Google Adds Features to Local Ads

Coffee cups, shopping bags and flowers will soon be appearing on Google Local maps, as part of the company’s move to enhance opportunities for local advertisers.

Advertisers will be able to choose one of 10 icons including coffee cups, forks and knives, and martini glasses, to represent their businesses on the map portion of the search engine’s Local results pages. In addition, an advertiser can include an address, a business phone number and an image of the company’s logo.

“It allows local advertisers, and advertisers that have a local presence, to give us more information,” Dominic Preuss, product manager of local advertising at Google, told ClickZ.

The new features have been discussed widely in the blogosphere after people spotted various tests over the past few weeks. One test in January featured different colored pushpins rather than icons. The implementation is probably most similar to Yahoo’s Maps application, which lets users click to overlay icons for certain advertisers’ locations.

The Google announcement comes at a time when a plethora of players are concentrating efforts on local. Competitors include large traditional businesses like the telcos’ YellowPages.com, Internet pure-plays like Yahoo and Google, as well as smaller start-ups like Judy’s Book and Insider Pages.

On Google, the new ads appear on the left hand side of the page in a “sponsored links” section under the organic results. They look like ordinary AdWords ads, but they also show addresses and the advertiser-selected icon.

On the right-hand map section of the page, the icon appears in the advertiser’s physical location. When people click the icon, a balloon, which Google calls an “info window,” displays all the text information as well as the logo and telephone number. Users won’t be able to click on the phone numbers, though Google has previously said it is testing a pay-per-call feature. As with other AdWords ads, advertisers aren’t charged unless users click through to their Web site.

Bookseller Barnes & Noble has been testing the new features with Google and is pleased with the results. Though it can’t track whether people come to its stores as a result of the ads, it’s seeing click-throughs and Web site conversions that are better than it expected.

“We want to make sure that the customer is able to find the stores,” said Holly Preuss, director of online marketing at Barnes & Noble. “Having said that, though, we’ve also found that with these ads on Google and other places, we also include the Web site, and purchases can occur on line as well.”

Though it tested the ads for its Manhattan locations, Barnes & Noble plans to roll out ads for the rest of its stores nationwide.

Advertisers will be able to access the new features through the standard AdWords interface via a tab designed specifically for local businesses. Once users enter that area, they can find a listing and enhance it by adding a phone number and a 125 x 125 static .gif, .jpg or .png image.

More than one advertiser can bid on a specific listing, according to Preuss. An online travel agency like Expedia can, for example, bid on the listing for a hotel location, so long as the trademark holder approved the usage.

“That would be fine with us,” said Preuss, “as long as Expedia has permission to use that trademark.”

The text portion of the ads, sans the address and phone number, will also be distributed on Google.com and other search network partners. In this distribution method, they’ll be targeted regionally. The listings won’t appear in the AdSense network.

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