Author: Mordy Oberstein
Audio content, such as a podcast, is more popular than it has ever been, with some estimates showing a 45% increase in its popularity since 2014. This means that podcasts may play an increasingly important role in all facets of a business’s growth trajectory, from branding down to acquisition. The importance of strong visibility on podcast platforms, such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify, goes without saying. However, one channel that may fly a bit under the radar when thinking about acquiring visibility and listeners is Google Search.
Your podcast appearing prominently on Google’s result pages is powerful for both brand awareness and building a listenership. The problem is, the process to grow your podcast’s organic visibility on Google is somewhat elusive.
That’s why, with the help of some of the SEO industry’s foremost experts, we’re going to explore “Podcast SEO” in a way that it hasn’t been explored before.
Table of contents:
Podcasts on the SERP: An overview
Part of the complexity around podcast SEO hinges on the ecosystem Google created for podcast results. Before we take a closer look at that ecosystem, though, let’s first establish that the demand for podcast SEO exists. That is, are people going to the Google search engine results page (SERP) to find podcasts?
The short answer is, yes.
The demand for podcast SEO
According to Semrush, over 71K people search for best podcasts on Google each month:
If we break that search volume down (because, unless your podcast is one of the best in the world, this query may not be applicable to you), we start seeing between 2-3K monthly queries for popular categorical podcast searches. For example, best sports podcasts has a monthly search volume of 2.9K:
The search volume numbers are still solid (all other considerations being equal) even when you go a bit niche. The keyword best seo podcasts has a monthly search volume of nearly 1K (globally):
For the record, I’m trying to be conservative here by using a keyword with a high intent to listen (i.e., best X podcast).
If we broaden the terms, there are even more searches: the search volume more than doubles when we look at the keyword seo podcasts (without the term “best”):
I think it’s clear—there are a good amount of people looking to find podcasts on Google. So, if you have a podcast, it likely makes a lot of sense to optimize it for search.
How Google shows podcasts on the SERP
As I mentioned, the ecosystem for podcasts on the SERP is unique. The bulk of the issue with podcasts has to do with how Google displays them (well, also the type of organic results shown, but I’ll get to that in a bit).
Take the keyword seo learning podcast. We get an initial set of nine podcasts with their thumbnails and titles. We also get a secondary carousel of podcasts that generally appears below the initial organic result. This carousel (as opposed to the larger “Podcast series” carousel) is episodic—it presents links to specific episodes, not to the podcast as a whole.
It’s because of this that IPullRank’s Garrett Sussman, host of the Rankable Podcast, advises focusing on achieving visibility within the larger, more prominent carousel. “What’s the best way for your audience to discover your podcast on Google?” Sussman said, “You need to appear above the fold for someone who’s searching for podcasts in your industry, category, or topic.”
Should you click on a podcast within the top set of thumbnails, the result expands to present a carousel of content from across the web that features or mentions the selected media asset (as shown below).
At the bottom of the initial set of listings, you can expand the box to reveal additional podcasts (in our case here, there is only one additional podcast, but generally there can be up to 42 more podcasts shown once the box is expanded).
Let’s return to our keyword of seo learning podcasts, which I chose to highlight the episode carousel.
Do you notice anything funny about the results in the carousel?
All of them contain the keyword learn.
As it currently stands, there is a bit of a gap in how Google shows results in the episodic podcast carousel: there is an overemphasis on keywords. Just look at the first three initial results in the episodic carousel for the keyword best seo podcast:
Does this mean that you should add “best” to the name of your podcast and beyond? In my opinion, no. Podcasts are one of those assets that speak heavily to brand perception. Adding modifiers such as “best” or “top” may not speak to your audience and may ultimately present your brand as being a tad immature or arrogant. Speak to what resonates with your users first and foremost (but hey, if it does work for your branding, just know it also tends to work on podcast SERPs… for now).
For the record, the nuance of keywords doesn’t just apply to the episodic podcast carousel. Simple and small changes to the keyword can have a big impact on what podcasts do and do not appear in the top podcast listings.
