How does natural search work?
Search engines like Google want to return useful information when you search so you will use their services again. Search engines send out "crawlers", "bots" or "spiders" to look through websites and catalog their content. The search engines keep track of "keywords", or words commonly used to search for things, on the website. When a person searches for something in a search engine, the search engine displays the results according to how useful they are to the person searching. In other words, how closely the keywords on the website match the words in the search.
As a small business owner, you want to make sure your website is listed as high as possible in natural search rankings. Search engine optimization, or, making it easy for search engines to find and catalog the keywords on your site, is crucial to getting a high ranking in the natural results of a search.
For example, if you are a wedding photographer, you want to have the words "wedding photography" on your site, as well as your location. "Chicago", for instance. When someone searches for "wedding photography" in the Chicago area, Google can tell what location the search originated from, so it returns results relevant to Chicago. The more times you mention keywords and your location, the more relevant Google thinks your website is for the person searching.
Can't you just list keywords over and over again on a separate page on your website?
In the early days of search engines, it was simple to trick Google into thinking your site was useful for the searcher. People would do things like put keywords in white on a white background so people couldn't see them on the website, but crawlers would catalog them. But search engines are smart and adapt quickly. Nowadays, websites are punished for using cheap tricks like the one mentioned. Their ranking is actually lower than it could be if all the content was original and contained the same number of keywords.
Why is natural search important?
Natural search is non-stop, relatively cheap advertising. Your only cost is creating content. Lots of people have paid search programs with services like AdWords. In order to have your ad appear on the right side of the search results, you have to continue putting money into the program. If you don't pay your AdWords bill, your ad no longer appear on the right side. When you invest money and time in search engine optimization, the investment stays with you. Even if you turn off your paid search program, your ranking in natural search will still be there.
Natural search actually works in tandem with paid search. Google displays ads not only according to how much money the person paid for the ad, but also how relevant the website is to the search. You could pay less and be ranked higher than the next company down if the search engine thinks your website is more useful.