Google.co.uk goes local

How Google wants to get even closer to its customers

Rumours that Google UK is planning to take on local area information suppliers such as the Yellow Pages at their own game were confirmed as fact this week. Head of Google Germany, Switzerland and Austria, Holger Meyer, went on-the-record and stated that the UK was to receive a new "local" button to its search engine "later in the year."

The so-called "Google Local" service provides two boxes rather than the traditional one. One is for your post code or nearest city, the other for your traditional information search. It is understood that the idea is that this will take the "pond ripple" format of searches reaching out from your location outwards.

Non local searches will carry on as normal, although the inclusion of post code data (in cookie form) could be used in the choice of advertising presented to the customer. It has long been accepted that two Google users may not receive the same response to the same query.

For example, employing the new Google Local engine would mean that a search for "bicycle shops" would list retailers by proximity.

Despite being new to Google in Europe this is clearly a step towards taking on the UK's Yellow Pages and Thomson Local services. In Germany Yahoo! has already teamed up with the German Yellow pages (Die Gelben Seiten) through its sister organisation Der Ortliche which has a strong market presence on-line and in traditional print. Ironically Gelbeseiten is in the top ten name searches carried out by Google Germany itself.

Figures for the last quarter of 2004 showed that 35 per cent of all Google's revenue, some $350m, was non-American based. The company sees this passing the 50 per cent mark within five years.

Speaking to the German trade magazine Der Handelsblatt, Meyer said that the UK was going to be a beta test track for the new sideline system which - he predicted - will roll out over the rest of Europe in the coming years. "Google Local (which it will be called in all areas and zones) starts first in Great Britain... and only later in Germany." The paper reports.

Meyer, who was the first person to be employed by Google in mainland Europe in 2001, refused to be drawn in to further detail.

The German language advertising market is the richest in Europe and any Google Local service will be challenged by local language start-up engines such as http://www.seekerport.de which gives much more site detail, rating them on both content and quantity.

The Hamburg-based company has had a chequered relationship with the German media who often report the company as being too distant and American dominated. Google counters this by saying that it now works in 35 world languages - more than any of its rivals. ®

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