New statistics from Nielsen Online show that search grew almost 17 percent in the last year which makes search engine marketing (SEM) an even more important tool for companies looking to grow their online presence.

According to the figures released from Nielsen on Friday, search queries increased to more than 9.5 billion in March – a 16.7 percent increase over the same period last year.

As expected, Google led the way with 64.2 percent of the search engine market share, a number buoyed by 27.6 percent growth in searches since March of 2008.

Yahoo and Microsoft’s Live Search and MSN continue to be the also-rans in the search engine race but recent news may make the battle for second place more interesting.

It was reported last week that Yahoo is expected to lose up to 3 percent of its market share by not renewing deals with Hewlett-Packard and Acer to have the Yahoo toolbar as the default search on the computer makers‘ devices.

At the same time, Microsoft appears to be getting prepped to make a splash in the search market later this year with a $100 million campaign to boost its new search engine which is expected to be launched mid-year.