Back in 2002, Stanley Gyoshev and Assen Vassilev set out to launch an easy-to-use online travel reservation site called Lessno.com. Standing out among established players like Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity may seem next to impossible, but Lessno is gaining ground thanks to "paid search" advertising on the Web.

Say you type the phrase "buy flight to NY" into the Google search engine. The ten results listed along the top and right of the page will contain small, text-only ads, each with a link to a travel-related Web site. Companies pay for the privilege of getting such placement when users type in specific keywords. In extreme cases, global online behemoths like eBay might bid on millions of different buzz phrases at Google and Yahoo!.

The beauty of paid search is that marketers can tailor ads for specific products to a specific audience--and that moves merchandise. Since Lessno began its paid search campaign (through Google), traffic to its site has doubled, and the company's revenues are up 60%. "Paid search is the No. 1 promotion tool a new online business should use," says Vassilev. "Returns are often immediate; it is easy and cheap to experiment and hone the message; and it is usually quite affordable.

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