(Modified on July 9th, 2019)
Podcasts continue to explode in popularity. 124 million Americans have listened to a podcast, and 28% (or 73 million) listen monthly. The number of weekly podcast listeners is up by 6 million from 2017. And according to Podcast Insights, the podcast trend has grown exponentially from there throughout 2018 and 2019.
There’s a low barrier to starting a podcast and getting it distributed. But that doesn’t mean podcasting doesn’t require effort. Along with the explosion in podcast popularity, listeners now have thousands of options when it comes to deciding what to listen to. Your podcast needs to deliver quality content and value. Here are seven best practices to consider if you’re starting a podcast.
1. Think about your message.
There’s a lot of content for people to consume, in all forms. What makes your podcast unique? Who do you imagine listening to it? Is there a gap you’ve found or a niche you want to fill? Do a little homework. Check out similar or related shows (bookmark them for the future, there might be some ways to collaborate). What’s missing? What special perspective will you bring that people can’t find elsewhere? What tone do you want for your show?
2. Make every second count.
Listeners’ time is valuable, so keep your content concise. This doesn’t mean there’s a magic number. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is one of the most popular podcasts, and it sometimes runs more than four hours. However, that’s a rare exception. He packs his episodes with high quality, engaging content. The nature of your podcast might lend itself to some “chit chat”, but think about the value the listener is getting for the time they’re spending.
3. Plan your episodes.
In your research, listen to some top quality shows. For every minute you hear, they likely spent hours researching and preparing. Not all shows take the investigative journalism of Serial. But sometimes podcasters forget about the importance of planning since it can feel like having a casual conversation. Planning might include determining show topics, contacting guests (and preparing them), thinking about your questions, making a rough outline (or even a script) of what you want to cover, and doing any research.
4. Optimize your podcast for maximum searchability.
In podcast apps, your podcast and episode titles are they key to being found (along with the author tag in some), and helps listeners easily identify what your content is about. So, think about keywords your audience might search for when coming up with titles.
This is also where show notes and transcripts come in handy. Search engines crawl text, so your episode descriptions and show notes should be search-friendly. Descriptions and show notes (think a blog post that accompanies a podcast) also serve as a place for listeners (or someone who finds your show online) to see a summary and get more information, links, etc.
5. Distribute, share, promote!
Once you set up your podcast with a reliable podcast host and get an RSS feed, you’re set to distribute to the many places people listen. Apple Podcasts (formerly known as iTunes) is the biggest directory so that should be a top priority. You can also make sure your show is set up properly for Google and that they index your show for Google Podcasts. Many podcast apps will pick your show up from iTunes, but there are also many directories where you can submit. Here’s a good list of podcast directories to check out. The good news is that due to the magic of RSS feeds, you just submit your feed and then your episodes will automatically update in various directories and apps.
Some podcast hosts make social sharing easy with automated tools in their platforms. You also want to have an online “home” for your podcast. Whether that be within an existing website, a new WordPress or Squarespace site or a podcast site provided by your hosting company, this is the place where people can read your show notes and get more information. Your own website offers your listeners another place to learn about you, the type of things you podcast about, and where else to find you online. It’s essentially a landing page all about your podcast.
There are many other ways you can use this space, especially as your podcast grows and evolves. As your podcast grows, you can use it as a place to put up merch for sale, offer tickets to shows, or even promote products and other podcasts through partnerships. A website – even one with a subdomain, like the website you automatically get with Podbean – is as powerful a tool as any software or microphone.
There are also different ways you can integrate your RSS feed with different types of websites, depending on where you host your podcast and what you want to do. You can embed podcast episodes easily with a player so people can also listen online.
Getting listed in directories and set up online is the first step, but you’ll need to do most of the heavy lifting to promote your show. Think about where your potential listeners “hang out” online. Are they on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Can you draw people in from Youtube (some podcast hosting companies autopost an “audiogram” there for you or you can get the tools to do this)? Are there specific forums or blogs where you can share information and generate interest? You might also want to consider promoting on other podcasts if you can – it can be one of the most effective ways to gain new listeners.
6. Get a handle on audio production.
If your podcast sounds bad, people will tune out. Check out some free audio tools like Audacity or LMMS, and learn some basic audio editing. There are other paid options for slimmer budgets, like Ardour and Reaper, but it’s best to try a free option first to get the feel for editing.
You also don’t have to spend a lot on microphones. There are different types of microphones depending if you want to just plug your microphone into your computer (USB mics) or if you want more control over how your microphone records (XLR mics), or for single or group hosts. Check out suggestions from other podcasters and podcast experts (Facebook groups like Podcasting Smarter are one good source).
There are even options to record right from your phone, and there are some decent sounding podcasts out there just using their earbuds (check out the Podbean app for recording and publishing, for example). Reducing background noise makes a big difference, so be sure you have a quiet space or add some soundproofing (egg crate foam, carpeting and blankets all do the trick on the cheap).
Another option to consider is hiring professional audio engineers for certain aspects of production. There are tons of resources out there, from professional sound studios to editors, guest bookers, show note writers and full production teams. Here are some podcast resources that I recommend.
7. Measure your success by your own benchmarks. And, make changes as needed.
Your podcast hosting company will provide download statistics and various data you can track. It can be hard to know what good numbers are. It is not the same for a highly produced true crime show as a podcast about a specific type of knitting. Don’t only use numbers to measure your success. Think beforehand about your goals and measure your success against that. Perhaps you want to use podcasting to showcase your expertise and build trust with potential clients. Maybe you only get 100 downloads/episode, but you have loyal client listeners and have had several inquiries. That’d be a success for you!
Don’t be afraid to make changes. If you feel something isn’t working or get feedback from listeners, you can adapt. Most podcasts evolve in some way over time. Some do a complete rebrand, change formats or end and start a completely new show. Always go back to your goals – even if the goal is for you and your best friend to get together and chat every week. If that’s happening and you’re enjoying it, podcasting has worked for you! Evaluate how things are working and change what’s not.
Most importantly, don’t get bogged down in the details or halted by creative paralysis or perfection. With these best practices, you can prioritize what you need to do when starting a podcast. Get started and take advantage of the growing podcasting wave. Check out all that Podbean has to offer and try it out with a free month at Podbean.com.