Which SEO principles apply to podcasts? When, where and how often should podcast episodes be released? And how can listener reviews and ratings help a show rank higher in podcast search results?
Find out the answers to these questions and more, as we share 12 key tactics that helped us make our show The Digital Marketing Podcast a top 10 business podcast on iTunes.
1. Podcast search engine optimisation
Podcast search engines are quite basic in their approach, driven by text search and user reaction. Their algorithms simply don’t have many factors to look at – not compared with regular search algorithms that can consider things like the copy on a webpage and the links pointing to and from it.
Show and episode titles are of paramount importance to making podcasts findable. This means titles should match the queries people are searching for as closely as possible.
The best way to do this is to make titles accurate and literal. For example, we named our podcast “The Digital Marketing Podcast”. No prizes for guessing what it’s about.
This applies to episodes too. Give each one a title and description that clearly tells users what they will get out of listening to it.
Keyword research is essential to giving podcasts good search visibility – far more so than is currently the case with written web content. Use a keyword research tool like Google Trends, Keyword S****** or Answer The Public to find keywords relating to your content that you can use in your show title. You should generally aim to use keywords with high search volume, as these will have the highest potential visibility in podcast search results.
Not every podcast can have a literal name. Some podcasters will want to spark listeners’ imaginations with creative titles and niche references, while others will find the best keywords relating to their subject area have been taken by other podcasters. If you fall into one of these two camps, this makes it especially important for episode titles and descriptions to be accurate and optimised with an appropriate keyword (but not keyword-stuffed).
2. Ask for ratings and reviews
Reviews and ratings are another key ranking factor used in podcast search algorithms, including iTunes / apple podcasts. By increasing the quantity and improving the sentiment of a podcast’s listener reviews, its visibility in directories can be improved.
The simplest way to encourage reviews and ratings is to request them from listeners during your podcast episodes. A good place to include a callout is in the sign-off for each episode, for example:
“You’ve been listening to [PODCAST NAME].
“If you haven’t already, please give us a quick review and rating on iTunes, and don’t forget you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
“See you next week, same time, same place.”
Most listeners understand and tolerate requests like these, especially when they come at the end of an episode they have enjoyed listening to.
This is a very basic approach to requesting reviews. Some podcasters go much further, using tactics such as:
- Request reviews and ratings at both the start and the end of each episode;
- Explain the process of how to review. Some listeners might never have left a podcast review before, so spell it out step-by-step;
- Offer incentives, e.g. a free gift for the first three people to leave a review;
- Give shout outs to people who leave reviews;
- Create a short link on your own domain that redirects to the iTunes review page, e.g. www.podcastname.co/reviews
- One podcaster hilariously builds his entire show around podcast reviews of his podcast. At the point of writing this article he already has 43 episodes. Check out Podcast Reviews Reviews Podcast
No doubt these tactics will suit the listeners of some podcasts better than others, and there will always be some level of trade-off between drawing in more reviews and putting off certain listeners. If you decide to try tactics like these, it is possible to get a rough idea of their positive and negative effects by looking for spikes in new reviews and lost subscribers after the episode is released.
You can monitor reviews using a service like My Podcast Reviews, which lets users “See and share all your podcast’s reviews from every country”. If you have ever tried to monitor reviews in iTunes / apple podcasts you are most likely only seeing the reviews left in the iTunes store of the country you are in and logged into. To see reviews from other countries you have to view other stores. ( top tip – at the bottom right of your iTunes store view you should see a small round country flag – click on it to change views. That’s a lot of work to catch all of your reviews from multiple country iTunes stores which is why My Podcast Reviews service is so handy. The free version of My Podcast Reviews pulls together your 30 most recent reviews, while subscription versions of the tool ($55-$275p.a.) offer a complete archive of reviews, plus features such as review sorting and filtering.
Whether you use a free tool or a subscription-based option, monitoring will help you find out how successful your efforts to get more reviews have been. You get really handy email updates when they find new reviews of your shows which is super useful.
3. Promoting podcasts on social media
Social links build awareness, drive traffic and can boost a podcast’s visibility on normal search engines.
There are lots of ways to promote a podcast via social, including:
- Make a dedicated profile for the podcast;
- Promote the podcast via posts on a related business profile;
- Record podcast episodes on Facebook Live (not suitable for shows that generally need editing);
- Boost visibility with a sponsored post;
- Create a social media group for the podcast’s listeners/subscribers.
As reported by Music Oomph, podcast listeners are relatively likely to follow their favourite brands on social media. This suggests building a community around a podcast on social could be a fruitful option to explore.
4. Monitor episode performance in Apple Podcasts Connect
As is true of any digital marketing activity, ongoing measurement is crucial to understanding the ways in podcasts are succeeding and the things that need to be improved upon to help them grow.
Podcasts Connect is Apple’s tool for podcast creators to manage and submit their shows to iTunes. It comes with an analytics functionality, which tells you things like how many unique devices have listened to a show or episode, the average time spent listening per device, and the total amount of time people have spent listening. The data can be viewed by specific days, months, or custom date ranges going back up to 90 days.
5. Encourage listeners to subscribe
Subscribers are more valuable than one-off listeners in terms of their effect on plays, engagement, brand loyalty and podcast rankings. The more subscribers a podcast has, the better.
