MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — When Kiesha Ramey tells people she works for Google Inc., they usually think she's a computer geek.
She's more like a commercial poet.
Ramey, 30, is part of Google's in-house advertising agency, a team called the Maximizers that helps clients navigate the complex world of search-related advertising.
Her mission is worthy of a haiku writer.
She crafts text ads to intrigue Web surfers because advertisers don't pay Google unless the ads are clicked on. She has only three short lines -- of 25, 35 and 35 characters each -- and a link to make her pitch.
"I've learned to speak in 95-character sentences," she said.
Google and its advertisers wouldn't provide many examples of ads they've written, afraid of giving away their secrets to competitors. But it's a lot like writing a personal ad, in which seduction lies in the art of few words. A recent Google search for "surf camp," for instance, pulled up this:
Surf Trips for Everyone
Trips to Costa Rica and Mexico
Yoga, massage, culture and more!
Search-engine advertising has swelled to a $5-billion-a-year business, enabling the Internet to become the first medium to post consecutive years of 30% ad growth since broadcast television in the early 1950s. Google reaps 56 cents of every dollar spent on search ads, according to research firm EMarketer Inc.
The market is based on a simple concept: Targeted ads appear when people type queries into search engines. Advertisers bid for placement. The smallest business can jump in by opening a $5 account with Google.
As with EBay Inc.'s online marketplace, though, a basic idea can be maddeningly complicated to carry out with any level of sophistication.
"It's like playing three-dimensional chess with one arm tied behind your back," said Fredrick Marckini, chief executive of IProspect, a search-engine marketing firm.
The continued growth of search advertising depends on its ability to teach the biggest advertisers how to play that game better so that they devote more of their marketing budgets to the Internet.
Here's how it's played: After signing up for an account, an advertiser starts selecting keywords. Every time someone types those words into Google, the advertiser wants his ads to appear in the box above or alongside the regular search-engine results. The ad links to his site.
He tells Google how much he's willing to pay each time someone clicks on his ad. Google takes that bid price and runs a calculation that also takes into account the "click-through rate," or how often the ad gets clicked. The advertisers that score the highest rise to the top.
Here's where it gets tricky. The auction is repeated for each of the hundreds of millions of searches conducted every day. So an ad that appears first can suddenly drop down in the order if competitors raise their bids. Advertisers can set limits on the amount they're willing to spend each day; once they hit that limit, their ads disappear.
Now consider that big advertisers can run campaigns over thousands of keywords, even hundreds of thousands. For each keyword, those advertisers must calculate how much they're willing to pay, write compelling ads, monitor the price competitors are willing to pay and keep track of how well the ads perform.
Moreover, Google isn't the only game in town. Many marketers also advertise on Yahoo Inc.'s competing system, which uses a different set of variables to rank ads, as well as those of smaller rivals. Microsoft Corp. also is testing its own search advertising program.
"When you consider all the variables involved, paid search is the most complicated form of advertising," said David Hallerman, a senior analyst at EMarketer.
An entire industry of firms has sprung up to help advertisers. They try to take advantage of inefficiencies in the search-ad market, much as hedge funds seek to exploit inefficiencies in the financial markets.
Google too has a strong business interest in helping advertisers and their agencies. Better ads lead to more clicks, which generate more revenue for Google. And if advertisers are getting more sales through Google ads, they're likely to boost their spending.
So Google created the Maximizers, named after the group's founding member Max Erdstein, in 2000.
Google declined to say how many Maximizers it has or how many advertisers they work with.
At their desks at the Googleplex, as the company's headquarters are known, the Maximizers help advertisers select keywords, write ad copy and choose the correct "landing page." For example, shoppers who click on an ad for "Dora the Explorer" books should be whisked to the page where they can buy it, not the e-commerce site's home page.
Maximizers come from all backgrounds, Google said. For example, Ramey, 30, grew up in Carson and studied urban planning and international relations at Stanford University, where Google was founded. Her colleague Ronnie Castro, 24, grew up in Burbank and studied product design at Stanford.