It's no wonder, as Kelsey Group reports that U.S. businesses spend $90 billion annually on local advertising. Online search portals are focused on monetizing search and want a piece of the pie.

Government data consistently shows that the bulk of new job creation is in the small business sector -- it's something like three out of four new jobs.

In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that America's 23 million small businesses employ over 50 percent of the private-sector workforce. Not only that, small businesses account for over half of the U.S. GDP.

As broadband becomes prevalent, and consumers routinely use the web to research and buy products, the importance of local search becomes increasingly apparent. Current estimates say 40 percent of search engine queries are for local businesses and services. Couple this with research that shows 92 percent of local searches convert later offline, and you can see an emerging pattern of consumer behavior.

This hasn't gone past the major search portals. They're out to win the hearts and minds of consumers and business owners alike by focusing on local search functionality. By now, most search portals have a yellow pages or local search component with access to local listings. There's Yahoo!! Local, Google Local, AOL Search, Verizon SuperPages and more. MSN just announced plans for a satellite mapping system to enhance their local listings.

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