[Editor’s note: This post was updated on October 17, 2022, to add information about how Google handles audio and removes podcast directories that no longer exist.]
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Why should you care about audio SEO?
In 2022 there are now 485 Million listeners worldwide. And yet, it’s less crowded than blog posts, and Google has a focus on expanding podcast listeners.
Optimizing your podcasts for search is a relatively new effort, but now it should be even more of your focus as Google is surfacing podcast landing pages and episodes in search.
What Google is now doing with audio content:
I started paying attention to the trend when Google’s podcasting team announced:
“Our team’s mission is to help double the amount of podcast listening in the world over the next couple of years”
-Google Podcasts Product Manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen.
Now Google is integrating and surfacing podcast content into Google Search and Google Assistant. They look like this:
Keep in mind that you might not see these ranking opportunities if you’re relying on just your SEO tool. For example, here’s that same result from Ahrefs (where it doesn’t show the podcast carousel):
Those results on an Android device automatically load the Google Podcast app, which lets users play those podcasts directly in the Assistant (if you’re on your phone) or directly online via a Google podcast landing page.
You can currently search for a particular person + podcast and find the podcast episodes where they were guests:
Google has also filed a patent related to how audio content ranks in its podcast app. These patents indicate that Google is using its understanding of topics and subtopics (the topic layer) and applying them to different audio content.
Google particularly mentions the following when it comes to selecting and ranking audio content in its podcast app:
Inclusion of evergreen content relevant to a listener or exclusion of news content if that content is no longer fresh
Inclusion of episodes if they do not need to be listened to as a part of a series.
Whether the content is related to categories or topics that are of interest to a particular user
And in that same patent, we discover that Google Human Raters are focused on evaluating the following:
- General popularity.
- Good audio quality
- Associated with particularly accurate keywords or categories
Google’s future with audio content:
If Google starts presenting audio files back to users as a result of voice queries, there’s even more opportunity. Gartner Research predicted that nearly a third of all web browsing would be voice-activated by 2020.
According to Google Podcasts Product Manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen, in the future, Google will have the ability to “transcribe the podcast and use that to understand more details about the podcast, including when they are discussing different topics in the episode.”
Future growth of podcast listening
One-third of US adults listen to a podcast per month. That’s more people consuming podcasts than are on some of the major social media networks. Here’s the latest data (June 2019) on social media usage in the US by network:
And the number of US citizens listening to a podcast has been steadily increasing.
It’s also an engaged audience, as 80% of people will listen to an entire podcast episode or most of it.
What does this mean for you as a marketer?
That means that there are steps today that you should take to integrate online audio into your overall marketing plan.
Marketers should also be prepared for Google to surface certain content from within the episode to answer a searcher’s question. Again, this will require a different method of crafting your audio content.
Think about the user experience if Google dropped a listener into the middle of a podcast based on looking for information on a topic. Would they get enough context from that starting point? Are you structuring your interviews in a way that would support that user’s behavior?
In case you think this is science fiction, Google currently does something like this with their celebrity video answers in search, where Google is surfacing video selfies from celebs answering frequently answered questions.
OK. So how do you get started optimizing your podcasts for search?
Here are our top 15 SEO tips to make your podcast SEO-friendly:
Buckle up. We are going to cover the following:
- Determining your podcast audience
- Pick a great name and logo
- Figure out your format
- Dedicated landing page/site for your podcast
- Choose a topic per episode
- Create great titles for each episode
- Critical Items to be on Each podcast landing page
- Include transcripts
- Embed an audio player on each podcast page
- Allow for easy social sharing
- Use images or videos on your episode pages
- Ensure that your podcast page/site loads quickly
- Leverage your RSS feed
- Submit your podcast to podcast players
- Promote your podcast
1. Determine your target audience
Google personalizes content in 2020 to the user’s location, previous search history, and their searcher’s journey, so it’s critical to be thoughtful about your target audience when launching any marketing initiative – including an audio one.
You do that by creating personas. You should start with who you think your target audience is and interview them. Conduct customer discovery interviews and develop personas. Map out based on your audience who your competition is, take a cue from Google when they talk about ranking in search and ask yourself this question:
“How are you better than what is already ranking.” Here’s John Mueller focusing on the “secret to ranking:
2. Pick a great name and logo for your podcast
What does it take for your podcast to be found on iTunes and Google Play?
It’s all in the title and the podcast logo:
The iTunes ranking algorithm for podcasts places a heavy emphasis on the podcast’s title, in addition to factors like the total number of subscribers and the total number of reviews for the podcast.
While you want to have a title for your podcast which is compelling and interesting, you shouldn’t have a title that is so obscure or non-intuitive that it doesn’t explain your podcast in clear language. It should also be a name not already used by another show. Make sure to include your most important keywords in the title.
You should also create a logo that works on a small screen.
