How to Use Reverse Engineering for Focusing Your Keyword Research

If you always end up with huge lists of keywords and don’t know what to target next, try this approach.

Andreea Macoveiciuc

Written on 19th April, 2020 |

5 min read

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When starting a new project or trying to optimize a website for goals like traffic or conversions, we often need to perform keyword research.

Although there are hundreds of step-by-step guides and tutorials online, this process always feels time-consuming, brain-draining, and overwhelming.

The typical cycle goes like this:

  • you generate as many keyword ideas as possible

  • you get their traffic potential and difficulty level

  • you filter out the queries with low traffic

  • you order the remaining keywords by traffic potential

  • you select a few thousands or hundreds that seem in line with your goals

  • you try to make sense of the mess …

  • finally, you split them into several groups and distribute them by page

  • you start creating pages that target those queries

This approach has a few drawbacks: it focuses on traffic and excludes a lot of queries that might be more effective in attracting the right audience and supporting your marketing goals.

Then, the list of keywords can get really long, and the entire process can feel overwhelming. Even when you’re done filtering, sorting, and grouping, you may still miss the big picture and not see how all those queries will work together in a coherent strategy.

Moreover, it’s easy to get lost in details and to focus only on traffic queries and metrics, while forgetting that SEO is meant to support conversions too. And it may feel risky to not target the high traffic keywords when you’re expected to deliver some results fast.

Reverse engineering can help you untangle the mess, identify the best queries to target based on your marketing objectives, and keep your SEO efforts focused.

Here’s how it works in practice.

A non-overwhelming approach to keyword research

I’ll use the example of a chiropractic clinic, to make things less abstract. The simplified process looks like this:

  1. Clarify your marketing goals

  2. Clarify your target audiences

  3. Segment your target audiences

  4. Add specificity to your goals

  5. Define your ideal user journeys using reverse engineering

  6. Research the keywords for each stage of the journey

  7. Get traffic estimates and narrow down your list

  8. Start creating content

In practice, for the chiropractic clinic, the process could look like this:

  1. Clarify your marketing goals: for example, increase the online visibility, attract new local customers, increase the retention of existing customers

  2. Clarify your target audiences: people with localized back, hip, or foot pain, people with body stiffness and pain due to a sedentary lifestyle

  3. Segment your target audiences: people with back pain, people with hip pain, people with foot pain, people with general body pain and stiffness

  4. Add specificity to your goals, as follows:

  • Increase online visibility for back pain chiropractic treatments

  • Increase online visibility for hip pain chiropractic treatments

  • Increase online visibility for foot pain chiropractic treatments

  • Increase online visibility for general, full-body chiropractic treatments

  • Attract new local customers for back adjustment treatments

  • Attract new local customers for hip adjustment treatments

  • Attract new local customers for foot adjustment treatments

  • Attract new local customers for general, full-body chiropractic treatments

  • Increase the retention of existing customers for back chiropractic procedures

  • Increase the retention of existing customers for back chiropractic procedures

  • Increase the retention of existing customers for back chiropractic procedures

  • Increase the retention of existing customers for back chiropractic procedures

Steps 5–7 will be detailed in the sections below.

Using reverse engineering, create your ideal customer journeys

Let’s look at one of the goals, and see how we can approach it.

What does it mean to attract new local customers for foot adjustment treatments? What type of goal is this?

This is a conversion goal, so how will new users convert?

  • by filling in a form

  • by calling us

  • by using an appointment scheduler

So in the last step of their journey, that’s what we expect them to do. But what would convince them to contact us?

  • seeing that we’re specialized in the service that they’re looking for

  • being able to trust us, based on reviews and recommendations

  • understanding the costs of the treatment, and how often they will need it

  • understanding the benefits and potential side effects of the procedure

  • have their fears and concerns addressed

  • and finally, find our contact details easily

All these can be accomplished by creating content that addresses these specific needs, but there’s one last step that’s missing.

How would they get to know about us and our services? What would attract them?

  • Being known locally

  • Being easy to find in maps

  • Being recommended by a friend

  • Being recommended by reviews and testimonials

  • Being an authority in the field

  • Being specialized in the service that they need

All good until now, but how do you find keywords with this approach?

For each of these steps, you will very likely have a dedicated page or section on your website. For example, you can talk about all services on one page, and from there direct to dedicated pages for each individual treatment.

Each of these pages can refer back to the FAQ area that addresses concerns, costs, and duration of the treatment. Each procedure page can highlight advantages and risks, and display testimonials and reviews.

Each of these pages will need to target a specific search query, reflecting the user's need, and supporting the conversion goal. So once you have this journey sketched, you can start researching the best keywords to target.

You can find another practical example of mapping content to the user journey in this article:

Mapping Content to the User Journey: A Practical Example

Performing the initial keyword research

You’ll start from the user journey and write down as many keywords as possible for each of the stages. For example:

  • users will fill in a form: chiropractor Alkmaar contact

  • users will schedule an appointment via a scheduler: chiropractor Alkmaar appointment

  • users will easily find our website: chiropractor Alkmaar location, chiropractor Alkmaar address, chiropractor Alkmaar, best chiropractor Alkmaar, chiropractic clinic Alkmaar

  • users will see what services we’re offering: chiropractor Alkmaar services, chiropractic treatments Alkmaar, chiropractic procedures, foot chiropractic treatment, chiropractic procedures foot

  • users will have their fears and concerns addressed: chiropractic treatment risks, is chiro treatment safe, side effects chiropractic treatment, chiropractic accidents, swelling after chiro adjustment, and so on.

This will give you a starter list, but before moving to the next step (traffic estimates), you will need to organize it a bit and to extend it by adding more keywords.

How do you do that? You can run your starter list through tools like or Answer the public, to get an extended version. You will end up with a few hundreds or thousands of queries.

Only now you’ll look into traffic potential.

Getting traffic estimates and narrowing down the list

With this extended list prepared, use the keyword planner from Google or Bing, or a tool like SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Moz to get traffic estimates for your queries.

Expect the keywords with higher specificity to have lower search volume. At the same time, the broader queries will have higher search volumes.

Narrow down the list by retaining only those keywords that are aligned with the journey and conversion goal.

Repeat the procedure for the other goals, keeping in mind that:

  • awareness goals such as increasing the online visibility can fit in the same user journey as conversion goals, but they’ll match the earlier stages

  • the interest and consideration stages of the journey usually target more varied queries, as they address more pain points, concerns, potential solutions

  • by starting your keyword research with conversion goals, you will map out the journeys in a more efficient way, and you’ll cover most of your keywords

  • the awareness keywords are the least specific, and they may not even be needed; your ideal customers may already be aware of the issues, and may only need the consideration and conversion stages (and keywords), so focus on those first

I encourage you to start with 2–3 goals only, and to define your journeys, then to perform the keyword research.

Although the conversions can happen on the same page (for example, one page for scheduling appointments), the consideration stages should have dedicated pages or clusters of pages with highly specific content and keywords.

If you need help with your keyword research or for mapping content to the user journey, don't hesitate to contact us!

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