Yahoo, Ask Jeeves Make Local Search Moves

SAN JOSE, CA — Yahoo and Ask Jeeves made separate moves to increase their local search offerings, as search engines look to connect users more with the tens of millions of small businesses in the United States.

Yahoo rolled out a test version of a new local search engine, dubbed Yahoo Local. The site integrates search, maps and yellow pages to bring searchers all means of local information. The product builds off Smart View, a Yahoo initiative that displays business information on Yahoo Maps.

Separately, Ask Jeeves announced that beginning next month it will tap CitySearch's database of localized content on everything from restaurants to bars to plumbers in order to return direct answers to searches. For example, a search for “plumber in San Francisco” would yield CitySearch listings that include business information and user ratings.

Yahoo Local is a direct response to the introduction of Google Local, which combines database information of business listings with Web search.

“This beta launch marks just the beginning of what we are capable of achieving with local and will continue to leverage our world-class search technology and content to provide the most valuable category-specific search solutions for our users,” Jeff Weiner, senior vice president of Yahoo's search unit, said in a statement.

Yahoo hopes to get a leg up on Google by tapping its vast reserves of content. Yahoo Local includes 14 million business listings through Yahoo Yellow Pages, Smart View maps and the ability to save location data for its more than 140 million registered users. The results pages include paid listings from Yahoo's Overture Services unit.

With search inventory in short supply, search engines view local offerings as a means of tapping a potentially highly profitable area. The Kelsey Group forecasts that local search could be worth up to $2.5 billion in 2008. A more circumspect forecast from Jupiter Research expects the market to reach $824 million in 2008.

Google and Yahoo have bolstered their local search advertising options while trying to lure more local searchers. In April, Google expanded its local advertising options to include more precise geographic targeting. Two months later, Overture introduced a fledgling local search ad platform with similar targeting capability, along with the option for small advertisers without Web sites to display ads through a business information page.

Despite the excitement surrounding local search's potential, industry analysts cite obstacles. The self-service model pioneered by local search companies is thought to be a weakness in connecting with the nation's 10 million small businesses. Another problem has been that local businesses, from attorneys to plumbers, typically do not sell their services and products online.

Yahoo has taken cautious steps with Yahoo Local, releasing it on a separate site and not linking to it from its main search page. The company said it would incorporate user feedback into improving the product for widespread release.

The CitySearch data adds to Ask Jeeves' Smart Search initiative, which already returns direct information to users for searches relating to weather, movies and other topics. Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search properties at Ask Jeeves, Emeryville, CA, said the new Smart Searches through the CitySearch deal would help address the 10 percent of searches that Ask Jeeves finds are explicitly for local information or services.

“We don't look at local as a category,” he said. “We look at it as a subset of a lot of categories.”

The local Smart Searches will roll out on Ask Jeeves' site. The company plans then to add it to its other search properties, which include iWon, My Way and My Search.

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