What is a keyword and how do they apply to podcasts?

A keyword is any search term or phrase that indicates the topic of a piece of content. They are used to simplify the indexing and retrieval process and to categorise information. They are most commonly used when finding information on search engines like Google and also when searching in an app for a video, email or favourite album.

Podcasts also can have keywords added into the RSS feed. They are added to the <itunes:keywords> tag within your feed.

Overall podcast keywords can be added on the Settings tab, in the Keywords field.
Individual episode keywords can be added on the Episodes tab, in the Keywords field.

Here's an example of the keywords for one of our own podcasts:

Podcast Keywords in Transistor

For the Build Your SaaS podcast the following keywords were chosen: technology, podcasting, business, saas, software, marketing, bootstrap, bootstrapping, rails, ruby on rails.

What format should I use for my podcast keywords in Transistor?

You'll see in our example our keywords are all separated by a comma. They are also a mixture of single words and phrases. It is better to use more unique keywords and phrases that are specific to your podcast to niche down, rather than generic terms that are widely used.

For example if your brand is "Digital Innovation' it is best to use that phrase as a keyword, rather than the individual words "Digital" and "Innovation" separately. As long as your keywords are relevant to your category or show topic that should be sufficient.

The keywords field is a text only field, so it's not possible to add images or links there. Links and additional resources for an episode are best added to the Show Notes field for an episode.

Do podcast keywords help you to rank on Apple Podcasts?

Unfortunately, podcast keywords do not seem to impact search rankings in Apple Podcasts any longer.

The official Apple Podcasting Specification no longer even mentions the <itunes:keywords> tag. This iTunes Listing Information article suggests that the tag was deprecated back in 2012 and dropped from Apple's official documentation.

Why can't I find my podcast when I search for one of our keywords?

As long as your episodes appear when you visit the direct link to your podcast listing, that's the most important thing. That's all the podcast platforms guarantee. Keywords currently have a minimal impact on your rankings on podcast directories. There's no indication that podcast keywords within an RSS feed have any impact on SEO either.

Podcast apps will only show the most popular results.
Podcast directories primarily return results based on the popularity of a show. They are not an exact search engine so they do not return all results for a particular keyword. Older episodes are more likely to rank. So a newly published episode of a new podcast is very unlikely to be displayed in podcast app search results at all. As your show grows you may find specific episodes start to rank higher. If you have a particularly popular podcast you may find it gets featured in a particular podcast category, however this is quite rare.

What are podcast keywords used for?

So then, if Apple no longer looks at podcast keywords, what effect do podcast keywords have? Even though Apple doesn't use keywords directly for their podcast search, they are still important to know for your podcast. Keywords can be used in many places so having a list to hand is very valuable. This will help when writing episode titles as well as blog and social media posts that support your episode.

This Podnews article on Who Indexes What suggests that as of 2021 Castbox & PlayerFM still index the keyword tag. So it’s worth adding keywords to your RSS feed for the small group of podcast directories that do use them.

Keywords can also be used for mentioning your episode topics, your industry & brand name too. They are also frequently used to include guest and host names with any common mis-spellings. If you have a podcast website, keywords are also sometimes used to sort and categorise episodes.

Apple still does use the keyword field occasionally but only to verify ownership of a podcast. They ask the podcast owner to add a verification code into the <itunes:keyword> field to prove they control the feed. So the keyword field has multiple uses.

How do I research my podcast keywords?

You can use tools like Google Trends to do research into popular phrases and terms relating to your podcast.

How can I improve my podcast rankings?

The most important thing for finding podcasts on podcast directories is having good titles. Both the podcast title and episode titles have the most direct impact. So it's always good to use clear descriptive episode titles that contain your keywords and topics. Be sure to check your episode titles on podcast directories to ensure your episodes are not overshadowed or directly competing by another main stream show with a similar name or episode title.

The more downloads your episodes get, the higher they rank in podcast app search results.

The best way to improve discoverability overall is to promote the show and share the direct link to the show on those apps. Reduce the need for vague search terms and send your listeners to your show directly. Your podcast will get more downloads and as your show grows organically it will start to rank higher in the general search listings in podcast apps.
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