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In this rough economy, it's now apparent to just about everyone that marketers are cutting back and looking to get the most bang for their buck.

Many expected this would be a boon to search engines since paid search advertising is easy to measure, quantify and analyze for ROI.

But according to the Wall Street Journal, search marketers are looking beyond major search engines like Google when it comes to search ads.

With websites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook generating a significant volume of searches of their own (more searches are now done on YouTube than on Yahoo), the Wall Street Journal reports that search marketers are experimenting with new strategies to push 'search ads' to these types of websites.

It cites Pizza Hut, Universal Pictures and Monster.com as examples of companies who are taking this approach but I'm skeptical and question whether the Wall Street Journal isn't exaggerating just a bit.

While there's no question that websites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook should be given consideration as advertising platforms, especially now that they all offer self-serve systems that enable marketers to purchase ads directly, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the effectiveness of advertising on these types of websites.

The great thing about search advertising on a search engine like Google, for instance, is that intent is present. If a person is searching for 'discount computer parts', there's a pretty good chance that he or she is looking to make a purchase or is at least starting to consider one. It's this sort of intent that makes search marketing such an effective advertising medium.

That intent is harder to find on websites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. On YouTube, for instance, most of the searches are logically related to videos that YouTube users are looking for. If you're promoting an online store for discount computer parts, this probably leaves you out in the cold. And on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, searches are often related to people (e.g. you're searching for an old friend). Again, there's likely to be far less commercial intent with these searches.

What was most curious to me about the Wall Street Journal's article is that MySpace has been syndicating Google ads for part of its search for more than two years and Facebook's ad system is not new either. So search marketers have been experimenting with these websites for some time and while there's still a lot of fine tuning going on, these websites are a known quantity to a certain extent. Google has in the past reported less-than-stellar results on MySpace and quite a few anecdotes about lackluster performance with Facebook ads have been posted as well.

None of this is to say that search marketers shouldn't consider experimenting with search ads beyond search engines. Like anything else, where money is spent should be based on an individual assessment, but I'm not so sure that the trend the Wall Street Journal describes is really a trend - yet.

Google issues its Q4 2008 earnings this week and given the reports that search advertising spend in the US fell 8% last quarter, we should have a much clearer picture of the state of the search advertising market by this Friday.

Patricio Robles

Published 20 January, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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