MarketMuse vs. SurferSEO vs. vs. Clearscope (with Real Life Examples)

What is the best content optimization software?

I’ve been using content optimization software for a few years.  I really committed to it big time in late 2020.

In 2020 I signed up for, MarketMuse and SurferSEO.

In 2019 I used Clearscope extensively.

At this point, I’m very familiar with these content improvement tools.

I get emails from readers regularly asking me which is the best content optimization software.

My response is whichever software I’m using at the time.  I’ve jumped around over the years.

But I’ve been meaning to sit down and carefully compare all four of these platforms.

Here’s my analysis.

Video: MarketMuse vs. SurferSEO vs. Clearscope vs.

How I conducted this comparison analysis

In order to compare them, I signed up to all 4 platforms and ran multiple keyword queries through each for various content ranking at different positions in Google.

In addition to sharing the scoring results for each below, I add some insights about each platform as well.

In order to show you a decent analysis, I use a variety of keywords. Some are seed while others are long tail.

Please note that all data set out below was obtained on January 20, 2021.  Data may change over time.  What I mean by this is that in one month, optimization suggestions for each software may change as the new content is added to the Web.

Let’s dive in.

Keywords used in this analysis:

KeywordMonthly Search Volume (Ahrefs)Keyword Difficulty (Ahrefs)
How to start a blog48,00085
Niche ideas60043
iWriter vs. Textbroker402
How to connect airpods to mac49,00022
How to restring a guitar6,9003
How to get gas smell off your hands5000
How old to skydive2000
Best baseball bats50014
Blendtec vs Vitamix3,10016

Target Word Count Suggestions (no content added)

One part of the analysis is the suggested word count each tool offers.  I have not added any content at this point.  

I often input keywords before ordering articles (without any content) to get a sense of how many words to order for a particular topic.

Here are the suggested word counts for a variety of keywords from each tool.

KeywordMarketMuse Target Word CountSurferSEO Target Word CountClearscope Typical Top 10 Word Top Results Word Count
How to start a blog17,02210,616 to 12,2088,9905,397
Niche ideas6,4664,725 to 5,4344,4602,606
iWriter vs. Textbroker5,7312,425 to 2,7892,3801,757
How to connect airpods to mac1,6461,031 to 1,1861,010598
How to restring a guitar2,0891,616 to 1,8581,610811
How to get gas smell off your hands1,4981,371 to 1,5771,170950
How old to skydive898719 to 827700468
Best baseball bats5,0743,589 to 4,1272,160910
Blendtec vs Vitamix5,9007,661 to 8,8113,5002,111

Here are the screenshots you get from the various tools when you run an analysis with no content added:




Sample Analysis for #1 Ranked Article

Please note, and this applies to this entire analysis, that showcasing one article is hardly representative of how effective each software is.  I’m including this one sample article to show you what each tool offers in a real-life situation.

Keyword: Best Baseball Bats

Sample article (ranks #1): The 10 Best BBCOR Bats of 2020

Optimization Screenshots

Below are screenshots of the optimization results for the article “The 10 Best BBCOR Bats of 2020”.  Please note the screenshots do not include every term suggested to include generated by the software.  These screenshots are to give you a sense of what it does.  The best way to get a full sense of what each software does is to try it yourself.



SurferSEO also has a terrific keyword cluster feature called “Content Planner”.  Check it out for the keyword “Best Baseball Bats”

Content Planner by SurferSEO. FYI, this screenshot only shows 9 out of 198 clusters. Very powerful feature.



This is an example where the #1 ranked article is not fully optimized per all of the software which goes to show there’s more to ranking than optimized content. However, the main takeaway is not that the above software is bad or that you don’t need to optimize. Instead, this sample article could be improved to further strengthen its position.  One simple way to optimize it would be to include questions and answers.

Questions generated by each optimization software for “best baseball bats”

The last part of the analysis is looking at the “Questions” feature for each software.

For this I’ll also use the sample keyword “Best Baseball Bats”.


Generally, the questions generated by MarketMuse are very good.  It’s one of my favorite features.

Click here for a Google Sheet listing MarketMuse questions for keyword “best baseball bats’.


On the face of it, SurferSEO’s questions isn’t very good.  However, if you also run a Content Planner analysis, the clusters often include many questions or keywords that could be rephrased as questions.  Here’s a portion of the sample Content Planner results again:

Click here to see all the clusters and keywords/questions generated for “best baseball bats”


Clearscope does not suggest questions.’s questions feature is very, very powerful.  It’s also nicely organized in tabs by SERP, People Also Ask, Quora and Reddit.  Check it out:

Pros and Cons

Here’s a quick synopsis of what I like and don’t like about each software platform.



  • I love the scoring with an average and target score that customized for each keyword.
  • The questions generated are very good.
  • Word count suggestion is overkill but I like that.
  • In general, it’s very thorough.  It’s my go-to content optimization software.


  • Doesn’t save queries.



  • Offers quite a bit of data and customization. For example, you can customize the algo by filtering out various search results.  This can be very powerful.
  • The content planner is very powerful in that it generates hundreds of additional keywords and questions all nicely clustered.
  • Word count suggestion is solid.


  • I’m not a big fan of the scoring with this software.



