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Podcast Marketing With Social Contests And Give-Aways

Promoting a newly launched podcast with a Facebook contest used to be a very popular podcast marketing tactic. The idea was to launch a contest featuring a relevant give-away and to boost it with paid Facebook ads. To enter the contest, contestants were asked to subscribe to the show, leave an iTunes review, and then to email the iTunes ID name used for the review to the podcast host as proof. The podcast host would then enter the applicant into the contest drawing.

In today's episode we examine:

  • The reasons why this is not as popular launch strategy anymore
  • But also why this podcast marketing strategy is still a good idea today
  • Prize selection tips and why they are key for this podcast marketing strategy
  • Contest Structure
  • We will cover some of the best paid and free contest platforms
  • Tips for setting up and running such contests
  • Need some help for your own contest launch?

iTunes Focused Launches Have Changed

Podcast marketing no longer focuses on iTunes alone
Podcast marketing no longer focuses on iTunes alone

The reason this was a successful strategy a few years ago was that the "New and Noteworthy" algorithm within iTunes was driven by the number of reviews a podcast would receive in the initial weeks after launch. And contests were a great way to get lots of reviews in a short amount of time.

Since then, the algorithm to rise to the top of iTunes has changed. It is no longer driven by the number of reviews. Instead, at the time of this writing, the number of new subscribers have the most impact, followed by the number of episode downloads. Therefore the number of reviews no longer contribute to being at the top of the “New and Noteworthy” section.

As I have said elsewhere:

I feel that podcasters needlessly obsess about getting into the "New and Noteworthy" section.

The reality is that over the last two years iTunes has become a highly competitive space, given that major popular radio stations have shifted their energies from terrestrial and satellite radio to podcasts as a way to create a digital presence.

And there has been evidence that being featured in "New and Noteworthy" typically yields only a few hundred additional subscribers.

Podcast marketing through “Launch Contest” is less common now

The main reason is that N&N is no longer as influenced my the number of reviews a podcast gets. Besides no longer being as effective, setting up a launch contest usually takes a good deal of time to set up. You need landing pages, marketing automation capability and time. Or money to spend on contest platforms.

But if you have the passion, time and effort to spare, a launch contest will still give your podcast launch a great boost, for some of the below reasons:

But iTunes Reviews Are Still Important

Reviews are still important and should not be ignored. They lend credibility and social proof to a podcast. Seeing that dozens of people are leaving great reviews for a podcast you might enjoy might tip the scale for you to take action and subscribe. On the other hand, seeing a podcast on iTunes with no reviews at all also tells you something.

Why a Launch Contest is Still A Good Idea

Getting reviews and testimonials is as hard as it ever was. We've seen this play out countless times. People are happy to offer leaving a review, but iTunes doesn't make this process very straight-forward. So when it comes down to it, even your friends and relatives somehow don't get around to it without repeat reminders.

Contest Prize Selection

Prize selection matters in podcast marketing  with contests
Prize selection matters in podcast marketing with contests

Adding the right prizes and incentives is key. The selected giveaways don’t have to be expensive. It is more important that they be relevant, and related to the podcast topic or context.

So for example, for a customer experience podcast you might have a contest to win free tickets to the biggest yearly Customer Experience conference. That beats offering an iPad as a prize, simply because your subscriber and contest participants are much more likely to actually care about your podcast and topic, instead of just trying to win an iPad.

Another example might be a podcast about podcasting, podcast growth and promotions such as my own show. If I were to run a contest for the Podcast Growth Show, I would choose to give away a premium microphone or podcasting gear package as the grand prize.

Why Choose Multiple Prizes?

But one prize is not enough. By giving away multiple prizes, you increase the desirability and success of your contest simply because there are better odds and many more ways to win.

The most successful contests offer a single grand prize, and then a number of secondary prizes in decreasing value.

In fact, you should give away a free resource for everyone entering your contest. This could be a simple lead magnet PDF, as long as it is related to your podcast's topic and focus.

Podcast Marketing Contest Example Prizes

For the Podcast Growth Show, here is how I would plan to structure my own podcast contest. My goal would be to attract new podcasters. So my prize selection would focus on thinking about what would be relevant for new podcasters.

Pretty much every podcaster I know tried to save money during their initial studio setup. And the thing they most likely tried to save money on is their microphone boom arm. A cheap version of this can be highly frustrating to use, and a more professional model with greater reach and a more solid feel is a pleasure to use. Believe me, podcasters will appreciate the difference.

  • 1st Prize: Premium RODE PSA1 Swivel Mount Studio Microphone Boom Arm (a $109 value)
  • 2nd Prize: A Great Dynamic Podcast XLR and USB Microphone – The Audio Technica AT2005 (a $79 value)
  • 3rd Prize: 15 copies of our "Podcast Marketing & SEO Online Course" – (a $97 value)
  • 9th-25 Prize: Our Podcast Marketing Bible Ebook (a $9.97 value)
  • Prize for all contest entrants: "How To Market Your Podcast" ebook and access to our online "Podcasting Resources Guide"

Contest Structure

Podcast promotion contest structure
There are many facets to consider when launching a podcast promotion contest

As I previously mentioned, the launch contests of yesteryear focused on getting iTunes reviews. But that should no longer be the only focus now. For me, it is much more important to attract the right listeners to join my email list and to subscribe to my podcast through email notifications.

