It's like shooting fish in a barrel -- until you realize that your gun is loaded with blanks. For LookSmart (NASDAQ:LOOK), toiling away in paid online searches should have produced princely riches.

Earlier this week it was Stocks 2004 recommendation (NASDAQ:FWHT) posting healthy quarterly earnings, while Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) has been riding its Overture workhorse since it acquired the sponsored search specialist. Yes, AskJeeves (NASDAQ:ASKJ) had to talk down its current quarter projections, but it came on the heels of more than doubling its bottom line this past quarter.

LookSmart would be so lucky as to have earnings to talk down. The company posted a modest loss of a penny per share as revenues took a dive. The red ink and dip are the result of the company losing out on Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) as a partner. Mr. Softy accounted for two-thirds of the $156 million in revenues that LookSmart produced last year. Its absence didn't simply create a void. It carved out a crater.

But things are starting to look up for the company. Back when it announced that Microsoft was bailing on using the company's paid search offerings, it pegged 2004 revenues to come in at no more than $50 million. Now the company is trimming back the size of its fiscal deficits as it is raising its top line targets. LookSmart is looking to produce as much as $80 million in revenues from its continuing operations this year. That's an attention-grabbing 60% boost in optimism.

Paid searches have become Internet marketing's killer app as advertisers can target interested traffic for just pennies. The average clickthrough on LookSmart's network ran a sponsor just $0.16, and that's a bargain when it's a quality lead.

With Google's upcoming IPO set to educate the market even more on the significance of contextual marketing, perhaps LookSmart won't have to go hungry for too much longer. Because who says you need a gun to shoot fish in a barrel -- and why would you want to shoot a fish in the first place? Just stick your hand in there and grab one. LookSmart looks like it's rolling up its sleeves, ready to give it a shot.

How important is paid searches given Google's successful AdWords product? Will the niche peak sooner rather than later? Hey! Why is Google going public anyway? All this and more -- in the Google discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz misses In Search Of. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story.