Possibly pulling up a tattered white flag, paid search specialist MIVA (NASDAQ:MIVA) has turned to investment banker Deutsche Bank to explore strategic alternatives that may include an outright sale of the company.

The move isn't a complete surprise. Two months ago, Rich Duprey pointed out how the company was likely setting itself up for a buyout when it had filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to expand the number of executives covered under change-of-control agreements.

If this is the end of the line for MIVA as an independent entity, it would be more bitter than sweet. MIVA was one of the first companies to follow Overture into the paid-search space. MIVA, originally FindWhat.com, had front-row seats to the contextual advertising revolution, in which sponsors paid for text ads served up on relevant search engine result pages. A few years ago, MIVA and Overture were the only two publicly traded pure players in this space turning a profit. Overture punched out too soon and too cheap, agreeing to be acquired by Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) in 2003 for a mere $1.6 billion before its paid-search business grew to dominate the Yahoo! income statement.

Now it appears that MIVA will be punching out too late and far, far cheaper. MIVA's stock was one of the biggest losers of 2005, shedding 72% of its value. It was a year filled with accounting controversies, executive defections, and crumbling profitability.

As bad as things may appear, there likely will be suitors willing to nibble at MIVA if the price is right. After its eSpotting acquisition, the company has enviable exposure in Europe, and its Pay-Per-Call product is catching on with the competition. Yahoo!, IAC/InterActive (NASDAQ:IACI), or Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) would make interesting sugar daddies, though a more synergistic deal may be struck with smaller players like InfoSpace (NASDAQ:INSP) or LookSmart (NASDAQ:LOOK).

Paid search is still a promising field. Google's gargantuan leaps every quarter indicate that. Finding the next generation of interactive marketing winners is something that interests the analysts behind the Rule Breakers newsletter service. It's a shame that MIVA didn't fly, but the runway has plenty of other promising players lining up to take off.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of paid search and was once an investor in MIVA when it was FindWhat.com. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.