When someone uses a search engine, like Google, they enter keywords to find sites that they might be interested in. As mentioned, the links along the right side are paid ads. Each time someone clicks them, the advertiser pays Google a fee. But on the left side of the page—the wider column—are the natural search results. These are the links that Google thinks are most likely to be interesting to the user, based on the keywords they've searched. There are 10 links on each results page. The reason these are so valuable: They don't cost anything at all when people click on them. It's free traffic!
The drawback: It can be exceedingly hard to get exposure through natural search results. With only 10 links on a results page, and hundreds if not thousands (if not millions) of companies wanting to be listed here, getting visibility on the first page is an uphill battle. What's worse: Google takes hundreds of variables about your site (how much traffic you get, how many links you have coming into your site from other sites, how many links you have going out to other sites, how often your content is updated, how certain keywords appear throughout the copy on your pages, and plenty more) when determining which sites should get priority placement in the natural search results. Unfortunately, Google doesn't ever quite say what these variables are or how heavily each one is weighted. And the formula is always changing.
That's not to say, however, that you can't optimize your site for search. Indeed, becoming good at search engine optimization (SEO) (or hiring someone else who is) could be a significant win for your company. My suggestion: At the outset of building your site, consult with an SEO expert (you can find plenty on Google by searching the keyword term “SEO expert”). These guys won't be cheap, but because so much of your SEO success will be determined by how your site is set up and how it presents content, it's best to work with someone as early in the process as possible.
One strategy you may want to explore and discuss with your SEO expert (should you decide to work with one) is a long-tail strategy. With a long-tail strategy, rather than trying to attract users with a short, common keyword (that will get a large number of searches, but also have a large amount of competition), you find longer terms that will get far fewer searches, but have far less competition. This results in a higher potential of being seen and clicked by the searching audience—with less to pay per click. For example, if you do a Google search for the word “jewelry,” you'll see that there are more than 825 million result pages. That's a lot of competition! On the other hand, a search for the term “gold topaz jewelry” has only about two million. Clearly, there will be far, far fewer people searching for this term than will search for just the word “jewelry,” but you have a much higher likelihood of your link being seen and clicked.
No matter what SEO strategy you employ, being successful in this area can be a big benefit to your company. But it's not the type of result that you'll see overnight. SEO takes time and a lot of ongoing effort before you might see any success.