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The best SEO content optimization tools

Use these AI-powered SEO content checkers to get to the top of the SERPs.

By David Hartshorne · July 28, 2023
Hero image with the logos of the best SEO content optimization tools

Content optimization tools help identify and add related keywords, improve readability, focus on quality, update meta information, and link to external and internal sources, so you can create high-ranking, search-friendly content.

If you're looking for an AI-powered content optimization tool to help you create content that best answers search engine queries in detail—or take your existing content to the next level—you've come to the right place. I considered and researched dozens of apps and did in-depth testing on the top 20 contenders to narrow it down to these six SEO content optimization tools.

The best content optimization tools

  • Clearscope for producing highly relevant content

  • MarketMuse for a topic-driven approach

  • Dashword for ease of use

  • Letterdrop for B2B content marketers 

  • RankIQ for bloggers and small businesses

  • SE Ranking for working in an all-in-one SEO platform

What makes the best content optimization software?

How we evaluate and test apps

Our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. Unless explicitly stated, we spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.

There are plenty of lists of the best content optimization tools, so what makes this one different? For starters, many of those lists become intertwined with tools masquerading as content optimizers or with AI writing generators. Here, I'm focused on AI-powered content optimization tools that use the best natural language processing models and proprietary technology to underpin their recommendations for how to make your content stand out in search results.

Also: I didn't just read these apps' marketing materials and customer reviews. I spent dozens of hours researching and testing the best AI-powered content optimization tools.

When reviewing these apps, I signed up for each one, got to grips with its workflow, and ran a test on the keyword "how to prioritize." I checked to see what recommendations the tools made for a new piece of content and also tested it against an older Zapier article.

As I was testing the apps, here's what I was looking for:

  • Ease of use. Is the content optimization software easy to use without requiring a Master's in data science? When you're optimizing content, you want something relatively straightforward. Any apps that were confusing, hard to decipher, or difficult to read were eliminated.    

  • The ability to build and share content briefs and outlines. Content optimization isn't always a solo effort. You often need to share outlines and briefs with external stakeholders like writers and editors without paying for extra user seats.    

  • A solid content editor. At the heart of any content optimization workflow, you need a robust content editor where you can write or update content. Some tools provide Google Docs extensions if you prefer to work in that environment.   

  • Content grading/scoring metrics. Your content optimization tools should offer a high-level content scoring or grading system that shows your target and actual scores in real-time, so you know how you're progressing. 

  • AI technology in the background. When I say AI, I don't mean generative AI. I mean software that uses natural language processing and machine learning to provide actionable recommendations to optimize your content.

  • Integrations with your content workflow. Content optimization is just one part of the content creation process, so you need a tool that integrates with your CMS, and ideally other tools in your workflow as well.  

Overall, I whittled the list down from over 30 possiblities to the six best content optimization tools.

The best SEO content optimization tools at a glance

Best for

Standout feature

Pricing

Clearscope

Producing highly relevant content

Feature-rich with high-quality suggestions

Starts at $170/month

MarketMuse

A topic-driven approach

Clearly highlights gaps to fill

Starts at $149/month

Dashword

Ease of use

Real-time updates of scores as you write and edit

Starts at $99/month

Letterdrop

B2B content marketers

Full content operations platform, including a built-in headless CMS

Starts at $195/month

RankIQ

Bloggers and small businesses

All core features for content optimization at an affordable price point

Starts at $49/month

SE Ranking

Working in an all-in-one SEO platform

Easy to remove irrelevant and redundant suggestions

Starts at $84/month


Best SEO content optimization tool for producing highly relevant content

Clearscope

Clearscope, our pick for the best SEO content optimization tool for producing highly relevant content

Clearscope pros:

  • Feature-rich

  • Shareable brief templates

Clearscope cons:

  • More expensive compared to most comparable alternatives

Clearscope helps you produce content that's highly relevant to what people are searching for. The AI-powered platform uses advanced NLP models from IBM Watson, Google, and OpenAI to analyze the top 30 to 40 search results and build topic models from the data.

The content editor uses Clearscope's scoring metrics—Content Grade, WordCount, and Readability—to improve the quality of your content as you work your way through the three tabs:

  • The Terms tab highlights the key phrases to include, ordered by importance, unused, or headings. 

  • The Research tab suggests themes to cover, questions to address, common citations others have used, and external resources to research. 

  • The Outline tab lets you compare what the Top 20 pages have included in their headings (H1/H2/H3, etc.), so you can see the page structure. You can also click the link to open the page and see the content in context. 

If you're creating a new piece of content, you can use this information to build a brief for your writers via a shareable link—no need for additional user seats. If you're unsure what to include, use one of the brief templates.

