Let me begin by saying myself, nor SP (my co-host on Better Podcasting – a show I’m about to refer to) are in no way SEO experts. While we both have varying levels of experience making changes to help with the SEO of our sites, neither of us remotely claim to be experts. If you want to hear a short discussion on what this article is about to say, please check out Episode 81 of Better Podcasting – particular at the time code of 25:41. Ok, now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the rest of the article…
While there may be businesses that specify in SEO, to many, Google Search Engine Optimization remains a mystery. In fact, Google is constantly making changes, refining how they want results to be displayed to its users.
Podcast RSS SEO has long remained a hot topic, full of varying levels of debate. This was very apparent when a few months ago SP and I recorded an episode on the Pros and Cons of Self-Hosting your podcast on Better Podcasting (Episode 65) where during the show I made ONE very brief comment about potential SEO. Considering this was a very small portion of a lengthy episode, I was surprised to find the resistance that followed which even lead to a followup the next episode where we clarified the factors that we felt made it still a valid CONSIDERATION.
Whether it was because we had accidentally poured fuel on a smoldering fire, or it was because our senses were now heightened, what SP and I noticed after this episode was that there seemed to be multiple other people in the podcast industry discussing the concept of RSS feeds and their impact (or potentially lack thereof) on SEO. One that I found particularly interesting was an episode of Libsyn’s The Feed where host Rob Walch seemed to finally put to bed the topic by locating the the following quote from Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller.
…If you are looking for a ranking boost by having an RSS feed, that’s not going to happen. The RSS feed is really something we see as more of a technical help to crawl and index the content a bit better… There’s no direct ranking boost for the website itself.”
After a quick search I was able to locate that the quote was from a Google Webmaster Hangout on August 11, 2015. Truthfully, while at the time I had felt that the quote was taken out of context, I decided to instead give in to my ‘lazy side’ and just leave the whole RSS podcast SEO topic alone until a future time where it seemed necessary to re-open that can of worms.
Now is that time.
Recently my Better Podcasting co-host Stargate Pioneer and I both started to see more RSS feeds showing up in results in Google searches. My first indication of this actually came when I was trying to locate a specific episode of Better Podcasting. Given the terms Better and Podcasting are extremely generic, when I search for something to do with the show I always search in quotes – “Better Podcasting”. What surprised me was when I went to my second page of results, I found a direct link to an RSS feed for the show.
While in the past I have in actuality been able to locate my RSS feeds in Google results, it often took getting very specific with my searches. For example, I would search for “Better Podcasting RSS Feed” or something like that. I also often found that while these would show up, the result would often be formatted slightly different than other entries on the same page (not always, but often). This time, however, my RSS feed showed up EXACTLY as any other search result – full text and all. I also found interesting that within the result was the Google drop down menu to view a cached version. This indicates that not only is Google showing this within the other results, it may also be treating it the same way as all other results since it appears to also be caching in the usual manner.
Of course, the analytical side of me was compelled to try other searches – after all, maybe this was a one off? The first show that came to my mind was friend of Better Podcasting’s Emily Prokop’s The Story Behind Podcast. Here I found that Google had now added to her sub-menu a link directly to her RSS feed.
I also decided to try something I knew to be something that had its name in a lot more places – Ask The Podcast Coach. Here I found the RSS feed also showing up in the results.
Finally, I thought – let’s go big or go home – I searched for a single term, but one that I knew was a MASSIVE ENTITY: Nerdist. What was located on page 2? Yes, their RSS feed – hosted on libsyn itself. This was easily the most surprising to me as Nerdist is in no way small fish. For those not familiar, Nerdist is the brainchild of infamous Podcaster turned Talk/Game Show host Chris Hardwick. Searching for the simple term Nerdist, a name that has millions of results within Google, has their Libsyn-hosted RSS feed within the SECOND page on Google. This RSS feed fesult is found the among the likes of their Facebook, Twitter, IMDB and even reddit category. If I’m being honest, part of me had expected that I’d have to go hunting if I was going to locate the RSS feed in their results so needless to say, even as I write this article now, I’m still surprised it was located on the second page.
