A study by

ComScore

, focusing on the US, has shown an increase of over 40% in the number of users performing local searches online in the last year.

According to the research, 63% of US internet users (around 109 million people) performed a local search during July, a 43% increase over the same month in 2005.

Google (30%) and Yahoo! (29%) had the largest share of searches, followed by Microsoft with 12% and the Time Warner Network with 7%.

The study defined local searches as those conducted by consumers on the local or directory sections of leading search sites, and other searches identified as having local intent.

The analyst group said 41% of users performing a local search were searching for something in their home area, as opposed to information on locations they intended to visit.

Among those, 59% said they were searching for a restaurant or something entertainment-related, such as a cinema, theme park or tourist attraction.

Fifty two percent said they were searching specifically for a business phone number or address, while 41% were looking for information on a local service in their home area, including car rental office, dry cleaner or lawyer.

The study also found that performing a local search can drive consumers to take action.

During Q2 2006, 47% of local searchers visited a local merchant as a result of their search behaviour, while 41% made contact offline. Thirty seven percent made contact online as a result of conducting a local area search.

Local search is experiencing strong growth as more consumers adapt to the ‘always on’ nature of their broadband connection, which enables them to quickly find information on local businesses,” said Jack Flanagan, EVP of comScore Media Metrix.

With approximately 849 million local searches conducted by Americans in July, local advertisers have a sizeable market that can be reached through leading search sites.