Table of contents
- What is podcast metadata?
- How important is podcast metadata optimization for podcast visibility?
- What are the most important tags for your on-platform visibility?
- The most critical mistakes you might be making and need to fix now
- What keywords should be used in which text elements?
- How long does it take to rank for a given keyword?
- Are there differences between Apple’s and Spotify’s algorithms?
- How to keep optimizing your metadata and make it future-proof?
- What are the limits of podcast metadata optimization for audience growth?
- Bonus 1: back hat tactics
- Bonus 2: Podcast metadata cheat sheet
What is podcast metadata?
Metadata is a technical term referring to the various pieces of information about your show that you feed to podcast platforms via the fields you fill out when you create your RSS feed.
These pieces of information are called tags. The list below is not exhaustive but contains all the tags that have an influence on your visibility on Spotify and Apple Podcasts
- show title
- publisher (also known as ‘author’ for Apple)
- show description
- episode title
- episode description
How important is podcast metadata optimization for podcast visibility?
First things first, let’s look at the impact of podcast keyword optimization and its weight in your podcast visibility stack. This will help you understand:
- how much time and resources you should allocate to this aspect of podcast marketing
- how much audience growth can be achieved by choosing the right keywords and placing them wisely in your titles and descriptions
According to a Voxalyze survey on podcast discovery and consumption, 38.1% of podcast listeners discover new podcasts on-platform (i.e on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, etc.). This makes on-platform discovery the #1 channel to gain new listeners, with social media being a distant second at 27.2%.
18% of listeners use the search bar to discover new podcasts. This is a pretty big deal considering that, unlike Google or the App Store, podcast search is still ad-free. In other words, organic results are not being pushed down by sponsored placements in the platform search results.
Even indie podcasters without a big marketing budget can outrank bigger, under-optimized shows for high-value keywords (KWs) without breaking the bank, as long as they have the right keyword strategy.
When you consider that 48% of listeners started listening within the last 12 months (source), it’s easy to see why this is a golden opportunity for smart podcasters.
If you want to leverage that opportunity to the fullest, create your free Voxalyze account before you keep reading.
What are the most important tags for your on-platform visibility?
The search algorithms of different podcast apps tend to have their specificities and there are no official statements from either Spotify or Apple on the subject, but we have observed certain patterns when working with our clients.
In our experience, these are tags that help improve your visibility and ranking the most (in descending order of importance):
- Show level: title
- Show level: publisher (especially true for Apple)
- Episode level: titles
- Show level: description
- Episode level: descriptions
To give you a real-life example:
One of our clients in the real estate niche who wasn’t even in the top hundred shows for their most valuable keyword jumped to position 3 on both Apple Podcasts and Spotify after simply optimizing their author tag.
They also got rid of a non-relevant word in their show title, replacing it by a high-volume keyword and started ranking in the top 3 for that keyword.
Now on to the most critical mistakes every podcaster should avoid
The most critical mistakes you might be making and need to fix now
After consulting with a number of clients, from independent podcast publishers to big media houses with millions of downloads, we have put together a list of obvious mistakes that can have a tremendous impact on your visibility once fixed:
- A title tag that only includes the name of your podcast
Keeping your show title short and sweet is common (but wrong) advice that is repeated time after time in podcast-related publications. Our experience tells us this is a misconception that hurts your on-platform visibility, especially if the name of your show doesn’t contain any keywords you want to rank for.
In the example I mentioned above, the character count of our client’s show title increased by 7 characters with a very positive impact on their rankings.
Here’s our recommendation: change your show title to the following format
Show name (the name on the covert art) – an additional phrase containing your most important keyword
If you want to see a concrete example, I audited a real podcast and suggested a new title tag in our step-by-step guide to optimizing your show visibility.
- Empty fields in your RSS metadata.
Yes, this might sound like an obvious one but believe us when we say not all podcasters are aware of the importance of metadata and end up leaving some fields empty, especially beginners.
- Special characters (!, &, @, $, etc.) in your show name (and probably episode titles).
This recommendation comes from Spotify via the Anchor blog where they state that avoiding these characters will provide your show an ‘SEO boost’. While it is not exactly clear what the issue with these characters is (aside from making it harder to pronounce for word-of-mouth recommendation), a likely answer is that they tend to throw off Spotify’s search engine.