So my focus would be to get contest entrants to

  1. Subscribe to my show via email
  2. Subscribe to my show's YouTube channel, because I feature lots of cool "how to" and demo videos there
  3. Like my podcast's Facebook page
  4. Join our Facebook podcast marketing group
  5. Leave an iTunes review

Multiple Actions to Enter The Contest

These are multiple actions to take, and people might think this is a lot to ask just to enter a contest. And that is right, except:

Each action completed creates additional chances to win the prize

So the logic is this: You must subscribe to my email list, that part is required because otherwise I cannot communicate with you and send you the prize. But if you complete the other additional steps, each completed tasks enters you in the contest additional times, greatly increasing your chances of winning one or more prizes.

And, each action is weighed differently: For example, subscribing to my Youtube channel is worth an additional 5 entries, but leaving an iTunes review is worth 25 additional entries.

The genius of this approach for podcast reviews is that it makes it a no-brainer for a contest entrant to do the hardest thing: Leave you an iTunes review.

Later in the podcast I explore the differences between a DIY approach versus utilizing one of the contest platforms out there. This approach of multiple contest entries for multiple actions is only possible by using proper contest management platforms like.

An example of multiple actions to increase your chances

In our video we feature a great example of this in a contest currently underway. The company is Syrp, and they are giving away some photo gear. Click below to start the video at 10:44 seconds:

At 10:44 – an example of multiple ways to enter a contest

Is it necessary to validate iTunes Reviews?

Unfortunately I don't know of any platform that integrates with iTunes directly to validate if someone actually left an iTunes review. But in my mind, most people will do so if asked, because they are afraid of missing out and being found out. What if you were to ask them for the iTunes name they left a review under before sending them their prize?

  • Note that with the Gleam.io platform, there are several easy ways to enter a contest by answering a question or by leaving a comment – and here you can simply ask the user to enter the iTunes name under which the review was left.

Creating Contest Landing Pages

If you want to create a contest, you will want to set up a contest landing page. A contest landing page is a distraction free website or page where you can send ad traffic to, and where people can learn about and sign up for your contest.

You can build such pages manually, but you may not need to when using the contest platforms we will discuss a bit later. They handle the creation of and simplify the design of landing pages, and some even allow you to create multiple versions of these pages and conduct A/B tests to see which ones perform best.

Q: Do you need to A/B test pages? A: It depends. There are people out there that have tested their contest pages. Here are some links to these tests and their outcomes. Why not learn from their tests and model your landing page on their winners? This will save you time and effort.

Generally speaking, it seems that contest landing pages with video perform better.

The Facebook Ad Campaign

Once you have a landing page, it's time to set up a Facebook campaign to boost your contest landing page. Facebook marketing is too big a topic to tackle in this episode, but here are a few tips to make this work:

Setting Up And Using Facebook Ads Manager

Creating A Facebook Ad

There are many easy ways in which you can create a Facebook ad. You shoot a quick video or FB live post, create one or more images about your contest, and come up with some fun language to use for a Facebook post.

We use the AIDA method when creating Facebook ads and landing pages for contests:

  • A =Attention – Ask a provocative question or make a statement that earns the attention of your audience
  • I=Interest – Expand on attention grabbing line with something that will peak their interest and explain.
  • D=Desire – What's in it for them to enter your contest. Duh, that's easy, right?
  • A=Action – This is the call to action, what you want them to do

Finding The Right Audience

The key in making Facebook ads effective and affordable is to show your contest ads to only your very best, most relevant audience. In Facebook parlance this is called "audience targeting". If you have never done Facebook ads before, this can be a bit tricky. Basically you are trying to limit the number of people who see your ads to only those interested in your primary topic.

Targeting Podcast Listeners

But that is not all: You also want to make sure the audience your Facebook ads are shown to are likely podcast listeners, and that part is much harder.

podcast marketing with Facebook Ads
The 5 Step Process to Advertise To Podcast Listeners On Facebook

We have a 5 step process to target likely podcast listeners on Facebook. It walks you through our method on Facebook Ads manager, and you will learn how to target people generally interested in your podcast's topic, but who also are likely podcast listeners.

Free vs Paid Contest Platforms

Are paid contest marketing platforms worth it?

Should you use a paid contest platform like the ones we outlined above? Or is there a way to build this all for free?

Advantages of Paid Contest Platforms

Paid contest platforms are the way to go. For a relatively low monthly fee they offer a range of distinct advantages over a DIY approach.

They integrate with social networks. This means they validate that someone actually shared a post, liked your Facebook Page or Youtube channel. All of this before they are entered in the contest.

Most paid platforms offer pre-built contest landing pages for you. You get up and running much more quickly, and don't have to invest in fancy landing page builders.

They send out custom email reminders. This saves you from having to create your own email funnels, saving a lot of time.

Some have A/B testing built in. This means you get to test out multiple landing pages to see which perform better.

Here are some of my favorite contest platforms to consider:

Rafflecopter

  • Rafflecopter – One of the most affordable platforms out there. Rafflecopter offers a free plan, trials for the more advanced plans starting at $13 a month at the time of this writing. While an easy platform to start with, it is basic.
  • It lacks some of the more innovative features features found on higher priced platforms.

Gleam.io

  • Gleam.io – I really like Gleam.io. It is a smart and flexible contest platform. It rewards people to take multiple actions to promote you while entering your contest. This increases the viral potential of your podcast marketing or launch contest. After having reviewed about 10 different contest management platforms, Gleam has emerged as my favorite. It is, however, not the least expensive, the Pro plan being $45 a month.

Upviral

  • Upviral – a good alternative to Gleam if the expense of that platform is a hurdle. By automatically emailing reminders, setting goals and providing incentives/rewards, your contest entrants stay on track and deliver. They get rewarded, you get new subscribers and everyone’s happy! Upviral has an example case study on their site of their own podcast launch contest which resulted in 7000 contest site visitors, 450 leads and 50+ reviews on iTunes.

