The fifth and final part in a series on making your own podcast that won’t break the bank, concentrating on DIY and low-cost podcasting. Read part one, part two, part three and part four first.
So as soon as you have recorded your first podcast, you need somewhere to upload it, and a place for people to subscribe to, and maybe a site for somebody (or Google) to find you. Well worth checking out Diana Stegall’s article which go into this in detail, but I have to say this first, and I’ll shout:
GET A DOMAIN NAME. NOW.
In fact get one before you mention the idea to anyone else, actually, as mentioned in Part 1. The reason is you build all this attention to someone else’s site otherwise, and it’s all thrown away when you eventually move…I hate to bring SEO words into this, but this ‘linkjuice’ is important, and you want it linked to your domain, and not say, disposablepartridge.megacorp.com.
It also took me most of a decade to get my domain, because someone had registered it just before I started, and of course afterwards they saw the site and then wanted LOTS of money for it. Sadly there are particular low-lives who spend their sorry lives registering domains of new companies, or possible new companies, then sit on them demanding a lot of money…so keep schtum until you’ve bought it.
Also switching a feed and links from one site to another is a pain, I’ve done it (Libsyn to my own site) and there’s always a risk that older podcast subscription software might not redirect to your nice shiny URL. It’s rather fraught, so it’s best to start early. One solution to that is if you have a website is to create a redirect and point people to that, so you could have a URL like feed://www.yoursitedomain.com/feed which points to the external feed XML (say feed://showname.libsyn.com/rss for Libsyn). Then you have space to put your own or use other podcasting hosts in future and can publicise the feed with your domain in which is more futureproof. This depends if you can change the .htaccess files (for Apache) or the site configurations for nginx on your hos – you can get more information about both here – you’d probably want a temporary redirect, and still want to manually redirect feed users just in case, but this would mean you don’t have to go and change all the links across sites, tweets, social media etc.
Whether you can do all of this depends on what sort of host you want, or have already. If you’ve got your own website, say as a shared, VPS or dedicated host you could use that, quite often they have easy installs for various blog systems you can create a subscription feed with. Please check how ‘unlimited’ the bandwidth is, and your available webspace. You can always upgrade – I started on shared webspace, with a unlimited ISP webspace offer (thanks Zen Internet, I don’t think they understood how much they unintentionally sponsored Radio Clash in the early days, LOL).
But most people will be better off starting with the likes of Libsyn or Blubrry…these are specific podcast hosts. This is because they help you with things like submitting your podcast to iTunes and other podcast directories. And also they create a mini-site/landing page for your podcast, and you can utilise your nice new domain name and you can point it there.
Before everyone writes in there are loads of other podcast hosts, those are the two biggest but there is also Audioboom, Podbean, Spreaker, Zencast…the list goes on and on and I’ve not tried them. Many I’m guessing arrived after the post-2014 Podcast Revival. Libsyn was one of the first along with Blubrry, so it might be best to go with something well established. And looking through they seem much of a muchness. Also automatically downsampling podcasts to 64k mono (?). I’ve not listed that host on purpose but that would annoy the hell out of me for a paid service, and I think it’s bad practice too. Watch for that.
If you can’t afford those, which are about $5-12 per month, you can go with sites like Podomatic, or Spreaker which have very usable free offerings that don’t expire. I’m not sure if you can use a domain with this, doubtful, I couldn’t find any info about that so I’m guessing you have to go for a paid plan. I’d avoid ‘free’ accounts that delete your old podcasts though after a time, or messes with their quality.
Although Libsyn and Blubrry are the industry leaders – I used to be on Libsyn for many years, and still use the Blubrry WordPress Plugin – I’m a little wary because the offerings are still quite expensive for what they are.
They’re useful when you’re getting on your feet, but it’s just as cheap if you have the technical know-how – or lack of money – to setup your own server, like a Virtual Private Server, a cheap dedicated server or use a shared server. Those run at $5-20+ a month for TERABYTES of bandwidth (believe me, anything but this biggest podcasts will go over that), and gigabytes of space. I guess what you get from those two is the guaranteed uptime and unlimited bandwidth, but I think the weekly size allowances are a bit small, especially for a music show.
