I am given to know that soft iron is used as temporary electromagnet since it has high permeability i.e. the ability to align its domains corresponding to the electric field around it, however has a low retentivity. On the contrary, steel is used as a weak, albeit permanent magnet since it has large retentivity and low permeability. I want to know whether- by means of optimization- soft iron can be made to retain the MEEC for a prolonged period of time and/or steel composition can be modified in order to able it to align its domains with greater ease and thereby make a stronger permanent magnet.
The short answer is, yes, it can be modified.
The coercitive field depends a lot on the microscopic details, such as grain boundaries and the material composition. For strong changes in the magnetic properties you need additional elements, such as Nb, Co or Ni. Additionally the details of the manufacturing process can influence the magnetic properties as well (sintering parameters, annealing).
A nice introduction into different materials and optimization possibilities can be downloaded from Vacuumschmelze, a large manufacturer of permanent magnets.