Contest Domination

  • Contest Domination – a flexible platform that offers 7 day trial and a per contest payment option for $100 for a month. The benefit of their approach is that you get access to all features, where some of the other popular platform restrict their features for the basic plans.

To summarize these contest platforms, I feel that Gleam is the most innovative platform to try, and you can expect to spend perhaps $90 for a pro plan for a 2 months campaign. The major spend for podcast launch campaigns comes from Facebook ads anyhow, I would expect to spend between $20-$50 a day for the duration of the campaign. Be sure to check out Episode 3 of our podcast on Paid Podcast Advertising – A Look Behind The Scenes [S1E03]

Free Contest Platform Options

If you want to run your podcast launch contest with absolutely no additional expense, here are some ways to do it as well as some things to keep in mind:

  • To save money on prizes, you can give away content and prizes that don't cost you anything, like courseware, or eBooks or other premium content you have previously developed
  • You can use your own email list software like Mailchimp or Constant contact or even free Gmail automation tools like YAMM (we covered YAMM for Podcast Guesting Outreach in episode XX of our podcast)
  • You will need to develop your own landing pages on your podcast or blogging site.
  • Rely on your social network for free promotion and awareness of your contest, with a big enough following you can save on promoting your contest with paid ads
  • You can use tools like GoViral – a free platform from Growth Tools which ensures and validates social sharing. It is great to use as an add-on for thank you pages.
  • Try out GiveawayTools – a new contest design platform that's currently still in beta, but is free and integrates with several social platforms.

So it can theoretically be done for free, but it will require a large investment of time on your part.

My own view is that a zero cost and DIY approach is not likely to succeed

And the question you should ask yourself is about the relationship between time spent and likely effectiveness of the contest campaign you are setting up.

Need a guide to help with your own contest launch?

I've just published a resource for folks wanting to set up their own contest. This is published in "Open PDF" format, meaning the entire guide is provided on-line with no sign-up required, but you can download it guide as an option if you want.

Podcast Marketing with Launch Contests
Podcast Marketing with Launch Contests

I also offer some ways to collaborate around setting up your own launch contest, from low cost "DIY" sanity checks all the way to "Done for you" contest setup and management.

Conclusion

Apart from getting iTunes reviews, a podcast marketing contest with the right prizes and incentives can quickly add a ton of visibility and email subscribers to your podcast.

While it may not reliably get you into the "New and Noteworthy" section of the iTunes podcast directory any more, having some great reviews still lends social proof and credibility to your podcast. And email subscribers to your show are a permanent asset.

If you decide to run a podcast marketing contest, I recommend using a paid contest platform, as this will save you a ton of time and effort.

Today's episode is a little different. We are going to talk about the importance of building a great podcast home page, and the role it plays in promoting your podcast.

Podcast Homepage Design Patterns

Let me apologize in advance: Talking about podcast homepage design patterns is a mostly visual exercise. It you are listening and not able to see the video and the show notes, I'll try my best to verbally explain the page layout elements as we go through.

But the episode features a YouTube video where you can see the visual bits explained in detail, and I'd encourage you to watch it above.

What we are talking about is a highly converting podcast homepage design pattern called “The Upside Down Podcast Home Page” – 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 a focused audience.

But first I want to outline the reasons behind focusing on email list building instead of on iTunes rank and "New and Noteworthy" presence. I get asked about this a lot, especially by "podcasting purists" and "old school" podcasters who are experienced and may already have a solid audience and following. For them, understandably, the primary goal is to serve listeners on iTunes.

Why Podcast Homepage Design Should Focus On Email List Building instead of iTunes Subscribers

The holy grail of podcasting is to get iTunes Subscribers, right? And to get into the "New and Noteworthy" charts, right? And so podcast homepage design should focus on getting visitors to your site to subscribe on iTunes, right?

Well, not from my point of view. For a number of reasons: The iTunes podcast ranking algorithm as well as the "New and Noteworthy" charts are seriously broken at the time of this writing. The top 200 podcasts are being gamed and exploited, and are full of entries who are paying thousands of dollars to overseas click farms for instant presence in the top charts. This is not just my opinion, but has been extensively covered in the podcast news beats. If you want to see a comprehensive video explaining how this is the case, and what the impact on the iTunes ecosystem is, just watch this video by Lime Link.

So why design your podcast website to get people to subscribe on iTunes, when you could be getting people to subscribe to your podcast via email notifications?

I would gladly trade 1,000 iTunes subscribers for 100 podcast email notification subscribers.

Email list building sounds like such a trite concept, but even today it is still one of the most valuable assets your business can build. The fact is that you can provide your audience with more valuable context, and you get to better position your episodes through the email notifications you send. Should you still encourage your listeners to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher? Of course, but it is better to do so after they have opted in via email.

The Inbound Philosophy of the "Upside Down Podcast Homepage" Design Pattern

"Conversion Optimization" is such a crass term. Sounds vaguely exploitative, like you are somehow tricking or taking advantage of your audience.

Let me try and debunk that.

The "Upside Down Podcast Homepage" design pattern is intended to better serve your audience.

It is meant to create a better experience for them. It is based on empathy with your audience. Your podcast homepage design should be intended to help your audience discover your best and most relevant content. Content that resonates the most with their own situation and listening goals, and is also what you are most proud of.

Creating a Guided Experience

And so, the intention is to create a guided experience for your visitors. This means hiding distractions, and reducing some of the options that some visitors may be accustomed to. For example, the presence of a comprehensive menu with lots of choices at the top of the page. Or buttons to jump off to iTunes and Stitcher where they can simply subscribe. From a UX perspective, you may think these make it easier for your visitors, when in fact they can create cognitive friction, overwhelm, and too many choices.

