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Search Engine Optimization for Podcasts

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Podcasting is comparatively new, though there are already numerous podcast search engines and it's important to optimize your audio files if you want listeners to find your spoken content.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, December 5-8, 2005, Chicago, IL.

Podcasting—recording an audio or video file and uploading it to the web so that users with iPods or other media players can download the content—is a hot subject. Panelists on this session focused on how best to prepare and optimize podcasts for search engines.

Podcasting and search

"Podcasting is an interesting challenge from a search standpoint," said Joe Hayashi, Senior Director of Product Management at Yahoo "It is not only audio, it's also video. It's also a subset of audio—it is meant to be consumed in a particular way. Podcasts are a subset of multimedia, and the techniques to really find a podcast need to scale across multiple domains."

In some ways, podcast search engines are similar to traditional search engines except that podcast search engines crawl the Web constantly for rich media files. "If we come across things like podcasts or any other audio or video file," said Suranga Chandratillake, Co-Founder and CTO of Blinkx, "we ingest those into our index and allow people for people to search for that content on either our own site or thru various syndication partners."

"Most people are still wondering what a podcast is and have trouble not only finding it," he said. "So we put a lot of energy into not only the search (finding) aspects but the consumption aspects as well. We have done a variety of things—search, editorial, a browsing system and a tagging system for podcasting."

"We're really leveraging the community out there to provide great content to people," Hayashi continued. "We provide a lot of community tools: a tagging system, a ratings and review system—this lets us discover high quality content. The tagging system also influences search results."

Metadata and podcasts

In the past, many multimedia search engines relied heavily on metadata to determine relevancy. Now these search engines are able to utilize speech recognition to determine the content of an audio file.

"Podscope is the first podcast search engine that actually looks for and listens to every spoken word in a podcast," said David Ives, President and CEO of TVEyes. "We believe that speech recognition and actually cracking open the audio file is essential for finding relevant podcasters. We have a solution called 'pinpoint audio' which enables us to play an audio snippet to determine the relevancy of that term within a podcast."

"Metadata alone is not a sufficient indexing criteria to find relevant podcasts," he said.

"I also agree that just metadata is not enough, said Chandratillake. "The average podcast today, which is about 15-20 minutes long, only has 25-30 words describing it. There is no way that short description contains everything that is in the 'meat' of podcast. That is also why we use speech recognition to understand more completely what its about."

Podcast optimization tips and guidelines

Speakers offered the following tips and guidelines for optimizing podcasts:

  • Promote only one feed. "Many podcasters create a podcast, then move over to a different content management system, promote a new RSS feed, and wind up with all of these different feeds out there for every podcast," said Dick Costolo, CEO of Feedburner. "You want your content to be easily discovered. Promoting one feed makes it easy for search engines to know where your content is."
  • Optimize the audio file. A lot of people listen to a podcast on their computer as well as MP3 players.
  • Close the findability gap. "Optimize a landing page for each episode of your show, as well as your category page," said Amanda Watlington, owner of Searching for Profit. "Provide subscription information on the landing pages that's very visible."
  • Build correct and valid feeds. "Validate your feeds with feed validator tools," said Watlington. "Remember that iTunes does not redistribute. So you must build a separate feed for iTunes. I like to promote doing 3 separate feeds: a 2.0 feed, a media feed, and an iTunes feed."
  • Include a transcript or summary. Whether or not it is a transcript or a summary will depend on the podcast's time span. "If you're giving just a little short tip, that's one thing," said Watlington. "Typically, a summary is all you need for your landing page, a nicely optimized page that covers the podcast's high points."

For marketers, more of your focus needs to be on the development and findability side, not gadget seduction. "Nobody is going to listen to the podcast no matter how elegant it may seem," Watlington concluded. "Focus on findability, focus on quality content and engaging the user. Focus on something people will want to listen to."

Grant Crowell is the CEO and Creative Director of Grantastic Designs, Inc., a full-service search engine marketing, Web site design, and usability firm.

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