Local.com and InfoSpace Jockey for Local Search Traffic

From the looks of things, the Web is going loco for local. Just in time for a local search conference in San Jose this week, companies including Local.com and InfoSpace have announced new offerings.

InfoSpace, Inc. has launched a beta version of its personalized local search site InfoSpace Local which acts like a robust yellow pages site, putting together business listings, information on products, services and movies, as well as maps and directions, from over 30 different providers including infoUSA, Fandango and Ticketmaster.

“We believe that where the market is moving is towards a more consumer-centric local search view,” explained Brian McManus, EVP sales and business development at InfoSpace. “The yellow pages are obviously an advertiser-centric view.”

InfoSpace’s system lets users perform multiple-keyword searches and customize searches based on neighborhood, landmark or point-of-interest. The service also lets users send information found on the InfoSpace Local site to SMS-enabled Cingular, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Nextel and Alltel cell phones.

In an effort to appeal to 411 call users, InfoSpace is also offering its new location-based Find It! service through a relationship with Sprint Nextel. For $2.99 per month, users can search by name or category for nearby restaurants, shops or banks and get maps and directions based on their phone’s GPS system or the closest cell phone tower.

Interchange Corporation’s local search operation Local.com is sweetening its offerings with blogging capabilities and user-generated reviews implemented by online community site Judy’s Book starting in April. Visitors to both sites will be able to write reviews which will be posted to both sites and integrated with Local.com’s search results. The goal for Local.com is to spur repeat usage of the site and continue to build up its content.

Local.com already provides business reviews and offers pay-per-call ads through local business search and reviews site Insider Pages. It’s also just signed on with pay-per-call ad network Jambo to implement pay-per-call ads on Local.com. Insider Pages, for its part, announced it has garnered $8.5 million in venture funding from Sequoia Capital, Softbank Capital and Idealab.

“The search ad market had been fueled by early adopters up until about a year ago,” observed Local.com CEO Heath Clarke, who believes we’re in the “early age of mainstream,” suggesting small and medium businesses are beginning to integrate local search ads into their marketing plans.

“There is tremendous growth and opportunity in the local search space market today. The timing couldn’t be any better,” noted Luis Pereira, president and CEO of Ask Poodle, Inc., which plans to launch a local search site featuring pay-per-click and pay-per-chat advertising soon.

Many believe that both consumers and advertisers are driving the local search movement. As consumers have grown more comfortable with search engines, they’ve begun to search for local businesses using localized keywords like cities and ZIP codes. As users do more localized searching and search advertising becomes more mainstream, small and medium sized businesses which serve specific geographic areas are showing more interest in using local search advertising.

According to Kelsey Group research, local search will grow to $13 billion by 2010, experiencing a 30.5 percent growth rate over the next five years.

Combined with local search and mapping sites such as Yahoo Local, Google Local and Microsoft’s Windows Live Local, as well as local search sites from local media outlets like WKRN-TV’s Nashville411.com and the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen’s Tucson.com, it’s all adding up to one local search extravaganza. However, local search may have a way to go before consumers are fully on board. According to recent research from the Kelsey Group and Constat, 39 percent of consumers rated local search platforms highly, the same number as the last time the study was conducted.

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