The idea is not to make it "harder" for your visitors to find these links, but to simply guide them on a journey to better understanding your topic, how your podcast addresses their own needs, and how best to stay connected with your content.

None of this can happen if you "make it easy" for your site visitors by placing a "Subscribe on iTunes" button on the top of your site. That just sends them straight to the iTunes store, where they will see a homogenized list of episodes with no context, no background story, no differentiation between one episode and the next.

The subscribe on iTunes links are still there, of course, but placed near the bottom of the page. This means as your visitors scroll through your podcast website, you have the chance to encourage them to discover your content and subscribe to your show via email.

And this is where "Pilot Stories" come in. But first, let's walk through the upside down podcast home page design one section at a time:

Again, apologies for the visual nature of this, but what follows will talk through a number of website design elements called "page sections". These are the building blocks of modern web design. They can be thought of as horizontal bands of grouped content. Most of us are familiar with websites that have a "Header" or "Above the Fold" or "Hero" page section. Well, there are other less prominent sections as well, and we'll talk through each one involved in the "Upside Down Podcast Homepage" pattern.

The "Above The Fold" Section

Above the fold is defined as

positioned in the upper half of a web page and visible without scrolling down the page.

The above the fold section is the first thing that creates an impression when we visit a site. It is often where we find a "Header" or "Hero Image". The top of the page should be dedicated to one thing: getting people to sign up to your podcast via email.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Above The Fold
The Upside Down Podcast Homepage Design Pattern – Above The Fold

Look Ma, No Menu: This is what makes it an “upside down” page. Menu links are moved to the footer instead. If you must have menu items, limit them to 3-5.

Showing Face: Showing a face above the fold increases conversions, trust, engagement

Call To Action: Deliver a solid call to action above the fold, but make sure this is NOT an iTunes button.

Social Proof Section

The social proof band establishes you're not a weirdo, and if possible outlines your best reviews, or that your podcast was in the top 100, or that you've been featured elsewhere, including on TV, or even if you've appeared on other podcast shows. It is often implemented as a set of light grey logos where you might have been featured, or can include testimonials from your guests. The design reason for "greyed out" logos are that they are a more humble brag, and less likely to visually compete with the design of your site.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Social Proof Section
The Upside Down Podcast Homepage Design Pattern – Social Proof Section

In our video, notice the design treatment for this section.

The Roadmap Section

The roadmap section provides an multiple choice on-ramp to let your site visitors self-select their journey through your content. It is most often designed as a section with a set of columns or content boxes with an icon, a headline, short description and a button to find out more.

It provides an "at a glance" overview of your podcast's content, while at the same time encouraging your visitors to select what they are most interested in. Clicking on your road map section represents a sort of "micro-commitment" to further engage with your content.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Roadmap Section
The Upside Down Podcast Homepage Design Pattern – Roadmap Section

A good example of a roadmap would be for guiding your site visitors through multiple seasons of your podcast. Each season would have a title, a description, and a button to find out more about it. A click on each button triggers a smooth scroll down the page to a pilot story section, which further explains the season and offers some of its best content. This sort of self selective exploration of your content allows your visitors to find what they want as well as stay on your site.

SEO Tip: For extra credit, implement a WordPress plugin called "Reduce Bounce Rate", which communicates with Google Analytics and records scroll movements. In our tests we have observed improvement in bounce rate from the 80s to the 30s.

The Role of Pilot Stories in Podcast Homepage Design

As covered in our video, there are multiple ways in which pilot stories function within your podcast homepage design to highlight your very best best content.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Pilot Story Section
The Upside Down Podcast Homepage Design Pattern – Pilot Story Section

If you have a single and focused niche you may only need a single pilot story. But if your podcast homepage design is intended to offer multiple categories of content, or multiple seasons, then you can add "Pilot Story" sections for each.

For listeners unable to see the illustrations in our show notes, the pilot story section features not only the headline and compelling description, but also a mini grid of your best episodes on the related topic. Our own design approach is to split this page section vertically, with the pilot story on one side, and a mini episode grid on the other side.

This allows you to highlight your best content, instead of hiding it deep inside your site. Use Google analytics to identify the best and most popular episodes from the past, and then feature them here.

Pilot Story Section For Seasons

For people with seasonal shows, these sections can tell the story of each season.

  • Having a section for each season provides you with a chance to outline the value proposition of listening to each season.
  • It also lets you highlight the best and most popular episodes, and allows people to jump to the show notes pages for each episode that resonates with them.

Pilot Story Section For Topic Categories

Another way to position the pilot story sections is to categorize your content. Does your podcast offer advice, or tips? If so, chances are that your episodes fall into multiple categories of advice and tips.

  • You can develop a "Pilot Story" for each category, and highlight the best episodes for each.

Your Pilot Story's Call To Action

One thing all pilot stories have in common is that they offer you the chance to highlight your best content. And it also provides you with the opportunity to offer your audience a call to action. What is it you want them to do?

Don't miss any new episodes…

The simplest way to implement this is to simply offer a way to subscribe to email notifications as a way to stay connected with your show.

A more advanced call to action provides additional incentives to your audience.

For an example of this, see season 2 of the Positivity Strategist Podcast.

Podcast Website Design Example of a Call To Action
Podcast Website Design Example of a Season And Call To Action

This podcast season talks about "Seven new literacies for living and leading in our times", and the gift being offered for people to subscribe to the show is a "7 Literacies Guide" to go along with listening to the season.

