MSN Debuts Local Search

Microsoft’s MSN has entered the local search war, debuting a beta product that incorporates city- and region-specific White and Yellow Pages business listings. The site also maps businesses and incorporates some locally targeted paid listings.

MSN Local Search, which builds upon an existing search feature called “near me,” is Microsoft’s answer to Google and Yahoo’s local search plays. Local search is thought to be one of the ripest areas for online advertising growth, with the Kelsey Group expecting it to reach $2.5 billion in the U.S. by 2008.

The new product from MSN lets users search either based upon their default location — stored in a “settings” area — or by specifying a geographic location. When users enter a query, they’re returned a list of businesses, with addresses and phone numbers, sorted based on proximity. This data, which business owners can add to or edit, is provided by Amacai. Eventually, MSN has said, each business will have its own detail page.

“Eventually we’ll have the opportunity for people — from those who own the corner laundromat to someone who owns a bunch of chain stores — to have the opportunity to have a direct connection to us, to get their local information up there,” said Justin Osmer, product manager of MSN Search.

An accompanying map — with both conventional and aerial photograph views — lets users mouse over the listings and see where the particular business is located.

Web results, also sorted by proximity, appear under the business listings. Paid search results, at least some of which appear to be targeted by locality, are displayed to the right of Web search results. Both MSN itself and partner Yahoo Search Marketing are providing those listings. MSN says it plans to eventually offer local targeting in its own paid search product, adCenter, which is currently being tested in Singapore and France.

“Eventually we’ll get there on our own but for now we’re using the Overture [Yahoo Search Marketing] products,” said Osmer.

The beta launch marks the first incorporation of Microsoft’s Virtual Earth mapping data into MSN Search. The company has revealed plans to closely tie together the two products, with opportunities for advertisers interspersed throughout.

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