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Google wants to make local information easier to find with Place Search

October 27, 2010 | 11:00 am

Google is making another move to give consumers quick access to information about local places by rolling out Place Search, which clusters search results around specific locations.

For example, if a consumer searches for a museum in Los Angeles, the results will show each museum with relevant snippets of information and links from across the Web, making it easier to compare options. A red pin marks the location of each museum on a map.

These results will begin to appear automatically when Google figures out a consumer is looking for local information. The rest of the time, consumers will be able to click on Place Search through a link in the left-hand panel of the search results page.

The idea is to give consumers a quick and comprehensive view of a place in one search, instead of having to perform eight to 10 searches to get the same information, said product manager Jackie Bavaro. For example, when visiting a new city, a consumer might search for a list of restaurants and then search for details about each one. With Google Places, the consumer can scan the results from one search, which can include photos or snippets of reviews.

Google has developed technology that better understands real-world locations by connecting hundreds of millions of websites to more than 50 million places, Bavaro said. Place Search is not yet available on mobile phones but should be "in the near future," a spokesman said.

The new feature, which is rolling out over the next few days, is part of a major push for Google to give consumers faster, easier ways to find local information and to give advertisers better ways to reach them.

Google recently launched Boost, a location-based advertising product for local businesses built on Google Places that initially is available only in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago. The ads show up when users search for local businesses. Google also unveiled a new format for "hyperlocal" mobile ads.

More than 20% of its searches are tied to location, so Google is making "multiple investments in this area," Bavaro said.

Google is battling Facebook and other technology titans for local and mobile advertising dollars. It recently put its vice president of search products, Marissa Mayer, in charge of location and local services. The promotion of the company’s 20th employee, first female engineer and one of its best-known executives signals that Google is intensifying its efforts.

The stakes are high: Local businesses are expected to spend $35.2 billion on online advertising in 2014, up from $19.6 billion this year, according to BIA/Kelsey.

Google, which nearly bought Yelp this year, has been improving its local business listings. Google Places offers information on local businesses plus reviews from such sites as OpenTable and Zagat. Local businesses can update their listings with special offers. They can also pay to have their listings stand out in search results or on maps.

"There is this profound opportunity to build relationships with the consumer and with businesses by tying the Internet to physical places," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.

"This is a significant step that reflects Google’s increasing commitment to the local market."

-- Jessica Guynn

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