Associating your podcast homepage with strong calls to action also allows for utilizing paid ads and post boosts on Facebook and other platforms. And, make sure your podcast episode files use Facebook correctly and link to your show notes pages rather than to iTunes.

Podcast Subscription Links Section

Finally, here is the section about how to subscribe on iTunes or other podcast directories. This appears right at the top of the podcast home page in too many podcast homepage designs.

The reason for placing this further down is this: By the time that people scroll to this section, your pilot stories have had ample time to communicate the benefits of signing up via email.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - iTunes Links Section
The Upside Down Podcast Homepage Design Pattern – iTunes Links Section

Minor tip: If you use the icons and graphics provided by each podcast platform, consider adding text explanations under each graphic. Your readers might not recognize each graphic.

The Episode Grid Section

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Episode Grid
The Upside Down Podcast Homepage Design Pattern – Episode Grid

Like the iTunes links, your complete episode grid is purposefully moved towards the bottom of the page layout, so people are likely more likely to scroll and discover the highlighted episodes in the “Pilot Story” sections above.

The Navigation Footer

This is what makes this home page “upside-down.”

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Episode Grid
The Upside Down Podcast Homepage Design Pattern – Episode Grid

Most websites have their navigation at the very top of the page, but moving it to the bottom of the page, we have increased focus and conversions.

Conclusion and Examples

We use this design pattern on a number of pages ourselves. And this design pattern is obviously not limited to podcasting websites and homepages. Here are some examples we built for a clients in different industries:

Additional Downloadable Resources

If you are interested in a downloadable PDF version of this design pattern as featured and covered in the video with all the annotations and explanations, please click here to sign up for our podcasting resources guide, which features a PDF version of the entire design pattern with lots of implementation notes.

WordPress Ready Made Podcast Home Page Download

Also, I am creating a "Done For You" version of this design pattern, ready to install on any WordPress site, let me know if that is something you would want in the comments.

This video walk through outlines a highly converting podcast website design pattern called “The Upside Down Podcast Home Page” – 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.

A video walk-through tour of the “Upside Down Podcast Home Page” design pattern

In this post I want to outline the reasons behind focusing on email list building instead of obsessing about iTunes rank and “New and Noteworthy”.

Why Podcast Website Design Should Focus On Email List Building instead of iTunes Subscribers

The holy grail of podcasting is to get iTunes Subscribers, right? And to get into the “New and Noteworthy” charts, right? And so podcast website design should focus on getting visitors to your site to subscribe on iTunes, right?

Wrong, in my opinion. The iTunes podcast ranking algorithm as well as the “New and Noteworthy” charts are seriously broken at the time of this writing. The top 200 podcasts are being gamed and exploited, and are full of entries who are paying thousands of dollars to overseas click farms for instant presence in the top charts. This is not just my opinion, but has been extensively covered in the podcast news beats. If you want to see a comprehensive video explaining how this is the case, and what the impact on the iTunes ecosystem is, just watch this video by Lime Link.

So why design your podcast website to get people to subscribe on iTunes, when you could be getting people to subscribe to your podcast via email notifications?

I would gladly trade 1,000 iTunes subscribers for 100 podcast email notification subscribers.

Email list building sounds like such a trite concept, but even today it is still one of the most valuable assets your business can build. The fact is that you can provide your audience with more valuable context, and you get to better position your episodes through the email notifications you send. Should you still encourage your listeners to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher? Of course, but it is better to do so after they have opted in via email.

The Inbound Philosophy of the “Upside Down Podcast Home Page” Design Pattern

“Conversion Optimization” is such a crass term. Sounds vaguely exploitative, like you are somehow tricking or taking advantage of your audience.

Let me try and debunk that.

The “Upside Down Podcast Homepage” design pattern is intended to better serve your audience.

It is meant to create a better experience for them. It is based on empathy with your audience. Your podcast website design should be intended for your audience to discover your best and most relevant content. Content that resonates the most with their own situation and listening goals, and also is what you are most proud of.

Creating a Guided Experience

And so, the intention is to create a guided experience for your visitors. This means hiding distractions, and reducing some of the options that some visitors may be accustomed to. For example, the presence of a comprehensive menu with lots of choices at the top of the page. Or buttons to jump off to iTunes and Stitcher where they can simply subscribe. From a UX perspective, you may think these make it easier for your visitors, when in fact they can create cognitive friction, overwhelm, and too many choices.

The idea is not to make it “harder” for your visitors to find these links, but to simply guide them on a journey to better understanding your topic, how your podcast addresses their own needs, and how best to stay connected with your content.

None of this can happen if you “make it easy” for your site visitors by placing a “Subscribe on iTunes” button on the top of your site. That just sends them straight to the iTunes store, where they will see a homogenized list of episodes with no context, no background story, no differentiation between one episode and the next.

The subscribe on iTunes links are still there, of course, but placed near the bottom of the page. This means as your visitors scroll through your podcast website, you have the chance to encourage them to discover your content and subscribe to your show via email.

And this is where “Pilot Stories” come in. But first, let’s walk through the upside down podcast website design one section at a time:

Above The Fold

The top of the page is dedicated to one thing: getting people to sign up to your podcast via email.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Above The Fold
The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern – Above The Fold

Look Ma, No Menu: This is what makes it an “upside down” page. Menu links are moved to the footer instead. If you must have menu items, limit them to 3-5.

Showing Face: Showing a face above the fold increases conversions, trust, engagement

Call To Action: Deliver a solid call to action above the fold, but make sure this is NOT an iTunes button.

