Google overhauls local search

Place Search aims to improve the search experience for local businesses and other physical locations

Google has revamped the way it organizes and presents local search results, eliminating overlapping items, consolidating a variety of relevant information and packaging it within individual entries.

Along with the improvements, Google has renamed its local search service as Place, and added it as an option to the menu in the left-hand panel of the results page, Google plans to announce on Wednesday.

Now, when people search for things such as restaurants, parks, schools, hotels, offices and the like, Google will deliver entries headlined by the name of the place and including the address, a thumbnail image, phone numbers, a pin to a Google map and links to reviews on sites like Yelp, Citysearch, Zagat and TripAdvisor

"More than 20 percent of Google searches are related to location. That's a very significant amount," said Jackie Bavaro, a Google product manager. "We're making it faster and easier to find places."

Place Search, which will be rolled out globally in more than 40 languages over the coming days, currently links hundreds of millions of sites with 50 million physical locations, she said.

The Place Search announcement follows Google's launch this week of Boost, a search advertising program designed specifically for local businesses.

For years, Google has also provided a way for business owners to "claim" their business in a Google directory formerly called Local Business Center -- renamed Places months ago -- and populate it with relevant information like hours of operation, photos, phone numbers, Web links and addresses.

"This is a piece of a much larger story for Google," said industry analyst Greg Sterling, from Sterling Market Intelligence.

With Place Search and Boost, Google wants to tap into the big opportunity of better serving end users looking for information on nearby businesses, as well as attracting local advertisers, especially the traditionally hard-to-target small businesses, Sterling said.

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