Citysearch Rolls Out Local Search

Citysearch announced Monday the availability of its local search engine, which includes paid search features to allow advertisers to connect with nearby customers. The company expects the service will be available nationally next month.

The offering comes as the paid search business, which has been the hottest sector of interactive marketing, looks for new frontiers. Overture Services, the leader in paid search, said last month that it would roll out local search in the next year. In addition, last week Google rolled out an advertising program for including contextual ads with paid listings on relevant content pages — an offering Overture also expects to have soon.

Citysearch, a network of local guide sites owned by USA Interactive , began testing the local search engine earlier this year on its Boston and Atlanta sites. The company said local search tripled its sales productivity in those markets.

“Citysearch plans to be well out in front of the competition when we apply one of the fastest growing forms of advertising, pay for performance, to the $90 billion local advertising market,” said Briggs Ferguson, Citysearch’s president.

The company already offers local advertisers the opportunity to enhance the prominence of their listings, albeit in the yellow pages section. With platinum sponsorship, a businesses listing appears in the top four search results; with premium, in slots five to ten; and with enhanced on the first page.

The move to incorporate these possibilities, along the pay-for-performance model, in local search is unsurprising. Yellow pages directories, which are ruled by local advertisers, represent the offline model that paid search is most often compared to.

A search on Citysearch’s Atlanta guide for “plumber” yields a listing of five plumbing businesses under a “featured” tab, with the option for users to go to “all results.”

Citysearch clearly hopes it can capitalize on its wide reach throughout the country. The company brags advertisers will be able to target their listings to nearly every zip code in the country. In December 2002, the site drew 7.6 million unique visitors, according to comScore Media Metrix.

The problem for the company, however, is the bigger players in paid search plan to enter the market shortly. In addition to Overture, Yahoo! has indicated that embedding search throughout its site is at the top of its agenda, including more targeted local search. Google has not indicated if it has any plans in this area.

While Citysearch reportedly hopes to sign up about 25,000 advertisers this year, Overture and Google already have an enormous advertiser bases to tap. Overture recently passed the 80,000 mark, and Google said last week that its keyword advertiser base had passed 100,000 in the year since it rolled out its AdWords program.

Along with the new ad program, Citysearch unveiled a new site design that adds more customization and local tools.

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