Usable Podcast Transcripts for Everyone

For the past two years, I have given talks about transcripts at the Dutch Podcast Festival and I have coached students on creating podcast transcripts. Podcasts have been gaining popularity for several years, soaring high when the pandemic started. Unfortunately, less than half of them provide transcripts. And those who do (Yay!) tend to provide them in a PDF file.

When done right podcast transcripts make podcasts accessible to the D/deaf, hard of hearing, people with other hearing sensitivities, and people for whom the podcast language is not their native language. Those are just a couple of the main groups that can benefit from transcripts. The podcasters also benefit SEO-wise from accessible transcripts.

Avoid using PDF or Word documents

PDF documents are not the most accessible to display content online. It’s not responsive for smaller screens, not even on a 6.7-inch smartphone. They take more bandwidth, if you have your browser settings set for larger fonts it has no effect on PDF files and you are stuck with small text. Night Mode is another thing that won’t work either.

They also add nothing to the search results of the podcast website. Search engines will link directly to the PDF file and not to the podcast website. Users will have no link leading them to the homepage or any other page of the website. Hence SEO wise a PDF file will add nothing to the website’s reach.

Above you can see a side by side comparison of a transcript in a PDF file on Brave browser and a transcript on a web page in Brave browser on my iPhone 13 mini. I prefer to read transcripts when travelling on public transport, in waiting rooms, lying on the couch or before going to sleep. Hence 98% of the time I’m reading them on my smartphone.

I add transcripts I want to read to Pocket and go from there to read them. Pocket has its own content formatting which makes it easy to adjust reading settings, but that is a moo point with PDF documents.

HTML all the content on the web

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It was created by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 for displaying documents on the web. Since then it has obviously grown and improved to what we see today on the web.

You can take well-formatted HTML content and display it in different presentations. As you can see in the images below. The first one is a PDF document in Pocket, which is still the same. The second one is a transcript web page in Pocket with night mode and custom font and size.

If you use for example WordPress or other CMS for your podcast website. You can make sure (including it in your website development requirements) that the template that displays episodes and shows notes is also suited for readable transcripts. It’s always handy to be familiar with the basic HTML text formatting tags. This way you will have readable and accessible transcripts for people and search engines.

Transcript web pages make me very happy. It makes people who can’t or doesn’t want to listen to podcasts happy. It makes search engines happy. And in return, the podcast gains more followers. Everybody is happy.