Podcast Marketing: Hip or Hype?

Podcast broadcastingWhile podcasting has not met original, perhaps inflated, market projections, it may just be following a more normal marketing curve. Our Podcast GEM explains how to listen to podcasts, how to become a podcaster, podcast SEO, and other marketing considerations.

March 2008 marked the 10th anniversary of the MP3 player. MP3s have experienced remarkable sales and technological growth over the past decade: in 2006 alone, consumers bought over 50 million MP3 media players and used them not only to listen to music, but also to download podcasts. Yet while there’s been considerable growth and marketing hype over MP3 players and music downloads, podcasts have taken a back seat. This is primarily because they did not meet the market projections, which were based on MP3 player sales rather than on the traditional marketing curve. This marketing ‘mistake’ may prove even more beneficial to the podcast marketing adopters.

Although you might associate podcasts solely with news and entertainment, they might also save you money and help you market your business at the same time.  In this article, we first explain a little about podcasts and how to listen to them. We then explore the potential reach of podcasts as not only an exciting source of convenient, free programming, but also a critical component of your business marketing strategy. And that’s no hype.

Podcasts: What Are They?

The term podcast is formed from the words “iPod” and “broadcast.” As you might suspect from the word, the first podcasting scripts were created for Apple’s legendary portable media player, the iPod. Podcasting is designed to deliver audio content on demand, to be listened to at the user’s convenience. A script (RSS file) allows podcasts to be automatically transferred to a mobile device using a podcast receiver, also known as an aggregator. Podcasts are typically saved in MP3 format, which means they can also be used on nearly any computer.  The creator of a podcast is usually called a podcaster.

Podcasts could be described as ‘TiVo for the Internet’ because they allow users to save content digitally and replay it at their leisure, just as TiVo allows users to record and play digital television at their convenience. Podcasting has spread relatively quickly because of the rapid adoption of MP3 players and the desire of owners to have fresh content. Though podcasters’ web sites may offer direct downloads or streaming of their content, using a podcast is different from other digital media formats because it is available as a subscription.  An aggregator or feed reader downloads new content automatically, saving users time and effort. When transferred to a portable MP3 player, podcasts can be enjoyed while jogging, doing housework, gardening, or commuting.

How to Get Started: Finding, Downloading, and Listening to Podcasts

Ready to download a podcast for yourself?  If you already own an iPod, use the iTunes tutorials to get started.

Now on to the exciting part: choosing content for your player.  Podcast content is available from a variety of sources:

  • Begin your content search by visiting your favorite websites, such as news or blogs, to see if they have podcasts available.
  • Find new feeds by visiting general podcast directories like Podcast Alley. Directories group podcasts according to type, such as ‘Business’ or ‘Sports.’ Simply find a feed (formatted as a web address, such as http://www.manager-tools.com/podcasts/feed/rss2, and paste it into your aggregator.

One of the newest uses of podcasts is in the education field. At education sites such as the Education Podcast Network, you can refine your content search by searching subject-specific directories.

Podcasting’s Popularity

According to research from Pew Internet & American Life Project, podcasting has a strong consumer base and potential for growth:

  • 20% of the lucrative 18- to 28-year-old market owns an iPod or other MP3 player
  • 29% of the people who own an iPod or MP3 player have downloaded a podcast

With ownership of the required podcast player already established, podcasting’s reach presumably has potential to grow along with that of the MP3 music-loving market segment. While there seems to be a surprising lack of advertiser interest over Podcasts, their popularity may be more substantial than most marketers realize. eMarketer estimates that in 2007, there was a 285% increase in size of the US podcast audience.

Podcasting is Virtually Free

Unlike traditional broadcasting where Internet users must purchase subscriptions to television or radio stations, podcasting is virtually free. After learning how to use the free software available on the Internet,  you may publish or subscribe to a multitude of shows. In other words, podcasting technology allows you to subscribe to a (usually) free podcast, have new updates automatically downloaded to your computer  via free software, and listen to it on your computer or on your MP3 player.

