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Surfer SEO vs POP vs MarketMuse – Correlation SEO Tool Review (With DATA)

Geeking out on SEO tools that help us predictably rank in Google is a lot of fun… so much so that a few years ago, we started a business centered around that as a core competency – ContentRefined.com

Today we dig in deep and review the explosion of amazing tools over the last couple of years that help give us an unfair advantage to rank in Google.

In this post, we have signed up for, used, reviewed, and analyzed the performance of the most popular content marketing SEO tools. Plus, what would be a post at AuthorityWebsiteIncome if I didn’t share the SOPs we used for each tool (keep reading to get access to the SOPs – free of course). 

Here is what we are going to look at for each tool…

  • Performance – Which tool, if used correctly, will result in the largest increase in traffic/rankings
  • Value – What is the pricing model and cost for each. What tool provides the best value. 
  • Usability – Which tool is the most user-friendly

The 3 tools we will be testing are…

Other tools that are similar that we didn’t test…

These tools primarily fall into 2 buckets using one of 2 core strategies to provide actionable insights to improve an article and help it rank better in the search engines…

  • Correlation SEO
  • Semantic AI

What is Correlation SEO?

With correlation SEO, you identify what Google is already ranking on the first page and emulate that content. You can emulate the keywords, length, features, and headings. Find out what Google wants to rank and mimic those factors. 

CORA, SurferSEO, and POP all fall into correlation SEO with Surfer rolling out a Natural Language Processing (NLP) tool covering both correlated and predictive content ranking factors. 

What is Semantic SEO? 

Semantic SEO involves producing content that is semantically relevant (includes other relevant keywords) that helps show Google that your content best matches the searcher’s intent and covers the topic in more depth than competitors pages. With semantic SEO tools, they predict all related keywords/questions that should be covered for a given topic. 

ClearScope and MarketMuse tools use this often AI-enabled technology.

Semantic content marketing tools look at all keywords around the given topic and use AI to generate a map of what keywords and questions an article that best matches the searcher’s intent would include. 

Ready to see which tool recommendation provides the biggest traffic lift?

How We Tested these 3 Content Marketing Tools:

The only way to do a review of these awesome data-crunching tools justice is to crunch some data ourselves! A light touch review where we signup and give some general thoughts would be an insult to all of these epic tools. 

A larger sample size would have been ideal, but here is how we approached the test in a reasonably efficient way. 

We identified 3 different pages at 3 different sites and updated them using the 3 tools all at the same time trying to control for as many other variables as possible. After modifying the content, we monitored the initial results (2 weeks after publishing).

The tool whose pages have the largest % increase in traffic and ranking keywords/position is what we want to identify.

Steps to Compare SEO Tools:

  1. Identified 3 similar articles (traffic/rankings/trajectory) on 3 different sites of mine (eCommerce, affiliate, service) 
  2. Use a standard SOP for each tool (link to each SOP below) and update each article based on the tools recommendation
  3. Publish the updated articles all at the same time
  4. Compare results 2 weeks after publishing
  5. Update our content marketing procedures at ContentRefined or test further

See how we set up the test below where the “x” represents the tool we will use on which article.

See how we set up the test below where the “x” represents the tool we will use on which article. 

Site & Page SurferSEO POP MarketMuse
Site 1 – Page 1X

Site 2 – Page 1X

Site 3 – Page 1X

Site 1 – Page 2
X
Site 2 – Page 2
X
Site 3 – Page 2
X
Site 1 – Page 3

X
Site 2 – Page 2

X
Site 3 – Page 3

X

Let’s dig into how each one performed…

Performance – Search Traffic and Ranking Changes:

This is what matters! 

Which content marketing SEO tool provided the largest increase in traffic? 

The results were impressive across the board with all articles showing a meaningful lift in traffic. 

We will dig through the data here, but if you are looking for a summary on which tool performed the best, look at the graph at the bottom of this section comparing the traffic increase generated by SurferSEO, POP, and MarketMuse.

Traffic Change:

Every article had an increase in traffic. With an average across the entire study of a 71% increase in traffic! 

To be honest, I am very impressed with the traffic lift! To achieve an average of 71% lift in 2 weeks, it is very exciting!

To have every page see a lift in traffic and an average increase of 71%… very impressed! We have been seeing the benefit of updating content for years at Content Refined leveraging the Pareto content upgrade strategy, but seeing it continue to work is great validation!

In the graph below, the blue column is the traffic before the upgrade for each page, and the green bar is the traffic after the content was updated based on the tools instructions. The orange line shows the % improvement on the second y-axis. 

Chart

Ranking Change:

Traffic is what matters, but it is interesting to see the ranking change in order to confirm the lift in traffic isn’t seasonal or from another reason but is, in fact, due to ranking higher in Google. 

The graph below shows the ranking for each article’s main keyword before the update, and the green is the ranking after. Looking at the target keyword instead of total number of keywords was chosen because a couple of the tools POP and Surfer are built with that as the main objective… telling you what to do to get a page to rank higher.

Chart

Tool Performance Comparison:

Now the important question… what tool performed the best? 

The graph below shows the weighted average traffic increase by tool. 

In the end, Surfer and POP achieved similar results while MarketMuse outperformed both. 

  • Surfer SEO – 61% traffic increase
  • POP – 63% traffic increase
  • MarketMuse – 78% traffic increase
Chart

These results are not entirely surprising as POP and Surfer use a similar correlation SEO approach while MarketMuse uses the semantic AI engine to identify opportunities to improve a piece of content. 