In short, Clearscope does exactly what it says on the tin. You'll know what keywords to include, which questions to answer, how to structure the article, how long to make it, and how it compares to the top competitors.

Clearscope pricing: The Essentials plan costs $170/month. There are also custom pricing options for Business and Enterprise plans if you need advanced functionality for larger teams.

Best content optimization tool for a topic-driven approach

MarketMuse

MarketMuse, our pick for the best content optimization tool for a topic-driven approach

MarketMuse pros:

  • Topic-focused approach (vs. a focus only on keywords)

  • Clearly highlights gaps to fill

MarketMuse cons:

  • Relatively expensive compared to some other options

MarketMuse uses proprietary data and AI to inform content teams on what to create and update. Its topic modeling technology offers a more rounded topic-focused approach than other keyword-only analysis tools.

Its three research tools—Topic Navigator, SERP X-Ray, and Heatmap—highlight gaps you can fill. 

  • Topic Navigator lists related keywords with search volume, CPC, and trends, plus the latest topic-related questions. For example, it suggested I might want to mention "prioritize task" a couple of times in our article. 

  • SERP X-Ray reveals the search intent, content score, and word count, plus the number of subheadings, images, videos, and links typically found in the top 20 organic results.

  • Heatmap highlights the gaps or weaknesses in the SERP for you and your competitors so that you can target them for quick wins.

Based on the research, you can either create content briefs yourself or request MarketMuse to build them. Here's an example of what you get. Each section includes a heading, questions to answer, topics to mention, and relevant internal and external links to add.

Working in the Optimize app—i.e., the content editor—you can create new or update existing content. The goal is to reach the Target Content Score within the Target Word Count. On the right-hand side, there's a list of topics (related keywords) with suggestions on how many times to include them. 

When you've finished editing, you can use the Copy for Publishing button to copy a clean HTML version to the clipboard or word editor (like Google Docs or Word) and then paste the entire content or required sections into your CMS (like WordPress or HubSpot).

MarketMuse pricing: There's a limited free plan (starting with a 7-day free Standard trial), which is a good starting point for users with a low content volume. Then the premium versions start from $149/month for the Standard plan and $399/month for the Team plan. 

Best content optimization tool for ease of use

Dashword

Dashword, our pick for the best content optimization tool for ease of use

Dashword pros:

  • Extremely easy to use

  • Real-time updates of scores as you write and edit

Dashword cons:

  • Reports can sometimes take longer to generate than other tools

  • The word limit is 3,000 words per article (on average)

Dashword's refreshingly easy-to-use interface shows you only what you need to improve—rather than bamboozling you with unwanted data.

After running a keyword report, you can create a content brief in minutes. Inside the brief generator, simply click on the item you want to add from several sources, including competitors, FAQs, related keywords, links, and an AI outliner. You can also add your own items and then rearrange things as you want. When it's ready, you can export and share the link with your team, so they can access it without needing an account. 

You can write content directly in the content editor or install the Google Docs add-on if you prefer to work there. At the top of the screen, you see the content grade and word count, and as you write or edit, these scores adjust in real-time. You have all the relevant terms to include in the left sidebar, so you can compare how many times you've used them vs. the average. You can also check examples for each term to see how it's used in other content. And if you find an erroneous suggestion, you can "mute" it and "improve" your score. There's also a toggle switch to hide keywords you've used, so you can just focus on what's missing.

Dashword pricing: Start with a free trial with one report; then choose the Startup plan for individuals and small teams at $99/month or the Business plan for organizations requiring more reports and content monitoring from $349/month.

Best content optimization tool in a broader content marketing platform

Letterdrop

Letterdrop, our pick for the best content optimization tool in a broader content marketing platform

Letterdrop pros:

  • Built-in headless CMS

  • Focuses on content type and format, so you're giving people what they want

  • Offers new ideas and angles and shows how you stack up against E-E-A-T guidelines

Letterdrop cons:

  • If you just want SEO content optimization, you're paying for a lot of features you don't need

Letterdrop is an end-to-end content marketing platform that streamlines content planning, creation, and distribution so that you can focus more on strategic and creative work. It's actually a headless CMS that works with Webflow, WordPress, HubSpot, and custom sites, but it has several unique tools to help you optimize your content for Google Search.

First, it advises what type and format of content users are searching for. For example, people looking for "how to prioritize" want a how-to type guide in text format with supporting images and videos.

Next, it advises what to cover. In addition to highlighting terms to include and PAA (people also ask) questions, Letterdrop introduces Information Gain and Tablestakes. 