Podcast listenerPodcasts in the Business World

In the wake of declining television viewership, newspaper subscriptions, and radio listeners, podcasting could well emerge as a critical new marketing tool.  Podcasting can replace a traditional newsletter or provide more in depth information on a particular product, while offering your customers added convenience and time savings.

Because of their content and convenience, podcasts provide a huge advantage over traditional media.  Podcasting’s expanded distribution model, for example, allows both publishers and subscribers to extend the reach of their Internet content.  What makes podcasting different and truly useful as a business tool is that free podcasting software automatically downloads new podcasts to customers’ computers as soon as they’re available.

Blogsavvy offers many tips on how to make a good podcast.  Of course, once you’ve written the script for an audio podcast, you can also publish the text to your website to double your visibility.

Using Podcasting to Optimize Search Engine Visibility

In her recent book Search Engine Visibility, Shari Thurow explains how podcasting can help maximize a website’s visibility on search engines.  Adding audio and video content to an existing website, allows specialized audio/video search engines looking for rich media files to index your site. Indexing leads to increased search engine visibility for your website.

Podcasts themselves can also be optimized for search engines. As with text optimization, performing thorough keyword research and then using the same keywords that your potential customers are querying in search engines is critical.  In podcasts, these keywords should be creatively placed in several primary areas:

  1. Podcast metadata. Metadata is included in a small file which is part of every podcast. Most podcast software includes a fill-in form for this data.  The form has fields such as title, name of podcast (also called album), artist (company name or brand), year, genre (podcast or music), track (or episode number), and comments/description. Don’t leave these fields blank! Optimize!
  2. Podcast script itself. Audio search engines are becoming more and more sophisticated, and many now use speech recognition to index the words in your podcast. To achieve  better search engine visibility, the words in your script should include the same words people are querying on search engines to find your product or service.
  3. Text around the podcast script. By describing your podcast on the page that it resides, and again including the targeted keywords that your potential customers are querying, search engines will index your text words also.

If you pre-record a podcast, as nearly all are, you can optimize it for both audio search engines and targeted listeners.  Keep the same written usability principles and fundamental terms of successful search engine optimization in mind while making audio files.  Whatever your topic or format, whether a talk show, lecture, or tele-seminar, you can offer in-depth information to niche customers.

Consumer Forecasts and Trends

A September, 2005 Google Answer forum responded to the questions “Where are the emerging advertising business models online (Internet)?” and  “What coming trends do you think will be profitable from an advertising sales strategy?” The number one answer to both of these questions was podcasting.

Researchers from the Diffusion Group predicted that the US podcast audience would climb from 840,000 in 2004 to 56 million by 2010. Yet there is skepticism and disagreement on these  projections, and the market does not seem to have grown quite as fast as predicted. The untapped potential for podcasting is still worth keeping on your radar!  As noted earlier, the podcast listening audience grew by 285% in 2007. And recently, Apple iTunes 4.9 expanded the potential podcast consumer base by adding podcast subscriptions. As a result, information marketers can list their podcasts in a vast directory, allowing them to reach more customers.

At Top Of The List, we believe that although podcasts are taking off somewhat slower than originally predicted, they are taking off.  This makes podcasts something of a hidden gem for the search engine marketer with a product or service that matches a podcast audience’s interests. While most everyone else is focusing on Web 2.0 and social media networks for optimization purposes (granted these are important too), podcasters can quietly slip in and make their website links the envy of search result lists. Will you be one of those envied podcasters? We hope that you’ll at least give podcasting a try and be one of the satisfied listeners!

About the Author

Beverly Mapes, Founder, President

Beverly Mapes

Founder & President, Top Of The List

Bev founded Top Of The List in 2006 and has over 25 years of experience working with technology. In her free time, she competes in dog agility competitions with her Golden Retrievers, Cosmo, and Finn.