Since that time many search engine companies (Aliweb, Looksmart, Lycos, Inktomi, Infoseek etc) have tried to create a profitable, successful and sustainable business model and failed. Google however has become the de facto standard and is still the primary search engine of choice for 80% of the searches made on the Internet - however it is fair to say that Bing from Microsoft is catching up and making inroads into this dominance.
Since 1998 Google has matured and has refined its search methodology by creating and adapting a unique algorithm for determining the true relevance of a search by a user, which falls within its mantra of making a rapid, automated search as close as possible to a "natural" search. As a consequence, companies realized that being on the first page of the biggest search engines meant more people accessing their website which in turn means more sales of the products and services that were being offered.
Good SEO equates to website awareness and good website marketing means conversions into sales.
The old Yellow Pages adage of simply "being in the book" doesn't apply any more. Time, relevance and convenience are key factors for a user when performing a search, relevance is one of the prime factors for the search engine. Today, more and more people are using the search engine results to help guide their decisions, which make website attraction important but ease of use, ease of communication, ease of purchase and definitive calls to actions, key factors in the sales cycle.
So when the user gets to your site what do you do?
Well the ultimate goal is for the user to purchase something, take a moment to think about the rules that apply to you when you purchase something in a retail outlet.
The Retail owner generally:
a) Put your wares (products or services) on show
b) Make it easy for you to get information on them (ask an assistant or compare options)
c) Makes it clear and easy to buy them (point of sale, credit cards, cash etc)
All of these rules apply when creating your website shop front. Make special deals on your products for limited periods only. Don't make the website a spectacular experience, people may stay and browse and admire but probably won't buy. Don't dazzle, coerce.
But just remember without SEO people won't get to you and that is the base requirement.