Also shared hosting might be better, but check first because some web hosts seem to cripple their shared hosting to push expensive managed business plans at you, complaining about resource/CPU usage on even a small blog site. Their ‘unlimited’ plans aren’t, actually, That’s what happened to me – hence why I use a VPS now.
It’s not for everyone, since you have to become your own server admin, watch uptime etc. So I think for beginners the podcast hosting sites are good, but you might find it better to switch after a while to your own site, certainly it’s the cheaper option if you have the time to learn and monitor it yourself.
There are managed VPSes too, where someone does all the hard work for you, which at the mid-higher end of the podcast plans would be more flexible and bigger than those plans, and probably cheaper.
Talking about sites leads me to the fun and games of building and designing one. Usually at this point people mention the eye-wateringly expensive Squarespace, the slightly more reasonable Wix, and oddly forget WordPress.com – which you can use free to blog with no catches (podcasting costs a little more)? I’m always wary of being trapped into something I cannot get out of. I’m always looking for an exit, and this is no different…
I’ve used WordPress since 1.2 so I might be biased, but check when these sites say ‘your data is exportable’ which formats they use, and whether you can then install them elsewhere. This is like Google Takeaway…you export your data and get a long file, usually custom, which is nice. It sits there. You look at it. It does nothing except look up to you, expecting you to program some ‘software mashup’ first as if you are a Silicon Valley whiz. Not that helpful.
Whereas I do know that you can start a site on WordPress.com, export it to an XML file or a file that works with a self-hosted blog or some other blog systems. And to begin with, a WordPress.com site is free, it has a subscription feed, not much storage – 1Gb? And you have to pay to use a domain but it’s $3 a month with 6Gb storage. Why not use that to podcast? Or at very least, maybe use another host and have a free blog there – but again, I’d go for something you can use your own domain on, to future-proof it.
Also at the higher plans, or on your own host (which I’d recommend actually) you can make it not look like a blog at all…Wordpress can act more like a simple CMS, many of those business sites you see are actually WordPress sites in disguise.
Also another question to ask – is there any charges to move a ‘free domain’? Quite often these free domains aren’t that free, there are hidden charges, or you don’t actually own the domain, it’s only yours while you are a customer. Why I always myself register the domain with another company. I’m MR Paranoid to you!
But getting something out there, preferably on a domain you own, be it just a landing page with ‘This is our podcast, subscribe here’ is better than nothing, even on the likes of Squarespace or Wix. It’s a lot easier to use blogs to do that, partly because RSS (the technology behind podcasting subscription) came from that world, but in fact it could just be an old-school HTML pointer to a subscription link and the various directories (iTunes, Stitcher etc). Some presence is better than nothing, you can improve it later, whatever those SEO wonks say.
This is because as much as you can get, buy, find plugins, widgets, or templates, there will always be a case for ‘oh but I want the podcast player to look like this, and have a download button, and can we include the artwork?’ – which means hacking away. These ‘one click’ sites sell a myth that you could just click yourself an eBay today. Nope, that’s not how it works. You can pay someone else to do it, and I might sound like I’m talking myself out of my former job, but I think it’s better to learn something about the site you are using. That way if it breaks, you can maybe fix it, rather than spending hours, days, weeks waiting for someone else to do it. Probably badly.
But on the upside, podcasting sites tend to only need a few things. Firstly a player – this can actually be handled by uploading to the likes of Mixcloud or Soundcloud unless you want your ratings in one place. Podcast hosts (Libsyn, Blubrry) also create code for players you can use to embed their customer’s shows too, as do directories like RadioPublic, and the companies that make the players if you want to go truly DIY (JWPlayer or mediaplayer.js which is also built into WordPress, so the player is created automatically when you post a link).
Then there is links to download the shows, which might be an archive of older shows or posts, blurb about the show, links to social media presence and directories like iTunes, and news or upcoming info if you want to include that. Any more than that is up to you, and will help *SEO alarm* ‘engage’ the audience, pictures, memes, furry dice, rabbits in hats…but those I think are the minimum.
So you have at least a nice shiny URL to your feed, a show posted to it. Then what?
