Seth Resler

By Seth Resler, Digital Dot Connector, Jacobs Media

When I consult radio stations about their digital strategies, just about everyone wants to talk about social media or podcasting. Search engine optimization or SEO, on the other hand, usually gets little — if any — attention.

SEO is the art of getting your station’s content to appear at the top of the results in search engines. This is important because most people tend to click on one of the top items that appears in a search. If it happens to about your station, you have a great chance to be “discovered” by lots of listeners.

For example, WKRP wants to optimize its website so that if somebody goes to Google and searches for the radio station’s concert by typing in “Big Field Day Cincinnati,” Google sends them to the radio station’s website first, not Ticketmaster or some other webpage. WKRP wants to send people to their own websites because it controls what appears there, can do things to optimize its performance, and make monetize its website traffic. In this example, WKRP can tweak the webpage so that it sells more concert tickets.

Unfortunately, radio stations tend to invest a lot of energy in social media marketing and very little on SEO. To understand why this is a missed opportunity, it’s helpful to understand the role social media plays in a station’s overall strategy.

The reason stations share their content on social media is the same reason they place billboard advertisements by the highway: to drive people back to their content. Why do you put the billboard by the highway? Because highways get lots of traffic. Why do you share content on Facebook? Because Facebook also gets lots of traffic.

Of course, you don’t measure the success of a billboard by the number of people who “like” it; you measure it by the number of people who actually tune into the station, hopefully as a result of seeing it.

The same is true of social media: what’s important isn’t how many people “like” your posts, but how many click on them and come back to the station’s website. Once they’re on the station’s site, you can encourage them to stream the station, sign up for the email list, or buy Big Field Day concert tickets.

SEO plays the same role in a radio station’s strategy as social media and billboards: it’s a way to drive people back to your content. Why focus on getting your station’s content into the top of Google results? Because just like Facebook and the highway, Google gets lots of traffic, too.

While larger companies may have an in-house team tasked with SEO, a cottage industry around the art of SEO has cropped up to allow other organizations to outsource function. There are a number of firms, large and small, that specialize in helping your website get discovered. They’ll determine your target keywords, optimize your web pages, dissect your analytics, and handle a number of the other nitty gritty details. Outside of the radio industry, companies allocate significant dollar amounts to SEO. Yet radio stations have largely ignored the practice.

Usually when people talk about SEO, they are most concerned with Google. That’s because it’s the dominant search engine, so others like Yahoo! and Bing are a lower priority. Yet there are times when it’s worth paying attention to SEO – beyond Google. After all, not all search engines are built the same way. For example, when it comes to podcasts, most people are searching in iTunes and the Apple Podcasts app, not Google, to find new shows to listen to. If you want listeners to find your podcast, it’s helpful to know how to optimize your podcast for iTunes, not just Google.

As we enter 2018, there’s a new type of search engine platform emerging: Voice Commend Devices. With the rapid proliferation of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, the Google Home, and the Apple HomePod, more and more people will be searching for things using their lips, not their fingertips.

Voice search will soon come to dominate car dashboards, too. Currently, road noise makes voice command more difficult in automobiles. But smart people are working on the problem. For example, last year, when I went to CES in Las Vegas, I spoke to folks from a startup company developing an “optical mic” to address this issue. As in-dashboard microphones improve, voice search will come become ubiquitous in cars.

In fact, we may soon see a day when the majority of audio entertainment is called up through voice command. Audio is unique in that people are usually multitasking while they consume it. That is, they’re doing something else at the same time: driving to work, working out at the gym, cleaning the house, etc.

Because people are often doing things that keep their hands busy while they listen, voice command will be especially convenient for audio, and may eventually become the audience’s primary search/discovery method.

Just as an entire industry sprung up around the art of SEO, I expect an industry to emerge around Voice Search: Professionals who excel at making content easy to find when talking to Alexa and Siri.

While radio got away with paying little attention to traditional SEO, it can’t afford to ignore Voice Search Optimization. After all, while people may not use search engines like Google to find audio entertainment, they are very likely to use voice command devices to do so. If radio wants to retain its dominant position in the car and continue to be a factor at home and in the workplace, it will need to understand how Voice Search works and how to optimize it.

Of course, Voice Search is still in its infancy – in fact, we may end up calling it something else. Right now, most people know the technology as “Alexa” or “Siri,” but we’re in just the first inning of this movement. That’s all the more reason why radio companies should be dedicating research and resources to it now. Voice Search will have such a significant impact on our industry’s future that we should lead in this area.