Years ago, a content creator could knock up a blog post of several hundred words in length without giving too much thought to searcher intent.
If they included a relevant search term, they could rank content like this in Google search results without much effort. Now, search engines are far more prescriptive about what they expect from content based on what users want. The days of blogging about your day and expecting these types of articles to attract web traffic are over.
A key part of any content strategy involves identifying key terms and topics you want to rank for. Then, you either write or commission someone to create content about these topics, all while including content that searchers expect to find.
Your work, as a content creator, doesn’t end there either. Professional content creators continually improve the quality of old content as search intent and buyer behaviour change. They add FAQs, remove redundant information, review the sub-headings, updating stats, links and more. It’s all a lot of work.
So you want to create better content that ranks and converts in search engine results pages (SERP).
Enter a content optimisation tool.
Do You Need a Content Optimization Tool?
A good content optimization tool aids with keyword research. It identifies what content to include and provides insights on existing and competitor content. Alongside keyword research, they can:
- Determine themes and topics to address in your content
- Create content briefs for you and your team
- Identify opportunities to improve or fix existing content
- Provide insights about the health of your site or content
- Identify opportunities for featured snippets
- Assist with competitor analysis
- Improve content readability
- Increase your search rankings for a piece of content, assuming you have topical authority
These tools aren’t cheap. Also, they aren’t always necessary if you understand the basics of keyword research and searcher intent.
For example, if you’re targeting relatively low-volume or uncompetitive search terms, these tools are overkill. You can usually figure out what to include via some desk research, assuming you avoid keyword stuffing.
However, they can reduce time spent on SEO. For example, if you commission freelance writers regularly or want to rank against a competitor, a good content optimization tool provides insights about themes to address. It offers a competitive edge in that you can create a brief faster than via traditional desk research.
I’ve tried many of these tools extensively while updating content on my websites. I used them as part of my workflow for keyword research and to create content briefs. While comparing these tools, I considered factors like price, ease of use, functionality and accuracy.
This article contains referral links for Grammarly and Clearscope (tools I use every day), meaning I earn a small commission if you sign up.
Who This Guide is For
This round-up is for content marketers and creators who write and publish content consistently across one or multiple websites. Typically, they’re trying to rank multiple pieces of new and existing content with a new towards monetizing their sites.
Clearscope is an ideal content optimization tool for writers, content marketers and website pubishers who want to include terms in every piece of content. It’s also helpful for creating content briefs and sharing them with other writers.
To use Clearscope, identify a relevant keyword and create a content report. This report costs one credit, and it identifies top-performing content, terms to include, questions for an FAQ and themes to address.
Like many of these tools, it uses machine learning and natural language tools for improving content quality.
You can write an article directly in Clearscope or optimize your work via an add-on to Google Docs and WordPress. Or you can send an optimization link to a writer for them to use. I use Clearscope regularly to prepare content briefs for a team of freelance writers for various niche websites.
A few benefits of Clearscope include:
- Creating reports is quick and easy
- Provides accurate insights about keywords, questions and search terms
- Has a short learning curve
A few drawbacks include:
- Less suitable for keyword research at scale
- Little information on the health of your website or a backlink report
Pricing: Clearscope starts at $170 per month.
MarketMuse is useful for outlining articles and even planning website content hubs. You can create a content brief in Marketmuse and send it to other writers. It’s a great option for anyone who collaborates with multiple writers on a piece of content.
Using Marketmuse, you can create content briefs and even commission articles written by AI for the cost of credit. The content briefs are helpful, but my test article by AI was unusable.
I used Marketmuse extensively when overhauling old and dated content on my website. It provided insightful information about themes to address in old content and gave me ideas for complementary articles. It also provided insights about my site’s topical authority.
Along with Clearscope, Marketmuse helped me increase organic traffic to existing articles by over ten per cent. A few benefits of MarketMuse include:
- Relatively inexpensive compared to other options
- The outline features are outstanding
- Helps with building a content hub based on a website’s topical authority
A few drawbacks include:
- The MarketMuse content editor is prone to formatting issues
- Has a steep learning curve
- Creating content briefs is cumbersome compared to Clearscope
- AI technology has a long way to go before replacing a writer
Pricing: MarketMuse offers a free trial. It starts at $179 per month, with credits costing extra.
Frase is specifically designed for creators on a budget and smaller teams. Like the tools above, it helps with conducting keyword optimization and creating SEO article outlines and
Frase enables users to build out an SEO-optimised article outline relatively quickly. You can then share this with a writer. It also provides insights on traffic opportunities for your site. Frase also recently rolled out some AI-powered content creation tools.
