Why Your Podcast Needs Transcripts

Why Your Podcast Needs Transcripts, Illustration by Michelle Kondrich
Why Your Podcast Needs Transcripts, Illustration by Michelle Kondrich

This audio-first medium still reaps plenty of benefits from the written word.

It makes sense that you, as a podcaster, spend a ton of time focusing on audio. You spend untold hours fine-tuning your sound quality, your editing, and even your intro and outro music to find and excite new listeners. All of that is time well spent, of course, but another way to stand out and increase discoverability is to focus not just on your audio but also on transcribing your episodes.

But hang on. Podcasts are an audio experience, so how do they benefit from transcripts?

Getting found

First, there’s the matter of discoverability. Unless your podcast has a very specific niche, it might be difficult to find among all of the other podcasts in its category. If listeners know your podcast’s title, they can search for that, but a browsing podcast fan looking for something new is more likely to use a few keywords and maybe tack “podcast” on the end. Search engines can’t latch onto the words in your podcast’s audio, but they do index the words in any transcripts on your website.

There's also the opportunity to enhance and deepen the listener experience. If yours is a nonfiction podcast, for instance, transcripts are a great place to embed images, videos, and other visual elements you reference in the audio. You could just add these to the show notes, but by having them situated strategically and logically in the transcript, your listener will feel more like they’re actively experiencing the conversation. Images can be placed for specific comedic or dramatic effect if you play it right: If you or your co-host is surprised by a funny picture, for instance, placing the image right when that person would laugh in the transcript is likely to have the same effect on your listener.

If you're creating a fiction podcast, transcripts can be a way to add more depth and meaning to quiet moments, or clarify some of the action going on in a scene. If there’s a pause in dialogue, are two characters looking at each other? If you can hear a character sit down or walk, where are they in relation to everyone and everything else? Are they moving behind or in front of something? You shouldn’t rely on transcripts too much to convey action, of course; think of this as a way to convey details that are non-essential but still interesting for listeners who want to go a little deeper.

Casting a wide net

In recent years, podcasts and networks have started releasing free transcripts to help improve accessibility. In addition to deaf and hard-of-hearing people, there are others who might have auditory processing issues, who retain information better when they can read along while listening, and who might just not know how to spell something you say on your podcast and want to research it more later. Sharing transcripts is a great way to connect even further with your audience and let them experience your show in a different format.

How to get the job done

You have some options for creating transcripts: You can do the transcribing yourself, hire a transcriptionist, or use online services like Otter or Temi. When you transcribe your own podcasts, the only thing it'll cost you is time (which may be a scarce resource, depending on your situation), and you'll have total confidence in the final product. Hiring a transcriptionist is the most costly option, but you don’t have to use your own time and the transcription will likely be highly accurate. And an online service is typically more cost-efficient up front, but you’ll probably need to comb through the end result for accuracy and formatting.

Regardless of the method you choose, it'll be time and money well spent: Sharing transcripts is just one more way to increase the reach of the podcast you dedicate so much of your time and energy to.

—Wil Williams