Popular search engine Google is stretching its wings once again, this time flying into the world of targeted advertising. The privately held California company unveiled a service today that promises to serve relevant ads on third-party websites in a completely automated fashion.

A real example of the process can be found on the HowStuffWorks website. Typing "transmissions" into the search box brings up a page describing how transmissions work (obviously), as well as a "Featured Results" column with ads for companies that sell or rebuild transmissions. It's much the same for any product: cameras, cell phones, electric dog polishers, and so forth. Even a page about pies brought up an unobtrusive ad for "Gourmet Pies Delivered -- Apple, Cherry, Pecan, Peach, Keylime Chocolate & more. Great gift idea." Mmmmm... pies.

Today's news is a shot across the bow of companies such as DoubleClick(Nasdaq: DCLK). While DoubleClick may have proprietary technology of its own to serve effective ads, only Google searches the content of Web pages to bring up targeted ads -- a process it claims produces click-through rates at least five times higher than the industry average.

It's hard not to be impressed with the recent rollout of features on Google. Its News section somehow produces a completely automated, relevant, timely page that easily keeps users abreast of current events. Froogle finds products for sale online. Google Catalogs allows you to search and browse retailers' mail-order catalogs online. There are other features, including search via telephone calls, which are almost ready for prime time.

All in all, the company with the world's No. 1 brand is stepping on toes from Yahoo!(Nasdaq: YHOO) to Overture(Nasdaq: OVER) and seems to be more than ready for its much-anticipated IPO. No word yet on when that might be, though Forbes -- which said Google had about $300 million in 2002 revenue and $100 million in profit -- predicts it's coming soon.