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Why Your Content Optimization Is Failing

6 min read

There will be times when, despite your best efforts, content optimization isn’t enough. It will happen, despite the claims of cheap SEO tools that swear they offer a magic bullet.

So, if you’re in this situation, this post is for you. Let’s look at how it happens and what you can do about it.

One Page Doesn’t Make You An Expert

Let’s take a look at one of my favorite examples; the topic of “content marketing.” It’s a competitive topic with a lot of well-known sites appearing on the first couple of pages in the search results.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Compete
Screenshot of MarketMuse Compete

Scanning the MarketMuse Compete application reveals that a majority of results are definition oriented, with the first three entries being rather sparse, judging by their content score. You may conclude that all you need to rank is to create a high-quality definition page about content marketing – one that’s more comprehensive and detailed.

That would be a mistake. 

You should do your best to create best-in-class content, but in this case, one page won’t be enough. There’s a reason why Content Marketing Institute takes the top 3 spots in the SERP, even though the content of those pages may not be up to par.

They have created lots of content on the subject over the years – more than 250 pages have been created or updated over the past year alone. Those pages, linked together advantageously, help to establish their authority.

They rank well due to a lot of off-page SEO factors as a result of all that content. But the answer is not to go out and try building a bunch of links to that page. By itself, that approach won’t work.

One page isn’t enough to achieve recognition, by humans or search engines, as an expert in your field.

The ‘Less Is More’ Content Strategy Fallacy

A particular segment of content marketers believes you should take more time to produce less content. It sounds almost too good to be true because it is.

While you’re taking that extra time to produce less content, the competition is creating more and better content. All that additional content is feeding into the story of how your competitor is the expert.

You, with your one or two articles, are not perceived as an authority figure among your target audience. It doesn’t matter how well they are written.

There’s another problem too.

This strategy typically assumes that more words translate into better content. The rationale is that the longer the content, the better the chance to rank for more search terms. But why take 12,000 words to make your point when only a couple of thousand will do?

 A true sign of expertise is your ability to explain concepts succinctly. Your audience will appreciate it, and I suspect search engines will too.

What to Do When Content Optimization Isn’t Enough

Let me share an instance from the MarketMuse blog. It’s for the topic “content inventory audit,” something we talk very little about. 

Screenshot of a MarketMuse topic card.
Screenshot of a MarketMuse topic card.

With a content score of 40 versus a target of 42, it’s safe to say that further optimization is unlikely to yield significant benefits. Yes, even though the top-ranking pages for this term have a lower content score, optimizing content won’t help.

The one thing that will help, and what MarketMuse suggests, is to expand coverage. That recommendation is given when a topic has less than five related pages, and all have a content score greater than or equal to the average. 

Closeup screenshot of MarketMuse topic card showing recommendations.
Screenshot of MarketMuse topic card.

By the way, inexpensive SEO tools cannot make recommendations like this because they do not know your site’s content.

What’s next?

Run this topic in the Research Application to discover the narrative behind the list of related topics.

Screenshot of MarketMuse Research application.
Screenshot of MarketMuse Research.

Looking at this list, I see a few content creation candidates for pages related to content inventory audit:

  • Content audit templates. A collection of checklists and spreadsheets that speed up the process.
  • How to perform a blog post inventory audit (focused mainly on bloggers).
  • Scaling the content inventory audit for enterprise organizations.
  • How to determine what data is required for a content inventory audit.

Naturally, you’ll want to link all these articles together to form an in-depth topical cluster.

How Much Content Is Enough?

Depending on the complexity of the subject, five articles may not be enough. For a topic like ‘content marketing,’ you’ll need more. 

In this case, it’s more efficient to take a bottom-up approach. Look for a closely related ancillary topic and aim to dominate that subject. Rinse and repeat with more topics until you’ve established your authority in all those smaller spaces relating to the main subject.

With that under your belt, proving your expertise on the highest level topic will be a breeze. You won’t just write an average piece of content, because you know better, and you have MarketMuse.


When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That’s the problem with cut-rate content optimization tools. They only do one thing, and that frequently turns out to be the wrong approach.

Having in-depth and topically-rich content is essential, but sometimes one page is not enough.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Stephen leads the content strategy blog for MarketMuse, an AI-powered Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform. You can connect with him on social or his personal blog.