- Poorly optimized episode titles
The search engines of the 2 major podcast apps (Apple Podcasts and Spotify) will return results that include shows AND episodes which explains why we ranked episode titles so high in our hierarchy of tags.
A badly worded title will hurt your listener growth in 2 ways:
- search engines are less likely to suggest your episode because they don’t find relevant keywords in the title
- people are less likely to start listening because they don’t find it appealing
Here’s how to write episode titles that will help you rank and get more listeners:
First let’s start with the nitty-gritty details: hard character limits and how titles actually display in podcast apps (no need to write the numbers down, all this information is neatly summarized in a cheat sheet at the bottom of this article).
- Apple will not display more than 253 characters, even on desktop. Whether the rest of the text is indexed by their search engine is unclear so to be on the safe side, don’t exceed that limit.
- In the Spotify mobile app, episode titles are cut after about 30 characters in Spotify’s ‘top’ section and 60 characters in the ‘Podcasts & shows’ tab. In the Apple Podcasts’ mobile app, episode titles are cut after 40 characters.
Not to drown you in numbers, here are the practical implications:
- Start with the piece of information that is most likely to elicit curiosity/excitement in listeners. Why should they listen? What’s in it for them? Tell them right away and make it fit in 30 characters.
- If possible, include at least one keyword you want to rank for in these first 30 characters. Whether search engines give more weight to the first words in an episode title is still up in the air but in case they do, you’ll be better off doing so.
- Don’t stop after 60 characters. Once you’ve made sure humans have a good reason to start listening, use up the 253 characters and elegantly include important keywords to feed the algorithms. Don’t stuff keywords though. Podcast platforms frown upon this and will crack down on it at some point so to make your episode titles future-proof, you still need to make them fully readable by humans.
- Using a naming convention in your episode titles.
While it might seem like a good idea to use a clear naming convention for your episode titles (looks clean and buttoned up, right?), this can in fact hurt the searchability of your show.
Naming conventions usually include elements such as:
- the show name
- the season and episode #
- the date
- the word ‘podcast’
- publication frequency
This information takes up valuable real estate without achieving any of the 2 goals I mentioned in the previous bullet point: improving searchability and increasing the listening start rate.
Here are the 2 exceptions to that rule:
- if you run a news show or if the content of your episode is highly time sensitive, do include the date
- if your episode is part of a mini-series, do mention which part it corresponds (but at the end)
- Underestimating how much older episodes contribute to the overall visibility of a show
According to podcast hosting platform Firstory, old episodes represent 48% of downloads. This means going back and giving old episodes properly optimized titles and descriptions is probably the best return on your time you can get right now.
Planning, recording and editing old episodes was 98% of the work, wouldn’t it be a shame if all that hard work went to waste because of poorly optimized meta-information?
Yes, we know going back and editing these systematically is not exactly the most fun aspect of podcasting, especially if your episode catalogue has dozens or even hundreds of episodes. One strategy can be to edit them in small batches every week, starting with the ones that have the most potential (for instance episodes featuring a guest whose name people are likely to type in their search bar).
- Not using the full character limit in your show description
Your show description can be up to 4000 characters. According to data compiled by Dan Misener, half of all podcasts use 163 characters or less. This means you have a competitive edge over other shows if you use all the space at your disposal.
Now you might be wondering how to best craft your show description. It’s similar to writing episode titles in the sense that you need to write both for humans and search engines, but with much more room to include more keywords and different character limits to consider
The beginning of your description should be written for humans. The goal is to let them understand what your show is about in a couple of seconds and make them want to hear more. To be even more precise, make sure the first 120 characters are very clear and enticing because this is the limit Spotify uses to cut the description (after which users have to click on ‘read more’ to read the rest). Apple is a bit more generous with 150 characters.
The rest of the description is for search engines. While it should be written in a natural manner that people (in particular human reviewers at Apple and Spotify) can enjoy reading too, make sure to include all your important keywords. If you need help choosing the keywords you want to rank for, read our article about podcast keyword research.
What keywords should be used in which text elements?
As already mentioned, the 2 most important tags are the show title tag and the author tag. The main constraint here is that you cannot stuff the tags with all the keywords you want to rank for. Platforms don’t like this and truth be told, it’s not a great experience for listeners either.
You have to prioritize:
- Your show title and author tag are for your main keyword
- Your show description should include your primary and secondary keywords
Secondary keywords should be included in your show description and episode titles and descriptions where relevant
How long does it take to rank for a given keyword?
