Marketing students with the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics are running ad campaigns in a global competitionwithout ever leaving campus.

They began participating in The Google Online Marketing Challenge this month. Last year, more than 1,600 student teams from 47 countries took part. WVU , which has 22 teams, is participating for the first time.

Michael Walsh , assistant professor of marketing, is coordinating the program for WVU . He said it is an opportunity for the students to gain experience with a unique type of advertising.

These students are learning a very useful and practical skill,Walsh said.This is the future of marketing.

The idea behind the Google Online Marketing Challenge is for students to develop a real online marketing program. One form of online marketingand the one used for this contestis search engine marketing. These are the links that appear on the right-hand column of a Google search result. Students recruit a client to begin the program.

The typical clients for the WVU program include business and nonprofit organizations throughout the state, including a Morgantown real estate company, a Charleston-based law firm, a local restaurant and even the business college itself. Google provides a voucher worth $200 in online advertising credits to each team of four students.

The students have control over every aspect of their campaigns. Throughout the project, they are also charged with the responsibility of communicating with their clients, which must be businesses that have never advertised through Google AdWords.

Students have three weeks to analyze and optimize their campaigns. The goal is to direct Internet traffic toward their clientsWeb sites through targeted Google searches.

Regardless of the outcome of the competition, students gain unique hands-on experience. This project highlights the pressure of analyzing and refining a campaign even as it takes place, and the results come in real-time for real clients. The students must assess their results and provide their clients with recommendations to further develop their online marketing. Its also a win-win for the local businesses that gain free exposure and are introduced to a new kind of advertising environment.

At the end of the competition, Google and a panel of independent academics from all over the world select the winning teams based on the success of their campaign and the quality of their competition reports. The results for the North American region should be released in mid-July.