Companies that don't have a clear search engine marketing strategy risk getting lost in cyberspace.

It's often been said that on the Internet, consumers are in the driver's seat. And, as such, they are driving marketers to look at search in a different light. In ever increasing numbers, consumers are searching, researching, and purchasing products and services online. Savvy marketers who want to reach their target audience are ensuring that search is integrated into the marketing mix.

Unfortunately some companies still don't understand how important search has become. Consider, for instance, the Super Bowl and PS Cleaning Products. The Super Bowl is the biggest advertising event of the year. At the huge cost of a 30-second spot, companies really want, and expect, a big bang for their buck. PS Cleaning Products certainly did, and spent a small fortune to launch their new brand during the Super Bowl.

Who is PS Cleaning Products? What products do they sell? How do I contact them to order? I don't know. Do you? Although the company featured its URL, during the spots, if you had not written it down at the time you couldn't find them on the search engines to get answers. Why? Because the relatively new domain name had not yet been picked up by the search engines. And there was no pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to compensate. Metaphorically speaking, the ball was thrown, but there was no one there to receive it.

The fact is, on the Internet perception is everything. Most consumers believe that if you rank high on search engines then you must be an industry leader. Why else would the omnipotent Google rank you that high? Isn't perception a wonderful thing? Organic results - naturally occurring and not paid for - are considered impartial third-party references that give your company instant credibility. You may operate your company out of your basement in your pyjamas, but if your listing is high on Google's ranking, people think you're a multinational.

How powerful is this halo effect? Well, according to Jupiter Research, 87% of commercial traffic from major search engines is from organic or non sponsored results. Consider also that according to a recent study by SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization), organic search only accounts for approximately 11% of overall search engine marketing spending. Paid placement on the other hand receives approximately 83% of SEM spending.

Why the imbalance? Although many marketers have found that organic search provides the lowest cost per acquisition of all their advertising, organic search results are more difficult to achieve, often requiring the outsourcing of this function to paid experts. In addition, achieving good organic search results takes time. It can easilv take six months to a year for your organic campaign to start producing results.

Conversely pav-per-click advertising is a faster wav to get noticed. Your control over timing makes it easy to integrate paid search with various marketing channels. For example, Disney recently launched the movie Shaggy Dog using traditional advertising channels (commercials, posters etc.). However, Disney also purchased paid advertising for various search terms and captured the interest of users by creating landing pages with access to movie trailers and other interesting information.

Disney clearly understands the synergy between creative and directive advertising. Creative advertising, such as TV commercials, generates demand while directive advertising, like search, puts your information at a potential client's fingertips when they're ready to make the purchase decision. The old adage "location, location, location" still holds true, even in the new economy.

To many, search is also a powerful branding tool. Imagine, whenever someone does a search for refrigerators, they see KitchenAid (perhaps in both organic and paid results). That begins to forge strong ties in people's minds. Therein lies the dual importance of integrating search into your overall marketing strategy.

Traditional advertising is creative, with the seller seeking out the buyer. Search is directive, where the buyer is seeking out the seller. Active and proactive, creative and directive, each one enhances and complements the other to create an integrated marketing strategy that produces results.

Creative is needed to generate awareness or to inspire the need. Then it's up to directive to ensure that your message is delivered to qualified buyers when they initiate a search. Search gets the message in front of the consumer when they are making their buying decision. Used together, the whole is greater than the sum of the pieces.

- Jeff Quipp