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August 2, 2007

Merging Podcasting and SEO

You’ve heard about podcasting. It’s the cousin of the blog, Google and have both found ways to incorporate podcasts into their SERPs, and it’s being touted at all the search industry conferences and on the search marketing blogs as the medium to pay attention to. But what does podcasting really entail and can you really make it search engine friendly?

At its most basic core, a podcast is a blog in audio form. The difference with podcasting is that content creators are able to connect with users on a very basic level by engaging in conversations through voice. It’s real discussion captured in an audio file. The files are then uploaded onto the Web and made available through an RSS feed so that users armed with an iPod or some other media device can download it and listen to the MP3 at their leisure offline.

How Will Podcasting Help My Company?

There are plenty of reasons to experiment with podcasting as a new marketing channel for your company. It allows you to extend the reach of your brand, helps you to foster a more intimate relationship with your audience, and can increase your search engine visibility. For those Internet marketers having a difficult time connecting with or creating an emotional bond with users, podcasting could be a way to accomplish that.

Another benefit of podcasting is that it’s flexible. Unlike with blogs, search marketers aren’t forced to commit themselves to a weekly radio show in order to work podcasts into a search engine optimization campaign. Podcasts work just as well as a standalone communication as they do at fostering an ongoing conversation or dialogue. Use podcasts to generate buzz around a new product launch, for man-on-the-street interviews during trade shows, or to announce special events.

Okay, So How Do I Create a Podcast?

Just like with any other marketing technique, the first step in podcasting is to determine your objectives.

  • What do you want your podcast to accomplish?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What other podcasts is your audience listening to?
  • What styles do they prefer?
  • What format will you use?
  • Are you going to be producing a few stand alone podcasts or are you going to create a weekly or bi-weekly radio show?

Answering these questions will help you to map out what your show is going to be about and how time-intensive it’s going to be. Obviously, if you’re going to dedicate yourself to a weekly podcast you should make sure you have an abundance of material to discuss and that you’re targeting a subject you are genuinely passionate about. You can’t “fake it” in podcasting. People can hear your voice; they’ll know if you’re not being genuine. Being passionate about your topic is the only way you’ll ever be credible.

The good news for Internet marketers is that the startup costs associated with podcasting are low. All that’s needed to get started is a microphone, some voice-editing software and a site to upload your content to. During July’s WordCamp 2007, PodPress creator Dan Kuykendall commented that his entire podcasting setup cost him approximately $200 — $100 each for a microphone and a good soundcard. As for the software, both WordPress and Audacity offer free programs to help wannabe podcasters get started.

That’s not to say that podcasting is easy. As with most things, your podcast will live and die on your content. And because people can actually hear you, it’s not about just having the content; it’s also about delivering it.

If you’ve listened to a fair share of podcasts you’ve probably noticed something – most of them are terrible. This is no reflection of podcasting as a medium, it’s simply because very few people are doing podcasting correctly. Most newbie podcasters are committing one of two fatal mistakes: Either they just start rambling with no topic in mind or they’re so set on their topic that they come off robotic and kill any chance of fostering a real discussion.

You want your podcast to sound natural. It should be topic-focused but loose enough that people don’t feel like you’re reading off of a script. Keep it friendly, but do know what you’re going to say. Hesitation and long silences are killer in an auditory medium.

If you are going to make your podcasting a regular thing, try and stick to a consistent posting schedule. Let people know when they can expect new content from you. You want them to become attached.

Making Your Podcast Readily Available

Once created, you’ll have to upload your podcast to a Web in order to make it available for download. Whether you want to upload it directly onto your site or use one of the many hosting sites is your choice. We typically recommend hosting the podcast off site because if and when your podcast becomes successful (which, after all, is the point.) you’ll likely exceed your bandwidth pretty quickly. If you’re just starting out, WordPress and Audacity will both host your podcasts for free. Once you gain a bigger following, however, you may want switch over to a fee-based company.

The most important part in podcast optimization is to construct proper ID3 tags. ID3 tags hold the metadata that will appear in a user’s media player once the file is downloaded. While there are more than 35 pre-defined fields, the most essential metadata to include is the title (name of your show), the album (name of your podcast), article (name of the host), the date the show was created, the track or episode number, the genre, and comment information. There are no strict guidelines regarding what should be placed within the comment section, but it’s typically reserved for information such as your URL, a transcript, contact info or info regarding when your audience can expect your next episode.

If the idea of creating a feed sounds a bit tricky, feel free to use a feed validator tool to help you. There are plenty of hosting companies that offer full podcasting packages to help you get started. Some trusted companies are Feed For All, Jitbit, Podifier, and FeedBurner. Or, if you’re uploading your podcasts using WordPress, there’s a great podcast plug-in created by Dan Kuykendall called PodPress that makes tagging audio files completely painless.

One of the mistakes newbie podcasters make is that they promote multiple feeds for their podcast. It’s okay to have more than feed; in fact, you’ll probably need more than one feed, but you should only be promoting one. It’s confusing for users when your content is out there all over the place. Promoting only one feed makes it easy for users and the search engines to locate your content.

Podcasts Should Be Keyword-Rich

When you’re optimizing your podcasts remember that just like when optimizing a Web page, you never want to miss a chance to use keywords when appropriate. The success of your podcast will be directly tied to how “findable” it is.

  • File Names: Your file names should be optimized using a date + truncated episode title format. For example, if the title of your July 31, 2007 podcast is “Lessons in Podcasting”, you may want to name it something like “lsnspdcsting73107.mp3”.
  • Podcast Titles: Research what terms users are most likely to query when searching for the subject matter discussed in your content. Use relevant keywords and phrases whenever possible.
  • Create podcast transcripts: Creating a transcript of your podcast gives you a valuable opportunity to add more keyword-rich content to your site. This will help your site to be seen as a subject matter expert on that topic, and it will also aid users in finding your podcast.
  • Create Unique Landing Pages: When you’re creating a podcast as part of a regular show, we typically recommend creating separate landing pages both for the show itself and each episode. Using distinct landing pages does several things. It helps limit the amount of broken links, it allows your main landing page to act as a site map for all of your podcasts, and it gives you more room to use important keywords to describe the content of your podcast. The more keyword-rich content you use, the easier it will be for users and the search engines to find you.

Another landing page tip: Make subscription info easy to find and include an online media player for the users who prefer to listen to your podcasts straight from your site.

The last part of podcast optimization is promotion. Podcasts are valuable resources so don’t be afraid to tell those in your community and influential niche bloggers what you’re doing. Use your own company Web site or blog to promote your podcasting efforts, and submit your feed to the various podcasting directories out there, such as, FeedBurner, Podcast Alley, Yahoo! Podcast and others. If you’re using a podcasting hosting service, many times they’ll automatically submit your podcast for you so make sure you check to see what your package includes.

Podcasts have received a lot of attention because they’re low cost to set up and they’re easily indexed by the search engines. But they won’t be indexed if you’re not optimizing them correctly. As ever, it is worth the time to do it right.

Author:  Lisa Barone is a Sr. Writer at Bruce Clay Inc.