Web analysis is an area of tremendous frustration for me.  I’m definitely a left-brain kind of guy.  I’m not proud of it, I’ve sought counseling and intervention, but try as I may to dwell in the nirvana of warm and fuzzy I prefer a world of concrete and steel, metaphorically speaking.   Maybe that’s what attracted me to the arena of computers and programming when I first got caught up in it in the mid to late 80’s.  I found I could handle “if-then-else.”   I knew that if I had a problem in code, 99 times out of 100 I’d find out the root of the problem through patient analysis.  And that root would often be something as simple as a misplaced curly brace, or the absence of a double quote mark.  Very concrete.  Very clear.  Very solve-able.

mercedes ad illustrates right vs. left brain dilemma

Mercedes Benz has gotten a lot of mileage out of the right vs. left brain dilemma in their ads. I wonder if even Einstein could have figured out the ways of Google.

SEO web analysis is, on the other hand, definitely a world of warm and fuzzy.  Well, fuzzy anyway.

One of the key aspects of successful SEO is identifying how competitive a keyword phrase is.  In SEO, “competitive” means the number and quality of the websites competing for visibility in the search engine results pages (SERP’s) for a particular keyword phrase.  Identifying the competitiveness of a keyword phrase is one of the key factors in predicting SEO success or failure.  If you target a phrase like “women’s clothing,” the competition is so established, and so intense, that in practical terms you have little chance of succeeding within a time frame and budget that would make SEO worthwhile.

How do you make the determination that a keyword phrase is “competitive”?  The first measure that people apply, which is basically useless, is to count the number of pages returned when you search on a phrase.  Let me take a different example, this one from a site that I’m actively working with.  The keyword phrase is from the sport of bicycling, and it’s “road bike jerseys.”  When I do a search on Google for “road bike jerseys,” but I do not place the phrase inside of quotation marks, I get 1.34 million results.  For the person who knows nothing about Search Engine Optimization, this seems like enough “competition” to give up at the outset.

image of a keyword search in Google

The person who knows a little bit about the way this works understands that Google is returning all sorts of results that aren’t really competing for that phrase.  For example results with the word “road” but not “bike” or “jerseys.”  So that person would probably progress to a search using that term inside of quotations.  This will search Google for the complete phrase “road bike jerseys.”  The change is dramatic.  But the wrong way.

image example of a second Google search

Hey, Google, luv ya guys, but what’s up with this?  Here we run squishily into the fuzzy world that I’ve been complaining about.

Those who have been through the Search Engine Academy’s SEO training workshops know there’s a better way.  That better way is to do research based on Google special operators such as “intitle,” “inanchor,” “allintitle,” “inurl” etc.  I will use some of these operators to try and get to the bottom of the competition for this keyword phrase.  (If you’d like a [not entirely accurate] reference to these terms from Google, here’s at least one Google page explaining special operators.)

For review, or as an explanation for anyone who has not used special search operators, the “intitle” operator, when input to a Google search, will filter results so that only sites with a certain word, namely the word immediately following the “intitle” operator, in the title tag of the site will be returned. Take a look at the screen shot from our search.

 

web analysis example 3, search results from google

 

This query tells Google to search for the same phrase, namely “road bike jerseys,” but to only display results that contain each of the words in the title tag (we have to use the intitle operator 3 times because each one only acts on the word immediately following it).  Much better.  I can compete in a field of 2,000+ results.

Now if you’ve read the Google page on special operators, you’ll immediately spot a short cut to this syntax, namely the “allintitle” operator. So, let’s give that a spin and see what we get.

 

web analysis example 4, search results from google

Hmmm.  No results?  I dun thin so, Lusy (as Ricky Ricardo would say).  If I’m reading the documentation correctly, we should be getting the same results with these two queries.  But which one is accurate?  Easy, the first.  I can tell this because when I execute the search using a series of intitle statements I can take a look at the results and see that there are plenty of pages with “road bike jerseys” in the title tag.

So what have we demonstrated?  There are three takeaways from this, and they are not academic technical trivia, but they have a significant effect on your ability to navigate in the world of SEO Web analysis:

  1. Don’t trust Google’s documentation.  Unfortunately you need to experiment to see how things work, and even then you won’t be able to tell with pinpoint accuracy
  2. Special operators like intitle can be extremely useful
  3. You are going to have to rely on intuition and you’ll never be able to base every thing on hard-edged, laboratory grade analysis.  (Us left-brainers just said, “Damn!”)

So no matter how analytical you want to approach search engine optimization, be prepared to take a soft focus, let your brain relax, and think in terms of intuition.  Welcome to the oxymoronic world of right-brained web analysis.  Enjoy your fuzzy stay here.

Take a look at this handy little cheat sheet if you want to figure out which side of your brain is most developed in you.

Take a look at this handy little cheat sheet if you want to figure out which side of your brain is most developed in you.

Right Brain Web Analysis, Keyword Competition and the “intitle” Operator was last modified: May 8th, 2012 by Ross Barefoot
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