Newspaper and magazine empire Hearst will take a giant step into Internet media by buying iCrossing, a search engine marketing firm, for $325 million. Hearst’s earlier offer of $250 million had been rejected.

iCrossing, as told in the company’s official history, began in 1998 as a search engine advertising and analytics specialist. Today, the Scottsdale, Arizona company has 550 employees and twelve offices stretching from San Francisco to Munich. Forty of the Fortune 500 are clients. The company touts the importance of marketing to search engine users, and likes to say it’s not about searching, it’s about finding:

We know it’s not enough to simply optimize page code or design a pretty site. Success depends on the integration of search marketing with Web programs and overall marketing efforts. We have to help customers find exactly what they are looking for, and take them through that entire experience, from a search trigger, to completed action.

Increasingly, marketers are focusing on cost per click (CPC) ad campaigns, rather than display ads meant to be seen rather than clicked. In the CPC world, no click equals failure.

PaidContent summarized the deal’s importance: “Hearst has beat rival publisher Meredith in the race to add search ad services to its marketing arsenal … iCrossing is more than just search … including mobile, e-mail, social media campaigns, website development and display and rich media creation.”

By bringing iCrossing onboard, Hearst not only adds a money-making business, it gains a large team of top Internet marketers, several hundred people with years of training at the cutting edge of online campaigns rather than print media. It’s fashionable on the Internet to portray print publishers as stupid, but Hearst’s move seems pretty smart.

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