Here’s an example of how small the logos are on an Android phone in the Google podcast:
3. Figure out your format
Metafilter founder Matt Haughey, who has put in hundreds of hours on podcasting, recommends that your show involve two or three hosts.
Here’s a sample outline to consider, via Voices.com:
- Show intro (who you are, what you’re going to talk about): 30-60 seconds
- Intro music (repeat for each show so listeners identify the jingle with your show): 30-60 seconds
- Topic 1: 3 minutes
- Topic 2: 3 minutes
- Interlude (music or break): 30 seconds
- Topic 3: 3 minutes
- Topic 4: 3 minutes
- Closing remarks (thank the audience, thank guests, talk about the next show): 2 minutes
- Closing music (suggest same as Intro music jingle): 2 minutes
Buffer has also broken down the ideal length and frequency for your podcasting:
Keep in mind that podcast apps are run by an algorithm that recommends podcasts to listeners based on their listening behavior, so getting your listeners used to new content from you on a particular day of the week might be ideal to play into those algorithms.
4. Have a dedicated landing/website page for your overall podcast
Your podcast needs a dedicated homepage that describes what the podcast is about and that meets Google requirements and webmaster guidelines. Googlebot needs to get to your homepage and RSS feed. Google requires that the podcast have a dedicated homepage with the elements described. In addition, the homepage must have a <link> pointing to your RSS feed.
Googlebot must be able to crawl the homepage, the RSS feed, and any non-blocked audio files; they must not require a login, and the page must not block Googlebot via robots.txt or <noindex> tags.
Here are some great examples of podcast landing pages:
The Beerist homepage has all of the elements that Google mentions as well in a different format:
5. Choose a keyword or topic for each episode
Picking a keyword or topic for each episode is also important.
Google reads the text of each episode – the title and description and will surface them when a podcast listener is looking for information on a particular topic where your podcast episode is the answer.
For example, See the screenshot below when I look for “Facebook messenger changes.”
So when labeling the episode and (even before recording) creating interview questions for your guests consider the following:
1. Is the theme of each podcast episode clear?
2. Do you have a straightforward question-and-answer format that Google could read and understand?
3. For your guest interview questions, think about how this episode could help your target audience:
- Solve a problem
- Provide actionable insights
And make sure to include those in your guest questions.
6. Create great titles for your podcast episodes
Google is also starting to surface content from audio into Google Assistant and search, so think about entities when you label your podcast episode titles and descriptions. Currently, the podcast titles are a bit cryptic and are not optimized for SEO or entities.
Here’s what makes a good podcast title:
- Descriptive: Clearly explain what the episode will cover.
- Front-loaded: Put the most important words at the front.
- Short: Think about the cut-off point on smartphone screens.
- Benefit-oriented: Tell the user why they should listen, and what they’re going to get from the episode.
- Compelling: Write headlines that demand to be clicked.
- Keyword-focused: Try to use the keywords in the title (but don’t go crazy).
- Unique: Make sure each episode is different and relevant.
Ideally, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of the interview, the interviewee’s name is important, so you should probably create something like:
Interview with [name] about how she convinced one client to blog up their website and start over.
7. Here are the critical items to be on each episode page:
Each episode should have its page (URL) with the following:
- It should have well-structured HTML markup (H2 and H3s) and has a link to the audio transcript. Ideally, it has links to helpful tips and tools mentioned during the podcast episode. It should have an optimized URL, title, and meta description. The on-page copy should mention any topics for which you want to appear.
- Episode length
- Date published
- Guest bio and links to the guest’s website/social media
- Show notes/transcript with timestamps
- Key takeaways
- Resources (here’s where you tag those brands mentioned on the podcast)
- Create a call to action on each podcast page, making it easy to subscribe to the podcast.
- Structured data markup – (Google’s requirements)
You should optimize the meta description of each podcast episode landing page to match the subject of that podcast (within character limits), and the main podcast page should also have an optimized meta description.
Here are some examples of an ideal episode landing page:
And this one from Dan Shure’s podcast Evolving SEO.
8. Include transcripts on each episode page:
If you are in the Google Podcast directory, you can add transcript files with timestamps to the episode podcast pages. If you are in the Google Podcast directory, Google will transcribe the podcast for you and add timestamps automatically, but it’s best if you can control timestamps.
For example, when This American Life transcribed its audio archive and posted its transcripts online, they found that 6.26% of all unique visitors from search traffic landed on a transcript page.
The Marketing School podcast does a great job with time-stamped transcripts:
9. Embed an audio player on each podcast page
I’ve seen quite a few payer options here. The audio player comes with Libsyn, which looks like this:
Ultimately, you should allow visitors to your episode landing page to easily play your podcast audio files.
10. Allow for easy social sharing on each podcast page
When a new listener discovers your podcast, you want to make it easy for them to share it on their social networks.
