updated 5/16/2007 12:25:39 AM ET 2007-05-16T04:25:39

Yahoo Inc.’s online mapping service in the United States will begin giving driving directions in 34 European countries Wednesday as part of an upgrade aimed at luring traffic away from rivals AOL and Google Inc.

Besides guiding U.S. motorists around Europe for the first time, Yahoo said it also will feature more landmarks and other visual cues to help people find their way around neighborhoods. By relying on new software, Yahoo believes its maps will be more accurate, too.

The Sunnyvale-based company is hoping the improvements can help reverse a recent erosion in its share of the online mapping market.

In April, AOL’s industry-leading Mapquest service attracted 49.2 million U.S. visitors, a 3 percent increase from last year, while traffic to Google’s maps surged 49 percent to 30.8 million visitors, according to comScore Media Metrix.

Meanwhile, U.S. traffic to Yahoo maps declined 5 percent to 29.4 million.

Although they are free services, the online maps have become important advertising vehicles, particularly for local merchants.

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