Google Tunes Up Its Pitch For Local Ad Dollars

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is renewing its push for the ad dollars of local businesses with an overhaul of its Local Business Center, which it is now calling Google Places. Via the Local Business Center, businesses have for more than eight months now been able to edit websites — called “Place Pages” — which Google has been automatically generating about them and linking to from Google Maps (The “Place Pages” feature contact info, reviews, and photos). Google is now letting businesses in several cities pay a flat $25 monthly fee to promote their “Place Pages” via bright yellow markers — called “Tags” — which show up in Google Maps.

In October, Google had begun letting businesses in certain cities pay a monthly fee to promote their “Place Pages” on Google Maps but the company pulled the option two months later, saying it planned to “release an enhanced version more widely in the near future.” And, indeed, while the first version was only available in San Francisco and San Diego, Google says the new incarnation of the ad product is available in five cities and “in the coming weeks” will come to five more.

Many other companies — from hyperlocal news startups to the big portals — are also trying to go after the local online advertising market, which is projected to more than double in size over the next four years. With “Place Pages,” however, Google’s biggest competitor is likely Yelp, which, like Google, lets businesses edit their listings for free but then charges them fixed fees to promote them. In December, Google reportedly offered to buy Yelp for more than $500 million — but the deal fell through.