I’ve used MarketMuse for a year to find out if this AI-based content analysis and SEO platform can help me improve my ranking in Google. In this review, I’ll share my findings with you.
Why Use MarketMuse?
One of the biggest challenges faced by bloggers, digital marketing agencies and online publishers of all sizes is ensuring their content performs well on Google — a task that has become increasingly urgent over the past couple of years.
That’s because in 2017, the search engine behemoth is estimated to have referred about 35% of all internet traffic, outpacing the runner-up Facebook (25%) for the first time since 2014. Google’s referral dominance is expected to not only continue, but expand. According to parse.ly, traffic from social media sources has been dropping steadily since at least early 2017, with Facebook traffic being hit the hardest.
Among the most significant factors behind Facebook’s diminishing role in driving traffic to external websites (like this one) is the company’s focus on populating users’ newsfeeds with a higher proportion of content from friends and family and less from blogs, businesses and news outlets.
The shift in strategy, which is intended to improve the platform by encouraging personal contact, has sent shockwaves throughout the online publishing world. A recent whitepaper co-published by BuzzSumo and Buffer shows that the sharing of content on social media platforms plummeted by 50% over a recent 18-month period.
This means it’s more important than ever to have an effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy that helps your content rank well on Google. That’s why I recently started using MarketMuse, a content strategy and optimization tool that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help people write better, more detailed, and more authoritative articles.
I began using the service in January of 2019, and so far the results have been promising: organic traffic for content I’ve optimized based on MarketMuse’s recommendations has doubled on average as a result of significantly better placement in Google’s search results.
In this article, I’ll unpack some of MarketMuse’s key functionality and show you how I use it to produce better long-form content. But first, I think it’s important to discuss why certain articles perform better on Google than others.
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Google uses a proprietary search algorithm (which is updated multiple times throughout the day) to analyze and rank almost all of the content on the web. Most of the variables that comprise that algorithm are secret, but we do know some of the general characteristics that Google considers important.
MarketMuse is an SEO tool that helps bloggers understand what readers want, write better content, and rank higher on Google.
Among these are off-page and technical factors, which have traditionally been a key focus of SEO efforts. These factors include things like the number and quality of backlinks (i.e., other websites that link to your content) and page loading speed, which is increasingly relevant as more and more users consume content on mobile devices (often over cellular data connections).
But the most important factor by far is what’s on the page itself. In other words, the quality and relevance of the content.
Google’s goal is to identify the searcher’s intent and then deliver the most relevant, useful and trustworthy results as efficiently as possible. The company wants searchers to find what they’re looking for quickly, without having to sift through pages of results or repeat their search.
Over the years, Google’s approach to determining what content is relevant, useful and trustworthy has grown staggeringly sophisticated and complex.
A decade ago, a search for “ketogenic diet tips” might have delivered a list of results that contained an exact match of that phrase, ranked largely based on a now-deprecated metric called Page Rank (which was a 1 to 10 score that represented a website’s supposed authority, integrity, and overall stature).
Today, there’s a similar metric called Domain Authority, and it’s still one of the major ranking factors. But Google is far more concerned than it used to be about whether or not the content on the page helps the user fulfill his or her intent — which, in the case of this example, is learning how to get better results from their keto diet.
Satisfying Searcher Intent
Google’s goal is to deliver search results that help the searcher answer the crux of their question — even if that wasn’t part of the original search term itself. In order to do this, the ranking algorithm evaluates content based not only on the given search phrase, but also on keywords and questions that are correlated with and connected to that search phrase.
For example, people who search for “ketogenic diet tips” might also have a tendency to search for “benefits of a ketogenic diet,” “what foods can I eat on keto” and “what are the risks of going keto.” Google knows this because it has a bird’s-eye view of global search behavior, and is more likely to assign a high rank to an article that addresses each of those connected topics than one that simply provides a list of diet tips.
Similarly, as Google collects more data on the search term “ketogenic diet tips,” its algorithm may start to develop preferences for certain types of content over others. If multiple highly-trusted websites that are viewed by Google as subject matter experts publish articles containing similar tips, those terms may be deemed important to the search query; in contrast, content that doesn’t address those topics may be seen as relatively less authoritative.
