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Right Brain Web Analysis, Keyword Competition and the “intitle” Operator

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


  1. Nice Article! I really pay a special attention on keywords workout , I think that tracking positions by keywords is so important, even more important is to compare with competitor’s rankings on each keyword or keyword phrase.
    There are some useful tools on web, I preffer using Colibri Tool – it has a very fine competitor’s tracking feature, everything is easy and readable.

  2. Most SEO articles I read online are just long boring lists so good job giving this some character. I didn’t fall asleep reading it

  3. I would call this back asswards kw research.

    Don’t think what is popular, think what it is you are selling.
    Tailor your keywords to your products and then move to the short tail.

    If you cover the longtail market you can build your silos to satisfy the short.

    If your only product is a “road biking jersey” then doing some kw research using Google Keywords will help.

    Phrase = road biking – Competition = Medium – global searches per month = 110,000 (About 38,300,000 results )
    Phrase = road bike jerseys – Competition = High – global searches per month = 1,600 (About 33,300,000 results)

    However if you go after the short tail, “road biking” you will have to have more than pages selling jerseys as this phrase covers a much wider field.
    You could go after “road biking shirts” which has no search stats, but has 28,million in a broad search and 44 in an exact phrase.

    Actually the term “road bike jerseys” should be modified by the overall theme of the site.
    I would not think that this is all the site sells.
    If the site handles a lot of clothing and equipment then “something like “road bike gear” as the h1 and “cycling jerseys” as the h2.

    You are right in #1. Don’t trust Google’s documentation. Well… not so much their documentation but their metrics.
    In Google keywords the results come from PPC stats and generally are skewed when it comes to organic.
    This can go either way. Use the results as a yardstick but do not believe their amounts as being precise.

    I was told that there was not enough results for my primary keyword phrase but my #1 position (out of 31 million) gave me 80 visitors in the first two months alone.

    In #2 you say the search operators are extremely useful but you had shown that they were not at all accurate.

    #3. Rely on intuition? I dun thin so, Lusy
    Google uses a system to rank and index pages.
    With enough data, ANY system can be reverse engineered. A job for the left brain guys.

    EVERY system follows rules.
    We KNOW that Google assigns a high weight to domain names.
    We KNOW that they do the same for titles.
    There are many more things we know.
    Like we also know that factors such as alt text are used as one of the 200+ factors, but tests have shown that the actual content of the alt text is not indexed. Searches for unique alt text come up empty.
    That links on the bottom of the page count less.
    That Google uses text size and position as major indicators.

    Start putting this together under the umbrella of Google’s primary rule, “design for people, not search engines” and learn HOW people search and read online.
    It is not intuition. Everything fits a logical pattern.


  4. A detailed analytical approach towards SEO. Use of examples makes it easy to understand the concept. Keep it up Ross.

  5. Great views about using the operators to find competition. Your approach seems to be the best of my research. Well appreciable!


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