40 minutes | Nov 9th 2018

Kicked from Apple Podcasts? What Happens When You Keyword-Stuff Podcast Tags – TAP334

In the middle of 2018, Apple started cracking down on keyword-stuffing in podcast tags. My own show, The Audacity to Podcast, was even affected, and I've been tracking and testing other podcasts. Here's what I found! TL;DR: Make the title tag the title, the author tag the author(s), and put descriptive text in descriptive fields. Don't try to game the system. Background First, I'll admit I knew I was crossing this new and not completely defined line for what was allowed in podcast tags. Although I never encouraged stuffing or spamming your RSS tags with keywords, I had been giving the advice to include some keywords in the form of a sentence-style tagline as this can help with podcast SEO. But when some unethical podcasters learned how Apple Podcasts / iTunes search works, they would abuse these tools and spam their RSS tags with keywords, hoping to boost their podcasts' findability. For the whole of this blog post, only my own podcasts and those acceptable examples will be real podcasts. Unacceptable examples will be fictionalized. (But do the spammers really need the protection?) How much is “spamming”? Because Apple Podcasts currently searches only the title and author tags (show-level and episode-level), some podcasts would fill those fields with extra keywords and descriptions. Here's a clear example of abuse (again, this is fictionalized but based on actual samples): Title: My Awesome Podcast – Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Passive Income, Relationships, Bitcoin, Business, SEO, and Vanilla Cream Soda Author: John Smith, expert entrepreneur who interviews and discusses marketing ideas from people like Pat Flynn, Seth Godin, Zig Ziglar and more. If Steve Jobs was still alive, he would be on this podcast I'm going to assume you're among the intelligent and ethical podcasters and podcast-fans. So you can probably immediately recognize that this example is trying way too hard. Without a doubt, if your podcast has a title or author tag that looks like the above, it will be rejected. This is happening immediately for new podcasts submitting through Podcasts Connect, and it's also happening to existing podcasts (read on for when that seems to happen). The unacceptable gray area Perhaps a podcaster is trying to be ethical but also trying to make their podcast findable for relevant search terms. Thus, they may be more conservative with their keyword usage, even in line with what I used to teach. Here's what my own podcast was before Apple rejected it. Title: The Audacity to Podcast – how to launch and improve your podcast Author: Daniel J. Lewis, podcasting industry expert and how to podcast teacher I left my podcast like this when Apple started tightening the standards and I knew my podcast had the potential to be removed. But as you can see, I wasn't stuffing my tags with a list of keywords; I was giving my podcast and myself what I consider to be “taglines” or “subtitles.” In the process of discussing things with the Apple Podcasts support team, I learned that while my title contained extraneous information, it was especially the author tag that got my podcast kicked out of Apple Podcasts. What is the acceptable limit? If your own podcast has been rejected by Apple, you've probably seen this response verbatim from their support team. Your show was rejected because the author field or title field contains extraneous information that should be included as part of its description (<description>, <itunes:subtitle>, or <itunes:summary>) tags. While you might think this is a vague response from Apple, I think it's a clear enough definition of the limit. Not the “extraneous” part, but “information that should be included as part of its description.” In my own podcast, “how to launch and improve your podcast” was not the title; it was a description. And “podcasting industry expert and how to podcast teacher” was not the creator of the podcast, it was a description of the creator. Put in a profound way: The title tag should be only the title. The author tag should be only the author. The descriptive tags should contain the descriptions. “Duh,” right? I think Apple's standard does make total sense. If you have multiple regular cohosts or there's a company or network behind the podcast, it would also be acceptable to include those names in the author tag. They are, after all, authors of the podcast! Thus, author tags like the following are acceptable: Daniel J. Lewis | Noodle Mix Network Mike Carruthers | Wondery John Smith, Jane Doe, and Christian Wolff • ZZZ Accounting Focus Features, Stitcher, Limina House & Jad Abumrad Malcolm Gladwell / Panoply In further correspondence with the Apple Podcasts support team, I learned there's a little more flexibility with the title, but not much. A quick look at the top 200 of all podcasts in Apple Podcasts gives several good examples of acceptable flexibility in titles. Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc. Dark Topic: A True Crime Podcast Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked Steve McNair: Fall of a Titan The Daily Show With Trevor Noah: Ears Edition Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast Let's Not Meet: A True Horror Podcast UnErased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories The Church of What's Happening Now: With Joey Coco Diaz Death by Misadventure: True Paranormal Mystery Fantasy Footballers – Fantasy Football Podcast Dan Carlin's Hardcore History: Addendum Notice that, contrary to some of the legalistic fear and advice, these titles do contain separators, such as colons (:) and hyphens (-). Some of these titles are even unnecessarily redundant with the host's name in the title! (So, yes, there's still some room for improvement, but I recommend not including the host's name in the title.) Also, notice that none of these titles contain a tagline in the title. The extra text is either part of the unique branding (such as Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked) or a generic title of the genre (such as “true crime podcast”). This leads me to believe my biggest concern for findability—fan podcasts—will still be allowed to include the title of the fandom inside the title of their podcast. Thus, I think titles such as the following would be acceptable and serve the need for podcast SEO. ONCE – Unofficial Once Upon a Time podcast Welcome to Level Seven: Agents of SHIELD fan podcast What about podcast SEO? I was the first to thoroughly study, test, and create a complete course on SEO for Podcasters (major revisions planned for 2019!). And I know that the big reason podcasters want to get extra keywords in their tags is that this helps with search-engine optimization (SEO). As the thinking and my previous teaching went, the “My Awesome Podcast” show would be more findable for a topic like “marketing” if that keyword was in the title or author tags, since that's all that Apple Podcasts and iTunes currently search. (Most other podcast apps also search the show-level description tags.) But in my example, “marketing” would be a description of the podcast, not a title. Thus, it shouldn't be in the title. So how else could the podcast be found for that and the other topics? This is where other ethical podcast-SEO strategies need to take priority. Many of the top podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts/iTunes, include some information from individual episodes. Web searches especially prioritize the individual posts' information. Thus, if you want your podcast found for certain keywords that aren't part of your show-level title, I suggest making well-titled episodes about those topics. Using my fictionalized example, I could make episodes like the following. Awesome Marketing Tips Should You Invest in Bitcoin? Why Vanilla Cream Soda Is the Best Thinking of Becoming an Entrepreneur? 10 Passive Income Strategies How to Make Relationships Last You can even apply this to fan podcasts. Top 10 MacGyver Episodes The Best LA Dodgers Games Why Watch Once Upon a Time? Most Popular iPhone Models These episode titles contain those target keywords, so they contribute to the overall show's findability for those same keywords. But even more importantly, these titles make a better experience for the audience by clearly communicating the subjects of each episode. So when you practice better SEO techniques, you're actually serving your audience better! And that leads to a question you may be wondering. Why does Apple suddenly want to stop the keyword-stuffing? I think Apple cares about cleaning up the podcasts in their catalog for one huge reason: the user experience. There seem to be three sides to this. 1. Cleaner listings Scrolling through a chart of top podcasts or a subscription list is actually a much better experience when the titles are clean, clear, and concise. I noticed this when I was looking through my own podcast subscriptions. The shorter, non-truncated titles were easier to read, the screen was less cluttered, and the titles actually stood out more! My subscriptions went from something like this: The Audacity to Podcast – how to launch and improve… Marketing Tips for Entrepreneurs: effective ways to… Overcoming Fear: Everything you need to succeed in… Everything about Everything: The podcast that covers… To now something like this: The Audacity to Podcast Marketing Tips for Entrepreneurs Overcoming Fear Everything about Everything The charts and feature lists in podcast apps are also a lot easier to read when titles and author tags are not truncated! These cleaner listings really do make a better user experience! 2. Voice-based interactions Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and more vocal interaction technologies are entering our world through smartphones, smartwatches, smart speakers, entertainment systems, apps, automobil
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