Even a simple insertion of an “s” to the query (as in podcasts vs. podcast) can make a difference. In the example below, you’ll notice that two of the podcasts shown in the initial podcast carousel for nfl podcast do not appear for the query nfl podcasts (and vice versa):
Lastly, there are the standard organic listings. The organic results on podcast SERPs are a prime example of the intricacy of dealing with SEO for a podcast. This complexity predominantly occurs due to the fact that not many actual podcasts rank among the top organic results.
Below are the results for the query history podcasts:
There is only a single result that represents an actual podcast, the rest of the traditional results are listicles. Keep in mind I specifically did not search for best history podcasts as that would perhaps overemphasize an intent to get a list of podcasts. Still, nine out of ten of the initial organic results (i.e., the text results) are listicles.
This is indeed a hard environment to navigate. Which leads us to our main topic—how do you give your podcast some organic visibility on the SERP?
How do you get a podcast to rank on Google?
I don’t have any magic answers here. A lot of what I’m about to share comes from my experience working with multiple podcasts, including the SERP’s Up Podcast, The SEO Rant, Edge of the Web, and others.
Along the way, I’ve experimented and learned a few lessons (many the hard way) but I don’t have a 100% foolproof guide to ranking your podcast on Google. I think this is one of those emerging areas where no individual person has all the answers, which is why—throughout this post—I’ll be referencing some brilliant SEO minds who were kind enough to share their wisdom about how they approach SEO for their own podcasts.
Foundational optimization matters more for podcasts
Podcasts, categorically, might not be a niche where Google flexes all of its advanced algorithmic muscle. As mentioned above, Google seems to heavily rely on keyword placement for appearance in the podcast episodes carousel. This seemingly reflects what would be a far more linear approach than we might see Google take in other areas of the web, such as those queries that reflect YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) content.
This is why what I’ll call “foundational optimization” matters more for podcast visibility than perhaps with other niches. To that end, there is an overwhelming amount of consensus from SEOs who run podcasts about handling these foundational SEO tasks.
Optimize podcast title and description for SERP visibility
Kate Toon, host of The Recipe For SEO Success Show, urges podcast creators to pay close attention to their show titles: “Just as with getting your podcast ranking on iTunes, I’d argue that the podcast title and description are the most important elements. Choose a podcast name that incorporates your primary keyword and clearly tells listeners what they’re going to get.”
This is a sentiment shared by Sarah McDowell, the host of the SEO Mindset Podcast and SEO manager at podcast hosting company Captivate, when thinking about Google’s top-of-the-SERP podcast gallery. “To optimize for the grid at the top, it seems Google is showing podcasts which include keywords and/or synonyms in the podcast title and overall show description,” she said.
That’s something I’ve definitely seen from experience.
When SERP’s Up initially launched, we opted to leave “SEO Podcast” off the title as we liked the shortened version for branding purposes. At the same time, we kept a close eye on how the podcast performed organically, specifically within the top podcast box. After some time, we weren’t happy with the podcast’s consistency in the search feature and changed the name on the podcast’s RSS feed to the “SERP’s Up SEO Podcast,” upon which we almost immediately began seeing consistent placement in the podcast box (an experience I’ve had when working with previous podcasts as well, meaning this was not a one-off).
Note: Platform-specific algorithms such as those employed by Spotify, etc., are not very complex either, and adding on some keywords to the branded title of the show will generally help here as well.
When it comes to specific episodes, sometimes the titles can get lengthy. In such cases, you may have to forgo certain elements—one of which, as Kate Toon says, should be the episode number.
“For episode titles, forgo adding ‘Episode 17,’ etc., at the start. Instead, front load the episode title with a searchable term, sometimes that may be the [episode guest’s name] if it’s someone famous.” — Kate Toon, host of The Recipe For SEO Success Show podcast
This applies equally to both the podcast’s main and episodic descriptions. Here too, due to the nature of how Google seems to function in the space, being strategic about keyword placement comes into focus.
