Product
March 17th 2020

MarketMuse Pro vs. SEMRush

16 min read

In this post, we evaluate MarketMuse Pro and SEMRush to see which offers the best value for data-driven content teams. 

Here we compare MarketMuse Pro vs. SEMRush looking at four major content-related areas:

  • Workflows
  • Content planning
  • Personalized difficulty metrics
  • Content briefs
  • Content optimization

MarketMuse Pro is a content intelligence platform with a robust set of workflow-specific applications to help your content team plan, analyze, create, and optimize best-in-class content. Because the focus is on people involved in content creation, it means:

  • Optimized workflows for content teams
  • Content planning integrated into the platform
  • Personalized difficulty metrics
  • Content briefs that are detailed and well-structured
  • Writers can check their work meets target KPIs before submission
  • The optimization experience is very efficient

SEMRush tries to offer something for every marketer, whether you’re doing SEO, paid traffic, social media, or content. Appealing to everyone isn’t easy to execute. When it comes to their content offering:

  • Workflows are cumbersome
  • Content planning is not available
  • No personalized difficulty metrics
  • Content briefs are basic and of limited value to writers
  • Writer’s can’t use the optimization tool to check their work
  • The optimization experience is cumbersome
Comparison of MarketMuse vs SEMRush.

Content Workflow Comparison

Workflow is an essential consideration. One that is well-designed enables you to be more efficient and complete tasks that you may not otherwise achieve. Let’s look at a couple of instances to see how the two offers differ.

This workflow accomplishes the following:

  1. Examines a specific page (in this case the home page)
  2. See what topics it ranks for
  3. Decide if we should update the existing page or create new content
  4. Check if other pages are targeting that topic

SEMRush

Here are the steps we need to take:

  1. Select Organic Research in the search bar 
  2. Paste in the URL
  3. Select Exact URL
  4. Scroll down to the Top Organic Keyword section
  5. Click on the button to view all organic keywords

The default layout has ten columns of data, of which seven can be sorted. Unfortunately, none of them help decide how to update the content on this page, because none of them are content-related. 

SEMRush Organic Search Positions report showing keywords, SERP position, monthly search volume, KD, CPC, URL and last update.

You are forced to make a content decision based on non-content related data. Given this situation, let’s go with the fourth item in the list ‘content planning software.’ 

Update or create new content?

Now we’ll see how well that page covers the topic. If it does an abysmal job, chances are there’s an intent mismatch, and we’ll need to create new content. If it has okay coverage, we may be able to improve it by adding in another section of content. 

Here’s what we need to do:

  1. Go to SEO Content Template
  2. Create a new template for ‘content planning software’
  3. Click on Real-time Content Check tab
  4. Copy contents from www.marketmuse.com
  5. Paste into Quick Checker
  6. Check how many of the recommended keywords are currently in use

Based on this data, we can decide how to proceed. Now let’s see if other pages are targeting that topic.

  1. Change the search modifier in the search bar from ‘Exact URL’ to Root Domain
  2. In Position Tab, Filter by keyword ‘content planning software’
SEMRush Organic Search Positions report showing keywords, SERP position, monthly search volume, KD, CPC, URL and last update.

As it turns out, we already have another page ranking for this topic.

MarketMuse

Here’s the workflow using MarketMuse Pro.

  1. Paste in the URL
  2. Click on result
Partial screenshot of MarketMuse page card.

All the necessary content-related data points are right here on this page. The Related Topics list shows me topics closely related to this page for which I rank and that are worth further investigation. 

Update or create new content?

For the term ‘content planning software,’ you can immediately see that my content score is ten while the target score is 40. You don’t have to run it through any analysis.

Right away, you know this page is punching above its weight for this term. The reason it’s ranking well has nothing to do with the content. Since this page is the home page with just 266 words, updating the content to better target this term is an unlikely option. 

Now let’s see if other pages are targeting that topic.

  1. Select Topics Inventory
  2. Type in the topic ‘content planning software’

Immediately you can see two pages are ranking for that topic. Clicking on the entry, you see there’s already a blog post ranking above the homepage for the topic ‘content planning software.’

Creating a Plan

In the previous workflow, we looked at one topic for which one page ranked, and decided whether to:

  • Do nothing
  • Create new content
  • Update and improve the existing page

One page can rank for dozens of keyword phrases. As you investigate each topic for which a page ranks, you need to keep track of what needs to be done. Let’s see how this workflow plays out in MarketMuse and SEMRush.

