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.