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Google Goes Local - InternetNews.
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Google Goes Local

While the industry watchers obsess over Google's IPO plans, the search engine's developers continue to improve the technology. Their latest effort allows U.S. users to perform local searches by zip code or city name.

In beta testing, Google Local lets users find shops and information that's right around the corner. Previously, a general Web search for "pizza" might return unwanted results, such as sites documenting the history of the food or links to far-flung restaurants.

The more focused results appear at the top-left of the search page, separated from regular findings and sporting a compass icon. Under a title, "Local Results for (your search term) at (your city, state and zip code)," several stores will be linked, along with driving directions and a phone number. Searchers can also specify the radius of the local search, from one to 45 miles.

The Mountain View, Calif., company has spent a lot of development time on specialized searches as number of Web pages grows. Google has more than a four-billion-page index, and search results are getting larger and larger.

Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and president, said in a statement the company's goal "is to connect searchers with the information they need whether it's halfway around the world or in their neighborhood."

More focused search results aren't a first for Google. For some time, the company has hosted topic-specific pages like Linux, Microsoft and BSD. A news.google.com page culls news stories from the Web, while Google University Search thumbs through the Web sites of specific schools. Officials say they also recently integrated UPS, Federal Express, flight tracking information and UPC code searches into the main Google engine.

While the local flavor will, for the time being, focus on consumer results, Google's general manager of local search Sukhinder Singh said AdWords would eventually find its way into the local searches. Testing began last October to make AdWords -- a marketing tool for advertisers -- work with regional and local searches.

Singh said that while local advertising through AdWords is an option, Google won't include paid inclusion, where Web site owners pay to ensure their site makes it in a search query, that skew search results.

"We certainly do intend to offer AdWords at some point in the future, (but) at this time we don't have plans for paid inclusion," she told internetnews.com. "Google's philosophy is very much free, useful content for the user."

The company expects to include local information searches for international customers in the coming months. Singh wouldn't give a timetable on the rollout, however, saying the company would focus on tweaking the U.S. beta first. The U.S. beta is an open-ended affair, and will end, Singh said, when the internal testing team is confident the program is running smoothly.

Wednesday's announcement comes at a time when some see the dominance of Google as coming to an end. "The Google monopoly that people feared is over," Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, said at a recent search engine trade show ( SearchEngineWatch.com and this Web site are owned by Jupitermedia Corp.).

Yahoo! debuted a similar local search function on its Yahoo! Maps site March 9, called SmartView, which plots local stores, ATMs, hotels, movie theaters and the like on map queries made by users.

And Telephone operator Verizon Communications does the same at its SuperPages.com site.

Whether Google is waning or waxing, the company has caught the attention of Wall Street in a relatively short time. In early 1998, Google's first data center was located in co-founder Larry Page's dorm room; today, industry wags are predicting an IPO could garner the company as much as $4 billion.