Apart from showing it to your Mum/Sister/Brother/Dog/Zombie Kittens/passing strangers, you want some listeners don’t you? Well, then you submit it to some podcast directories. I won’t list them all, because there are millions, just a few of the major ones.
Firstly make sure however you’re creating your feed, your email is correct or included. Hacking RSS XML is way beyond this series, but in Blubrry Powerpress plugin there is an Author Email field in the iTunes tab, or if just using WordPress (and I really recommend that plugin even if you don’t host with Blubrry) I think it takes the Settings > General > Email Address field. Or whatever system you are using there should be somewhere to put that address in, make sure it’s included, because you’ll need it as part of the verification process.
Since it launched in 2005, iTunes has been the #1 Podcast Directory, and this is still the case. If you submit to only one, let it be this.
Submitting your podcast via the Grammar-Nazi-baitingly named Podcasts Connect is simple, although you now need an AppleID to add/claim a feed. They will then email a link to the address in the feed (see?) so you can ‘claim’ it and add it to iTunes. Obviously Apple can refuse, but they’ve been fine so far *fingers crossed*. Also make sure at least your podcast name is in ‘Author’ field, because when people download podcasts iTunes will rename and retag the Artist field with this name. I forgot this and recently all my podcasts were downloading as ‘Tim in London’. Oops. Also make sure you have Categories in your feed, it’ll be refused if these are empty. Cue people saying ‘Am I Arts or Sexuality? Or just porn?’
Google Play have been trying to steal iTunes thunder for a while now. Jury is out, but given their billions, they might succeed where Zune failed. *I can hear the millennial tumbleweed to that joke*.
Submitting is similar to iTunes, you post the name and the feed URL, BUT for some odd reason only US podcasts are allowed. But by being naughty hacking sorts, you can use a US-based VPN like Hotspot Shield and a new account registered via that VPN to add yours, pretending to be in the US. You might want to remove the country setting from your feed if you added that *ahem*. Might take a while, it did for me as I had to attempt it a few times, but you can get it in there. You also need some Categories defined in your feed, at least one.
RadioPublic is a fairly new one with a nifty app and backed by PRX, the other BBC-like public radio organisation in the US which isn’t NPR. It also has a Paid Listens function, which hasn’t exactly raised the roof for me yet, but if you don’t mind some adverts added at the start and end of your show could be a source of money (you won’t make millions!). This again is simple, fill out a form, get accepted hopefully, etc etc. I was already in the directory, after a while you find new directories already have you listed. So it’s always best to check that you, or some friendly sort hasn’t added you already.
Stitcher – again, fill in the form, wait to see if they accept you, although you have to register an account with them at the same time. Again, you can also monetise your podcast and bathe in the millions of dollars you’ll make. (j/king). But might pay off some server bills, I guess?
TuneIn– fill in the form, wait, etc. Realise you’re bored submitting things to directories, give up on any more.
Spotify – you don’t. Or you make sure you’re with one of their ‘partners’ but I’ve heard they are still very specific about which podcasts to add. Spotify is rumoured to be only interested in a certain ‘demographic’. Which says to me they won’t be an iTunes killer, but we’ll see. Certainly never got back to me about adding mine! #bitter
Finally if you have a site or landing page, you should submit it to Google (needs a Google ID) so it gets onto Google. I get a lot of traffic still via Google, which is why transcripts or at least tracklists are important, and keywords in the posts and the meta. Simple Tags helps with that if you are on WordPress and can install plugins (Business or self-hosted only).
Down the Social
If this was pre-2008 I would have ended this discussion there, but since then the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et al has meant that for a lot of podcasters their promotion is done in those spaces. You go where your audience is, and that is quite often in social media spaces.
The whole arena of social media promotion, marketing and SEO is beyond this article, and I’d feel dirty if I had to write it. Here are a few things you should be doing, or might help:
Use Hootsuite: it’s free for upto 30 posts across 3 accounts – so Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. The Autoschedule is worth using, keep in mind the default is something like 5 posts per day which I think is quite a lot, reduce that in the settings, and you can also specific whether it posts on certain days, Mon-Fri, Mon-Sat or all week. Most people are around weekdays at work times (8am-6pm) so might be best to post in that window unless you know your audience are active at other times. Obviously, international times can affect that, so you might want to spread it across the evening or morning for those in the US or Europe. Tag people who you talk about, play, review, etc.