You should also encourage them to share during your episode. This is standard best practice for landing pages/blog posts in general, but with new podcast players like Podchaser (which allows you to discover podcasts your friends like) AND considering that word of mouth is the #1 way new listeners discover podcasts, encouraging (and making it easy) for your listeners to share with their friends is even more critical.
11. Use images or videos on your episode landing pages
You probably already know that the human brain processes image 60,000 times faster than text, meaning visitors will see the image and colors you use on your landing page BEFORE the text. There’s a great infographic here about how powerful imagery is:
We recommend adding photos of your guest, maybe the cover of the book they are promoting or a visual related to a resource they are sharing.
Or, if you’re recording video when you record your podcast episode, embed the video as we know video on landing pages increases conversions by 80%.
12. Ensure that your website has a fast page load speed
Page load speed is a mobile ranking factor, and many of your audience will be engaging with your podcast via their phone, so a fast page load speed is critical. You can test (and get suggestions for improving) with a variety of tools including:
- Google Lighthouse
- Page Speed Insights
- WebPageTest — where you can stack your page speed up against your competitors or change phone models and locations.
- Google Analytics Page Timings report.
13. Optimize your RSS feed
Just when you thought RSS feeds were dead!
It turns out that an RSS feed is what syndicates your podcast on iTunes, Google Play Music, and all the other podcasting platforms. When (or if) you update your show’s title or description, it gets pushed out to all of those platforms via your RSS feed. And as an FYI, changes can take up to 24 hours for any of those fields to update across the various platforms.
The best way to have SEO control over your podcast is by creating your RSS feed using the one that Libsyn provides you or the feed you get from the PowerPress plugin for WordPress (a free plugin). Here are Google’s RSS feed requirements, ultimately the feed needs to include at least one episode and the following tags:
- <itunes:author> or <googleplay:author>
- <itunes:email> or <googleplay:email>
You can submit the episode URL here when publishing new episodes to ensure they get propagated as quickly as possible. Then, podcasts should submit that RSS to Google’s podcast directory via the link and Bing Webmaster Tools. Your feed needs to conform to RSS 2.0 specifications and has at least one episode and links to your dedicated podcast landing page.
It’s OK if your podcast’s RSS feed is not on your site and is on a podcast feed generator, but you might link to it from your podcast homepage.
Listen to your audio files and subscribe to your RSS feed to be aware of what your listeners are experiencing.
14. Submit your podcast to podcast platforms
I do this by using Buzzsprout’s service.
Using Google’s Webmaster Tools is also recommended: this way, Google can inform you if there are any errors in your website’s markup for podcast content, and you can submit your RSS feeds via Google Webmaster Tools.
Once your podcast is in Google Podcasts, you will be findable via Google Podcast Player, Google Assistant, and in Google search. In addition, you can use the Google Podcast’s Direct Link generator to check if you’re listed.
But really, there are several popular podcasting platforms where you should list your podcast, including:
- Amazon Music
- IHeart Radio
Note that both platforms can take a few days to show your podcast after you’ve submitted it.
15. Promote your podcast
Here’s a list of the recommended ways to promote a podcast. Ultimately it comes down to knowing where your target audience is and getting promoted there.
Here are some ideas:
Be a guest on other podcasts
When you are a guest on other podcasts, you can share your expertise and mention where listeners can find you – which turns into links to your podcast website and your corporate website, along with your social media handles. Also, by being a guest on other podcasts, you can feel how other podcast hosts handle getting their guests prepped and comfortable with the process and what questions they ask.
Answer questions on Quora, Reddit, and Slack
Podcast hosts/marketers should lurk in online communities where your target audience is and answer these types of questions with a link back to your podcast:
I’d also suggest using a Google Analytics-tracked URL with UTM links to see if this tactic generates more traffic than others.
There are a few directories where you can list your podcast or pitch your new episodes. Here are the big ones:
- Podcast Addict
- Podcast subreddit
- Bello Collective
- Podcast Addict
- PodcastLand is also a featured podcast of the month chosen by user votes.
- ListenNotes – a search engine for podcasts
- Listen Notes
- Register on Podknife.
- Register on Samsung Podcasts.
- PodChaser – update your listing with more information about your host, etc.
Have your guests promote
Just like being a guest on someone else’s podcast helps you plug in your new podcast, your guest is a valuable source of promotion.
A brand new podcast would benefit from interviewing well-known guests with online audiences to whom they can pitch the episode. And you can make it easy for them by sending them an email on the day their podcast goes live that includes the following:
- Quotes from their interview
- Images from their quotes/Audiograms
- Pre Written tweets and status updates
Buffer even has an email template you can copy and use for your guests.
Reach out to anyone else or other brands mentioned in the episode
Anyone else said during the interview, whether a brand or an individual, should get a “shout out” from your podcast handle.
