Google Inc. is combining its popular online maps with its local search features, continuing a quest to increase its already rapidly rising advertising revenue.
The new features are expected to be available Thursday at either http://maps.google.com and http://local.google.com.
With the change, Google's local search tools for the United States and Canada are being taken out of the "beta," or testing, phase, said Bret Taylor, the product's manager. The company's local search engines for the United Kingdom, Japan and China remain in beta — a label that technology companies attach to products that don't have all the bugs worked out.
The hybrid service blends addresses, phone numbers, maps, driving directions and other details, like user reviews and credit card information, on the same Web page. Google also offers a satellite-mapping option that provides an aerial view.
By combining maps with local search, Google is following its rival Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news), which already provides a similar package, said industry analyst Greg Sterling of the Kelsey Group.
"Yahoo has been in the local (search) space a little longer than Google, so it has some things that are a little more developed," Sterling said.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google remains the most widely used search engine with a 37.3 percent share of the U.S. market through August, according to comScore Media Metrix, a research firm. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo ranked second with 29.7 percent share followed by Microsoft Corp.'s MSN at 15.8 percent.
The heavy volume of inquiries is crucial for Google because its financial health depends on the ads displayed beside search results. The company earned $712 million on revenue of $2.6 billion through the first half of this year.
Google's maps also have made significant inroads since the company began testing the service early this year.
In August, Google's maps attracted 14.3 million unique U.S. visitors, ranking second behind America Online's better established Mapquest, which drew an audience of just under 39 million, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, another research firm. Nielsen stopped tracking Yahoo maps after company fused the navigation tools with its local search features.
Google's maps have proven so popular that some developers have used them to chart crime patterns in local neighborhoods or pinpoint places selling the least expensive gasoline.
All the search engines are striving to make it easier for visitors to quickly find helpful information about local businesses as more consumers turn to the Internet instead of the Yellow Pages. The Kelsey Group expects the trend to generate $3.4 billion in local advertising sales by 2009.