Search Marketers Target iPod Users

Discover how your business can leverage podcasts before it’s too late.

Everyone’s talking about podcasts, those audio files downloaded from the Web and played on demand using an Apple iPod or any MP3 media player. Many podcasts are just for fun, but marketers are discovering they’re also a promising new way to deliver advertising.

In a sense, there’s no difference in what you can do with a podcast than with radio airtime. You can record a speech, an interview, a commercial or any other audio. But podcasts are used differently than radio because of their immediacy, low cost and flexible time duration.

First off, podcasts can cover the most unusual subjects. If, for example, you want to target a few hundred people, it’s cheap enough to do with a podcast, whereas a radio broadcast or a mailed CD would be unaffordable. Go ahead and record a podcast interview with a famous photographer about digital cameras. Mention your company a few times as the sponsor. Maybe you’ll sell a few cameras to serious photographers.

Many marketers use podcasts to reach the seemingly unreachable. Folks listening to iPods are walking around or stealing time they’d otherwise use to sleep on the train – time when they are beyond the access of most advertising media. Podcasts are also favored by those under 30 years old, who are becoming harder to reach through traditional print and broadcast advertising.

In addition, podcasts provide longform messages that were previously possible only with infomercials or public relations opportunities. And you can make one fast: Record it today and stick it on your website and your message is out there. For these and many other reasons, podcasts are the cool new way to deliver your marketing message.

The Search Marketing Angle

By now you may be asking, “What does all this have to do with search marketing?” Sure, podcasts broadcast your message, reach market segments that are tough to access, help your company seem trendy and keep your teeth flossed and pearly white, but they don’t benefit your search marketing, right? Wrong.

Podcasts are a great way to get links to your site, and search engines just love links. They especially love one-way links – links from websites to your pages that are not reciprocated. Those links seem to be the most unbiased votes for the quality of your content, telling the search engines to rank those linked pages highly for searches that match the pages’ words.

To get those precious one-way links, you need to offer content that causes other sites to voluntarily link to yours. Podcasts are a great way to do so. Audio is naturally more engaging than text and your podcast can contain up-to-the-minute, fresh information from experts with a strong point of view. Done well, podcasts act as link magnets for your site.

You can also use podcasts to give yourself a link. If you submit your podcasts to specialized directories, such as Podcast.net, you’ll automatically get a link back to your website. Every little link adds up to help your search ranking.

Podcasts and Search Engines

Podcasts attract links as we’ve seen, but that is just one of their many talents. Podcasts are also full-fledged members of the content community, so why can’t searchers find your podcast and discover your site that way? After all, you create Web pages to attract links, but search engines easily find those pages. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t really “see” your podcasts yet.

You’re probably familiar with Google’s image search, in which you can enter a keyword and find pictures that match that word. Enter “zebra” and see pictures of zebras, but Google does not truly recognize those pictures as containing zebras. In fact, Google is using occurrences of the word “zebra” to find the pictures. So it will find pictures stored in files named “zebra.gif” and it will find pictures that are described with alternate text that contains the word “zebra,” but Google has no clue whether the picture is truly that of a zebra. That’s why you can sometimes see weird-looking results in image search.

For Google and many mainstream search engines, searching for podcasts is much like searching for images. Google can find a searcher’s keywords on the Web page that describes a podcast, but can’t find podcasts that contain those same words in the spoken audio. That means that a searcher will find your podcast from words in the title or the description that you place on your landing page, but not from any other words said inside the podcast audio file.

Some podcast search facilities, such as Podcast.net, allow you to provide a title and description to their directory. Similarly, Odeo.com lets you claim your podcast and offer a description. No matter the mechanism, make sure you provide the right search keywords so that search engines find the landing page for your podcast. You do that the same way you’d choose which words to use when optimizing any Web page: by choosing the most popular relevant keywords and ensuring they appear.

Audio Search Engines

You might suspect that trying to find 15- to 20-minute podcasts using only the words in their titles and descriptions would leave a lot to be desired. Search engines are just beginning to expand their bag of tricks to look for the actual words spoken in the podcast audio. To do so, the engines translate those spoken words into text.

Nexidia.com company executives claim that the best way to make speech searchable is to convert it to phonemes, the speech sounds that correspond to each syllable spoken. While experts agree that the phonemic approach can be useful for proper names, many believe that true speech recognition (converting audio speech into the actual textual words) provides far better searchability.

One of these experts, Marie Meteer, the vice president of commercial speech for BBN.com, says searching for the name “Stern” might match the phonemes for the words “best earnings,” even though searchers would find this a strange result (it occurs because combining the end of “best” and the beginning of “earnings” results in a sound similar to “Stern”). Speech recognition techniques avoid this kind of error by matching the audio to the words “best” and “earnings.” Nothing is ever 100 percent accurate, but useful audio search engines based on speech recognition technology are beginning to appear.

Podzinger.com is a new search engine that uses the BBN speech recognition technology to find the words inside the podcast audio (for a full interview with the BBN crew behind Podzinger, visit MikeMoran.com and check out the June issue of my newsletter).

SingingFish.com, owned by AOL, also uses speech recognition techniques to find words spoken in audio and video files, including podcasts. Despite this interesting technology, however, none of these audio search engines draws many searchers.

What are the mainstream search engines doing? Yahoo Podcasts is a beta offering that searches explicitly for podcasts, but offers no speech recognition capability yet. Reports are rampant that both Google and Yahoo are hiring speech recognition experts, so stay tuned. Before long, the major search engines may be finding the words inside your podcasts just as they find the words on your Web pages. When they do, expect your podcasts to require the same attention to search optimization that you provide your Web pages today.

So get ahead of the game now. Perform keyword research before your podcast so that you use titles and descriptions on your search landing page that reflect what searchers are seeking. Moreover, carefully choose the vocabulary of the podcast to reflect searchers’ keywords. That way you’ll be ready for the speech recognition techniques from audio search engines as they become mainstream.

MIKE MORAN is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and the manager of IBM.com Web Experience. Mike is also the co-author of the book Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and can be reached through his website MikeMoran.com.