the leader in the race to marry search marketing with local businesses.

Called SmartView, the search tool returns listings of local businesses when users call up a map. SmartView gives six options for listings: food and dining; recreation and entertainment; community services; shopping; travel and transportation; and financial and ATMs. Each option has a menu of more specific categories. Food and dining, for example, is divided into cuisines. Clicking on a map listing gives the business' address, phone number and links to conduct a Web search for the business.

“It may prompt some new thinking about local search,” explained Greg Sterling, a local search analyst for The Kelsey Group. “It's a visual, nonlinear approach to local search.”

SmartView likely will be just one aspect of how Yahoo unites its local content with search, he said. SmartView will be an option anytime a Yahoo user calls up a map, including when an address is entered into Yahoo's search engine. Yahoo Maps received 15.5 million visitors in December, according to comScore Media Metrix.

The local listings generated are now free, culled from Yahoo's yellow pages service and other sources, with paid listings from Overture Services at the bottom of the page based on the category searched. Yahoo's Overture unit is preparing the launch of a local search advertising platform shortly that will match advertisers with local customers based on a user's location. Such listings could be displayed on SmartView searches, targeted by category and location.

Holiday Inn and Washington Mutual have sponsorships with Yahoo to find their locations quickly on maps through Yahoo's Business Locator program. Paul Levine, general manager of Yahoo's local services, said Yahoo could sell such sponsorships in each category. He said Yahoo had no immediate plans to let businesses pay to be included in map listings.

“We're constantly evaluating the right way to design the product,” he said. “For the map, our goal is comprehensiveness. Over time, as we think it adds value to consumers, we'd consider doing it.”

Sterling said Yahoo would need to tread carefully in how much prominence it gives advertisers over businesses that have not paid.

“That's dangerous territory for them because they want to offer the best user experience they can,” he said. “There's a way that can be done in an effective but restrained manner.”

Just last week, Yahoo introduced a paid inclusion program for its search engine in which advertisers can pay to have their Web pages included in results. Though ranking in the results is determined by relevancy, search competitors Google and Ask Jeeves criticized cost-per-click paid inclusion programs as an inherent conflict of interest.

Yahoo and Google are both keenly interested in tapping the potentially enormous market for local search advertising. The Kelsey Group estimates that the market could be worth $2.5 billion in 2008 and that already 25 percent of commercial searches are for local information.

Other local search players are using map-based local search. Verizon's redesigned SuperPages.com site includes a map-based search tool that allows keyword searches for local business information. Google is testing its own local search platform using mapping technology, called Search by Location. Google's local search tool requires a user to enter a search term and address, then returns a map with local listings.

Sukhinder Singh, general manager of local search at Google, said at a conference last week that the search company plans to continue working on the product this year. Search by Location does not return advertiser listings.

Overture's local search platform, which a company representative said would be released this spring, would match local advertisers to nearby customers by displaying listings within an advertiser's set geographic radius. For example, a pizzeria could set its preference to have its listing shown only to searchers within five miles of the store.

SmartView uses a variety of Yahoo content. For example, hotel listings include user ratings and driving directions from Yahoo Travel, and movie listings display screening times and purchase options via Yahoo Movies.

“Our overall strategy for local is to leverage all the assets that Yahoo has got,” Levine said.

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