You might not think tips on how to start a podcast have anything to do with content strategy…
But before you laugh, for the right sort of business, launching a podcast can be an amazing content strategy driver…
Sure, podcasts have been hotting up in the last couple of years, as articles in the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post pointed out. Breakout shows like “Serial” and “Start-Up” were responsible for increasing awareness of podcasts, and most terrestrial radio stations, and their advertisers are launching podcasts as part of their digital strategy. Alex Blumberg of PBS recently left his well-paying job as host of “This American Life” and “Planet Money”, and raised $1.6M+ for his new podcast venture “Gimlet Media“.
Here are some recent market size statistics to consider as of 2018
- 67 million people listen to podcasts – monthly.
- 112 million Americans have listened to podcasts.
- As of 2016/17, podcast listening increased by 25% per year in the United States.
- As of 2017/18, podcast listening increased by 11% over the prior year.
- 85% of listeners hear all of a podcast.
- Average listeners subscribe to 6 different podcasts and consume an average of 5 episodes per week.
(Stat Reference and some insights about the above at: Convince & Convert)
Impressive stats, wouldn’t you agree? But the success of this approach is more pragmatic. Assuming you want to launch an interview show with thought leaders in your space, the show notes accompanying each episode can be a huge traffic generator for your site, and lead to Google rank increases, since it is in the interest of the thought leaders to cross promote each episode.
We produced and launched a podcast for our client “Positivity Strategist” and as a result, the site sky-rocketed in Alexa and Google ranking within the following three months, and their email list is growing exponentially, solely due to a successful podcast strategy.
We’ve since repeatedly used Podcasting as a content strategy to grow traffic to client sites or to get them to improve their rank on a variety of search engines.
The attached Alexa Ranking comparison chart shows the effect of positivitystrategist.com (in blue) as well as one of its competitor sites (in green) launching a podcast late in 2014.
Another example of how successful podcasting as content strategy can be was for a client podcast that followed our launch and content strategy called “the MFCEO Project“. It built an email list of over 17,000 within 1.5 years, and their 1.5 year old website gets 35K visitors monthly. It should be noted that there was a substantial social media presence on Instagram before we started, but that is the point: Podcasting as a content marketing strategy when done right can convert anonymous followers into more concrete email list subscriber, and most marketers recognize both the importance and difficulty of this.
In his awesome article how recent Google patents are shaping the future of SEO, Neil Patel predicts both the rise and fall of podcast’s popularity as tied to driverless cars. While podcasts are a form of content that is currently taking advantage of commute time for drivers, he predicts that eventually, other forms of content will become popular once hands-free driving allows us to consume video and visual content while driving. (Neil even kindly linked to this post in this article, a big thanks!)
One additional content marketing benefit is that there is no shortage of topics to write about since the show’s guests and schedule pretty much set a highly relevant agenda for show content and related posts.
And while we love building a loyal listenership, this article is not just about how to start a podcast, it’s about how to start a podcast as a content marketing strategy for your business and web site.
It’s not for the faint of heart, and it is a long tail type play, but for organizations with a host “personality” and a point of view, it can be a hugely successful way of generating valuable content for both listeners and website visitors.
Benefits of an interview style podcast
Some of the benefits of an interview style podcast with thought leaders in your area of business are:
- Meeting, collaborating and establishing working relationships with thought leaders in your space. Each episode of your podcast gives your guests a chance to talk about their experience, products, books or latest offerings. So you are essentially promoting them on your podcast, which is why it is beneficial for them to be on your show. Therefore most of the time getting guests is relatively easy, and we have seen lasting relationships come out of supporting each other in this way.
- Become an authority in your field. Often the intent of an inbound content marketing strategy is to establish your business and your websites as authorities in your industry segment. There are few better ways than to have a regular podcast interview show to establish this authority not only in your own mind but in the mind of your listening audience as well as your website visitors.
- Google page rank, domain authority and overall SEO for your site. These factors are driven by having high-quality incoming links. SEO is an ever-changing field, and what worked in years past no longer works today, most SEO experts agree that high-quality content and inbound links are the gold standards here. And since your show notes will promote and feature links to your guest’s site and latest products, it is a fair exchange to ask that they feature your episode on their site, as well as cross-promote it on their own social media channels. So 50 episodes into your show, you will have 50 high-quality inbound links, as well as all the traffic and social media mentions these episodes generated.