A few benefits of Frase.io include:
- Cheaper than premium tools like Clearscope and Marketmuse
- Provides useful keyword density and keyword optimization insights
- The list of questions to include in articles is helpful
Several drawbacks of Frase include:
- Keyword data from other tools is arguably more accurate
- The user interface for briefs isn’t as polished as other tools
Pricing: Frase starts at $44.99 per month. It will also create documents using AI for the cost of credit.
Surfer is a budget-friendly content optimization tool that competes with Marketmuse and Clearscope. It’s aimed at smaller businesses and publishers due to the lower price.
Surfer provides a list of keyword ideas, search volume, and how they relate to each other. You can also analyze existing pieces of content.
I used Surfer for a year on several smaller niche websites that I operate. This content optimization tool determines the ideal word count for an article and if you should amend or delete irrelevant content. The keyword planner feature is also useful for building out a content hub or silo. It’s comparable to some features inside of Marketmuse.
A few benefits of Surfer include:
- Provides keyword research and density tracking
- Optimizes content in real-time
- Useful for creating and sharing content briefs
A few drawbacks include:
- Some keyword suggestions are either irrelevant or time-consuming to work into a piece of content, e.g. it pulls through data from article comments
- Gets expensive if you require lots of search queries
Pricing: You can avail of a 30-day free trial. Pricing starts at $59 per month.
Grammarly is a grammar checker rather than a content optimization tool. It doesn’t provide much information regarding SEO.
However, this writing assistant can also help you improve the readability of a piece of writing, which improves your SEO and reader experience.
In short: the easier your article is to understand, the less likely visitors will bounce.
I use Grammarly Business regularly to check the work of other freelance writers. I also rely on the plagiarism checker when onboarding a new writer or when I forget to cite a source. The Grammarly Business offering includes additional features like a dedicated style guide and secure collaboration.
A few benefits of Grammarly include:
- It’s a comprehensive grammar checking tool and writing assistant
- The paid plan comes with a plagiarism editor
- Has a short learning curve
A few drawbacks of Grammarly as a content optimization tool include:
- Not suitable for topic research or keyword analysis
- Grammarly Business can prove expensive for bigger teams
Pricing: Grammarly Premium costs $29.95 per month. Grammarly Business is based on a per-user subscription.
Ahrefs is an SEO tool ideal for writers, website owners and most content creators. It excels at keyword analysis. Ahrefs also provides insightful metrics about the health of your site.
It can help you understand what your competitors are ranking for and what you need to do to compete. I’ve tried a lot of keyword research tools over the years, but I keep coming back to Ahrefs for keyword research and site checks, due to its ease of use.
A few benefits of using Ahrefs include:
- Comprehensive keyword research
- Insightful backlinks and domain health report
- Easy to use
A few drawbacks of Ahrefs as a content optimization tool include:
- Doesn’t optimize existing content
- Not suitable for creating content briefs
Pricing: Ahrefs Lite starts at $99 per month
SEMrush is a great tool for larger content teams who want to manage their digital marketing activities. It supports competitor research, keyword research, link building, backlink tracking, content optimisation, PPC and more.
While it’s a challenge for sole content creators to learn, let alone use every feature, it can help you develop a comprehensive SEO or content strategy. I prefer Ahrefs but that’s more down to personal preference than a weakness in SEMRush.
A few benefits of using SEMrush include:
- Acts as an all-in-one content marketing platform
- Does a great job of researching trending topics
- Can help you find the right high-quality target keywords
A few drawbacks include:
- SEMrush has a steep learning curve
- It’s pricey for new content creators
Pricing: From $119.95 per month
A lesser-known tool that can be helpful is SparkToro. It helps conduct persona research with content marketing and teams. This artificial intelligence tool crawls social media platforms and websites to help you collect information on your target market.
A few benefits of using SparkToro include:
- Can help you create a complete target market persona
- Can help you find the right influencers for your products and services
- Free version available for testing
A few drawbacks of SparkToro include:
- It doesn’t help much with keyword density or content optimization
- It doesn’t do much for backlinks
Pricing: SparkToro paid plans begin at $38 per year.
Final Word on Content Optimization Software
If you want to improve content performance, using the right software removes the guesswork from the equation. The right one will help you figure out how to spend your business’s resources more efficiently and rank higher in organic SERP.
They enable working with and briefing writers more efficiently, freeing you to work on content creation or your business’s content strategy.
Want more? Check out my guide to the best content marketing tools
FAQs About Content Optimization Software
Can I combine digital marketing content optimization software with WordPress?
Yes, many of these tools have extensions that work well with WordPress. You might be able to integrate your optimizer with WordPress.
How do I find the best plugin to meet my needs?
It may be helpful to look at a case study to learn more about how these tools work. A few of the best tools include SEMrush, Ahrefs, Clearscope, and Moz.