iTunes SEO: Getting Your Podcast Found

If you’re like me, you’re always looking to grow your podcast’s listener base. You’ve identified your demographic, sussed out your social media strategy, and kicked off numerous marketing campaigns. You’re doing everything you need to reach out to your target audience. So, what are you doing to be found by everyone else? For all those people you aren’t targeting, what’s the plan for getting found? This is where we have to explore the mysteries of iTunes SEO.

Despite the presence of numerous podcast directories (and the soon-to-be-launched Google Play podcast directory), Apple’s iTunes Music Store is still the largest, most popular entry way into the world of podcasts. Once you’ve submitted your feed to their directory, though, there’s no guarantee you’ll be found by the hordes of podcast subscribers. This is where iTunes SEO comes into play. You want to use the best keywords so that searchers of the iTunes catalog can find you, but where do you put these keywords? Your RSS feed supports keywords, but iTunes doesn’t use them. You make lengthy episode descriptions, but iTunes doesn’t use those, either. So what are your options?

iTunes only uses three fields in response to a user search: Show Title, Author, and Episode Title. Yup, that’s it. I’ve highlighted those fields for one of my own shows in the image below.

iTunes Fields for SEO
iTunes SEO for It’s About Time

For your show title, you may have gone with something clever, which is great, but probably doesn’t help with getting found. While the “Matt Jones Show” is a fine name, some anonymous iTunes user in Topeka isn’t going to search for Matt Jones. Adding some kind of keyword-rich subtitle-like description will add enough information to pop you up on more radar screens.

Likewise, your author field may just be your name but, unless you’re already a celebrity (in which I’m honored you came to check out my blog, please use your vast influence to spread my site around), no one is searching for that. Again, use some descriptive words of the kind of content you author.

Last, each episode should have enough information to tell a potential listener what they’ll discover if they listen. If you have a special guest that people may be looking for, say you landed an interview with a particular US president or daytime talk show host, be sure to mention their name in your episode title field. Remember that iTunes doesn’t just return full podcasts to a user search, it returns individual episodes, by which a new listener may find you and then seek out the rest of your show.

One note about keywords, though. The good people at Apple have recently announced that they would be looking for keyword abuse. Throwing in keywords that misrepresent your show will incur the wrath of the iTunes maintainers. Retribution may range from exclusion from any kind of New and Noteworthy, What’s Hot, or other curated content groups to outright removal of your show from the iTunes Music Store. It has been rumored that such keyword abuse is what led Apple to cease including the show and episode description in the search in the first place. Once again, a few bad apples ruin the whole barrel.

So, why is this important? My own experience, going from no keywords – just my basic show name (It’s About Time, which tells you very little about what to expect), author name (Cardinal James Show, again, not something strangers will search for), and episode titles (e.g. Episode 1: Help Wanted) – to careful use of keywords saw an immediate and measurable increase in downloads in the first 5 days. An increase that stayed over the long term.

Fellow podcasters that I have advised have also seen great increases in download numbers. Immediately. Once such show jumped from averaging 25 downloads a day to 500. Not bad, right? That show is Totally Awesome Films. If you like movie reviews I encourage you to check it out.

Now, once you get your keywords plugged in you may have to monitor and tweak things. Just like SEO on the web, keyword selection and use is as much an art as a science. Going from none to some should get you some kind of boost. Continue to research and tweak, as necessary, to squeeze the most juice out of iTunes search. It only takes a few minutes to tweak your feed, so what are you waiting for?

Growing an audience through social media and marketing can be effective, though costly in both time and money. Being found organically through search can have a real impact on your listener base with a minimal investment of your time. Go back through your show settings, add a few relevant keywords, and see what happens. You’ll be glad you did.

Steve is the founder of Straight Talk Entertainment and currently produces and writes for the audio drama Aural Traditions, recently voted Charleston City Paper’s Best Local Podcast. He’s also an Information Security professional and avid shark tooth hunter.

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