Given all this, bloggers like me face a predicament: How do we know what Google thinks makes an article authoritative, and how do we know if we’re helping the searcher satisfy their intent?
I may have a good idea for a blog post on a topic in which I’m a subject matter expert. I may sit down and write great, unique content that provides value for readers. Then I may publish it, sit back, and wait for traffic that never comes because my article is stuck at 60-something in the search results.
In cases like that, there’s a good chance that I’m failing to adequately address the questions readers have about the topic.
That’s where MarketMuse comes in.
What MarketMuse Does
MarketMuse features a suite of tools designed to help you better understand what topics and concepts should be addressed in order to compete with the best-performing content for a given search term. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to scan content related to your target keyword and identify the questions searchers are asking about that subject, and it provides you with actionable recommendations for optimizing your content to make it more useful to readers.
There are two main sections within MarketMuse: Inventory and Applications.
Inventory features a set of strategy and planning tools designed to help publishers conduct a site audit and create a plan-of-action for updating and optimizing their content. For me, the most useful part of Inventory is the “Topics” section, which scans my content catalog and shows me what keyword opportunities I’m missing.
Aside from that, Inventory is more targeted to larger publishers, as it gives them the ability to create “briefs,” which can be assigned to writers within their organization. I’m a solo blogger and I don’t use those parts of the software, so I’m going to focus on the Applications section.
If you’d like to learn more about MarketMuse’s planning tools, you can read this write-up that describes how their software helped content marketing wiz Neil Patel double his organic search traffic.
MarketMuse features five applications:
Here’s a rundown of all of them except for Connect, which is used for identifying internal and external linking opportunities.
When I decide to write a blog post about a particular topic, one of the first things I do is identify the keyword phrases I want to target with that content. I use Moz.com for this, because MarketMuse doesn’t have a built-in keyword search tool that shows numerical estimates of keyword volume.
Sticking with the previous example, let’s say I’m going to write a list-based article about how to get the most out of your keto diet, and my goal is to get into Google’s top five search results for the target keyword phrase “ketogenic diet tips.”
I turn to MarketMuse before I even begin writing. Running “ketogenic diet tips” through the Questions app produces a list of questions related to my targeted phrase. Here’s a screenshot of the results:
As you can see, not all of the questions the AI spits out are relevant or useful. “Is this the same as the keto diet” doesn’t even make sense given the search term, and I obviously can’t answer the question “Why?”
With that said, this list still provides invaluable insights into some of the content that’s closely related to my topic. From this list, which is ranked based on MarketMuse’s suggested level of importance, I can infer that any article about ketogenic diet tips should answer the following questions:
- How do you stick to a ketogenic diet?
- What is keto cycling?
- What are good carb and milk alternatives while on this diet?
- What are the best and worst fats to eat while on keto?
This knowledge enables me to write a more detailed article that is more useful to readers. Without these insights, I might end up producing great content based on my knowledge of keto diet best practices while simultaneously failing to address the aspects of the subject that readers are most interested in learning about. As a result, Google would deem my content less relevant and authoritative, and my search ranking would suffer.
It’s important to note that my goal in using this application is not to try and answer every question on the list. Rather, I’m aiming to establish subject matter expertise — I want Google to recognize that I’m an expert when it comes to ketogenic diet tips, and that my content provides everything a searcher needs to know about that topic. As such, I only answer the questions that are actually relevant to the article I’m writing.
Additionally, I only use this information to augment my content — not to dictate it. If there’s one thing Google hates, it’s content that simply paraphrases existing articles. For content to perform well, it needs to be original and unique as well as comprehensive. So the majority of my article about ketogenic diet tips will be based on my expertise and opinions, and I’ll use this list of questions to fill out the gaps and make the article more complete than it otherwise would have been.
I also use this application to optimize existing content. Revising older articles to make them more comprehensive is a relatively quick and easy process that can result in a significant boost in rankings.
After I’ve identified the key questions related to my target search term, I use MarketMuse’s Research app to generate a list of topics that the AI deems as being important elements of content that already ranks well for that particular term.