Once you figure out an excellent way to reach the individuals, you can ping them on Twitter after the episode launches. For a brand or company, LinkedIn might work best to find a marketing person who might share the tweet once the episode is live.
Find your communities’ social media “hangouts”
For your audience, it could be a Slack group. Or a listserv or a public forum. Figure out where they go to find resources to help them solve problems and see if you can promote it there. For instance, I’m on a very active Progressive listserv that would be the perfect spot if you’re looking to reach left-leaning organizations. Conversely, SEO professionals tend to be more active on Twitter and Slack. So you need to find your audience and go to them where they are, especially since word of mouth is the #1 way new listeners find podcasts.
Podcaster Dan Shure (Experts on the Wire) has found great success on LinkedIn:
“I think LinkedIn is performing well because every time someone even ‘likes’ or comments on your LinkedIn post – this is a ‘share’ because they show up in their connections feeds. So when I look at the stats for who has seen my LinkedIn post – it’s mostly 2nd and 3rd-degree connections. Often in the hundreds or thousands.”
And when you do share on social media, keep in mind that video and images usually perform better with those various algorithms. Here are some ideas about how to add visuals to your podcast;
- Share images: Create quote images and share those with a link back to your podcast.
- Share videos: Convert the audio to a YouTube video
- Share soundbites or create an Audiogram: that converts the audio into an engaging video you can share online.
Here’s an example of what that sound bite looks like:
And here’s an Audiogram:
Get listed on “best of X type of podcast lists.”
There are quite a few, and you just outreach to the webmaster and nicely ask if the editor/webmaster can add your podcast. To rank in the entity panel at the top of queries that are “topic + podcast” like this:
Google DOES look at listener data compared to others in your topic areas.
Amplify your distribution with YouTube and Spotify
Based on 2022 data, podcast newcomers use Spotify and YouTube the most, so you will want to enhance your footprint on YouTube.
For YouTube, many podcasters distribute their podcast to YouTube or record them as a video and then release both the audio and video. I particularly like how this video blogger labels his YouTube descriptions.
But if you just want to turn your audio asset into video, here’s how Buffer turned their audio clips into YouTube videos:
- First, use a tool like Screenflow to build a video version of your podcast.
- Grab free stock video footage from Videvo or Pexels. Looping video is best; search “loop.”
- Include a quick thumbnail either of your show’s logo or of your guest (or both)
- Label and annotate the video, add end cards, etc. All of that YouTube SEO best practice stuff.
You should put your YouTube podcast videos in their playlist.
Encouraging people to subscribe
iTunes and Google Podcast App use subscription count as a ranking factor, so asking for that subscription during your podcast episode is critical. Subscribers will get notified when you launch new episodes.
Reviews are essential for ranking in both the Apple and Google app stores, so asking for them at the end of each episode is critical.
One of the most significant factors in being visible on the charts in iTunes (and getting into their new & noteworthy section) is the following:
The rate at which the podcast collects downloads, subscribers, and positive reviews in the first eight weeks.
To get more ideas about getting reviews at that speed, I’d encourage you to read how Jason Zook’s podcast created a plan to hit the New and Noteworthy section of iTunes.
Consider asking on-air for podcast reviews.
Make sure to add the RSS feed for new episodes to the email signatures on your corporate email and your team’s support emails. Your website should also have an option for listeners to sign up for your podcast’s email newsletter, where you can notify them about new episodes and other updates.
Promote each episode on your social media handles
Ideally, you would create unique graphics for each episode (maybe pull quotes), share them with your handles (Facebook, Twitter), and pin them to your profiles. Podcast hosts should tease new episodes 24 hours ahead of time. Podcast marketers should promote each podcast episode with posts that tag the guest’s handles and any brands mentioned in the podcast episode.
Create a community to encourage repeat podcast listeners
To ensure that you have repeat podcast listeners, creating a community where they can discuss the podcast and have one-on-one engagement with you makes sense. For example, The Motley Fool podcasts have a private Facebook community, and you could also have a dedicated Twitter handle. I’ve also seen private Slack groups where podcast listeners can engage more in the podcast content.
Support your podcast with paid media
Running ads on Facebook targeting your ideal listener might make sense, as well as retargeting your website visitors. However, most podcasters who are starting have small budgets. Considering that most podcast listeners find podcasts through word of mouth (or by a mention of a new podcast during a podcast episode they are currently listening to), I think paid promotion should be the last item on your list.
Add Optimizing Your Podcast to Your Marketing Strategy Today!
Surfacing the answer within audio content (whether in a podcast or a video) is something that Google is getting good at – directing the user to the audio part that answers their question directly.
Marketers should focus on including audio content as a part of their content strategy as they look to format their overall content for Fraggles – snippets of content that Google can surface and rank to answer users’ questions.
Need help improving your podcast visibility? Book a strategy session with Katherine.