Starting tomorrow, Local.com kicks off its new "Local Verified" service, giving businesses the option of paying an annual fee to secure placement at the top of its localized search results.
"We're focused on offering businesses of all sizes multiple local search options, from standard CPMs and banners, to completely free listings," said Jennifer Black, the search engine's vice president of marketing.
According to comScore, almost half of consumers who used a local search Web site visited a local merchant as a result of their search behavior, highlighting the efficacy of local search as a source to drive traffic and sales.
Paying $249 for a premium listing with Local.com provides smaller businesses with a cost-effective alternative to the primary search engine's local ad models--allowing them to "play with the big boys" in the online ad landscape, Black said.
The free listings also serve merchants with little or no interactive marketing experience, by allowing them to post or update their business' name, description and contact info--even if they don't have a Web site.
The Kelsey Group predicts local search spending to grow to $2.6 billion by 2011.
"Part of the shift stems from the online behavior of the small business owners themselves," said Neal Polachek, senior vice president of The Kelsey Group. "As they use search engines to find suppliers and contractors, merchants are realizing that the Web can help customers find them too."