Research outputs those topics as keywords in a list format, as shown below. Notice that there are two columns on the right side of the screen: “Suggested Dist.” shows the recommended density of those keywords, while “Current Dist.” is used when analyzing existing content. If you’re using the app to plan new content, the values in the “Current Dist.” column will always be null.
Whereas Questions helps you understand the general kinds of information searchers are looking for, Research digs into the best-performing articles themselves and shows the specific pieces of information that are typically included in authoritative content on a given subject.
As you can imagine, this knowledge is extremely valuable.
Let’s say that one of my keto diet tips was going to be “choose healthy fats from high-quality oils.” Well, I can see from looking at this list that I need to specifically address the merits of both coconut and MCT oils, as opposed to simply discussing the merits of “good” oils in general. That might seem like common sense — after all, it’s always better to be specific rather than vague. But I can’t talk about everything in one article, so without these insights I would inevitably end up overlooking things that could be helpful to readers.
This information makes my writing more efficient by empowering me to avoid or cut extraneous topics that don’t matter to readers while focusing more on what they really care about.
As with Questions, you can also use this app to improve your existing content. Here’s what the output looks like when I analyze an exciting article (Paleo vs. Keto Diet: Which One is Best?) for the search phrase “ketogenic diet tips,” relative to content from other publishers:
I’m doing pretty well, but as the 0s in the “Current Dist.” column show, I’m completely missing a few key pieces of information. My article never talks about ketogenic diet tips, net carbs or meal plans. Adding content that addresses those topics may improve my search ranking for the targeted term.
However, before updating this article, I would need to stop and think about whether the “missing” topics are actually relevant to the existing content. If they’re not, adding them amounts to keyword stuffing, which reduces the quality and readability of the article and will kill your ranking in the long run. MarketMuse’s artificial intelligence is powerful and effective, but it can’t be used as a substitute for your own judgment and discretion.
MarketMuse’s Compete app outputs essentially the same information as Research, but it allows you to visualize that data in an extraordinarily valuable format.
When you first use Compete to process a search term, you’re given a ranked list of the top-performing content for that particular word or phrase (including a content score, which we’ll discuss in the next section). However, notice the option, in the upper right corner, to toggle between “List” and “Heatmap.”
Clicking “Heatmap” produces the following output:
As you can see, the list of topics (i.e., keywords) in the left column are the same (and in the same order) as when we analyzed the content through the Research app. The top row contains a ranked list (from left to right) of the best-performing content for the search term. And the grid offers a visualization of how well each of those articles covers the most important topics.
In MarketMuse, topic coverage is color coded:
- Blue – excellent coverage
- Green – good coverage
- Orange – average coverage
- Red – no coverage
Examining this grid allows me to view the overall content landscape from a couple of different perspectives.
First, analyzing each row from left to right shows me how well a topic is covered across all of the best-performing content.
For instance, out of the 20 ranked pages, 10 have either good or complete coverage for the topic “weight loss,” while four have average coverage. That’s a good sign that Google views information relating to weight loss as being a crucial component of quality content about ketogenic diet tips. If my content doesn’t talk about weight loss, it needs to.
One interesting thing to note is that only one of the top-ranked pages for “ketogenic diet tips” actually mentions that phrase.
As I wrote earlier, Google’s search algorithm relies on more than just keyword matching. So this example illustrates the crux of what makes MarketMuse so valuable: it drills down below the surface of a query to reveal what searchers want to know, rather than just the term they’re using to try and find that information.
I can also analyze my competitors’ content vertically, which shows topic coverage on a page-by-page basis. It’s probably not surprising at this point to realize that the best-performing articles thoroughly cover multiple key topics.
Here’s what the grid looks like when I use it to compare my existing content (Paleo vs. Keto) to the competition (note that my content is the left column on the top row):
As you can see, my content stacks up pretty well against the competition. So why doesn’t my page rank for this search term?
Well, SEO would be easy if only one variable was involved. But as I discussed in the intro, content is only one slice of the pie. In this case, my Keto vs. Paleo article was only recently optimized, so the changes I made may not have been noticed by Google yet. Additionally, a little bit of quick research suggests that the top-ranked sites for this search term have a significantly higher Domain Authority score than I do. That puts me at a disadvantage, all other things being equal.