As is the case with reviews and ratings, the best way to encourage subscriptions is to routinely ask listeners to subscribe during your episodes. The tactics for doing this include mentioning subscriptions in your sign-off, explaining how to subscribe, and so on.
A good way to incentivise subscription is to offer subscribers early access to your episodes. Just be sure to make listeners aware you are doing this.
6. Create great content
“How to create great podcast content” is a whole subject in itself. There are lots of ways to succeed, and these may differ based on your brand, audience, subject matter and hosting style.
A good pointer for most podcasts is to take care over optimising your show notes and script, as these will define your ability to serve listeners’ interest and deliver your content well. We suggest editing your notes using SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant, a free Google Docs extension that can help optimise your content with search keywords, edit out overly complex sentences and words, and adjust ease-of-comprehension to your audience. This will help keep your content tight, topical and tailored.
Another good piece of advice is to keep your intros short. Opinions on the ideal intro length vary throughout the industry, but most podcasters seem to aim for around 30-seconds. In our experience less is more! You want enough time to get your point across and hook listeners in to the episode but spend too long doing that and you may get dropped. Keep intro music to a minimum – its rarely the reason people listen!
7. Get your show listed in as many directories as possible
One of the most popular ways people find podcasts is by searching in online directories. There are lots of these, which means podcasters will need to list their shows on multiple directories if they are to reach the widest audience they can. Specialist Podcast hosting companies will help make this easy. We use Libsyn for all our podcasts and they are excellent for making distribution a cinch, but if you want to host someplace else and put in the hard work, Here’s a list of recommended directories to upload your podcast to:
8. Make a webpage or site for the show
Some people looking for podcasts via search engines like Google or Bing will be more inclined to click through to a dedicated website than to a media player like iTunes. So, to maximise the traffic, plays and subscribers you get via organic search, you’ll need to give your show a website of its own. Most dedicated podcast hosting companies will provide you with a dedicated podcast show website.
If you already have a website for your business, you might want to incorporate your podcast as a landing page on that site. Alternatively, create a simple, dedicated website offering quick and easy access to your episodes via an embedded player which again most dedicated podcast hosting companies can provide you with. [https://www.libsyn.com/]
8. Publish regularly
By releasing podcast episodes at regular intervals – daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly at an expected time – it’s possible to make listening to the show a part of people’s routine.
This helps keep listeners loyal, and is therefore crucial to growing a podcast’s audience and profile. Regular episodes encourage habitual listening, and habitual listening makes every new listener you acquire more valuable to the growth of your podcast.
We tend to find once-per-week is the right interval to keep listeners engaged. In 2017, when we upped our episode frequency from fortnightly to weekly, our play count did this:
The price you pay for publishing more frequently is increased workload, and podcasters do need to be careful to avoid overcommitting – otherwise there’s a risk of episode production being rushed, leading to a decline in quality. That said, recording more frequently will likely help your team get better and more efficient at what they do. So, while producing more episodes means more work, it might mean improved productivity too.
10. Get influencers involved
Inviting guests to feature on your podcast can benefit both the marketing of a podcast and the podcast content itself.
The obvious marketing benefit is that featuring a guest can give the podcast visibility with that person’s audience. By interviewing authoritative people from relevant walks of life, you can expose your show to new listeners who might end up subscribing and listening regularly.
Most influencers won’t just appear on any old podcast. In fact, podcast creators should offer all the following to sweeten the deal for interviewees:
- Listenership figures (or if you don’t have many listeners yet, a projection of your future listenership based on a marketing plan for the podcast);
- The opportunity to promote new ventures in the episode, such as books, websites, blogs, their own podcast, etc.;
- A thorough brief. Knowing the bare bones of the interview in advance helps interviewees to shine;
- High production values. Make your interviews something your guests can be proud of – because not only will this reflect well on your show, it will also encourage guests to share the episode with their audience.
The key benefit you’ll gain through rolling out the red carpet for influencers is access to their audience, who may become new listeners.
Another incentive is that interviews can make for great podcast content. Some shows, such as the entrepreneurship podcast Mixergy, feature a different guest on every episode. Others, like our own Digital Marketing Podcast, have some episodes with guests and some without. In our opinion, mixing things up like this helps keep the format fresh while preserving the show’s identity.
11. Optimise your images
Podcast web page loading speed matters for listeners and search engines alike.
A relatively easy way to improve loading speed is optimising your show artwork and any images published with an episode on your website. You can start by compressing your images using Google’s free tool, Squoosh.app, which provides a real-time preview of how your chosen compression settings will affect the image you are compressing.
For much more on this topic, read our Complete Guide to Squoosh: What is it and how is it used?
12. Listen widely
Given the fact podcast search visibility is based largely on play count and listener reactions, anything that makes your podcast better could potentially improve its search rankings.
With this in mind, one of the best things you can do to get your podcast ranking higher is to take inspiration from as many quality podcasters as you can. That could mean listening to anything from the whimsical Stuff You Should Know, to the fascinating, gritty true-life stories of S-Town and Serial, to the brilliant analysis of tech developments you’ll find on Exponent.
If a podcast has earned a high profile, lots of listeners and plenty of good reviews, it probably has something to teach you.
We hope this round-up of techniques will help you to grow your audience and reach more ears across the pod-o-sphere. If you have enjoyed it, please check out our book on Podcast Marketing Strategy