Preparation was the name of the game at today's Search Engine Strategies Chicago “Podcast & Audio Search” session presented by Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit and Daron Babin of Webmaster Radio, and moderated by Danny Sullivan. The importance of preparing your show's structure, establishing your software, your production process (whether or not that will involve a production studio), your broadcast frequency, and how the whole idea of this marketing tactic fits into your overall search marketing and brand marketing strategies.
Amanda's presentation focused on the rundown on how to establish yourself as a podcaster if it's the right direction for your overall online marketing efforts.
She broke down the benefits of podcasting from the perspective of the marketing strategies for brand marketers and search marketers. Brand marketers can make use of the direct communication channel it creates to the consumer, the engagement through emotional connection, for search marketers, it's another (very optimizable) channel through which you can gain a larger presence in the search engines, and, physically speaking, more real estate on search results within the new universal search formats.
They're easily indexed by engines, but there are difficulties measuring effectiveness. It augments your site content, but you have less control over ownership as it can find a home all across the web. This makes it important, Danny noted, to orient your listeners to who you are, whom you're speaking for, and what your show is about (be sure to brand your ‘cast!).
Don't jump right in, though, says Amanda. It's important to ask yourself, before you get started, what strategy fits your ability to fulfill a schedule or, in a more general sense, to match with your image. Will your podcast be an occasion-based one-off? Will you have a series? It's important to make a commitment to your model and to openly frame your ‘cast by that strategy. Some important tips about thinking ahead to position your show: research your name and establish it; distinguish between your episodes and be sure you know what your keywords are in your space for optimization of your tags and, if you decide to abstract rather than publish a transcript, the abstract description. Develop a long-range strategy for how audio fits with marketing and search efforts, and the whole process will fit more easily with your overall SEM and SEO efforts.
She laid out a 4-step piece in a comprehensive podcasting strategy: optimization of the sound file and the id3 tags, optimization of the web page, creation and validation of feeds, and the submission and monitoring of your distribution on the back end.
I'll just give a brief run-down of some of her best tips on podcast optimization and relevant site optimization, as the creation/validation and submission/monitoring processes really work best with the sorts of graphical aids she had on screen (Mike Yanke runs through the list with a little more detail):
From a top-line perspective of audio file optimization (though Amanda recommends going into depth in your use of tags, such as capitalizing on the embedded files tag), the most important aspects are the usual suspects like assigning your title, artist, track name, etc., and optimize these to the extent that is feasible (“pdkstmktg03243” could read “podcast-marketing-03243”). Beyond the file itself, however, the on-page optimization for your site's listing of the episodes is very important—some tactics include creating optimized landing pages for each episode, a full directory page with appropriate anchor text linking to your episodes' pages, and providing some kind of abstract or transcript can be effective ways of optimizing the landing pages for the engines (transcription services are the best route unless you've got more time than you know what to do with).
Daron went more into the makeup of the podcasting medium and a few broadcasting strategies, but he agreed strongly with Amanda about planning ahead for your podcast strategy: he advised to take every aspect seriously, such as not going with any free podcast hosting services. Make sure you've got a hosting deal set up, because if you mean to distribute the content efficiently to an engaged audience, you can't have sluggish downloads or hiccups in service. “All it takes is one blogger, just one [linking in to you], and they'll melt your account” on your server. Both Darren and Amanda were strongly in favor of preparing for this “worst-case” scenario by reserving extra bandwidth, either on an external host or through some deal with your current provider.
He reinforced the importance of traditional on-page SEO for your podcast, but with new twists unique to the podcast medium, such as optimizing for podcast directories, especially iTunes. In iTunes, there are ways to control how your podcast is presented in the store: for starters, use the iTunes store links to promote the feed through iTunes on your page—iTunes appreciates the linkback and the traffic, and this can help your podcast's rankings in the store. For the wider selection of podcasting directories, be sure to optimize (with applicable terms!) your feed description—and, of course, subsequently your episode titles & tags etc.—in whatever you've chosen as its primary home. This will help listeners find your feed more readily.
As far as targeting your podcast to an audience, you should be very much aware of who the people you're reaching out to are: podcasting is extremely vertically-oriented, so you can really use this as a channel to define your company in your market, but you need to remain aware of who the people in your market are. So of course you want to develop your presence and image online, but does this actually help you? Of course, this means that the people who are listening to your feed are likely to be very much engaged with the topics you're addressing; so be careful what you say—if you have enough content out there and you start to rank, you want only what you want people to hear and see to be available on this channel that can allow you so much control over your image, but none over where that image will crop up.
Daron also put a lot of emphasis on measurement and both he and Amanda talked about stragegies for controlling costs in order to make this as viable a medium for building brand-awareness as possible. Towards the end of his presentation, Daron touched on the uses of statistics, not just as a bean-counting of listenership size and engagement, but as a tool for knowing, podcast to podcast, which had the most appeal to the engines by virtue of optimization and then, when these optimized podcasts landed in front of the eyes of a web searcher or subscriber, which of them invited the most listener engagement—this is a great tactic we've seen success with ourselves, and it can tell you a lot about the matchup between 1)the content you're pushing, 2)the optimized terms in your space, and 3)the mindset of your potential audience.