- Self-generating topics of discussion for posts on your site. Sure, you will need to prepare to think about guests and invites for your podcast strategically, but usually what emerges from each conversation is highly relevant content, easily turned into long form show notes that will constitute a large percentage of your content strategy.
Finding your passion and your voice
One caveat: You, or someone in your organization, needs to have a passion for your topic of choice. So if the ONLY overall reason you want to start a podcast is to increase page rank and generate traffic for your site, then this may not be not enough. Starting a podcast should not be a chore, it needs to come from the heart, and it needs to show passion.
- Audio is more intimate. The connection with your audience is deeper and more intimate on an emotional level, and so are the relationships you build with your fans and followers. I know that for podcasts I myself listen to, I feel “I know” the host. This may be a mirage, to use a visual metaphor for an audio phenomenon. But ultimately my experience is one of being connected more deeply than I would be by just reading someone’s blog posts.
- Audio is an interesting medium in this way. Your enthusiasm, or lack of it, will instantly shine through to your listeners, and be either a turn-on or turn-off. The effort required to launch a podcast is high, as are the rewards, but if it does not come from the heart, and if you don’t feel you can find something of value to share, don’t even start. I would argue the same is true for writing and blogging, but in audio format, it is way more apparent.
- Be clear about your value proposition to your listeners. Just like when writing blog articles, the listener experience should be front of mind. We love doing Value Proposition Design workshops for our clients when building web sites, and similarly the exercises we help our clients with apply here: clarity around who your likely listeners are, what they are interested in, what they can gain from listening to your show, or what pain relievers to their issues and problems you can provide.
- Niches are good, up to a point. In thinking about topics for your show and episodes, the more narrow the niche of your topic is, the better. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there are many examples of extremely small niches doing well in podcasting, and establishing a loyal listenership. But if you are launching a podcast for your business, the focus should be on what best serves your particular audience.
Focus on concept and content more than the equipment
You might think that starting a podcast is all about high-quality sound and production value, and therefore you will need to focus on getting the right equipment.
- Great Expectations. It is true that with the rise in popularity of podcasts there are increased listener expectations around having great sound, but there are many great sites that offer tips on how to start a podcast from a technical perspective, as well as how to do it affordably. No matter what budget, starting a podcast is relatively affordable in terms of money, but it can consume a fair amount of time.
- What To Focus On. Having great equipment won’t automatically make you a great podcast host or producer, so the focus should go into the planning, concept, and automating the production process. Statistically speaking, most podcasts shut down after only 7 episodes. There are many reasons for this, and my own guess is that people under-estimated the time and dedication it takes. In order to see results in terms of a content marketing strategy, obviously your podcast needs to last longer than 7 episodes, so don’t over-focus on equipment, go with basic equipment for low cost to start with. If your podcast makes it past 25 episodes, reward yourself with a nice microphone upgrade:)
Find strategic guests with an existing platform
When inviting guests for your podcast, there is a strategic way to look at this:
- It is a good idea to set expectations with your guests up front. Be crystal clear about the fact the this is a mutually supportive endeavor and win-win gift exchange, where you create a piece of great content that promotes your guest, and that in return you expect a blog post or resource-link back to your site and the episode post in return, as well as active guest participation in sharing the episode on social media.
- Having a platform. Of course you want to pick your guests to be interesting and entertaining for your audience, but ideally, your guest should also have a popular site, with a Google page rank of 4+, as well as a large social media presence. It may sound harsh, but otherwise getting links back from a dormant or low-value site is of little SEO value, and guests with little or no social media following are not likely to help share your episode widely.
Promote your podcast, but not just in iTunes
As of late 2018 / 2019, the current iTunes podcast ecosystem is difficult in terms of marketing. Discoverability is low, and there are 600,000+ shows to compete with. So how can people discover you?
In addition, the iTunes charts are currently badly broken, although Apple is aware of this fact and is starting to address it. The top podcasting charts are hackable and people are gaming the system to get into the top 200. There are many podcasts there that don’t belong, and we provide details as well as solutions here: We just published a comprehensive guide to podcast marketing and promotion.
The point is that promoting a podcast needs to happen outside of iTunes, and the above guide explains strategies and over 50+ marketing tactics in great detail
Write great long-form show notes
Long form content is better in terms of SEO, while 300+ words are required from an SEO perspective, 700 words plus is better.
- Create standard headers and footer. We follow a recipe for creating a standard header and footer segment for each episode. We use automation tools like Text Expander to create show notes footers, with pre-programmed subscribe links to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher; a standard section on how to share the podcast; where to find links to books or sites mentioned in the episode. This helps in creating longer form notes post.