It depends. There are several factors you need to take into consideration:
- The last time you published an episode: platforms tend give priority to shows with fresh content
- Your existing download volume: all things being equal, the more listens a show is getting, the higher it will rank for a given keyword
- Competition: do dozens of podcasts have your target keyword in their show title? Are you up against heavy weights and still not seeing improvements after 3-4 weeks? Then it would be wise to go for a less competitive keyword that still has decent search volume. If you want to find out how competitive a keyword is and how much search volume it’s getting, use our podcast keyword explorer.
We have seen a case where a podcast jumped 18 places on the Apple Podcast chart in the investing category only 24 hours after making changes to their show description, but in most cases, it takes longer than this (expect at least a couple of weeks)
Are there differences between Apple’s and Spotify’s algorithms?
If you’ve ever looked up a major keyword in your category in one of the major podcast apps, you’ve surely noticed that they return different results. It is hard to get reliable information on the inner workings of their search engines as both companies tend to rarely provide guidance.
Here’s what we know:
- Spotify’s algorithm is more sophisticated than Apple’s when interpreting misspells and suggesting correct results. This means that if you want to rank well for common misspells of words in your niche on Apple Podcasts, you could try to include a couple in your show description. Don’t overdo it as poor grammar is not a negative ranking factor yet but could become one at some point (it is for Google).
- Though official charts are maintained, Spotify’s results are much more tailored to the taste of individual listeners which means the top-ranking podcasts for a given keyword in the Spotify app will be different for you and me. They can also refine the show they suggest based on users’ list of Facebook friends and what they like. This is information Apple doesn’t have access to due.
- Lastly, results will vary on Spotify based on your device and client: mobile, tablet, web app, and desktop app, they all return slightly different results.
How to keep optimizing your metadata and make it future proof
Podcast metadata optimization is not a set-and-forget thing, you need to monitor and work on it regularly.
- Existing search volumes change month-over-month and year-over-year
- New trends will appear in your niche and grow so much they’re worth considering for show-level optimization
- Famous shows might include your best keyword in one of their episode titles and steal your spot without even trying. You need to have a fallback keyword with decent search volume ready to swap in your show title
- New competitors will appear, and other shows will be discontinued
- Platforms and their algorithms will evolve and become more refined which means some optimization tactics can become obsolete
What are the limits of podcast app search optimization for audience growth?
Podcast visibility optimization is a collection of different levers. Check out our nifty visualization to get a comprehensive and easy-to-digest overview. Metadata optimization is a crucial lever (and a free one at that) but your audience growth will eventually reach a ceiling if you only rely on it.
We will cover other levers in future articles so don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to be notified.
Black hat tactics
- Piggybacking on your competition
People are probably typing the name of top shows in your niche in their search bar. Piggyback on that existing, qualified search volume by including words used in their titles in your own metadata.
As an example, if your show is in the true crime category, strategically placing the words ‘obsessed’, ‘junkie’, ‘solved murders’, and ‘morbid’ in your description will help you benefit from the popularity of top shows. Don’t blatantly paste the entire show names, sprinkle the words in sentences that sound natural.
- The misspelling hack
One of the most intriguing hacks we’ve observed is the use of the word ‘whether’ very early in a show description which made the show rank very high for ‘whether’ on Apple Podcasts. As you can see in our keyword explorer, this word has a very high search volume, probably due to it being typed as a misspelling of the word ‘weather’ which is obviously much more competitive.
- The sneaky publisher name
First a word of caution: Daniel J Lewis was momentarily kicked from Apple Podcasts for adding ‘podcasting industry expert and how-to-podcast teacher’ after his name in his author tag. Note that the penalty only hit after he reached the top 200 (at which point human reviewers probably review each show manually and do a better job of detecting keyword stuffing than AI does). However, no one said you have to use your name in the publisher tag. You could very well use a podcast network name. And the network name could be extremely relevant to your niche *wink wink*
- The category switcheroo
If your podcast already has a significant enough following, changing the category of your show to an adjacent one (e.g from business to marketing) will let you appear in the ‘up & coming’ section for that category.
Keep scrolling to discover our metadata cheatsheet. This graphic is a convenient way to check all tag specifications at a glance. But before that, I highly recommend you create a free Voxalyze account to take advantage of our podcast keyword research tool and podcast analytics suite.