Here’s the story… and the takeaways.

As this article in The New Yorker explains, Coronavirus 411 was the brainchild of Sound That BRANDS’ VP William Corbin.  To understand why, you need to understand how the mind of a digital marketing veteran like William works.

One day in February – back when this virus was “another hoax” according to a major news channel and its biggest fan — William went to Google and searched for “coronavirus”.  The results included lots of articles and official government sites, but only a small list of podcasts.  Some contained very little content about the topic.  William quickly realized that the #1 search engine in the world was struggling to offer on-demand audio content about the #1 search term in the world.

William and I enlisted the help of a talented friend to write, produce and host a brief daily podcast that would be “just the facts” about the outbreak, mostly from official CDC and WHO sites.

Almost overnight, with no paid promotion, Coronavirus 411 became one of the Top 20 daily news podcasts in the U.S., then it went Top 10. According to the Apple Podcast chart and others, this simple “just the facts” audio summary of readily available information ranked higher than ABC News’ “Start Here,” the repurposed “CBS Morning News” podcast, “The Marketplace Morning Report,” “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” Slate’s “The Gist”… you get the idea.  Granted, our team has worked for people like ABC, NBC and CBS in various capacities, but we never imagined producing a podcast that would compete for audience with their venerable newsrooms.

In the spirit of sharing that is so refreshingly common among podcasters, here’s some of what Sound That BRANDS® has learned from this experience.

  • Relevance matters.  Always has, of course, but this is truer now.  As the ability to measure relevance and refer content based on that measurement grows, so does the importance of relevance itself.
  • Google is finally ALL IN on podcasting.  Podcasters have been frustrated that the search engine seemed to be slow in seeing the medium’s potential, perhaps reluctant to fully support something that a competitor had incubated.  Now, Google is making rapid improvements to their Android podcasting app, has launched a separate search engine site just for podcasts, and is offering podcasts in their main search engine results.
  • Google needs our help.  As more users want podcasts to be included in their search results, knowing which podcasts are relevant is a must for Google.  It’s been reported that their robots are rapidly transcribing podcast audio and reviewing Episode Notes.  But it’s unfathomable that any such effort could ever fully capture and index content information for the millions of podcast episodes already in existence.

Let’s give Google a hand:

  • Investigate which top search terms would be satisfied by your podcast content.
  • Put those search terms at the top of your Episode Notes.
  • Be honest about that!  Don’t discourage Google from relying on the accuracy of show descriptions.  Abuse of your published text to “bait and switch”  — using popular search terms that aren’t truly relevant to your content – could quickly cause an instance of “why we can’t have nice things.”
  • Here’s the most important advice we can give:  When possible, title your podcast using a popular search term.  How did Google know that our new podcast was about coronavirus?   It’s in the title, of course!  For now, Google really doesn’t have much else to go on.  So while established daily news podcasts were covering the topic as their lead story, Google’s algorithm didn’t know that.  Google is certain what “Coronavirus 411” is about.  While ours was one of the first two or three podcasts with that word in the title, many have followed.  William’s secret is out.

Checking Google’s free trending metrics page (as of 3/22/20) the term “coronavirus” is still #1 by a mile – more searched than the name of a recently deceased entertainer, the most famous NFL quarterback who is changing teams, the queen of reality TV, and than the other common term for the disease.  A podcast entitled “COVID-19 411” would not find an audience as easily and inexpensively as “Coronavirus 411”.  Our always-talked-about President, his campaign opponents, election polls and results, popular TV shows, movie and music stars… They’re all just blips on the search radar by comparison.

The growth of on-demand audio into search results is a gamechanger for podcasting.  If it’s immediate and relevant, a podcast created today could be #1 later today.