To say that search is important in online marketing is about the same as proclaiming the importance of breathing to continued life: It's a must. But making it work is tough because not all sites search equally.

If you want to make search work for your business, you need to understand the search landscape: what sites get the attention, how users search, and where they go after they click. Not only does that help you better understand how to promote your own site, but it aids in deciding where to place ads. There's some interesting information out from Experian Marketing Services. More than ever, the 80/20 rule seems to rule search.

For example, last quarter, close to 21 percent of all search clicks are captured by only five websites:

  • Facebook--8.48 percent
  • YouTube--5.55 percent
  • Yahoo--2.63 percent
  • Wikipedia--2.01 percent
  • Amazon--1.40 percent

And it only takes about 500 websites to capture roughly half of all search clicks, as the Experian graph below shows.

Things aren't that different in the world of paid search, where companies advertise to appear in search results. The top five websites in this area are Amazon, eBay, eHow, BestBuy, and Yahoo Shopping. The top 10 sites grab 16 percent of the paid search clicks, while the top 500 get 56 percent.

That tells you a few things. First, if you figure that organic search will allow you to become the Next Big Thing, you should do a little more figuring. Early on, you are unlikely to develop enough traffic to become one of the top 10,000 sites that, collectively, get three-quarters of the clicks. It doesn't mean your mousetrap can't be successful, but don't expect the world to beat a course to your door. Most people still won't know that you exist.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter got ahead because of innovative services, clever non-traditional marketing, and money to back them. Think through the marketing and PR efforts you will need to succeed.

As for search advertising, close to 65 percent of the clicks go to only 1,000 sites, according to Experian. That leaves something like a gazillion sites to split the rest. Again, use search advertising as part of your marketing, but don't expect it to be the only tool in your kit.