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This American Life

How adding transcripts can help boost podcast SEO.

This American Life (TAL) is a weekly public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 2.1 million listeners. It is also one of the most popular podcasts, with about one million people downloading each week. The first episode aired on November 17, 1995 and there have been 521 one-hour episodes produced through March, 2014. TAL also maintains a very popular website that provides free streaming of all shows, as well as commentary and ancillary information.

Transcription Goals

In April, 2011 TAL embarked on a project to transcribe their entire audio archive and make transcripts freely available to website visitors. The goals were to:

  • Increase inbound traffic from organic search
  • Increase number of inbound links
  • Engage users and create a better user experience by providing alternate ways to consume the content
  • Make content accessible to people with hearing disabilities
  • Make it easier to pull quotes and reference a section of the audio

While TAL values the benefits of transcripts, they emphasize that transcripts are not a substitute for audio. As stated on their website, “This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that’s not on the page.”

About This SEO Study

This study aims to evaluate and quantify the SEO benefits of adding audio transcripts to a public website of a radio program. Website data was collected over a 36-month period from April 2011 to March 2014. However, the results of this report are based on the 27-month period from January 2012 to March 2014 (the first several months were excluded to account for transcription processing and for the SEO effects of transcription to propagate). During this period, the TAL website had about 16 million unique visitors and 111 million page views. Google Analytics was used to obtain the data.

Website Basics

The TAL website has a Google Pagerank of 8 and an Alexa Rank of 20,000. It gets about 850,000 unique visitors per month and about two-thirds of the visits are by returning visitors. On average, a visitor stays on the site for about 7 minutes and views 2.5 pages. 97% of visitors know English as their primary language.

How Transcripts Are Published

TAL began transcribing their radio archives in April, 2011 and completed the entire backlog by October, 2011. Since that time, transcripts have been posted within 24 hours after a program airs. Each transcript is published on a separate web page that is linked to the main episode page.

Increased User Engagement

In order to assess the impact on user engagement we looked at the proportion of unique visitors who viewed a transcript. The result is that 7.23% of all unique visitors viewed at least one transcript.

All Traffic Viewed Transcript % of All
Unique Visitors 15,824,728 1,143,454 7.23%

New Inbound Traffic

In order to assess the amount of new inbound traffic, we looked at the number of unique visitors who landed on a transcript page (i.e. the first page viewed upon entering the site). The result is that 4.18% of all unique visitors landed on the site via a transcript page. This represents a 4.36% increase of inbound traffic attributable to transcripts.

All Traffic Landed On Transcript % of All
Unique Visitors 15,824,728 661,664 4.18%


Drilling down on the new inbound traffic, more than half came from search. In fact, 6.26% of all unique visitors who came from search traffic landed on a transcript page. This represents an increase of 6.68% in search traffic attributable to transcripts.

All Traffic Landed On Transcript % of All
Direct Traffic 5,425,304 147,203 (2.71%) 2.79%
Referral Traffic 5,352,829 156,592 (2.93%) 3.01%
Search Traffic 5,793,313 362,751 (6.26%) 6.68%

New Inbound Links

In order to assess new inbound links, we looked at the number of external inbound links that point specifically to transcript pages. There are 405 such links as compared to 10,826 external inbound links to all TAL pages. This represents a 3.89% increase in inbound links attributable to the transcript pages. Why would a site link to a transcript page? There are many reasons to do so.

While there is no simple way to compute the impact on authority and Pagerank, this result seems like it should provide a significant boost that helps across all search rankings.


Audio transcription of radio programs provides a number of benefits: accessibility for people with hearing disabilities, improved comprehension for visitors who know English as a second language, ability to follow along in sound-sensitive environments, ability to translate the text to other languages, as well as the ability to search through the text and reference a section of audio.

Transcription also helps with search engine optimization. By transcribing its library of radio shows TAL increased the number of unique visitors to its website by 4.18%. The number of unique visitors who discovered TAL through organic search results increased by 6.68%. The results showed that 7.23% of website visitors engaged with the transcripts. The results also showed that transcripts provide an effective way to increase authority through additional inbound links. In fact, 405 out of 10,826 external inbound links point to one of the transcript pages. This represents a 3.89% increase in inbound links directly attributable to the transcript pages.

Learn more about the benefits of audio transcripts.