- Create some standing segments for questions you ask each guest. You might also find that you have some standing questions you ask each guest, and you can prepare a show notes template that already includes the <H2> titles for each segment.
- Use a Transcription Service or Dragon Dictation software: We have had some pretty good luck with using Dragon Dictation software to process our podcast recording and to transcribe the content into a text file. While this process does not produce punctuation, it is helpful in creating summary notes or themes for show notes segments. There are many transcription services that will do a better job, and turn around a full transcript of each episode in about one day. The only drawback is that this approach is a bit more expensive.
- Podcast Transcription Services Using AI: The New Players on the Block
- There are several very interesting alternatives emerging using artificial intelligence and Google speech to text translation engines. One of these services is called Temi, a transcription service that is automated and very effective and accurate, as long as the speaker speaks English. It struggles with accents but is otherwise very accurate.
- IBM Watson, their cloud-based supercomputer, also features a nearly free transcription service, but I have found it not to be as accurate as Temi.
- Include a nicely formatted audio player bar for each episode. We have found that many of our listeners visit the web page and listen to the entire episode there, using our built-in web player. This is great in terms of getting high Google analytics engagement and time on site scores, as well as very low bounce rates.
- Invest 1-2 hours to learn the basics of SEO for podcasters, using our free 5 part SEO for podcasters tutorial series.
Build A Conversion Optimized Podcast Home Page
We recently published a video walkthrough which outlines a highly converting podcast website design pattern called “The Upside Down Podcast Home Page”.
It is designed and optimized to create a guided experience for your site visitors and to encourage them to subscribe to your podcast via email.
The video covers 2 versions of this – a more complete version for established podcasts with multiple seasons or topics, and a simple version for new podcast sites with a narrow niche and focused audience.
Why focus on podcast email subscribers?
In the last few years, we have been lucky to help launch a dozen or so podcasts. And most of our clients have been obsessed with getting into the “New and Noteworthy” section of iTunes. However, as of late 2018, it is worth pointing out that the iTunes charts are somewhat broken and full of podcasts that have simply hacked their way into the charts. To see how this is possible, just watch this great video by Lime Link, about how the podcast ecosystem is being hacked. Please do NOT use these techniques to get your own show to rank, Apple will at some point have to address the weakness in their algorithm, and I expect a lot of shows to get banned in the process.
Invest in your sound quality and the editing process
Make sure you make your guests and yourself sound great.
Earlier I mentioned about audio as a medium being more intimate. This means it can also be more annoying – when a lack of sound quality results in a “hard to listen to” experience, people will bail much more quickly than if they encounter one or two spelling mistakes on a blog post.
The better and more professional your podcast and each episode sounds, the more likely your guests will see it as an asset they are eager to share on their site, their social media and as part of their PR kit.
- Sound Editing Resources. If you are editing the episodes yourself, there are several resources to help producing high sound quality regardless of your software of choice. One of the best is Ultimate Vocal Formula, a generous course run by Rob Williams, which offers great editing tips, a terrific cheat sheet for correct use of equalizers and compression to shape your show’s sound to be broadcast standard.
- Remove “Ums”, “Ahhs”, “You Know” and “Lip Smacks”. Unless your guests are totally fluent public speakers, if you are like us you may be surprised to notice just how many of these flubs are in the un-edited field for each episode. I can’t stress how important the editing process is in shaping the overall listener experience. I was interviewed on a podcast recently and was surprised to find I say “you know” all the time. The podcast editor removing this was a relief for me and saved much embarrassment. So take the time to make your guests sound great.
- Be Ruthless. We not only try to remove flubs, but we may at times even delete irrelevant or repeating and rambling parts of a longer conversation, in order to create a better and more concise episode.
- Sound Tracks and Segments. Having a great sound track and theme intro, even having repeating show segments with their own theme music can make your show stand out and sound professional and broadcast ready.
Promote and build your e-mail list
When people visit your show notes page, they should have an easy way to subscribe to podcast episode reminders via email.
- Mention an easy to remember show-notes URL during each episode. Use tools like “Easy301 Redirects” or “Prettylink” to create short URLS in addition to your long episode specific URLs. This is because you want to mention an easily accessible URL during the episode to encourage listeners to visit there, find out more about the guest, or download special offers and lead-magnets. So for example, instead of “myshow.com/long-podcast-episode5-description”, create a short URL for episode: “myshow.com/5”, which is easy to remember for listeners.
