Microsoft's MSN division plans to add a local search tab to its search engine. Filling a conspicuous hole in its suite of search engine services, the tab will return location-specific listings for businesses and people.
The Local Search service will be offered in beta, or test, mode. It will also place query listings on a map from the company's MapPoint Web Service.
MSN’s Local Search will also feature aerial images plucked from the company's database when they are available.
In addition to listings, the local service will deliver relevant web pages chosen using an existing MSN technology called Near Me that identifies pages in the search engine's general index with location-specific tags.
For example, a search for the term ’dry cleaners’ in Swindon will retrieve appropriate business listings, but may also deliver a newspaper article naming the best dry cleaning providers in the area.
MSN Local Search will later be enhanced with the launch of MSN Virtual Earth, a service that will let users superimpose driving routes, places and weather information on maps and satellite images. Virtual Earth should become available in the US by September.
Once MSN Virtual Earth is in place, users will be able to engage in a truly immersive local search experience – navigating on a map or aerial image, getting a sense of what an area is like, and discovering options on, for example, where to have dinner and go to a play or a concert, a Microsoft spokesperson said.
Microsoft is trailing its main search engine competitors in terms of local search. Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and AOL all have local search tabs on their search websites. Google, in particular, gives users the option of viewing not only maps but also satellite or aerial images, a concept similar to the one Microsoft is pursuing with MSN Virtual Earth.
Demand for local search services has grown as users discover the benefits of running queries that limit results geographically, a convenient feature when looking for local businesses and places. Meanwhile, local search is also attractive to advertisers, particularly those that operate in specific cities or areas. They can target their advertisements only at web searchers looking for information about that location.