SEMRush

SEMRush doesn’t have any planning workflows. So, as you collect keywords and keyword-page combination which you want to pursue, you’ll need to keep track of them somewhere. Most often, that place is a notepad or spreadsheet.

That means you’ll be cutting and pasting or exporting between SEMRush and a notepad/spreadsheet. When it’s time to optimize, you’ll do the opposite and move each keyword into the Quick Checker for verification.

If you use external writers, this won’t work unless they have access to SEMRush. The only alternative is to export the SEO recommendations to a DOC file. 

Unfortunately, the 22-page report has limited value in creating better content.

  • The Page title, meta description, and H1 suggestions are rudimentary.
  • Backlink suggestions are irrelevant for a writer
  • The semantically related word suggestions are limited to 20
  • They don’t take into account existing content (vital if you’re improving an existing page).
  • The remaining pages in the report look like text dumps of the top 10 competing pages.

MarketMuse

As you evaluate different topics and pages, deciding whether to create new content or update existing pages, each task can be added to a plan within the platform.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Content Plan showing the focus topic, report type, URL and completion status.

Content Briefs can be ordered within the platform to supply writers with a concise set of instructions on how to write an expert piece of content on a specific subject. Briefs include:

  • Suggested title
  • Title variants
  • Subtopics
  • Suggested subheadings
  • Questions to answer
  • Topics to mention
  • Anchor text and links for internal linking
  • Anchor text and links for external linking
Partial screenshot of MarketMuse Content Brief showing suggested title and title variants, subtopics, and word count.
Click to see the complete MarketMuse Content Brief.

Writers can access their MarketMuse Content Briefs through a shared link. They enjoy these briefs because they get a lot more done. 

  • They don’t have to research
  • They love the structure and subheadings

Attached to each MarketMuse Content Brief is a version of the Optimize application specifically for that brief’s topic. Writers can compose their article directly in here or use it to check their work before submission.

Partial screenshot of MarketMuse Optimize application from with a MarketMuse Content Brief.

That means you’re getting the most comprehensive content on the first submission.

Personalized Difficulty Metrics and Their Importance

There’s two special personalized metrics we need to discuss. Personalized difficulty (keyword difficulty) and content score.

Keyword difficulty was a metric devised years ago when:

  • Backlinks were a big thing
  • Metadata ruled rank
  • The SERP was simply a big list
  • Domain authority was king

Times have changed dramatically and we’re now living in an era of content where:

  • Advanced SERP features are the norm
  • Schema for content structure is routine
  • Internal and external linking are highly valued
  • Content is king

However, keyword difficulty as a metric has failed to evolve mainly because SEO tools like SEMRush are still caught up in an old paradigm. Yet, we know that Google has been challenging keyword-driven content for years. While keyword difficulty tells how hard it is for anyone to rank for a topic, personalized difficulty predicts how hard it for YOU to rank. 

MarketMuse knows your content without you having to request a lengthy site-audit. That’s why it’s the first and only platform to offer personalized difficulty metrics. That’s based on a number of factors including the amount of coverage on a topic, how comprehensive it is, whether your content is expert-level, and how well it has performed.

Content score is an evaluation of how well an article covers a particular subject. MarketMuse analyzes the competitive landscape for a given topic and generates a topic model. It compares you content and the competition against this model.

In this way you can quickly identify how thoroughly an article addresses a subject, while also identifying content gaps from which you or the competition may suffer.

Evaluating The Content Optimization Experience 

The experience of driving a Porsche 911 and a Volkswagen Golf is remarkably different, just like it is optimizing content with SEMRush and MarketMuse Pro. Let’s evaluate the content optimization experience between both offerings, using an existing blog post, Natural Language Processing Applications in Content Marketing, with the same target keyword.

SEMRush

All show, no deep insight, and often confusing feedback that lacks context is the best way to summarize the experience using SEMRush’s Quick Checker. Let’s open it up and take a more in-depth look.

Overall score

This is a vanity metric that doesn’t tell you what you can do to improve. It just makes you feel good to get a high score.

Partial screenshot showing SEMRush Overall score.

Readability

There are several writing assistants that provide better insight into improving one’s writing skills, including Grammarly and Hemingway App. Here’s the major problem with SEMRush’s Readability suggestions. As soon as you hit the target readability score, all the remaining recommendations disappear!

Before and after screenshot showing disappearance of readability suggestions.