- Offer a way to subscribe via email. Make sure visitors have an email opt-in to be notified for each episode. We use a Mailchimp based automated RSS driven email campaign to send email notifications out for our podcasts. Most other marketing automation engines can generate RSS triggered emails. However, even if your platform does not offer this in an automated fashion, think of creating manual email notifications to your list as an advantage: It allows you to be more specific and personal in each email you send out.
- Email notification do’s and don’t’s: Be careful not to provide the entire show-notes within your email. Your email is meant to alert your subscribers to the fact that a new episode is available, and to raise some curiosity about it. And then get them to visit your site, that should be the primary goal and single CTA. Plus, who reads long emails anymore.
- Promote opt-ins and giveaways. Where applicable, create downloadable content for each episode, and allow clients to opt-in for these using tools like LeadPages.
How much time will it take, and are there good ways to save time?
I’ve heard experienced podcasters agree that that the overall time it takes to produce a podcast episode is about 4-5 times the amount of time of the actual episode recording length. I would say that this is a conservative estimate, coming from people who have their workflow down to a finely honed art, with templated processes and automation.
Overall, the steps involved are
- Guest Management. Identifying guests, inviting them and scheduling pre-interviews and the actual interview
- Recording. Recording the actual episodes sound files.
- Producing. Editing the audio files in audio software, outputting the .mp3 files, tagging the .mp3 files with show information, uploading to your podcast hosting service, and preparing episode titles and summaries, as well as scheduling each episode for release and distribution on feeds and social media.
- Show Notes Production & Promotion. Writing a blog article to accompany each episode, with links to your guest’s site and resources, as well as managing social media shares.
However, there are ways to save time:
- Establish a schedule and stick to it. John Lee Dumas of the highly successful “Entrepreneur on Fire” podcast shares that he sets aside one day a week to schedule, record and produce content for a month. In our experience, this is no small feat, and podcast related activities tend to bleed into the rest of the week. This is, of course, subject to your resources.
- Automate as much as possible. When producing podcasts we have templated everything, from guest invite emails to basic show notes structure, episode footers and other lead magnet downloads. This greatly decreases the amount of time to produce show notes. (I will share our process for applying some great automation tools in the near future).
- Get help. If your business has the resources, you can easily farm out some of the more time consuming aspects of doing a podcast. For example, you can assign interns to handle guest scheduling and invites. Or, you can take advantage of podcast production packages like the ones we offer here at Polymash, where the only thing a host has to worry about is the actual recording of the interview, and where everything else from editing to basic show notes and publishing of each episode is taken care of.
Formulate A Podcast Content Strategy
Cornerstone content is an SEO concept that works particularly well with high quality and long-form content. It builds on the most important themes of your site or business and creates an internal linked network of related content on your site. For each “cornerstone”, a long-form 2,000+ words article or “hero post” is created, and then other articles on your site are modified or created to link to this one “cornerstone” piece of content.
When Google indexes your site, these many internal links provide context and point to the “cornerstone” article as the centerpiece. Google recognizes the importance of the “cornerstone” article for your site, and typically ranks it more highly than individual shorter articles.
This approach works very well in planning out your podcast content strategy.
In our Podcast Marketing & SEO course, we teach creating a 6-month podcast content strategy using step by step methods to identify the best keywords, topics, and themes for your podcast, and then implement these themes using the “cornerstone content” approach. We typically use the episode show notes, and for cornerstone pieces add transcriptions to the posts, which results in long-form content.
Since Google introduced “Rank Brain” in late 2017, their focus has shifted to measuring “quality content”. Google does this by measuring bounce rate, time on page, scroll distance and other factors. Suffice it to say that the more you can engage someone to stay on your hero post or episode, the more likely Google will rank your episode highly.
Last Tip: Define what success means for you
When first launching a podcast, it is easy to get caught up in your download stats. Don’t.
You can set your own goals and ways to measure success.
For example, building a loyal listener base can matter, or maybe it’s establishing lasting relationships with peers and clients. There is intrinsic high value in having people want to listen and visit your site because they are truly interested in the topic. Our bounce rates on podcast episodes are below 20%, sometimes in the low teens. And our email sign-ups have skyrocketed.
This is a longer term strategic investment, but as you can see from the Alexa ranking graph at the top of this post, the reward can be massive.
Where can we send your guide?
- If you’ve made it this far reading a long post about how to start a podcast as content strategy, then chances are it might be a good fit for you. I’d love to hear your perspective, please leave a comment!