How's your traffic? Where is your site listed in the search engines?
The playing field may be level, but there are an awful lot of players on the field. The best way to compete is to optimize your site. It is not hard, but you need to do it correctly.
I have spent a considerable amount of time in the past few years exchanging links, writing articles, posting to forums and placing ads. It was time well spent, but when I analyze my traffic, I find most people still find my site through the search engines.
There is a great deal of good information you can read about search engines, optimizing, search algorithms, etc. Entire websites (and industries) are devoted to studying them. I must have read hundreds of articles on the subject and have developed my own simple approach. You need to...
The first thing you need to do is visit the Google AdWords Keyword tool. Enter some keywords you think people would use to find your website, and it will show you how often people use them. It will help you find all the keyword phrases related to your business or service, many of which you might not have considered.
I like to optimize for three or four word keyword phrases, one phrase per page. For example, put all of your blue doorknobs on one page, and then optimize it for "blue antique doorknobs". The more info about blue antique doorknobs, the better. Add your city name and optimize for "Omaha blue antique doorknobs".
You should create some relevant content for the engines to find. If you specialize in doorknobs, write an article about doorknobs - their history, their value - whatever you find fascinating. Incorporate your keyword phrase into the body of your article as often as you can, while still maintaining logical readability and flow. Placing your keywords in your opening headline and first paragraph are important as well.
Writing an article will add to your credibility as an expert in your niche market. I created these pages about world fairs years ago to promote my grandfather's book, and my pages are still highly ranked for world fair collecting keywords.
If you specialize in more than one area, write several articles about what you know. If your site is in an online mall that doesn't allow you to add content pages, consider getting your own domain. Develop a site filled with relevant content, then link to your mall site.
After you've created your content, it's time to add your meta tags. You will need to determine what words are on your page. You can only optimize what you have. Don't bother using words that aren't in the body of your page.
Use your frequently used keywords to create your meta tags, the html code search engines use to analyze your site. If you look at the source of a web page, here is how it looks...
<<TITLE>The page title </TITLE>
<META NAME="description" CONTENT="A short description of your page.">
First comes the page title tag. This one is the most important. Don't just use "Acme Doorknobs Home Page" but instead use "Acme Doorknobs - Your premier supplier of antique doorknobs, hardware and doorknob information". Your title should be between 5 and 20 words. Your title tag is what your visitors will see at the top of the page.
Next add your description tag, using your keywords again. Example: "Acme Doorknobs sells antique doorknobs, locks, hinges and related hardware for the doorknob collecting enthusiast." Use plural instead of singular, and don't repeat the same word twice in a row. Keep your description under 25 words.
Google uses the info in these tags to write your link description on the search engine results page. Well written page titles and descriptions can make your listing perform better, even if it is not as highly ranked.
Now, on every linked image on your site, insert your keywords in the .alt description. These are the words that appear when your mouse hovers over an image, so make it a complete, descriptive phrase. If it is a picture of a doorknob, make your .alt tag read "Acme Doorknobs sells high quality doorknobs .. etc."
You will need to go through the same process for every page. Google doesn't like it when you have the same information in the meta tags of every page, so be sure to vary your description.
You will need to become good friends with Google and make use of all their services, so set up an account. Once you are set up, the first thing you need to do is submit a sitemap. You can find out all about them here. Once your sitemap has been uploaded, you can go in and make sure Google knows about all of your pages.
When you add new pages, you will need to update your sitemap and resubmit it, just to be sure it is included. Google automatically sends a "bot" to check out all your pages periodically, too. Most search engines do. There is never a need to pay anyone to submit your website for you.
It is important to create a free business listing on Google Places. You can stand out by adding your link, address, hours of operation, photos and keywords. When people are using Google Maps, they will see the name of your business displayed. Google has a good tutorial here.
Now you need to get set up at Google Analytics. They give you all the info you could ever want about your traffic. All you have to do is add a little code to the bottom of every page. They can give you results in real time.
Finally, you may as well set yourself up at Google+. It's Google's social network. You can set up an account for yourself, and then add a link to your website.
You should also set up a page for your website on Facebook. It is an easy way to use your keywords and link to your site. Create links to your site from all the social media websites.
I've found the easiest way to get first page results is by optimizing for my local area. For instance, it is much easier to do well with the keywords "Omaha Antique Doorknobs" than just "Antique Doorknobs". Go Local.
After you've done all you can, you still may not end up on the first page of the results. It's hard. There's lots of competition. Study your Google Analytics and see what words people use to find you. Keep trying. Sometimes you get lucky.