Social Proof

The social proof band establishes you’re not a weirdo, and if possible outlines your best reviews, or that your podcast was in the top 100, or that you’ve been featured elsewhere, including on TV, or even if you’ve appeared on other podcast shows.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Social Proof Section
The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern – Social Proof Section

In our video, notice the design treatment for this section.

Roadmap

The roadmap section provides an on-ramp to let your site visitors self-select their journey through your content.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Roadmap Section
The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern – Roadmap Section

This could be navigating through multiple seasons or categories. Each segment or column on the road map smooth scrolls to a pilot story section further down the page. This allows your visitors to stay on your site.

SEO Tip: For extra credit, implement a WordPress plugin called “Reduce Bounce Rate“, which communicates with Google Analytics and records scroll movements. In our tests we have observed improvement in bounce rate from the 80s to the 30s.

The Role of Pilot Stories in Podcast Website Design

As covered in our video, there are multiple ways in which pilot stories function within your podcast website design to highlight your very best best content.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Pilot Story Section
The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern – Pilot Story Section

If you have a single and focused niche you may only need a single pilot story. But if your podcast website design is intended to offer multiple categories of content, or multiple seasons, then you can add “Pilot Story” sections for each.

Pilot Story Section For Seasons

For people with seasonal shows, these sections can tell the story of each season.

  • Having a section for each season provides you with a chance to outline the value proposition of listening to each season.
  • It also lets you highlight the best and most popular episodes, and allows people to jump to the show notes pages for each episode that resonates with them.

Pilot Story Section For Topic Categories

Another way to position the pilot story sections is to categorize your content. Does your podcast offer advice, or tips? If so, chances are that your episodes fall into multiple categories of advice and tips. You can develop a “Pilot Story” for each category, and highlight the best episodes for each.

Your Pilot Story’s Call To Action

One thing all pilot stories have in common is that they offer you the chance to highlight your best content. And it also provides you with the opportunity to offer your audience a call to action. What is it you want them to do?

Don’t miss any new episodes…

The simplest way to implement this is to simply offer a way to subscribe to email notifications as a way to stay connected with your show.

A more advanced call to action provides additional incentives to your audience.

For an example of this, see season 2 of the Positivity Strategist Podcast.

Podcast Website Design Example of a Call To Action
Podcast Website Design Example of a Season And Call To Action

This podcast season talks about “Seven new literacies for living and leading in our times”, and the gift being offered for people to subscribe to the show is a “7 Literacies Guide” to go along with listening to the season.

Associating your podcast homepage with strong calls to action also allows for utilizing paid ads and post boosts on Facebook and other platforms. And, make sure your podcast episode files use Facebook correctly and link to your show notes pages rather than to iTunes.

Podcast Subscription Links Section

Finally, here is the section that unfortunately appears right at the top of the podcast home page in too many podcast website designs. By the time that people scroll to this section, your pilot stories have had ample time to communicate the benefits of signing up via email as well.

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - iTunes Links Section
The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern – iTunes Links Section

If you use the icons and graphics provided by each platform, consider adding text explanations under each graphic. Your readers might not recognize each graphic.

The Episode Grid

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Episode Grid
The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern – Episode Grid

Like the iTunes links, your complete episode grid is purposefully moved towards the bottom of the page layout, so people are likely more likely to scroll and discover the highlighted episodes in the “Pilot Story” sections above.

The Navigation Footer

This is what makes this home page “upside-down.”

The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern - Episode Grid
The Upside Down Podcast Website Design Pattern – Episode Grid

Most websites have their navigation at the very top of the page, but moving it to the bottom of the page, we have increased focus and conversions.


Additional Resources

Also, if you are interested in a downloadable PDF version of this design pattern as featured and covered in the video with all the annotations and explanations, please sign up for our Podcasting Resources Guide above.

WordPress Ready Made Podcast Home Page Download

And I am creating a “Done For You” version of this design pattern using the Thrive Architect content builder, which means this will be a “ready to install” customizable page template on any WordPress site, let me know if that is something you would want in the comments.

Introduction

Getting traffic to your website can be a brutal process, especially if you don’t know where to turn.  And paid traffic from Facebook or Google Ads stops as soon as you finish paying. So in addition to a paid strategy, it’s essential to make your site and your content search engine friendly so that you can gradually increase your rank and discoverability.

Cornerstone content is a crucial element to help make this happen.

If you are familiar with basic SEO concepts:

Then read on, because one of the most effective ways to boost your site rank and traffic is to use cornerstone content.

Once you understand how cornerstone content can be applied to your website, you will notice improvements and clarity in the way Google algorithms index and rank your content, and the chance of your articles appearing on page one of search results increases. It takes a bit of time to kick in, but SEO activities are seldom a “quick fix”, and more often an investment in a long-term and ever-green approach.

This article will explore what to include with your cornerstone content, and how you can use it to boost traffic and link your existing content to it strategically.

If you are pretty new to SEO:

Some people think of SEO as a confusing and complex set of technical tricks for people to discover your content on search engines. The reality for many businesses and blogs is that there is a lot of competition out there for popular search keywords and that their site does not have the overall search engine authority to help them rank their articles anywhere near the top page of search results.

However, with a little work and patience, an investment in understanding how search engines work is well worth it. If you are new to the topic, please check out our completely free course on SEO, a resource designed to provide easy to follow steps and recipes to increase your site’s visibility and rank.

The course is geared towards podcasters, but everything in it also applies to blogs or business sites following a content strategy.

What is Cornerstone Content?

Cornerstone content is made up of your hero content, such as pages and blog articles on your website.  These should be your most compelling and essential pieces.

They should answer your site visitors most significant questions, explain your business approach and topic of interest in great details, and in general be content you are most proud of.

