The Podcast Visibility Optimization Stack

The Podcast Visibility Optimization Stack is a cheat sheet for podcast producers and marketers wanting to understand better the levers they can pull to improve the visibility of their audio content on the podcast platforms (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts….etc.)

PVO (Podcast Visibility Optimization) has plenty of similarities with both SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and ASO (App Store Optimization) but is a different science due to the nature of podcasting.

By simplifying PVO to “SEO for podcasts”, the danger is to be focusing mostly on keyword optimization. Successful podcast marketers have realized that the conversion rate (from seeing the podcast to starting to listen) is just as important.

When considering PVO holistically, one needs to think about it as a complex and interconnected system of anything that might influence its two main goals: increasing visibility and increasing conversion. For example, ratings & reviews impact the conversion as well as the ability for a show to rank high for certain keywords.

This article details the various elements of the Podcast Visibility Optimization Stack and shares examples of tactics to leverage.

1. Increase the visibility of your Podcast

The first goal of PVO is to increase your podcast visibility, as its name indicates. For this podcast publishers need to get in front of listeners on their favorite listening apps (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts…etc.). Users could be searching for something specific or simply browsing the app, trying to discover new content. There are various levers to achieve this.

Show/Episode Assets and Keyword Optimization

The number one way for podcast listeners to discover new content is by going straight to the search bar of their listening app. This a behavior inherited from the web and mobile worlds where half the websites or mobile apps are discovered this way. Listeners could be searching for generic keywords (“meditation”), sometimes with typos (“meditaiton”) or branded ones (“New York Times”). What podcast producers need to keep in mind is that search is at the bottom of the conversion funnel: users want something and know what they are looking for.

The goal with PVO is ultimately to attract new listeners that will then be retained. One of the main levers and a massively untackled opportunity by podcast publishers is keyword optimization.

This is a great source of listeners – provided publishers target and rank for keywords relevant to their content – as keyword optimization will put their show and/or certain episodes in front of users with specific intents. Therefore, the goal is for a podcast to rank as high as possible on keywords with high search volume that are relevant to the podcast.

While a search query on the web interface of Google shows 10 results on its first page, podcasts apps tend to show less, and Spotify even mixes podcasts with playlists. Therefore producers should focus on getting their content ranked in the top 3 positions. To achieve this, they should:

1 -Identify the high volume and relevant keywords and search terms that users would type in their apps’ search bar. Ideally, they also want to identify those with a low level of competition.

2 -Integrate those keywords in the assets of the podcast: show name, artist name, short and long descriptions, episode title, and episode description.  The presence of a given keyword in those different places doesn’t have the same weight. A keyword in the show title has obviously more weight than in the long description.

3- Analyze the impact of the changes and iterate. Keyword optimization is a continuous process. To continuously rank high on important keywords, you need to keep optimizing as search trends, the Apple, Spotify, or other platforms’ ranking algorithm, keep evolving. Not to mention that competition may also be trying to get that first spot on that lucrative keyword.

Let’s look into how to do this with Voxalyze with a Podcast called “Planet Money” done by NPR.

The show ranks on the top position for the keywords “yield curve, “share exchange”, and “recession”. However, not all those keywords have the same search volume: “share exchange” is less looked after by listeners.

When browsing through the list of keywords, it appears that there are great opportunities with keywords having a high search volume and where the show is ranked at very decent positions. For example “money” on position #3, or “business” on position #4.

So a possible strategy for NPR could be to improve the show’s ranking for those two keywords by adding them in the show title and description. The show “Planet Money” could be changed to “Planet Money – your daily intake of money and business news”. Likewise, the terms “money” and “business” do not appear in the current description. By adding them, it would improve the show’s ranking on those keywords.

The same tactics could also apply to episodes. Too often, publishers write the title of a given episode like “Episode 56 – Interview of  John Smith”, while it would really benefit their visibility to have “How to launch a successful software business with John Smith – Ep. 56”

Publishers need to keep in mind that the keywords they want to rank high for should be aligned with the show’s content. There is no point for a show to optimize ranking high on “business” if the show has nothing to do with business.

