New service brings together local content from AOL's various online media properties and offers more opportunities for local advertisers.
America Online is expected to launch its new local search service today, incorporating content in business, events, movies and maps from its various media properties.
Alongside this content, AOL will display a variety of different types of advertising, designed to appeal to small businesses as well as to retailers with many local outlets.
"This product, more than any other local search product, has more information in every search," said Dariusz Paczuski, VP marketing, AOL search and directional media. "If you look at most of the local search offerings out there, they're focused on essentially enhanced yellow pages, or finding local business information."
Some advertising opportunities are the same as the ones on AOL Search, which was updated and opened up to a broader Web audience in January. Local search results pages show paid placement ads provided by Google, which also provides the organic results in AOL Search. Brand owners can also pay for top placement on their trademarked keywords through AOL Search's "trademark layer" program.
Advertising opportunities specific to AOL Local are pay-per-call ads from Ingenio, which the company plans to incorporate into local search results in April. AOL has also built shopping and transaction services into the local search product, through partnerships with ShopLocal.com, OpenTable, Restaurant.com, and its own AOL Tickets. AOL has created co-branded sites for these services, and partners will share revenue on a performance-based model.
Paczuski calls this AOL's "clicks-to-bricks" strategy, designed to drive not only clicks and calls but also sales traffic to businesses. ShopLocal.com provides listings of weekly specials at local retailers, which users can print out and bring to the store for discounts. OpenTable lets users make restaurant reservations online, and Restaurant.com offers discounted dining gift certificates. AOL Tickets partners with six top ticketing services to offer integrated ticket purchasing for local events. Partnerships with Topix.net for local news and with other service providers are expected in the coming months.
Users can use AOL Local Search to find information for more than 13 million businesses and points of interest from AOL Yellow Pages; local entertainment listings, ratings and reviews from AOL CityGuide; movie listings and ticket purchasing from Moviefone; and maps and directions from MapQuest. Paczuski said AOL reaches more than 46.8 million unique users with these combined services.
AOL is also launching an initiative to keep its listings updated by businesses themselves -- the MapQuest Partner Data Program. The program allows MapQuest's 1,200 Business Solutions clients to update their information regularly in the AOL database. AOL gets the underlying directory information from InfoUSA, to which it adds information from its own editors and partners. Its data quality team continually "scrubs" the database to keep it up to date, Paczuski said.
"We've built an experience that's quite a bit more mature than anything else out there. It's more full-featured, bringing lots of content together at exactly the right point to bear on a local query. AOL has long been a leader in the local space, and with this release, we're reasserting our lead," added Gerry Campbell, VP and general manager of AOL search and directional media.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
Before the bubble burst, Kevin was a marketing manager for an online computer reseller, handling copywriting, e-mail marketing, search marketing and running the affiliate program.
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