Google has launched a new scheme allowing businesses to buy ads on Google Local maps.

When users search Google Local for types of businesses, they'll now see small graphical icons in addition to the pinpoint that indicates where a shop is located. For example, a search in Google Local for "Chicago Ralph Lauren" now returns a small flower icon on the map, which when clicked on displays a pop-up that shows a Ralph Lauren logo, the store's address and phone number and a couple of lines of additional text. The pop-up is marked as a sponsored ad.

Google Local already features pinpoints on maps that, when clicked, show information about a business including its address, phone number and website. Businesses can be included in that for free. The advertising graphic introduced this week adds slightly more information, such as a logo and additional text.

The local business ads are also displayed in text form at the bottom of the search results that appear on the left hand column. They cost the same as regular Google text ads, according to the company. Advertisers are charged based on clicks through to their websites.

For now, local business ads are available only to advertisers targeting locations in the US, UK and Canada, Google said.

Advertising is big business for Google. In early March the company accidentally published an internal financial document with information about its advertising business, including that the company expects to earn $6 billion from advertising in 2006 growing to $9.5 billion in 2007.