Ratings & Reviews

Ratings & reviews play a role both in increasing visibility and increasing conversion for your podcast. Let’s cover here the visibility part. If we disregard the fact that the platforms use reviews as a source of metadata for their search algorithms (minor impact), reviews are mostly used as a proxy for podcast quality.

In the web and SEO world, the number and quantities of backlinks to a given website indicate to Google the “quality” of this website. Therefore, generating quality backlinks is one of the main pillars of SEO agencies when boosting the visibility of a website.

There are no backlinks in the podcast world, but the Apple Podcasts or Spotify search algorithm requires data on the perceived quality of a podcast. Two factors are therefore taken into account:

  1. The volume and velocity of downloads or listens as well as retention metrics such as followers. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough as it disqualifies seasonal shows (Halloween stories, for example) as shows not publishing episodes regularly.
  2. The algorithms, therefore, uses ratings & reviews as a proxy for podcast quality. So, the better the ratings and the higher the number of reviews, the more visible your skill will be.

That’s why podcast hosts commonly ask their listeners to leave a review on their preferred listening app. Note, however, that not all platforms let users leave reviews. Spotify is a good example.

Features & Charts

That’s every podcast publisher’s dream: getting featured, be it in the “new and noteworthy” or the top banner in a listening app. There are basically two levers to pull to achieve this – provided, of course, that your podcast is of high quality:

  1. Great traction. The platforms’ algorithms to be shortlisted are still relatively unclear, but the metrics that matter for sure are around the velocity of download/listen, follower growth, 5-star ratings, and reviews.
  2. Relationship. Once shortlisted, it is ultimately up to the representatives of the platforms (Apple Podcasts, Spotify…etc.) to pick the podcasts that will be put forward. Identifying those representatives and starting building relationships is a must.

While Voxalyze and this framework will help you with the first point, you will have to invest time building the necessary relationships.

Platform Distribution

Some producers published their podcasts on Apple and not on Spotify, and some others on Spotify but not Apple. This is hard to understand. Why not add the RSS feed to Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Deezer. Sticher, Pocket Casts….etc. Users are unlikely to switch platforms only because of a single piece of content. Publishers should go where their users are….and they could be anywhere. Podcast publishers should invest the minimal time it takes to make sure their podcast is available to whoever wants to listen to it.

On top of this, but with a lesser impact, there are plenty of curation platforms out there that…well, curate podcasts for you. Depending on the content of your show and its audience (broad vs. niche), it could make sense to explore those as well.

2. Increase the conversion of your Podcast

Increasing the conversion of a podcast increases the rate at which people who discover the podcast on their listening app convert into download/listen.  It requires a mix of creativity and science. To be successful at PVO, podcast producers need to increase their podcast visibility and conversion. To take a financial analogy, visibility is revenue, and conversion is the gross margin percentage; improvement of both is needed to have a massive impact on your bottom line (listen).

Show & Episode Assets

Once a podcast gets suggested by the platform search algorithm, the user can access limited information on the content: show name, publisher, episode name. It is important to make those as compelling attractive as possible to entice users to download or start listening.

Putting forward the value the listeners could get is a commonly applied tactic with episode titles such as “learn how to grow from 0 to 10’000 listeners for your podcast in 3 months”. At Voxalyze, we have also seen titles and descriptions similar to the classical clickbaits the web and social media offer.

Ratings & Reviews

Ratings & reviews play a role in increasing the visibility of your podcast and increasing the conversion to enablement. Apart from an increase in visibility, the number of reviews and skill ratings significantly impact conversion. Apple Podcasts, like most platforms, lets users give a 1-5 stars rating for any given podcast. The process of leaving a review is however cumbersome, and not many users will go that far.

Positive ratings and great reviews are part of a virtuous circle: the more positive ratings you get, the more visibility our podcast gets (see above), the more conversion, and ultimately the more users….who then generate more positive ratings.