  • Information Gain suggests new ideas and angles for your piece, like surveys, "challenging the status quo," and addressing verticals. These are fresh ideas not used elsewhere in the SERPS.

  • Tablestakes provides insight into existing ideas referenced in the SERPs that you might want to include too. 

If you like any of the suggestions, you click the add button to insert them into your blog post. And if you want to add some stats and quotes, Letterdrop also has you covered with references used in the Top 10 pages.

Digging deeper, Letterdrop also assesses how you stack up against the E-E-A-T guidelines for Page Quality and Needs Met—along with recommendations on how to improve your scores for each category. When you connect Google Analytics and Google Search Console to your account, Letterdrop also highlights when existing pages are ripe for refreshing. And Letterdrop also connects to Zapier, so you can automate your workflows with thousands of other apps. 

Letterdrop pricing: Start with a 14-day free trial; then choose the self-serve Startup plan for $195/month or talk to Letterdrop for custom Growth and Enterprise plans.

Best content optimization tool for bloggers (and small businesses with a blog)

RankIQ

RankIQ, our pick for the best content optimization tool for bloggers (and small businesses with a blog)

RankIQ pros:

  • Has all the core features you need for content optimization

  • Affordable price point

RankIQ cons:

  • Basic editor compared to other tools

RankIQ is a niche SEO toolset built specifically for bloggers and small businesses that run a blog. There's a comprehensive intro video to walk you through all the tools, which is great for people just starting out with optimization, but the bottom line is that it helps you write perfectly optimized content in half the time.

After entering your keyword, the SEO report does a few things:

  • Indicates what content score you'll need and how many words

  • Identifies topics to cover with themes, variations, and LSI keywords

  • Suggests what words to use in the title and grades your effort

  • Shows the highest-graded content in the SERPs to give you an idea of how to structure your post

The Content Optimizer is a basic editor compared to other tools. (RankIQ recommends that you copy text from Google Docs without any formatting and images.)

At the top, there's a target vs. achieved content grade and word count. In the right-hand column, there's a list of words to include, with a toggle switch to show unused terms only. RankIQ advises against stuffing keywords from the list or using AI writing tools to auto-generate content. Instead, use the outline to write original content using your expertise, experience, and research on the topic.

When you've finished the optimization, you'll need to copy the text into Word, Google Docs, WordPress, or another CMS, where you can format it and add images. The tool also works with the Grammarly Chrome extension.

RankIQ pricing: From $49/month (50% off the $99 standard rate).

Best content optimization tool in an all-in-one SEO platform

SE Ranking (Content Marketing Platform)

SE Ranking, our pick for the best content optimization tool in an all-in-one SEO platform

SE Ranking pros:

  • All-in-one tool for SEO-related tasks

  • Easy to remove irrelevant and redundant suggestions

SE Ranking cons:

  • Overkill if all you need is content optimization

SE Ranking is an all-in-one SEO platform with tools for tracking keyword rankings, analyzing competitors, and checking backlinks. But it also includes a content editor for creating detailed briefs and writing SERP-winning articles using top AI and NLP technologies.

After entering your keyword(s) and choosing your country and language, you can work through the brief settings, choosing which competitors, content parameters, terms, questions, structure, and links to use. For example, you can select the competitors with the best content score or highest word count. This is a helpful way to weed out irrelevant competitors and redundant NLP terms. Also, it's nice and easy to manipulate elements as you build the content structure.

In the editor, you can paste the structure from your brief (or generate a draft with the AI Writer tool). Like the other apps, you'll use the recommendations to increase your overall content score. There's also a quality score based on grammar, punctuation, stop-word ratio, and readability.

At any point, you can share the brief or article with external parties via a link. And if you prefer working in Google Docs, you can install the extension and follow the recommendations to edit and optimize your content there. Plus, Zapier lets you connect SE Ranking with thousands of other apps to streamline your workflows.

SE Ranking pricing: Start with a 14-day free trial; then choose from 3 plans—starting at $84/month—depending on how many articles you want to edit and optimize per month.

Should you use a content optimization tool?

If you want to give your content the best chance of ranking at the top of the SERPs, you'll find a content optimization tool invaluable. But as with any AI-powered software, you shouldn't accept all the recommendations. You still need to take the time and exercise due diligence to ensure any optimization you make fits the context of your content. Just because a content optimization tool suggests you use the term "project manager" in your article on prioritization doesn't mean you should. If you check the SERPs, you'll probably find a project management software company using the term in its article as it's relevant to them.

Your best bet is to take a few of these tools for a spin and see which one best suits you. Some have a free trial; otherwise, sign up for a month before investing long-term. Whether you're a blogger or a large enterprise, there's a content optimization tool to fit your content operations.

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