The articles should reflect your business, communicate the mission, and provide well-written explanations.

How does Cornerstone Content Work?

Cornerstone ContentCornerstone content relies on an internal link building approach. Most other articles on your site should repeatedly link to your cornerstone content by way of explaining important and repeating concepts on your site.

These multiple links then create a roadmap for search engines to recognize that these cornerstone articles are the most important pages your site has to offer, and this will increase the rank of these pages on Google and other search engines.

Cornerstone Content

click to see full size

Google loves well-organized content, and this overall linking strategy creates a spider web of internal links Google loves.

We’ve illustrated this spider web of links to your cornerstone content in the main graphic for this post, click on this small thumbnail to see the full-size version.

Using Categories to Select Your Cornerstone Topics

If you are already running a site with well-organized content, the likelihood is that categories help organize it.

One approach to cornerstone content is to create a hero “cornerstone content” post for each category. All the other articles in the category should then refer to and link to this post.

Of course, some people have way too many categories on their site, and from my perspective, this is a mistake. In my opinion, a handful of categories are more effective than dozens. Perhaps focusing on launching your cornerstone content is a good opportunity to clean up your categories and tag structure. There are easy methods for category cleanup out there to help do this.

Importance of Keywords

When you’re deciding on your cornerstone content, you need to consider the keywords you want to rank for carefully.

In our aforementioned SEO course, we provide many tools, tips, and tricks on how to conduct keyword research that is effective for your site.

Do not fall into the trap of trying to rank for keywords your site has no chance of ever achieving a page 1 result for – your keywords need to be commensurate with your current site rank, and this can be different from site to site. (We have a formula for that in the course)

For this reason, I like using the term “key phrase” better than “keyword”, which implies a single word. Often the key phrase will be a combination of two or more words that people are actually searching for on Google.

So you are looking for key phrases that are low in competition (The concept of keyword difficulty), but relatively high in search traffic.

In any case, you should make these keywords unique, and use them only once on your site – for your cornerstone article. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that repeatedly optimizing pages for the same keyword is helpful: it will only dilute the importance the Google algorithm assigns to the page.

Blog articles or pages?

There is often some amount of debate among SEO experts if cornerstone content should consist of blog articles or of pages on your site. Many marketers recommend setting up cornerstone content as pages. I agree, but there is no technical SEO advantage to creating pages over posts, they are ranked the same.

The benefit is that pages have over posts are

  • In most themes, pages do not display dates, and it is good for your cornerstone content to appear timeless
  • Pages can be organized in menu structures, making them easy to find

But there are ways to get around this, on some WordPress themes you can suppress the display of dates on blog posts.

SEO Trick

This brings me to another SEO trick: from time to time it is good to update your cornerstone content to keep it fresh. Personally what I do is to put a “Last updated XX/XX/XXX” at the very beginning of the post, and I have seen Google increase the post rank after doing this. So this is a “trick” to get a small additional boost for cornerstone content created some time ago.

As far as making cornerstone content easy to find, for me, most traffic is coming from search and social media.

This means people are likely to land on my blog, and not focusing on navigating my menu structures. So what I have done is to position cornerstone articles prominently and permanently on the top of my blog page, in a “sticky” manner. Besides, you can easily include blog articles in your menu structure if that helps.

So in my case cornerstone content is easily left as blog entries instead of converting these articles to pages.

Article Quality as Well as Length Matters

The goal of cornerstone content is to serve your site visitor, not just to increase your rank.

It goes without saying that your cornerstone articles should be of great quality, communicate your value proposition, are easy to read, have lots of images, and be SEO optimized with all the tips and techniques we teach in our free SEO course for podcasters and bloggers.

But how do you define quality? Spare a thought as to what would make a really useful resource for your audience and topic, one that people would love to share on social media, are likely to bookmark or revisit as a reference from time to time. If you can manage to make your page or post so compelling that people bookmark and share, then you will have won half the battle.

So a 300-word quickie article will not cut it, and the likelihood is that your site visitors would be more impressed and bookmark a 5000-word manifesto. Which brings us to length.

You SEO veterans out there will be aware that article length matters to Google. Google attributes more importance to articles over 300 words in length. Another inflection point occurs at 700 words, and then again at 2000 words.

So when it comes to cornerstone content, longer articles still are even better, but they should definitely be over 2000 words.

cornerstone content rankingWe’ve seen cases where we ranked a client’s page to be #1 on Google within a week, using a specifically designed and optimized long-form article for the search term desired.

Google “customer experience podcast” for example, and you should see our client’s article in position #1: What we did is to create an article to summarize the experience and insights for the first 50 episodes of her podcast. We SEO optimized the article, and her fans and listeners loved it and shared the article widely, and within a few weeks, her post ranked on the top for the desired search term.

Writing Clearly: A Confession And Three Tips

Cornerstone content should be written clearly. I have a confession to make, I seem to have a hard time doing this. There are tools out there to provide a “readability score”, and I tend to get a failing grade quite often. English is not my first language, but that’s just an excuse. So if you are like me and tend to express yourself with complexity, here are some tips  and tools to help:

  1. Keep your paragraphs super short
  2. Break up content with frequent headings
  3. The Hemingway App is a wonderful online tool that evaluates your writing in real time and then starts marking your content progressive shades of red as it gets too complex. It will keep you writing with Hemingway-esque brevity. And punish you for using too many adverbs:)
  4. Grammarly is another writing tool that is useful for both advanced spell chack and grammar suggestions, however it does little in terms of simplification.