With this sample size of only 9 articles (3 articles per tool), I would say that a similar study could certainly result in a different outcome. However, in the online world where we need to act on correlation without the ability to confirm causation, these results certainly point us in the right direction! 

Price:

The performance of all these tools were in the same ball-park… the price point is not! 

MarketMuse Price

Annual contracts in the 5 figure range but provides functionality that goes well beyond optimizer, which is what was used for this study. They are testing less expensive, metered usage options. So, if your hang-up is with your budget with MarketMuse, then it might be worth still reaching out to them. 

SurferSEO Price

Starting at $59/month, it is a much more budget-friendly option. There are limits placed on the number of times you can use Content Editor per month, which will likely trigger the need for upgrading.  

PageOptimizerPro Price

Starting at $10/month with significant limitations in terms of the number of reports you can get. We would likely be using the $79/month solution if it was used for my portfolio.  

If you are an active user, both POP and Surfer will end up around $100/month with POP a little less expensive with MarketMuse far more expensive. 

Usability:

This section is completed by the lead editor at ContentRefined.com who used each of the tools to execute these updates using these procedures:

How to Use Market Muse

See our in depth MarketMuse Review and Tutorial

See our video review of MarketMuse below:

When it comes to usability, MarketMuse definitely tops the list. It is an incredibly easy to use and straightforward program that helps take a lot of the guesswork out of optimizing content. Again, it is very similar to SurferSEO but has its own perks. To get started with this program, you simply enter the keyword phrase you are focusing on and then paste the content into the window and hit run.

All the information you can use to help you optimize the content is going to generate and can be found on the right-hand side. It offers a list of competitor pages as well as their ranks, provides you with a list of suggested keywords and keyword variants that should be used, along with the number of times they should appear within the content.

They also provide you with the current word count and score alongside the target word count and score that you want to achieve for higher ranking on Google. You can edit and work right within the window on the program, or you can work in a separate document and then copy and paste your changes into the program to run everything again. You can also use the questions tab on the left-hand side for more guidance on subheadings and additional topics you can use to add and optimize the content.

This program is helpful for those who may be new to SEO keyword research because it lays everything out simply. While it may not offer as in-depth results as you can find with the other two programs, it gives you a basic idea on how to pursue those higher Google rankings without taking much time to learn.

How to Use SurferSEO

Get our in depth Surfer SEO review and Tutorial

View our Surfer SEO Video Review below…

When logging into this program, you will see the dashboard. This is where you can input your keyword or keyword phrase. The guidelines here are based on the main keyword as well as localization. Once you have entered the keyword you want to rank for, press create. 

The guidelines will take a little time to generate because SurferSEO analyzes up to ten competitors and their content. When complete, you will have access to tips and information to help with the length, structure, and the words you use in your content so as to get the content to rank higher. 

It also allows you the chance to customize and adjust the guidelines, which is helpful when you try to rank for more difficult phrases. You can download a spreadsheet containing all of the keyword suggestions including the number of times the keyword appears and if you should add or cut specific keywords and phrases.

This program is very similar to MarketMuse. They offer a list of suggested subheadings that can be used in the content to help with the keywords and ranking of the article. You are also not limited to one window. You can work in a different window and then paste your revised work in to run everything through.

SurferSEO fills you in on some other vital information you need to pay attention to, including how many bold words you should be using and if the content length is too long. This program helps you find the balance between the content, finding enough valuable information to include, and avoiding keyword stuffing. It is straightforward and not hard to navigate.

How to Use Page Optimizer Pro

See our Page Optimizer Pro Review and Tutorial

When it comes to usability and being user-friendly, this program is definitely not at the top of the list. They provide you with a fair amount of valuable information to help your content rank, but it is given to you in a crowded spreadsheet that isn’t always easy to read and follow. However, it does offer suggestions on headings, which words should be eliminated because they are overused, provides keyword variations, and offers tips on changing the subheadings. 

To get started with POP, you simply insert the URL of the page you want to optimize. When doing this, you must make sure that the domain for the URL matches the domain you are using for the project. It then prompts you to name your page. When inserting keywords, you need to type them in exactly as a searcher would type it into a Google search. It only considers what you type into the field. You can then choose your region and then fetch variations. Once done, you can then review those variations, enter the competitors, and edit your content according to the suggestions in the spreadsheet that you had downloaded.

All of the changes and edits you make using this program need to be done within their editing window. As we were working with the program, we realized it would not allow you to copy and paste content from another document. 

This program takes a bit longer to get used to and can prove difficult to navigate at times, but it still provides you with valuable information to get your articles ranking better on Google. 

Summary:

Below is a summary of the results based on the 3 dimensions we were testing with each of these tools.


Ability to Increase TrafficEase of UseCost
MarketMuse1st 1st3rd
Surfer SEO2nd1st2nd
POP2nd3rd1st

MarketMuse Review:

Right Choice For You If… you have one or a few significant sites that are your main livelihood and have the budget, MarketMuse produces the largest traffic increase. Plus, MarketMuse has other tools like inventory that help provide additional unfair advantages for content marketing a website. 

SurferSEO Review

Right Choice For You If… you are value-conscious and want an easy to use tool that will deliver solid traffic and ranking improvement. If you are a portfolio owner looking to systematize the upgrade process Surfer and its ease of use is a great tool that can be handled with minimal training. 

PageOptimizerPro Review

Right Choice For You If… you are very cost-conscious and don’t mind using a tool that isn’t super refined. Or if you want to be able to turn the dials a little more yourself to customize.

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

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