The search engine Google is the operating system of the Internet.

That has a lot of implications for branding. Imagine knowing about 15 years ago, for example, that Windows would emerge from a clutter of competing operating systems and become the dominant force it is today. How would that have affected your branding, product development and even investment plans?

If Google truly is the operating system of the Internet, then companies must place a great deal more attention on search engine marketing than they do now. It is not only much more important to corporate branding and sales than many realize, but will become even more vital when search engines are combined with geolocation and other capabilities.

Within a decade, such capabilities will reduce the importance of street signage and even location. It will also enable, for example, prospects outside a restaurant to see reviews from previous patrons before they enter. Already, a Korean "digital media city" is experimenting with these and similar location-based capabilities.

Search engine marketing is vital because 78% of Internet usage consists of people researching products, places and services, according to Jupiter Research. By any yardstick, Google leads.

A Nielsen/Netratings survey of 60,000 homes and businesses in January indicated that 29.5% use Google; 28.9% use Yahoo!; and 27.6% use MSN. However, users spent more time with Google--28.5 minutes a month, compared to 11 minutes for Yahoo! and 8.7 minutes for MSN.

Currently, search engine marketing falls into two categories.

The first is search-engine optimization (SEO). This involves persuasive Web content based around well-researched key phrases, as well as design that incorporates good metatags (codes that describe Web page content) and avoids frames, Flash or other search engine no-nos. It also involves continuous efforts to keep up with search engine ranking criteria and competing placement efforts. A top-ranked site can easily drop to the cellar in days without ongoing effort.

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Nick Wreden is the author of ProfitBrand: How to Increase the Profitability, Accountability and Sustainability of Brands (named "Best Business Book of 2005" by strategy+business) and FusionBranding: How to Forge Your Brand for the Future. Reach him at