But it’s important to remember that no technology solution, no matter how smart its artificial intelligence is, can provide a surefire way to crack Google’s code and force every article to the top of the charts. What they can do is give you more information to work with so that you have the best opportunity to be as competitive as possible.
Compete also allows you to view your topic coverage head-to-head against your competition. Here’s how I fare against the #1 article, published by Healthline.com:
After I’ve considered related questions, researched key subject areas, and evaluated the topic coverage of my competition, I use MarketMuse to check my work and fine-tune my content.
The Optimize app analyzes your article and assigns it a content score of 1 to 100. This score is based on how well your content matches MarketMuse’s suggested keyword distribution for the topic in question. As part of the report, Optimize also shows the average score of your competitors’ content, and a “target score” that you should strive to hit.
Additionally, the app shows a current, average and target word count.
Content length is believed to be a factor in search ranking because it relates to breadth of topic coverage and level of detail. If the majority of “expert” content on a given subject uses 4,000 words to adequately address the searcher’s intent, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that an article of only 1,500 words can match that coverage.
That isn’t to say that Google thinks long content is better, per se, but rather that long content may be relatively more detailed and comprehensive — and is thus more likely to satisfy the searcher’s intent.
I view MarketMuse’s target word count as a framework for acting upon the app’s optimization recommendations. Knowing that I need to add five missing topics to hit my target content score, and 1,000 words to hit my target word count, helps me plan and work through the process effectively, without feeling like I’ve added too little or too much.
In Optimize, you can add content directly in the text editor (as pictured above), and your content score and word count will update in real time. However, the editor has a notable input lag, and there’s no way to export the changes you make back to WordPress. So I usually just make a list of the topics I want to add or expand, revise the text directly in WordPress, and then re-check the updated content via Optimize. Copying and pasting into the text editor is quick and efficient.
What I Love About MarketMuse
MarketMuse helps me produce better content more quickly. And I do mean “better” — not just “better performing.”
Bloggers sometimes think about search engine optimization as being disconnected from content quality; there is a sense that what readers want is one thing, and what Google wants is another thing. That leads people to look at SEO as a way to try and game the system.
In my opinion, that’s the wrong way to think about it.
Google’s ranking algorithms are incredibly sophisticated and complex. The company has a bird’s-eye view of almost the entire internet and can see how searchers interact with different kinds of content. As a result, it knows what searchers are looking for far better than bloggers do.
In fact, by drawing on its thousands upon thousands of data points, it may know what searchers are looking for better than the searchers themselves.
MarketMuse gives writers like me a way to tap into that knowledge, in that it allows us to quickly see what topics and subtopics we should be focusing on.
And while it’s true that some of MarketMuse’s functionality could be carried out manually, the time required would be enormous. Instead of spending countless hours trying to suss out the links between high-performing content every time I start a new article, I can get right down to the business of writing.
Is MarketMuse Worth It?
I think MarketMuse is an enormously powerful and incredibly valuable tool. For me, it’s been money well spent. But there are a couple of things to consider before you take the plunge:
- Can you afford it? MarketMuse is not cheap. I’m very fortunate to have a blog that is widely read and generates a solid stream of revenue, and I believe investing in MarketMuse is helping me increase my traffic and earn more. However, it’s certainly not a tool for the casual blogger. Prices vary depending on your needs and contract. I’ll include pricing information here once MarketMuse has finished restructuring its price list and offers, which should be completed by the first week of June. What I pay right now is absolutely worth it. But the current and new pricing might be prohibitive for many.
- Are you committed to using it for the right reasons? If you think of SEO as being about keyword stuffing, MarketMuse might be a tantalizing product. Just add the recommended keywords and watch your content score grow! But that’s not what the software is designed to do, and such a process is unlikely to yield the results you’re looking for. MarketMuse’s recommendations help you focus on what matters, cover content gaps, and write content that better satisfies searchers’ intent. That requires work, which usually includes expanding the length of your articles to hit their target word counts. That takes time — especially if you have to research and learn about the topics you’re adding. MarketMuse only makes sense if you’re committed to using the information to actually improve your writing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do MarketMuse content scores really correlate with Google rankings?
