Can Google Local Find Your Small Biz?

By Jim Wagner | Posted March 18, 2004

While search engine industry watchers obsess over Google's forthcoming initial public stock offering, the world's No.1 Web search provider quietly launched Google Local late on Tuesday. Joining rival Yahoo! and news search newcomer Topix, Google's search engine developers continue to make strides toward improving localized search technologies. Their latest efforts allow U.S. users to perform local searches by zip code or city name.

Currently in beta testing, Google Local lets users find shops and information that are right around the corner. Previously, a general Web search for "pizza" might return unwanted results, such as sites documenting the history of the foodstuff or links to far-flung restaurants and major pizza chains.

Now, when you enter "pizza" and a zip code into a Google Local search, you get geocentric pizza parlor listings starting with those nearest your location. Having local search capabilities available to the general public means that having a Web destination for your small business is more important than ever. Your small business is no longer buried among the myriad of listings that make up the World Wide Web. With Google Local, your small business could be listed front and center — with potential customers just around the corner.

The localized results of a completed Google Local search appear at the top-left side of the page, a single map showing the geospatial results of your search can be viewed by clicking on the "compass icon." Continuing with our pizza parlor analogy, under the title "Local Results for pizza at 54141," several locations will be linked, along with driving directions and a phone number. Searchers can also specify the radius of the local search, from 1- to 45-miles. Related Web pages appear on right side of the search results page.

Google has spent a lot of development time on specialized search services as the number of Web pages grows exponentially. The Mountain View, Calif., company has indexed more than a four-billion-pages. As a result, search results are getting more and more diffused.

Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and president, said in a statement the company's goal "is to connect searchers with the information they need whether it's halfway around the world or in their neighborhood."

More focused search results aren't a first for Google. For some time now the company has hosted topic-specific pages like Google News, a sub-site that culls news stories from the Web.

Google's new local flavor will, for the time being, focus on consumer results. Sukhinder Singh, Google general manager of local search, said the company's "AdWords" online advertising service would eventually find its way into the company's local search services. Testing began last October to make AdWords work with regional and local searches.

While local advertising through "AdWords" will be an option, Singh said that Google won't be moving to a paid inclusion scheme to monetize its search services anytime soon.

Typically, it takes up to 90 days for new Web site to become listed in a major search engine. One way around this is to pay a one-time fee to make sure the search engine finds and indexes the new Web site. Of course, if the site is fortunate enough to already be listed in a major search engine, paid inclusion is a way to prod a spider to index a newly revised or relocated site.

"We certainly do intend to offer AdWords at some point in the future, (but) at this time we don't have plans for paid inclusion," Singh said. "Google's philosophy is very much free, useful content for the user."

The company expects to include local information searches for international customers in the coming months. Singh wouldn't give a timetable on the rollout, however, saying the company would focus on tweaking the U.S. beta tests first. The U.S. beta is an open-ended affair, and will end, Singh said, when the internal testing team is confident the program is running smoothly.

Yahoo! debuted a similar local search function earlier this month on Yahoo! Maps. But this localized search service only plots local stores, ATMs, hotels, movie theaters and the like on queries made by users. And telephone operator Verizon Communications now does the same at its SuperPages.com site.

While search engines and online directories work veraciously hard to become the king of local search, small businesses should take notice and reconsider the importance of building a Web presence.

Adapted from internetnews.com.

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