Paid Search Providers Expand Services grabs new hires to build out content-based sponsored links, while LookSmart integrates its paid placement and paid inclusion programs.

Two providers of paid search took further steps this week to expand their offerings in the growing advertising space. Inc on Wednesday announced the hiring of three former executives from Sprinks, a sponsored links provider acquired by Google Inc. in October, to lead its expansion into content-specific sponsored links. Separately, LookSmart Ltd. on Tuesday said it has merged its newly launched Sponsored Listings paid placement service with its flagship LookListings paid inclusion service., of Amherst, N.Y., currently offers sponsored listings for search results but wants to also offer sponsored links that are triggered based on the actual content of a Web page, an approach used by Sprinks, formerly a division of About Inc. The new hires will start a content division focused on the effort, said. did not offer details about when any new service will launch, and officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. The new hires are Lance Podell as president; Doug Perlson as senior vice president, partner development and operations; and Mark Josephson, senior vice president, marketing and business development. also said in an announcement that it is opening an office in New York and has received an undisclosed amount of venture capital funding in a round led by Insight Venture Partners, of New York.

As for Sprinks, Google has offered few details about its fate. While former Sprinks business partners told that Google has shut down Sprinks, a Google spokesman on Wednesday would neither confirm nor deny whether Sprinks is still in operation. The former Sprinks Web site redirects to a Google AdWords advertising page.

"We are offering Sprinks advertisers and a number of its publisher partners with the opportunity to participate in Googles AdWords and AdSense programs as we complete the integration of Sprinks into Google," Google said in a statement.

LookSmart, with its latest move, appears to be trying to jumpstart its 2-month-old, bid-for-placement service that lets advertisers bid on keywords to return their search listings. With it now being integrated with LookSmarts core LookListings paid inclusion service, its 30,000 advertisers can mix and match paid search services in the same ad campaign, LookSmart said.

"For LookSmart, it instantly catapults us into a stronger position in the $2 billion per year sponsored search market," said LookSmart CEO Jason Kellerman in a statement.

LookSmart, of San Francisco, has been struggling in recent months after Microsoft Corp. said it will drop LookSmarts search listings from its MSN Search starting in mid-January. This month, LookSmart said it is losing two more distribution partners—including Sprinks—and said that it is cutting half of its staff and closing some offices.