2019 was the year Google made two serious updates to its search engine: adding playable episodes in search results alongside the usual sites, images, and news, and implementing BERT that will affect about 10% of search queries with its focus on a better understanding of natural language/conversational queries.
Both are a big deal and in this post, I’ll focus on the former and the effect of audio SEO for now (with me hosting a podcast and all that - makes sense, right?).
First off - why should you care? After all, Google showed podcasts in its results before.
The key difference here is the word playable. Users are now shown results based on the content within an actual podcast episode, as opposed to displaying results based just on the title or metadata which was previously the case. Hence, now would be the right time to start thinking about audio and podcasts in your overall SEO strategy.
How it works
The background process is based on Google’s understanding of what is being talked about on a podcast, which means audio SEO is important and will grow in importance over time. I think we can all agree that if there’s one company that can make sense of countless hours of audio content and come up with relevant data, it’s Google.
Here’s how the search looks like:
The top carousel features the podcasts in the respective category/series, with each tab opening a new search for that particular podcast. There is also a dedicated ‘Podcasts’ carousel, which features playable episodes straight from the search and seems to be based on a number of things: podcast title and description, episode title, and content of the episode.
The system isn’t perfect: right now, the term “podcast” is pretty much mandatory in the search in order to see the results for episodes. However, Google will soon expand on this and create a more intuitive search experience.
Factors that boost audio SEO
Audio SEO is at its super-early stages but there are some indicators that seem to be affecting the ranking:
- Quantity - more episodes means more chances for a top place in search results.
- Length of episodes - shorter episodes are better as they can ramp up the quantity more easily, plus they’re arguably the quicker route to an answer from a listener’s perspective.
- Quality of recording - because Google is leveraging its speech recognition system to transcribe content, clean and quality audio is a must for successful transcription.
- Keyword-optimized titles - basic SEO will always be necessary, particularly in cases where you want your episode title and description to match queries with a high search volume.
- Famous guests - having a top performer in its respective industry or a bonafide celebrity as a guest is going to help rank higher because people are like that.
The advent of audio SEO and podcast-oriented search tweaks means there is less real estate for those blue links we’re all so accustomed to. With a little bit of effort, these tactics can help you raise your podcasting to another level and grow your podcast in popularity. Make no mistake - it’s a demanding, time-consuming effort (speaking from experience here) but it will be worth the investment.
The most important thing to remember here is that regardless of the changes Google implements to its algorithm, make the show for the listener. Don’t fall into the trap of optimizing for a web-crawler. Stop what you’re doing for a second and look back on how podcasts exploded despite various discoverability problems and competition from social media, video, blogging, and the likes. Nothing beats quality content.