For this article, it identified 27 hard-to-read sentences and 19 long words. Once a handful of those were revised, the remaining suggestions simply vanished!

But let’s move on.

Words

Only two values are shown. The document’s word count and the target word count. You don’t know what the average is, You can’t see the other ranking pages word counts, and you don’t know the rationale behind the target word count value. Not sure the reading time estimation is helpful. Reading time estimates vary wildly, anywhere from 180 wpm to 290 wpm. 

See the problem? Unlike word count, reading time is wide open to interpretation.

Screenshot of SEMRush word count and suggestion.

Target and Recommended Keywords

There’s little guidance as to how to incorporate these terms. How often (or not) should you use these terms? What do the experts do? You don’t know how often the competition uses these terms. There’s no content score to indicate the extent of coverage. No competitor analysis for this either, so you can’t see how well the competition is doing. 

Screenshot showing SEMRush recommended keywords for the term natural language processing applications in content marketing.

Relying on a small number of documents (The top 10 in Google) and limited to 20 terms, SEMRush misses out on a lot of important concepts for this subject, such as speech recognition, neural networks, personalized content, text mining, computational linguistics, learning algorithms, and more.

Title

Very basic analysis and feedback; whether the title is present, uses the target keyword and uses the correct number of characters and number of words.

Screenshot of SEMRush Title suggestion.

Tone of voice

No insight on how to modify the tone of voice. SEMRush categorized this document as ‘somewhat formal’ and identified the most casual sentences, some of which are questionable. 

Screenshot of SEMRush tone analysis.

For example, the subhead “Sentiment Analysis” was identified as too casual. But no suggestions on what to do to modify the tone.

Linking

Confusing and contradictory advice. It says the document has the optimal number of links. Are they referring to internal, external, both? 

Feedback concerning individual links to improve is equally confusing. For an external link to Wistia, it advises ‘don’t link to the homepage’ and recommends ‘you add more internal links to your webpages.’ What does that have to do with the external link?

Screenshot of SEMRush linking recommendations.

For another external link to IBM, it says ‘link is closed from Googlebot’ and that it ‘may lead to a loss of ranking in Google’s search results’ Really?

Paragraph length

Just like with the Readability suggestions, other writing assistant applications provide better feedback.It’s nice to know that ‘all paragraphs seem to be easy to read’ but not very helpful when they aren’t.

Screenshot of SEMRush paragraph analysis.

MarketMuse

No fluff. Just insightful data to help you write the best content on the web. MarketMuse Optimize application focuses on three major elements screen revolving around Content Score, word count, and related topics.

Content Score 

MarketMuse Content Score takes into account the proper usage of related topics in competitive pieces across the web. In Optimize your content score is updated live, based on your coverage of relevant topics, as you write. It shows how your content stacks up against the competition.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Content Score showing current, average, and target score.

Every mention of a topic in the related topic list earns a point, with a maximum of two points for each topic. Since there are 50 related topics in the list for any given topic, the theoretical maximum is 100.

The Average and Target Content Score section breaks down significant ranges of Content Scores. The Average number shows how comprehensively articles ranking for this term are commonly written. The Target score shows the coverage you want to meet or exceed.

The current Content Score visualization graph displays your progress toward a target content score, showing if your content currently has:

  • below average (red)
  • average (yellow)
  • target coverage (green)

Word Count

MarketMuse also tracks your word count and shows how it stacks up against the rest of the content performing well for your query. This is the word count of the content you are working in the writing area and changes as you write.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Word count showing current, average, and target.

Average and Target Word Counts are derived from extracting content across expert pieces that cover this same topic.

The word count bar shows how close you are to fulfilling the target word count. It will fill up as you write, being filled all the way means the target was hit or exceeded.

Related Topics Table

This table shows the important topics to include in your article and approximately how often they should be mentioned. The core related topics are ordered by relevance to the focus topic. 

Partial screenshot of MarketMuse related topics table showing topic, distribution, and suggested usage.

Distribution, abbreviated to DIST, shows a range of how often you mention this topic in your piece. Suggested Distribution shows MarketMuse’s recommendation concerning the number of times you may want to mention this topic. Clicking on a related topic in this list reveals a slideout with variants of that topic you can use to enrich your writing.

Content Optimization: MarketMuse vs. SEMRush

MarketMuse offers a better experience all round for those wishing to craft the most comprehensive web content possible. The platform provides clarity, useful insight, and gives essential context where necessary. All data points are pertinent to the task at hand, and it’s clear how their values change as content is modified.