  • Simple grading system (letter grades)
  • Very user-friendly interface.


  • Doesn’t generate questions.
  • Suggested word count seems to be a bit low as it’s based on “typical top 10”.


  • Excellent questions generator.
  • Very user-friendly.


  • Word count seems very low compared to the others which puts into question just how accurate the optimization suggestions are.

Winner by Feature

The following is purely my my opinion.  There are many unknowns.  For example, while I may consider MarketMuse’s target score a preferable optimization scoring analysis, I don’t know for sure.  It may well be that SurferSEO’s or Clearscope’s are better.

  • Word count suggestions: MarketMuse
  • Scoring: MarketMuse
  • Questions: MarketMuse &
  • Additional Tools: SurferSEO (the Keyword Cluster tool is fantastic)
  • Ease of Use: Clearscope (I love the fast, simple UI and scoring by grade).
  • Pricing: MarketMuse

Important Caveats About the Above Analysis

There are many more factors that go into ranking than a content analysis performed by software.

There’s website authority and inbound links to the URL to name two of many.

This means achieving high content optimization scores is NOT a guarantee that you will rank #1 in Google.

These content optimization tools are merely another ranking arrow in your quiver.  I believe they help.  I believe they give improve your odds but they are not a guarantee.

The way I see it in this business is that anything you can do that improves your odds is worth doing (within reason).  It’s a numbers game so the more you improve your odds, the chances are in the long run you will do better.

One thing to watch out for

Below is an email I sent to Fat Stacks readers after this comparison was published.  It’s very important if you go with MarketMuse.

What I set out below goes to show you that those of us doing this for many years can still make the most idiotic mistakes. This is total amateur hour.

Some of you will probably wonder how I ever launched a website, let alone grew one in the first place. It’s an appropriate question.

My writers AND I have been selecting all the content in the MM visual editor, then copying and pasting it into the WordPress classic editor.

You can’t tell anything is askew with the content in visual editor mode. But when you click the Text tab to see the actual code, here’s just a bit of the blood and guts code sits lurking behind the scenes:

You know that mess isn’t going to do any site any favors.

When I first spotted that in a blog post yesterday morning, I didn’t know what was causing it.

I checked more posts and it was there.

I thought I had a disaster on my hands that would take months to clean up.

I emailed my writers and they both immediately thought it was MarketMuse.

I did a test and sure enough, it was.

I gotta hand it to the writers – they saved the day coming up with that quick conclusion.

Okay, so while still bad it wasn’t a site-wide mess.

My first question was how to extract content from MM properly. Turns out there’s a “Copy for Publishing” button. Duh. I missed that for months. Here it is:

If you’re not using that button, start now.

The second question was how to fix all the existing content with unnecessary MM code.

Fortunately, I tracked every article that in-house writers used MarketMuse on.

But the problem remained… how do I quickly extract all that unnecessary code from existing live articles?

And then it dawned on me. I’ll just put all the content back into MM and extract it properly and then paste it back into the blog post.

Bingo! It worked.


So that was my day yesterday. Definitely not one of my better days but I’ve endured far bigger problems over the years. It’s par for the course in this biz or any biz.

If you haven’t been using that “Copy for Publishing” button in MM, I strongly recommend you start and go back and fix any content that has blood and guts code.

6 thoughts on “MarketMuse vs. SurferSEO vs. vs. Clearscope (with Real Life Examples)”

  1. Hi, thank you for a great comparison. I have been using surferseo for almost a year, and their NLP feature probably helped me rank on 3d position on kw Pinterest in Russian search results. From what I know, only surfer seo offers this feature, and I have not tested their cluster feature yet. I have never heard about other 3 softwares your mentioned, but I will probably test marketmuse. I run blogs in various languages, and surfer seo works well here, not sure whether or not other softwares will be performing well in other languages. Your comparison is so helpul, and helped me discover new tools.

  2. Hey Jon,
    I’m glad to read you article as I have only looked into Frase and SurferSEO previously.
    I just redid your test on (21 Jan 2021). There are a couple of suggestions for improvement in your analysis:
    1. Frase.Io has an Avg word count of the top 20 research results of 5,397, however in your comparison table you have referred to this as “ Top Results Word Count”
    Top is not the same as Average.
    2. Flowing from this being an Avg word count of the top 20, you con still reads
    “Word count seems very low compared to the others which puts into question just how accurate the optimization suggestions are.”
    This could perhaps be reworded. Looks like the other 3 indicate a “target” word count. Frase doesn’t it is “avg” so this is like comparing apples and oranges. However if a “target” word count is in your judgement a critical feature, then it would still be a con – just reworded.

    I found your key takeaway to be very valuable info – Your example shows where the #1 ranked article is not fully optimized per all of the software which goes to show there’s more to ranking than optimized content. Then you mention this could be optimised by including questions and answers.
    Thanks, very helpful article

  3. Hey Jon. I wasn’t able to watch the embedded video, it says it’s private.

    Please let me know how to access it.


  4. Hi Jon
    Loving these comparisons.
    I like the look of Market Muse the best but also love Surfer’s content planner.
    It would be interesting to put all my existing content into one of these, give it a tweak and see what happens!

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