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Casting A Net For Podcasts

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There are effective ways to search for podcasts, and more importantly, to prepare the podcasts you create for indexing, as a session at SES 2006 New York discussed.

Do podcasts have a place in your business? What do you think of the podcast efforts being made around the Web? Sound off at SyndicationPro with your comments.

Our Mike McDonald forwarded some notes from SES 2006 in New York City. He spent an afternoon session with the Vertical Search Track presenters who talked about Podcast Search during their session, which was moderated by Detlev Johnson, VP, Director of Consulting, for Position Technologies.

Part of what will help continue the interest in podcasting will be a way to search for the podcasts people want, and find the most relevant ones to their queried interests. Amanda Watlington spoke first, summarizing the podcast formula as this: Sound + portable player + RSS + management tools = podcasting.

“Podcasting is not simply about timeshifting radio,” Watlington said. “Podcasts are about specific interests. Podcasts are not broadcasts, they’re narrowcasts.”

Starting off with podcasting doesn’t mean rushing right out to get a new Mac, a mixing board, and a Sennheiser microphone. Watlington suggested places to test podcasting options, like Audioblog, Slapcast, and Gabcast. “”If you aren’t sure if if this medium is for you, these are good places to stick your toe in,” she said.

Once the aspiring podcaster decides to host a podcast, Watlington cautioned on one issue they will encounter if the podcast attains any degree of popularity: bandwidth issues. “If you are going to create a podcasting program you should carefully consider the bandwidth usage or you could be in for a big surprise.”

Watlington described four steps to optimizing those podcasts for search:

First, optimize the sound by using ID3 tags. The tags carry 39 pre-defined frames, including copyright, content type, dates and content information. Users of the Audacity sound editor can edit those tags; as Audacity is open source, it’s worth downloading for that use.

For the webpages where users will find podcasts and information about them, it is important to make the title of an episode’s page keyword-rich and interesting. Have a separate landing page for audio content, and a unique page for each episode. Post the show’s schedule and provide subscription information throughout the site.

Then, get those podcasts into RSS feeds. Watlington recommended using tools like Feedburner to validate those feeds. The podcaster can then have either one managed feed with Feedburner, or separate the feed into multiple feeds: one for iTunes, one for Yahoo in Media RSS format, and a third for everyone else. The first two formats will be search engine friendly.

Finally, podcasters should track and monitor those feeds. Gather metrics and consider options to possibly monetize that work once a podcast builds an audience.

Ethan Fassett, Product Manager for Yahoo! Audio Search, noted how Yahoo’s Podcasts beta launched near the end of 2005.

“We saw a place in the market for improving the search experience for audio,” Fassett said. Yahoo’s Podcast search uses its community to help define and categorize audio.

Podcast search is still evolving as a technology. “We brought around 7 years of media research to focus on this problem,” Fassett said. “We found that roughly half of the users are listening to the audio on their PCs, so we made sure to create an online application to listen to audio.”

He also emphasized the importance of metadata, calling it the lifeline to one’s users. That forms a foundation for successful podcasts, an area in which Yahoo has an ongoing interest. “We’d like to advance (publishing and production) functionality to where it’s a turnkey situation.”

Webmasterradio.FM co-founder Daron Babin echoed Watlington’s advice about bandwidth. He cited the increasing bandwidth usage on his site. That moved from 1 terabyte in November, to 1.5 terabytes in December, and then 3 terabytes in January.

Bandwidth can grow exponentially and extremely quickly. “Be prepared for some big bandwidth bills,” Babin wryly said.

He then acknowledged just who is checking the metrics for podcast audiences: “Arbitron is trying to put their finger on distribution of podcasts, who is listening and how often, etc.” Babin recommended watching one’s podcast stats.

Babin gave optimization a big thumb’s up, likely since podcasting is still new enough that a first mover who optimizes effectively for search could be very successful. “The traffic you can garner out of it is unbelievable,” he said.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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