Some Cornerstone Content Ideas For Inspiration

I am sure you can come up with a ton of ideas for your blog, site or topic, but here are some cornerstone content ideas for you to consider and to help get you started.

A Definitive Resource Guide

A collection of curated external and internal links, resources, sites, video, podcasts, books etc. Describe each resource and do not just provide a list of links, but go into detail about why they are useful and in what scenario they lend value.

A Manifesto Post

A detailed explanation of your worldview, philosophy, approach to your topics, summarizing your truths and then going into detail explaining your position. These can be controversial in nature, which adds to the shareability.

A Research Results Post

Conducting your own primary research around a topic in your niche is one of the best ways to build blog content that gets attention. Go into details, include graphics and references.

Tutorial Post

Create a multi-part tutorial on a topic you know your audience would love, but which also represents your site’s topic well.

Crowd Sourced Influencer Post

Bring multiple influencers together to answer a single question in short form. When you get 10 influencers to give you 300 words each on a single topic – you’ve got a powerful blog post.

Podcast Episodes Roundup

If you have a podcast summarize the insights and best resources gathered in your last 50 episodes.

Internal Site Linking To Cornerstone Content

cornerstone-content-incoming-linksOnce you have created a piece of cornerstone content, it is time to identify all the other articles on your site that should link to it. One approach would be to go into a list of every article within your chosen category or to use a list of related tags.

However, there is a more effective method to identify content that Google already thinks is related: Using Google Internal Site Search.

Go to Google and search for your keyword or key phrase in the following format: (for multiple words making up a key phrase, place these in quotes as in my own example below)

site:mysite.com keyword

So on my site, for example, this is what it would look like for a piece of cornerstone content about podcast production

site:polymash.com "podcast production"

This will result in a list of articles Google already thinks are relevant to the topic. The last step is to modify each of these articles to link to your cornerstone content article from within the text.

It is important to note that links in the sidebar of through a footer widget do not carry as much weight as links from within these posts themselves, so find a paragraph with some text from where it makes sense to link to your cornerstone content article.

External Links to Related Content

Don’t think that cornerstone content should link only to your internal articles. Providing links to other authority sites is helpful to the reader, and establishes other resources to consider on your general topic.

However, I have one caveat: I usually provide external links near the bottom of my articles, because I want to encourage people to read my article first before jumping off somewhere else. This also helps reduce my bounce rate in the process, another SEO ranking factor.

Case in point: Here are some great external articles on Cornerstone Content:

  • Copyblogger: Cornerstone Content Defined in 60 Seconds [Animated Video]
  • Yoast: Using cornerstone content to make your site rank
  • Rank Tree: What is Cornerstone Content?

The Landing Page Approach

Another useful way of thinking about structuring cornerstone content posts is to take a landing page approach.

This means removing menus, distracting sidebars, and adding a table of contents near the top. Of course, you still want to enable your visitor to find menus and navigation for the rest of your site, but this menu can occur on the bottom of your page (Also sometimes referred to “Upside Down Home Page”, one of the inbound design patterns we often talk about.)

Summary

Cornerstone content should attract visitors to easily find core information about you, your topic, service or industry. When done right, it will serve your visitors and help put your other content into context, while at the same time helping you rank for more difficult and competitive keywords.

Using these simple tips and tricks will ensure your cornerstone content is ready to go.

We’re super excited to announce that our next iPad app has launched! The Crankamacallit is an interactive children’s book chock full of interactive features, discoveries, sounds, animations, 360 degree panoramas, mini games and more. I think it’s a doozie! Part poem, part story, this 3D fantasy was written by Mimi Cross, and wonderfully narrated by Robert Burke Warren (AKA “Uncle Rock”)

Come visit the Crankamacallit page, see our gallery, or check out the developing posts.

An interactive children’s story about building an imaginary vehicle, “The Crankamacallit” is filled with stunning interactive animation and surprising sounds.

Using playful, rhythmic language and rhyme “The Crankamacallit” draws the user into the fantastic 3D world of an inventor’s workshop.

A great iPad app for kids, who  love all the unpredictable moving parts of “The Crankamacallit”. In an adventurous tale for the picture book crowd, 3-8 year olds (and their parents!) will be mesmerized by the step-by-step process of the Crankamacallit’s creation and become active participants in the story by using the many interactive features, making unexpected discoveries, exploring 360-degree panoramas, using the hidden drawing tool and more.

Part poem, part story, this rhythmic 3D fantasy was written by Mimi Cross, animated by Juergen Berkessel and narrated by acclaimed singer songwriter Robert Burke Warren, aka “Uncle Rock”.Listeners will laugh out loud at the nuances of Warren’s performance.

Features

  • Unique 3D artwork and unusual illustrations
  • Music and mechanical sounds
  • Animation and video
  • 360 degree panoramas
  • 3D interactive rotational objects
  • Pan and zoom chart
  • A hidden picture scratch off scene
  • Drawing widget
  • “Secret” hotspots

Come visit our gallery to get a taste, check out the developing posts, and watch out for a number of related announcements in the coming days.

Today I will build you a Crankamacallit

With pieces and parts from my carpenter’s kit.

With buttons and levers and yes, of course—CRANKS!

With switches and gears and an old baseball mitt.

So here is the title page for the Crankamacallit, our interactive children’s story

The Crankamacallit Hangar is where it all happens! Inside is the “Cranka Works” inventor’s workshop, complete with interactive toolbenches, drafting equipment, windmill parts and a mysterious device called the “INFLATATRON”. I wonder what that does?

The Crankamacallit workbench. Open the interactive toolbox and empty it by hanging all the tools up on the pegboard wall. And be careful with the grinder… Plus a few sound surprises in store as well!