As Azeem, host of the Azeem Digital Asks podcast puts it, “One piece of advice that’s helped me rank higher is to use specific keywords in the description that a potential user might search. It’s not a coincidence that the last three words of my own show title end with ‘digital marketing podcast.’”
That doesn’t mean you should stuff whatever you would like into a show’s (or episode’s) description. “Similarly, when it comes to episode descriptions, one thing I see lots of other podcasts do is repeat the episode title and write lots of nonsense that listeners won’t read,” Azeem said, adding, “Get to the point quickly and you’ll be rewarded.”
Though it may sound basic, don’t shy away from throwing words like “podcast” or “episode” into the description in a natural way.
The SEO value of podcast transcriptions
“In recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about if, and how, Google indexes the spoken words in audio content,” said Jack Chambers-Ward of Candour Agency and host of the Search With Candour podcast, adding, “In short, having a transcript helps search engines understand the specific content of your podcast episode.”
“Don’t get me wrong, just like with on-page SEO, the episode title and description are still key elements for your podcast. However, by using some on-page SEO techniques and accompanying your audio with text [transcripts], you can make your episode pages far more discoverable.” — Jack Chambers-Ward, host of the Search With Candour podcast
This uncertainty about if, and how, Google auto-transcribes podcasts definitely brings the value of an accurate podcast transcript into SEO focus. McDowell puts it well, saying, “Whilst Google is indexing podcasts, they are taking information which they can find on the page, to my knowledge (and I did have a conversation with [Google’s] John Mueller at BrightonSEO) they aren’t transcribing audio, so this is where transcriptions come in handy.” (For the record, there is a lot of confusion here as reports around Google auto-transcribing podcasts surfaced back in 2019. However, since then there has been no further official indication nor discussion as to whether Google is transcribing podcast episodes.)
Let’s also remember transcripts are very important for accessibility. “I’d also highly recommend publishing a transcript of your episode, not only is it more content for Google to chew through, but it really helps listeners (who don’t have your language as their first language) deal with difficult accents and also is great for those that prefer to read rather than listen,” Toon said.
This, to me, is the lynchpin: It’s possible to write an episode summary in order to satisfy both Google and users looking to get the gist of what an episode is about. The truth is, I do this on a very informal podcast I host called the SEO Rant. It’s very much a fun little thing I do on the side and I don’t necessarily have time to edit an entire transcript (my experience has been that doing a proper transcription takes more time and effort than you may think). Instead, I opt for a relatively decent-sized episode summary.
In fact, you could argue that going with an episode summary is a better idea than a transcript from an SEO point of view as it allows for more flexibility with content structure and is far more aligned with how written content is generally formatted (without any sort of textual fillers that are inherent to transcripts).
However, even if a podcast episode contained a prolific synopsis section, users with auditory impairments, for example, would not be as completely served unless a transcript was also included.
That’s why you should still ensure that your transcripts are both accurate and without unnecessary fillers (such as “ums,” or verbal stuttering that your software may transcribe). Further, it is entirely possible to format the transcript with appropriate headers so that it is both more interpretable to users and search engines.
Due to the often unstructured nature of certain podcast formats, I recommend you “zoom out” when thinking about a header for a section of your transcript. From experience, I can tell you it’s not always possible to cleanly summarize an entire section of a podcast under a header. Either take the main crux of the section and use that to determine the accompanying header or, as I said, zoom out and find a common thematic thread that unites the section.
In any case, understand that a transcript is not simply about automating the conversion of audio to text, but requires real human input and action to make it actually valuable for your audience.
