Yahoo is set to go live with a new version of its local search that highlights specific city neighbourhoods by adding user reviews and maps for local establishments.

Enhancements to what Yahoo calls the next generation of its local search engine allows users to search for information by neighbourhoods in major metropolitan areas, said Paul Levine, general manager of local services for Yahoo.

Yahoo Local now includes these neighbourhood break-downs for more than 60 cities, which represent the majority of Yahoo Local's traffic, he said.

Searching by city neighborhood is something that no other local search engine currently provides, he added. "We've really changed the game in local and redefined the way users find local content," Levine said.

The new neighbourhood search includes a map and three columns of information, one for local events, titled "What's Happening Locally;" one for local restaurant recommendations, entitled "Users' Favorite Restaurants;" and the last for favourite local services, called "More Local Favorites." Each title is colour -coded, and the entries under the titles are pinpointed on a map of the neighborhood according to the color code. The recommendations used in the listings have been rated by users in Yahoo's 181 million-plus user community, Levine said.

Also new on Yahoo Local is an optional personalisation feature that keeps track of a user's recent search history and makes suggestions based on interests displayed in previous searches, Levine said. The new version of the tool also adds RSS support, allowing users to subscribe to feeds for local events and top restaurants.

Though Microsoft is hoping to stake its claim in both the local and Internet search markets, it's currently a two-horse race between Google and Yahoo as to who will win the battle for the local search market, according to recent data by Hitwise.

Google was used for 59.2 percent of searches across all major search engines in July 2005, a 14 percent increase in share versus a year ago, according to Hitwise. Yahoo Search captured 28.8 percent of searches in the same month, with MSN Search grabbing only 5.5 percent of searches during the same period.

Visits to Yahoo Local were 4.4 times greater than visits to Google Local in July, according to Hitwise. But Google is coming on strong locally, thanks to its new Google Maps search tool.