What’s the best way to create audio versions for a WordPress site?
We have the answer! Text-to-speech (TTS) has come a long way in the last couple of years as writers, marketers, journalists, and educators realize the benefits of delivering audio formats to their readers. Gone are the days when TTS could be overlooked based on its ‘robotic-ness’. Synthetic voices are replacing human-read audio and helping publishers increase engagement with their content reaching audiences when on the move.
How does Text to Speech (TTS) work?
TTS voices are machine learning models trained from human speech. Human-read voice data is used to create neural nets that clone the fabric of a person’s voice. These are then used to reproduce audio using the voice’s unique characteristics. TTS has been used in customer services and in early A.I. assistants for some time (think Apple Maps). Publishers, such as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, are using TTS to convert their web-based articles into audio.
Most TTS plugins use an embedded audio player, at the top of each post, that loads an audio version of the article. Every time a new post is published an audio edition is generated using a TTS system (some companies use TTS provided by Google, Amazon and Microsoft, whilst some build their own voices). Most companies offer hosting and management through their own websites, so it’s as easy as installing a plugin and creating an account.
Why use TTS?
To state the obvious, providing audio versions allows readers to listen to your content. This immediately creates new opportunities to engage with your audience. Readers may turn to listening whilst they scroll other pages in their browser, do the cooking, walk around the block or do some cleaning. From our own data at BeyondWords, we’ve found that listeners spend up to four times as long with content than non-listeners. Not only this, they visit more pages and are more likely to return.
Digital publishers are using TTS to attract and engage demographics that have turned away from text. Listening traffic, measured through SpeechKit, is weighted towards younger demographics, with 50% of listeners in the 24-35 age bracket. We also observe trends towards listening on particular types of content. Websites within a defined category and focus (health, finance, personal growth) tend to experience higher listen rates.
Lastly, TTS helps publishers meet new standards for web accessibility. WordPress accessibility and inclusion have become priorities as frameworks are adopted by governments worldwide. Some countries are enforcing their own standards, whilst many have chosen to base their accessibility policies around the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) framework. Adding audio versions to your posts will instantly help you meet these guidelines and improve your sites rating against these standards.
Below I’ve outlined some of the best Text to Speech plugins available for WordPress.
BeyondWords (4.4 stars) is an AI voice and audio publishing platform with a dedicated WordPress plugin. Once setup is complete, your chosen posts and pages are auto-converted into audio and auto-embedded via the customizable player.
Through your BeyondWords dashboard, you get access to audio production, distribution, monetization, and analytics tools, as well as 500 voices across 130 language locales. These are enhanced by natural language processing algorithms, which ensure accurate pronunciations and allow for custom text-to-speech rules. You can even create a custom voice.
BeyondWords is a freemium service with a pricing plan for every publisher. When you sign up to the Free plan, you can convert up to 30,000 characters (approximately 6,000 words) into audio every month and access all core features.
2. AWS for WordPress
AWS for WordPress (3.8 stars) is a plugin from the voice department of Amazon Web Services, Amazon Polly. Their WordPress plugin supports the integration of the Polly API (which is used by a couple of the other plugins) with a default audio player. Much like other plugins, AWS for WordPress creates an audio version of new posts as they are published. Amazon doesn’t provide much information on the plugin and functionality is basic. You may also need to create an account on AWS to host the audio. However, one benefit of this plugin is that is free to use (you may need to pay for an AWS account).
Play.ht (0 ratings) is another good option and uses several text-to-speech services, including Amazon Polly, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, to transform text content to audio. Similarly, the plugin will create an audio version of the post populating an audio player at the top of each article. Similarly to SpeechKit, this service allows writers to edit and curate audio from a dashboard. Play.ht also have a large selection of voices with demos available on their website. Hosting and analytics are included in the paid service starting at a $90 annual fee.
4. Trinity Audio
Trinity Audio (3.7 stars) is a similar plugin offering text-to-speech from a range of other cloud services. Their company has focused on adding audio advertisements included before the post audio, allowing publishers to make money from their content. The plugin has a number of configuration options including an option to hide the ‘Powered by Trinity Audio’ label on the player. From looking the FAQ section, the plugin is a paid product, whilst they offer a free service to larger publishers.
5. Responsive Voice
Responsive Voice (4.5 stars) is an HTML5-based text-to-speech plugin that uses shortcodes to insert voice elements. This plugin uses a simple ‘Listen to Post’ button to read out key elements of post content. You can use responsive voice to embed shortcodes around any specific elements you want to turn into audio. Voices across multiple languages can be configured right in the short code including adjustments to volume, pitch and speed. No pricing available on their website but free trials are offered.
Remixd (5 stars from 1 review) is a service focused on driving incremental revenue for writers and publishers. Similarly, to Trinity Audio, this plugin offers pre-roll advertising insertion that will allow you to earn from your posts. Text-to-speech audio is a relatively new advertising format and revenues won’t be as competitive as display advertising, however, this is a good option if you’re looking to experiment with audio ads. Similarly, to SpeechKit, Remixed offers a reporting dashboard available through their website.
Listencat (5 stars) is another plugin that offers a free TTS to speech service. They have a nice player that sits at the bottom of the page on mobile. The service is aimed primarily at bloggers, whilst most of the above are aimed at small teams to businesses. Their dashboard has a nice clean interface; however, they don’t seem to offer any curation or customization tools.
Adding audio versions to your site has become as easy as installing a plugin and creating an account with one of these great companies. With the proliferation of podcasts, AirPods and streaming technologies, expect audio articles to become ubiquitous with publishing online. Test out one of these plugins to get ahead of the curve. Optimize for your audience, benefit from increased engagement and turn you readers into listeners!