They used to pan for gold in California. Still do.

But today's prospectors scour the silt for a commodity more nebulous than gold but every whit as precious -- the most direct and accurate route through the internet badlands to a potential customer.

Having seen off its early rivals, grizzled ol' Google, the Mountain View, California-headquartered pioneer of mining moolah from the hitherto infertile desert of the web (thanks to its search-related ads), again faces serious competition.

Microsoft, the ultimate black Stetson with a twitchy trigger-finger, has a new (and reputedly excellent) search engine currently in beta test, while on Wednesday rode into town looking for action with its new California-based A9 brand. Yahoo! too has announced plans to join the game within the next few months, giving rise to speculation it may rebrand as Yee-ha!

But Google, determined to stay ahead of the silicon rush, today whipped the cyber-equivalent of a Colt.45 from its holster: Google Local a new highly targeted web ad service that enables marketers to use its keyword advertising program to deliver ads directed at people in specific cities and regions.

Advertisers can limit or expand their results to include listings within a 1-mile, 5-mile, 15-mile, or 45-mile radius of a specific location. Google cites as an example a florist in Frankfurt who now has the choice of delivering his or her ads only to web searchers located within twenty miles of the flower shop

The service is available across the US plus seven other nations including Germany, the UK and France.

Data sourced from: and The Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff