Congratulations, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)! You passed the test. You sidestepped the temptation to pay tens of billions for a company that hasn't grown its profitability in a few years.

Sure, it's problematic on the surface to see Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) instead become the latest AdSense partner in Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) growing army, but is that really so bad? You wanted to become the No. 2 player in search-engine marketing, and now you have a clear path to make it happen. There are also antitrust concerns surrounding the Google-Yahoo! hookup, which may buy you time to beef up your presence as your new two-headed foe enters an uncertain summer. 

Right now, there are a few things that you can do, Mr. Softy, to make sure you take advantage of the Yahoo!-Google combo. I'm talking about three steps so simple that you won't even need to click on that cartoon paperclip for assistance.

1. Fight the power
Many sharper minds than my own believe that a Yahoo! deal with Google will hit serious regulatory turbulence.

"There is simply no way this will be allowed by regulators, nor should it," Kara Swisher wrote when Yahoo! began testing out Google's ad system two months ago. "It is bad for advertisers, it is bad for consumers, it is bad for innovation, no matter how well-intentioned Google is."

Swisher may be right, but what are the implications? If the Department of Justice kills the outsourcing deal, it's forcing Yahoo! to spend its life hogtied to an inferior form of monetization. Blocking the deal would leave Yahoo! the only company on the planet without access to Google's ad inventory, which other dot-com heavies such as Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and CNET Networks (NASDAQ:CNET) have enjoyed for years.

Is the government willing to subsidize Yahoo!'s survival? Yahoo!'s growth in recent years has come from display advertising, not paid search. The company's search-engine marketing department has been a disaster. Yahoo! Publisher Network, the Yahoo! equivalent to Google's AdSense, has suffered year-over-year declines in recent quarters.

So I have to respectfully disagree with Swisher. This deal will go through, because it unfairly penalizes only Yahoo! if it doesn't. Unless Ben Bernanke wants a new bailout project, a fading Yahoo! needs access to better monetization tools. The deal is also being worded as non-exclusive, and it's even opening up the door for Yahoo! to sell display ads on Google. It's OK to snicker, but the search-site twosome is already being careful.

As for you, Microsoft, this doesn't mean you should just lie down and let this happen. Scream like crazy. There's nothing wrong with playing the victim. You did it in trying to block Google's purchase of DoubleClick. Critics say you failed, but I say that in delaying the deal's closure, you bought yourself time while wasting Google's.

Oh, and don't just holler that the deal is unfair. Play yourself up as the only solution for advertisers now seeking an alternative to Google's growing power. This isn't about picketing. It's about marketing. Get promotional.

2. Compete with AdSense
AdSense has rescued many third-party publishers, by providing a better advertising solution for countless small and medium-sized websites that can't afford to sell their own ads and can't subsist entirely on the limited ad pool of relevant display ads.

Yahoo! is unlikely to kill its YPN rival product, but now's the time for you to roll out the red carpet to affiliate sites beyond current bigwig partners such as Facebook and Digg.

You will have to compete with AdSense, and that means initially returning most -- if not all, or more than all -- of the resulting ad revenue to publishers. Google already pays out a generous chunk to its affiliate sites, and it has an unmatched network of sponsors.

It's time for Microsoft to step over YPN's carcass and take on AdSense. Playing yourself up as the lone pure Google alternative can only help.

3. Put your money where other mouths are
Microsoft, your balance sheet is still stocked with cash. And you've got three precious months of delays, at least, before Yahoo! and Google hook up -- possibly even longer, judging by the 13 months that the slow-footed Justice Department kept satellite radio in limbo.

With everyone worried about how big Google will get, now is the time to make as many key deals as possible. Buy high-traffic content sites that you can populate with your ads. Aim for specialty content sites, but only if the keywords are lucrative, as they are with wedding-planning leader The Knot (NASDAQ:KNOT). Buying international properties outright may be tricky, but buying up minority stakes in overseas leaders such as (NASDAQ:BIDU) in China, or Russia's Yandex, will give you a toehold in faster-growing markets abroad.

You want to compete with Google. Aggressively going after Yahoo! shows that you're smart enough to know you can't do it alone. Go on a shopping spree now, before antitrust regulators close down the mall.

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