The podcast’s web page matters
Let’s not forget one thing: we’re talking about Google here and Google deals with webpages. Yes, we’re dealing specifically with podcasts and podcasts are hosted on a platform and then shared via RSS feed. However, everything with Google is semantic and that applies to your podcast. Giving your podcast a website is a must. That’s actually not hyperbole—in 2021, Google began requiring podcasts to have an associated homepage to be eligible to appear as a recommendation within Google Podcasts. In fact, Google explicitly said:
“Linking your podcast to a homepage will help the discovery and presentation of your podcast on Google surfaces.” — Google, 2021
Does that mean you can have a homepage for the podcast with essentially no content on it? I think not—what is on that homepage matters. The site you create for the podcast and the content you put on it—particularly on the homepage—matters. It can greatly impact how visible the podcast is on the SERP.
For instance, shortly after creating these guidelines, SEOs began to notice that knowledge panels for podcasts were appearing on the SERP.
While correlation doesn’t equal causation, the logic does add up: In order to be present in Google’s knowledge graph, Google needs context for the entity and a significant part of that is the entity’s actual website. Add in that the knowledge panels began appearing shortly after Google updated its aforementioned guidelines, along with the fact that the company explicitly stated that the guidelines impact “presentation of your podcast on Google surfaces,” and there’s a solid case to tie podcast knowledge panel appearance to podcast websites.
I’ve personally seen the impact of updating the podcast's website long before Google officially updated its guidelines. Since October 2018, when I founded the In Search SEO Podcast with Rank Ranger, I added the podcast homepage to the RSS feed. Two (or so) months after launching the podcast, I finally got around to optimizing the page, which was relatively thin up until that point.
After that, the page began to slowly but steadily increase in the rankings for keywords like seo podcast.
Concurrently, when the episodic podcast carousel was added to the SERP in 2019, the podcast began to regularly appear in it for similar keywords.
The bottom line is that optimizing the podcast’s homepage plays a big role in its SERP visibility. Pragmatically speaking (and in addition to the basic title and description), I recommend including the host(s) as well as when episodes are released, links to various platforms where the podcast can be found, as well as a bit of embellishment as to what the podcast is all about and who it services so as to give Google a bit of context.
Contextualizing the podcast also includes the other pages on the site that are related to the podcast. To that end, Olga Zarr of SEOSLY and host of SEO Podcast by #SEOSLY recommends, “Each new podcast episode should also be published as a separate post or page on your website with the embedded player to listen to the episode directly on the site.”
To me, this is practical regardless of the organic traffic expectations you have for individual episode pages (which is a complicated matter since most of the listens a podcast receives do not occur on the site itself). Having a site for your podcast that you retain full control over is an important part of the overall branding and marketing of the podcast.
As Azeem describes it, “Most importantly, don’t opt for the easy route and use distributors’ own websites—build your own. They are your listeners, not the distributor’s—send listeners to [your own podcast site], use analytics to understand how long they spend with your podcast, and give them more of it.”
Authority, entity recognition, and schema markup
Broadening what we discussed above (regarding the homepage for the podcast), it’s vital to understand that a podcast is an entity. In fact, it’s an entity that inherently incorporates other entities (in the form of show hosts and guests).
How Google is aware of the entities within the podcast is a good question. As mentioned earlier, there have been instances in the past of Google auto-transcribing podcasts (which has been one of the company’s stated goals). Of course, for relevant web pages and your episode descriptions, there’s also explicitly mentioning the hosts and guests by name as well as linking to their social profiles or sites. However Google is doing it, it is able to (at times) pull out relevant entities from a specific podcast episode.
These entities are sometimes shown at the bottom of a podcast episode within Google Podcasts and reflect both people as well as topics. Meaning, it’s vital to discuss topics that are within the confines of the podcast’s stated mission and to have guests relevant to those topics for both your audience and for Google itself.
To that end, Jack Chambers-Ward says, “Previous guests, topics, and episodes can often come up naturally during conversation and, with a transcript, these are perfect opportunities to add internal links to create a topical relevance and connections between podcast pages.”
Structured data markup and podcasts
When trying to make entity connections (which is vital for podcast SEO), structured data markup comes into focus.