Not always. There are many factors other than topic coverage and subject matter expertise that Google takes into account when ranking pages — including many that we don’t know or don’t fully understand. You’ll often see pages with very low content scores outperform their competition.
However, what I can say is that every time I have used MarketMuse to optimize a page, its overall search performance has improved — sometimes by a little, but often by a dramatic margin.
Where does MarketMuse derive its data?
MarketMuse uses existing web content to continually improve its artificial intelligence. It continuously downloads pages from across the web, analyzes them, and compares their performance on Google relative to competing content. This means its recommendations actually improve over time, as it better understands how changes to content positively or negatively affect search placement.
Does the analysis include search volume for each keyword?
Not specifically. MarketMuse does provide a demand score (High, Medium, Low) for topic opportunities it identifies in your existing content inventory, but I still use Moz.com for specific keyword volume research.
Should you do any other SEO?
Absolutely. There’s a lot more that goes into your ranking on search engines than just on-page optimization. One of the most important factors is Domain Authority (which has to do with backlinks), so it’s crucial that you’re producing high-quality, unique content that encourages link building. Also, writing a guest post for other publications can be a great way to secure legitimate, high-quality inbound links.
And as I noted in the review, page speed is critical as Google penalizes sites that take a long time to load their assets. You can run a quick audit of your site via Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
How can you ensure your website content is effective?
One of the things I wrote about repeatedly in this review is the idea of satisfying the searcher’s intent, which you can also think about as completing his or her “experience.” What that means is that you want to identify not only what they’re searching for, but also the questions they’re trying to answer and/or the problem they’re trying to solve. Your goal should be to ensure that they never have to search for the same term again.
You should also consider whether your content adds value for the reader. Does it offer a unique perspective that only you can provide, or does it merely repackage content that’s available elsewhere? You can create added value for readers in many different ways — such as by offering a more detailed analysis than your competition, or by offering an opinion that contradicts or challenges the dominant position on a topic. Think about what distinguishes your content from the rest of the field.
Finally, writing a great blog post is about more than just including enough relevant content. The thoroughness of your research and the insightfulness of your commentary don’t matter if your article is boring. It’s very important to construct your first few sentences so that they capture the reader’s attention and draw them into the story. That’s why I didn’t start this review by launching into the pros and cons of MarketMuse. Instead, I set the scene by talking about something broad (declining social media traffic) and narrowed the focus of the article as it progressed, making it more specific section by section. This is called an “inverted pyramid” structure, and utilizing it can help you reduce your bounce rate, which is a factor in your content’s search ranking.
Does MarketMuse offer guides, tutorials and/or customer support?
My experience with MarketMuse’s customer service has been exceptional. I have a dedicated customer service rep who I can reach out to at any time via phone or email, and I’ve never had to wait long for answers to my questions. The team personally trains new users on how to use to software, so I never needed a guide or video tutorial. With that said, there’s a wealth of valuable information relating to the software (and SEO in general) on their blog and resource page.
MarketMuse isn’t cheap, especially for smaller companies with small marketing budgets. The good news is that the company recently launched a less expensive plan that’s more attractive if you have a small business or are an individual blogger like I am.
Yes, I see no reason why this Software as a Service (SaaS) platform wouldn’t work for eCommerce sites.
MarketMuse Review Summary
I took the plunge and invested in MarketMuse, and I’m glad I did. As noted in the intro, my articles consistently rank higher and my organic search traffic is rising as a result. I’m writing better, more comprehensive blog posts that offer readers more detailed information about the subject matter — and I’m writing more of them, thanks to how much the software speeds up my content creation process.
MarketMuse features an exceptional keyword research tool, driven by industry-leading artificial intelligence and machine learning, that helps bloggers and publishers compete on Google without the need for an in-house team of SEO experts, and provides a set of site audit and content optimization applications that streamline topic research and planning.
If you’ve been using MarketMuse, I’d love to hear about your experience. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comment section below.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.