Several studies in the mobile ecosystem have shown the importance of ratings, and so far, there is no reason to believe that this is different for podcasts. Below is one from Apptentive – a mobile customer experience solution – where the numbers speak for themselves.

Podcast producers should definitely have a plan to collect ratings and reviews. In the mobile apps world, publishers could trigger app reviews at a specific time, typically when users are enjoying the experience. Podcasts don’t allow this level of sophistication, but podcast hosts tend to ask for review favors at specific times.

Cover Art

The covert art – or icon to use a mobile analogy – of a podcast is the first thing users will see when searching for a given topic. This makes it a key element to optimize for. The screenshot below was taken a few years back at a conference on mobile apps. It shows how much of an impact changing an icon could have. 

When searching for specific content, users scan the Apple Podcasts or Spotify app to determine what they want to listen to next. The publisher’s goal is to stand out and provide clarity: users should be able to tell what the podcast is about by just looking at the cover art. Therefore, putting real efforts into cover art is important as it will help the users find one’s show quickly rather than listen to what someone else has to say. There is no need to overthink podcast branding though and simply follow those common tips should suffice:

  • Make the icon clear and simple
  • Stick to brand guidelines (if any)
  • Add borders to the icon.
  • Use limited text without crazy spellings
  • Check the colors used for the industry or space your show is in
  • Consider the background colors the cover art will be displayed against (dark for Spotify, white for Apple Podcasts)

For those wanting to dig deeper, there are plenty of blog articles on creating great mobile app icons and most of the learnings in those articles do apply to podcasts. However, contrary to mobile apps, one should keep in mind that A/B testing of cover arts within the platforms isn’t possible, so publishers may end up optimizing with limited data points.

Episode Length & Size

Podcast files have a tendency to become larger due to longer episodes and a better quality sound. This is a problem for users with both limited phone storage space and limited download bandwidth. In fact, just like with mobile app size, podcast size is a factor affecting conversion rates for the majority of people.

Also, aside from space/bandwidth issues, the podcast length has also a psychological impact on users. Those, when discovering your podcast after a search query, may not be ready yet to listen to a 60 minutes episode. Even if users could drop out at any time, it feels like a long commitment, especially at a time where attention span is constantly decreasing.

So when producing and editing your podcast, publishers should consider options such as 1×60 minutes, 2×30 minutes, 3×20 minutes, 4×15 minutes, the full (long version) next to a “best of” or “summary” version…etc. This will impact the conversion rate.

3. Black Hat Optimization

Black hat PVO, just like black hat SEO, is a practice aiming at increasing the visibility of a podcast (ranking higher in search results), which is against the platforms’ guidelines. The problem is that the platforms have different guidelines and that those are kept necessarily vague as the technology and ecosystem evolve. It is therefore not easy to know when crossing the line. What is clearly within the guidelines is named white hat, what is clearly against black hat, and the big blurry space in between grey hat. Some of the tactics we are aware of in the podcast world are:

  • Incentivized or paid reviews & ratings – Black
  • Own reviews & ratings – Light grey – almost everyone does it!
  • Negative reviews on competition – Dark grey
  • Bot download or streaming – Black
  • Keyword stuffing – Grey
  • Using fake brand names – Black

A click farm generating fake downloads, listens, or ratings.

There are surely some more, and new hacks will appear at some point. For those needing guidance, the common practice is to stay within the white and light grey areas while keeping an eye on what is happening on the dark side.

4. Podcast Visibility Optimization Tools

Like every optimization process, PVO requires data points that can be tedious or even impossible to gather alone. To successfully increase the audience of a podcast, a publisher would need the followings:

  • Keyword rank tracking: know for which keyword, a podcast ranks, and at which position
  • Keyword research: uncover keywords opportunities
  • Ratings & Reviews tracking: see how ratings evolve
  • Competitive Intelligence: be able to check the competition

Providing audio creators with the data, insights, and tools they need to increase their audience is the reason why we created Voxalyze. So why don’t you start your free trial today and start boosting your audience?

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