As Olga Zarr puts it:
“Take care of the E-A-T of your podcast by demonstrating your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness as a podcast host. You can use schema to help Google connect the dots.” — Olga Zarr, host of SEO Podcast by SEOSLY
There are multiple markups that are applicable from PodcastSeries markup for the podcast’s homepage to PodcastEpisode markup for specific episode pages. And, (because podcasts involve people) Person markup is almost always applicable, as is Organization markup when the podcast is run by a company or group.
“This [structured data markup] should not be overlooked,” explains Crystal Carter, Head of SEO Communications at Wix (and co-host of the SERP’s Up SEO Podcast). “Google adds well-optimized podcasts to the knowledge graph. This means that each podcast is considered to be a unique entity and can be identified across the web. By investing time in schema properties for people and organizations (like creator, contributor, editor, funder) you are helping to make this entity more accurate across the web.”
Structured data has given a boost to the EDGE of the Web podcast, according to host Erin Sparks. “Structured data has been a boon to our show. As we have unfurled podcast episodes and podcast series schema and unpacked the entities we are discussing—we've done that with such a reliable frequency that we are seeing our entity ‘glossary’ start working inside guests' knowledge graphics as the source of trust for that entity,” Sparks said. “That can only happen with a continual building of confidence from the continual layered process of optimization.”
The role of links in podcast SEO
Personally, I find link building to be my least favorite part of SEO. Aside from its tedious nature, building links makes it quite easy to cross the line and violate Google’s guidelines. However, at the end of the day, links are indeed a part of the ranking equation and link building can be powerful when done properly.
Link building factors into getting your podcast visible on the SERP in two unique ways:
Surfacing in the initial podcast series box of results
Visibility in the traditional organic results (kind of, more on this below).
Links for getting podcasts into Google’s podcast series box
One of the strongest ways to garner search visibility for your podcast is by appearing in Google’s initial podcast series box. As we mentioned earlier, when a user clicks on a podcast within the box, the listing expands to show more information about the podcast along with a set of “results” that in some way feature the podcast.
Due to this functionality, links play a very important role for your podcast’s organic visibility. In this instance, I would feel comfortable saying that links are valued significantly more than they are in general (although, I obviously can’t say that with 100% certainty). There’s a logical reason for this: with the functionality Google employs here, there has to be content that references the podcast, otherwise there’s nothing for Google to show when the result is expanded. Clearly, links play a primary role in all of this.
In fact, when we launched the SERP’s Up Podcast in August 2022, the show did not appear within Google’s podcast series box. However, as time went on and the show accumulated links on pages that discussed podcasts, it started to appear within the podcasts that Google lists for relevant keywords. (These appearances were boosted by our modifying the podcast title, as mentioned earlier.)
For the record, it’s not merely the link that has the desired effect here (the podcast had a decent amount of links early on). It’s a certain type of link that really matters: the show needs to be contextualized as Google only shows content (such as lists of podcasts or episode pages) within the expanded listing.
The importance of links in the context of podcasts is commonly recognized by SEOs who run their own podcasts and, as McDowell says, it’s a good reason to have guests on the show:
“Google also seems to like podcasts that have backlinks or mentions from other authoritative and relevant websites. If you’re toying with the idea of having guests on your podcast, this is one great reason to do it.” — Sarah McDowell, host of the SEO Mindset Podcast
The emphasis on a podcast appearing within some sort of listicle content has generated a sentiment from SEO podcasters that I very much agree with: “Google currently places too much weight on ranked lists when building out entities around podcast topics,” Sussman said.
According to him, “a podcast on three lists will appear higher than a show on two lists” which is a very superficial way to order podcast appearances on the SERP.
Links: Leveraging traffic from the SERP’s organic results
The second way links factor into the equation has nothing to do with the ranking of a given podcast asset per se. If you’ll remember, the majority of the text/organic results do not reflect actual podcasts and their websites. Rather, the SERP is dominated by lists of various podcasts. This presents an obvious problem in that no matter how “perfectly optimized” a podcast’s own website is, there is a severe limitation in the opportunity to rank.
