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Yahoo Makes Local Search Personal

Yahoo upgraded its local search product today, turning it from a place where users get maps and driving directions to a community-specific portal.

"We're hearing the people want qualitative information from their community and neighbors to make more complex purchasing decisions in their area, so we're elevating the presence of people in the experience," Brian Gil, Yahoo's local senior product manager, told internetnews.com.

The refresh starts with a new look that includes a background to match one of 20 user cities. There's also a new tag cloud labeled "Local Buzz" to show the top-moving search terms in each locality.

In the background, the local search is powered by an "improved relevancy" algorithm, which Gil said makes search results more accurate by taking user reviews of other user-generated content, including new comments on reviews, into account.

Yahoo also added a "Weekender" tab, which details a weekly selection of events, movies with show times and reviews, dining picks, Flickr photos, and more to help people plan their weekends. In addition, there are "Best Local Events" and "Most Popular" features. Users can now also "save for later" businesses and events to their My Local profile.

It's a comprehensive overhaul to Yahoo's local search product, and JupiterResearch analyst Sapna Satagopan told internetnews.com now is a good time for it.

Satagopan said a recent JupiterResearch survey indicated that 29 percent of search engine marketers used local search in their advertising spend in 2006; 42 percent indicated they'd use it in 2007. Satagopan said the comprehensive local search product Yahoo put together should attract enough users to maintain that increased advertiser interest.

When advertisers are ready to spend, Gil said Yahoo offers subscription-based local advertising similar to old-fashioned yellow pages, search marketing advertising and banner advertising.

Yahoo, of course, isn't the only local search provider aware of numbers like Satagopan's.

Google, MSN, and Ask each offer their own versions of local search. According to Hitwise market research, Google is the most popular, attaining .1 percent of visits among all Web sites in July. Yahoo local search follows with .04 percent.