Google has officially moved local search out of Google labs and into beta, introducing several noteworthy new features at the same time.
Google's approach to local search involves using yellow page and business directory information from third party providers, and integrating it with information about individual businesses from Google's main web page index. Though the service is still in beta, Google has promoted it from its relatively obscure location in Google Labs to its own Local Search URL.
"This is a significant upgrade from what we had on labs," said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer Web products. "More importantly, we've done a nice integration across several sources."
Mayer declined to name the third party sources used by Google. The key difference between Google and other local search offerings, such as those provided by online yellow pages, is that Google is incorporating additional information beyond basic business listings into its search results.
This additional information includes content appearing on the web sites of businesses themselves. Mayer says that including this information in the past has been difficult, partly because content published on the web isn't as clean as that included in structured services such as yellow pages or directories.
"We're ripping through the web looking largely at addresses and phone numbers," she said. "We're also cross-correlating that with yellow pages and directory listings."
When you do a search directly from the new local search form, results are displayed in three columns, including business name, address, and related web pages. Clicking on the link to a business name displays a business reference page with details about the business, a map, a button to get driving directions, and web pages related to the business found in Google's main index.
Related pages gleaned from the web include content such as reviews, commentary, and other information produced by the web community.
"To my knowledge, this doesn't exist anywhere else on the web," said Mayer. "You can not only see the businesses but also what everyone else is saying about the business."
Local search is also integrated into the main Google search box. If Google detects that your query has local intent, you'll see three local search results, at the top of the page, with a link to additional local results for your query.
Mayer says that Google has also added content about non-commercial local attractions, such as parks, recreation centers, and other community landmarks.
Google's local search is launching initially without advertising, but Mayer says that the company plans to integrate advertising in the near term.
"We feel that advertising is a really important part of the local search experience," she said. "In particular an advertisement for the dry cleaner down the street is really important."
The new service also offers a degree of personalization, allowing users to specify a home location, which is stored on a cookie set by Google. The home location makes it easy to get things like one-click driving directions to a particular business, according to Mayer.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.