Now, one of the most head scratching results that I received was when I searched for a former project of mine. I actually didn’t expect to see the RSS feed show up at all given the project is LONG DEAD. The search term I made was simple but one that I knew used to get a lot of results back when it was active – the phrase: Fanboy Buzz Podcast.
As you’ll see in the screenshot, the RSS feed actually showed up as one of the top results – above even the website category itself. To me that is crazy because if I were someone looking for a podcast, I probably wouldn’t want to be taken to the RSS feed as one of the top suggestions.
I think it’s important to reiterate that while these results are easily showing up currently, a few months ago they were no where near this apparent. As mentioned, while I did find RSS feeds on Google results, sometimes phrasing had to be more specific. The concept of Google allegedly previously NOT displaying RSS feeds within search results is one of the long-standing arguments for those who feel RSS Feed specifics won’t impact SEO. Often the citation that Google doesn’t show the results of RSS feeds is followed by the speculation that this is because RSS feeds are code and it would be useless for readers (often referred to as “The sniff test”). Based on the details outlined above, it appears that Google has changed their algorithm in regard to RSS feeds and now are crawling and indexing them – more importantly displaying them among other usual results.
So what specifically changed? Last month we discussed on Better Podcasting how Google was now incorporating play-ability of podcasts right in to the Google Search App. Could it be to do with this? Perhaps? Or perhaps it could just be that Google recognized that now people sometimes are looking for the RSS feed to drop in to their podcatcher. Perhaps it could even be a trial that one day will disappear. Honestly, at this point I have no idea – as I mentioned at the first line of the article, we are not SEO experts. However, what I do know is that RSS feeds are showing up indexed, displayed as usual result and also are being cached – sometimes showing higher than the main website itself.
Will this affect you? Maybe yes, maybe no. For me personally, I’ve often found that many SEO experts indicate that more links to my website with relevant search terms help with ranking. Whether this is true or not, I’ve operated with this and in the past I’ve found that this has helped my site show up higher with certain terms that I place focus on. Ultimately though, seeing RSS feeds showing now showing up with other results does help me feel a bit better having the RSS on my site. After all, I’d rather that traffic and statistics be accounted for on my website than on someone else’s. In addition, I also have began taking a look at the top tags in my RSS feed. If someone happens to come across my RSS feed through Google, I’d like one of the top pieces of information found be a reference back to the site that they might actually be looking for.
Of course with all of that said, Google is a constantly changing entity and these results could be removed at any time. In any case, however, this shows that Google has the capability of (and is currently) crawling and indexing RSS feeds. As such, in my completely NON-EXPERT opinion (again, see that first paragraph), I think at this time it would be fair to consider your podcast’s RSS feed in the same manner as any other page of yours if you’re considering SEO modifications (whatever considerations those may be).
Note: In the screenshots above you’ll see I was searching Incognito Mode on Google Chrome using Google.ca (I’m Canadian). Attached below are Private Window results from Google.ca in Firefox as well as Incognito Mode results from Google.com. This is just as a reference to show that different Google locales as well as different browsers show the RSS (you know, for if Google ever makes the change removing it – then I seem SLIGHTLY less crazy).
EDIT 2017/05/31 – 7:35pm PT – There has been some speculation that my location could possibly be the cause of this indexing, and admittedly I did not clearly address this in my article – I offer my sincere apologies. I think it’s important to clarify that prior to writing this article (and podcasting about it), I confirmed through various regions that I was able to recreate similar results. Just as all other regional differences that Google has, there was indeed some variance result positions; however, overall the results were pretty similar. The best example I have is the one you can find below where co-host Stargate Pioneer (who is located in the USA) has been kind enough to provide screenshots. As SP is using the continuous scroll in Google Chrome, there are multiple screen shots attached to provide reference on how many “pages” the results show up on. By comparison with my screenshots above, you will most definitely notice some variance, but overall, the results are pretty much the same. Thank you for reading my article and a special thanks to SP for providing these.