Google Gets Local in Canada

Google expanded its local search offerings north of the border with the launch of Google Local Canada and the integration of local search results into Google.ca.

These new services offer Canadian users similar local information available on its U.S.-focused Google Local, including business listings, maps, directions and related Web pages. Google Local Canada offers both French and English interfaces.

Google Local Canada combines structured data on local businesses, primarily supplied by Canadian telephone directories publisher Yellow Pages Group, with local information from Google’s index of Web documents. This approach helps return comprehensive and relevant search results, said Sukhinder Singh, general manager of Google Local.

“Keyword-based search brings you results from both the Web and structured data sources that may be more precise than results you’d be able to get from category-based search of only yellow page data,” she said. “Something you wouldn’t think of as a category-based search, but a keyword-based search, showcases the unique data set we’ve been able to bring together.”

So a user searching for a coffee shop with wi-fi access would be able to find it with Google Local Canada, while they may not be able to do so with regular Web searches, Singh said. Clicking on a link in local search results brings the user to a detail page with driving directions, map information, and related Web pages.

A local search can also be triggered by using Canada-specific geographical keywords or locations in a search on Google.ca or Google.com. When a user types in a search query along with a postal code or name of a Canadian town, city or province on Google.com, the top results points to Google Local Canada, and are marked by a small compass icon linking users to a Google Local Canada search results page.

“Integration with Google Canada is a key part of driving customer awareness for this product. Canadian users already do local searches on Google, we’re simply seeking to expose them to a better result set,” Singh said.

Google’s aggregation strategy is bound to help it stand out in the nascent local search market, according to Andrew Goodman, founder of Toronto-based search marketing firm Page Zero Media.

“My take on local search is that we need to ‘think portal.’ If consumers are overwhelmed by too many choices — too many local search players clamoring for mindshare — the way to simplify is to go for their trusty home page or major search engine,” he said.

“Currently, it’s a mess and consumers are not taking much advantage of local search other than to use the Internet much as they would a print directory,” Goodman said. “In this context, Google and Yahoo, primarily, have a huge opportunity to aggregate the available information so that Canadians can do local searches just as easily as they should be able to do in the U.S.”

While Singh would not comment specifically on the future product roadmap, she noted that plans to incorporate listings of hotels, restaurants, and other data, as well as discussion boards or user reviews are ‘interesting’ to Google.

“Comprehensiveness, as well as access to information, is part of our mission. With local, specifically because the data is so fragmented, and there’s a lot of data available about businesses, it’s all interesting to us,” Singh said. “Our goal is to bring to bear all those sources, organize them, and make search over them very easy. We want to capture the broadest set of information that we can and figure out how to leverage our search technology against it.”

Google has 61 percent of the monthly “share of searches” in Canada according to recent comScore Networks data. Yahoo is second, and MSN a distant third. Google has offered regional targeting capabilities in its AdWords program since April. Since that time, AdWords advertisers from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have had the option of targeting by region or city. This capability, designed to attract small business advertisers and retailers with local presences, will allow marketers to ensure their ads appear on Google Local and Google Local Canada, Singh said.

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