The net result is that a podcast is heavily dependent on appearing within a relevant list of podcasts, as hosted by a third-party site for its “organic visibility” (if you even want to call it that).
An additional problem is that a significant portion of these listicles present poor and/or outdated content (depending on the niche). This makes it that much harder to get listed in one. And, of course, if you’re a newer podcast, you would have to wait for new lists to be created (and then rank) or for a third party to decide to update their listicle. To that latter point, Google does (at times) present lists that haven’t been updated in years.
It all makes for a complicated, difficult, and perhaps unbalanced organic ecosystem. This leads us to our next point.
Thinking beyond the podcast SERP
With the SERP for podcasts still not being fully mature and (at a minimum) “difficult,” it makes sense to push the podcast’s presence on other platforms.
This means that tactics like repurposing for YouTube come into focus.
Aleyda Solis, who heads up Crawling Mondays, doubles down on Youtube, saying, “Whether your podcast is video or audio only, publish it via YouTube too, you'll be surprised (or not) by how many video carousels are shown in Google search results, not only for podcasts names but also for the informational topics covered usually by podcasts, as well as the additional visibility and listeners you can attract via YouTube, too. You want to get in there…”
In this way, and specifically when considering YouTube videos, you give your podcast content the opportunity to gain visibility at the episodic level, which can be tricky unless you significantly invest in the text-based content that supports each episode.
This can be especially true when the keywords relevant to a podcast episode are highly competitive and where there is a prolific amount of content already available.
If you are hosting podcast episodes on YouTube, here’s a pro tip from Wix SEO Advisory Board member Kevin Indig, who hosts the Contrarian Marketing Podcast with Wix SEO Learning Hub contributor Eli Schwartz:
“One podcast optimization trick I learned is optimizing timestamps for keywords. Since Google uses timestamps for its ‘Key Moments in video’ feature and key moments can appear for keywords, making sure your timestamps appeal to a user intent or hit the exact match of a keyword can make your podcast rank in the SERPs (if it’s hosted on Youtube). Of course, the overall topic of the podcast needs to fit to the keyword, so it might pay off to do keyword research, then plan your podcast topic, and then optimize timestamps for keywords.” — Kevin Indig, host of the Contrarian Marketing Podcast
Parenthetically, when working with timestamps for a podcast episode, Erin Sparks recommends correlating them in the ID3 tags. “Google is processing the ID3 tags as a content roadmap,” according to Sparks. “Doubling down inside of the show page with an exact correlation to those stamps can root the show in a level of trusted content,” he said, recommending that podcasters “segment out with timestamps the key segments/chapters of the show (on the episode page). Utilize the same framework inside the ID3 tags and apply that to your timestamps.”
Of course, both repurposing a podcast and distributing it goes well beyond uploading the full version to YouTube. It should also include a sound social strategy with elements such as audiograms for engagement as well as an influencer marketing strategy, which is quite natural if the podcast contains a guest interview.
Back to “basics” with podcast SEO
I think what makes doing SEO for podcasts so interesting is the nuance that goes into what would normally be considered “basic SEO” tasks. Most practitioners understand there is value in having quality relevant links, but due to the SERP’s ecosystem for podcasts, these links play a deeper role. We all understand the importance of a well-constructed title or “product description” (which is essentially what a podcast description is) but the complexity involved increases as podcasts are consumed within their own unique ecosystems and that same title and description needs to work on multiple levels, from SEO down to clickability within iTunes.
I want to end by thanking all of the contributors in this article for sharing their expertise. There’s a lot of murkiness and complexity in trying to bring visibility to a podcast in Google Search. Sometimes it takes a village.
Mordy is the Head of SEO Branding at Wix. Concurrently he also serves as a communications advisor for Semrush. Dedicated to SEO education, Mordy is one of the organizers of SEOchat and a popular industry author and speaker. Twitter | Linkedin