Maybe it's just a strange string of coincidences, but in conversations with a number of publishers this week I've heard exciting, even mind-bending ideas about new applications for paid search. What they all had in common was they took paid search in unintended but beneficial ways, and the publishers, and not the search engines, are poised to reap the benefits. Whether the search engines will ignore these new applications, attempt to take them over, or even ban them remains to be seen, but the key is to think of paid search not as an advertising medium, but more as a targeted delivery platform.

Since the publishers who share all these new ideas would be less than thrilled to see them described in this weekly column, all I can say is trust me: there are some interesting publisher-driven innovations in the pipeline. But to give you a sense of how paid search is beginning to change shape, we can look at publicly-announced programs that happen to be in the employment field.

Zigg's (a Model of Excellence winner which will be demonstrated at InfoCommerce 2005), hosts standardized "online profiles" of business professionals. The subscriber, the businessperson, controls and maintains his own profile.

As you would expect, you can search these profiles on the Zigg's site, and subscribers can point people to their profiles. But Zigg's goes one step further, offering a subscription upgrade that turns the subscriber's name into a paid search term on the major search engines, improving both discoverability and visibility. I am sure the search engines didn't see individuals as big users of paid search when they launched it, but Ziggs has worked it into a seamless package for those business professionals who value increased Web exposure.

Then there’s TalentScope which has its own innovative use for paid search: a new twist on help wanted advertising. Employers can now work with TalentScope not only to place online help wanted advertising on its network of job boards, but they can also convert the position into paid search terms, allowing the advertiser to reach the elusive market of passive job-seekers who might be interested in the position, but aren't actively searching for a job.

A number of buying guide publishers are moving to similar models, as described in our recently released report, Online Buying Guides: Making Sense of What's Happening Now. Some yellow pages publishers have been quick to move into the role of marketing agent for the search engines, which is certainly one way to get a piece of the paid search pie. But a more innovative, sustainable and profitable approach is to create new offerings that closely couple your data offering with paid search engine marketing in ways that offer both convenience and added value to your customers. It's great to see buying guide publishers are now leading the way in an environment that has been unalterably changed by the search engines' introduction of pay-for-performance. Adapt and flourish.