An alternative to Hootsuite is Buffer which also has a free plan similar to Hootsuite, max 3 social media accounts with upto 10 posts scheduled for each. Apparently it is easier to use (I’ve not tried it yet) – Hootsuite does seem to have a LOT of menus and options, but that means a trade-off with less features for the hardcore massive. So if Hootsuite is too complex try Buffer, or use both if you’ve maxed out your allowance!
Facebook – create a page for your podcast, and make sure you post to it regularly – at least once or twice a day, or many times a week but spread across the week so it doesn’t annoy. This is because Facebook’s algorithm tends to prioritise pages that are active in the timelines of those who have ‘liked’ or followed it. You can add posts to your page by cross-posting from your blog or other places – I know I keep saying WordPress, when you could actually do this with an IFTTT rule, but there are useful and simple plugins like Jetpack and Facebook Auto Publish – you might need to setup your own FB developer app for the latter, it looks quite daunting but follow the instructions, it’s quite easy.
Also get your audience to select ‘See First’ in the following drop down, it’ll mean your page isn’t buried. And get as many likes as possible – more likes means more reach, which means your page is shown to more people. Respond quickly to questions and comments, that shows on the page. Create a custom button that links through to your site, and don’t forget to link Mixcloud or other audio sites you might also use to the page.
Do NOT pay for likes, use scams or like farms. Doing so is not only ethical, according to those who have researched it you will get a lot of poor likes and might get your page or account disabled. You will be basically be promoting your site to other bots, especially if you pay for promotions after. Not good.
Also for me the jury is out on ‘paid promotion’, I’m just starting to experiment with it via a free credit. The ability to use a Facebook Pixel – which is a way to track people on external sites is cool if a little spooky, and the ability to create a Custom Audience of people who clicked through one of your apps (see above about cross-posting) and then exclude or include them in future campaigns is very cool.
Targeting certain demographics – countries, ages, interests, likes might have aided Russian bots and Cambridge Analytica (topical, topical – I don’t have red hair though) but I guess they can be used for good to promote your podcast? As you might have guessed I’m rather sceptical about advertising, as someone who used to work in that field, especially when the platform both controls how much or little your page is seen and the visibility of the ads themselves. Thus my cynical side says there is an incentive to limit your audience unless you extort money to access them. We’ll see. I’d also make sure you have alternatives to Facebook, don’t put your eggs in one basket.
Twitter: start an account for your podcast, and post there – you can link blogs or other accounts (IFTTT/Jetpack again, and connections from other systems) so that new posts appear there as a link. Engage with people, tag them, etc. Make sure that your profile includes the link to the podcast, and what it’s about. Don’t spam the show too much, but the odd RT or repost is OK. Make sure it’s not JUST links to your show, post stuff that you’re interested in, memes, videos especially if they are related to the podcast (I’m bad at using my Twitter for non-related things, but then again it does get some visibility, and the odd death threat…oh politics is a dirty game!). If there is candy, people won’t be so bothered by the odd plug. Promote the show beforehand, themes, talk about what’s coming up, build interest, in fact that’s a good general rule for all these sites.
Instagram: have to say I’m new to this, other podcasters swear that thar’s gold in them thar IG hills, but I don’t completely get it. Maybe because I have 78 followers and not the 10,000 you need to be able to post links in stories, or audio podcasts. But apparently posting cover art and images relating to the podcast works to bring people in? Time will tell. Also I know from Snapchat, stories are popular, but I suspect it’s an age thing, I don’t get the idea of posting something that will disappear. Also link your Instagram to your page – this will help with future FB ad campaigns, if you want to go that way.
Email, meetups, forums, blogs, postcards, carrier pigeons: As I said earlier about Facebook and pages, the amount of control that corporates have over access to your audience is disturbing. So make sure you don’t rely on one platform or one company. Mailing lists might seem archaic but surprisingly successful if done well, especially for older audiences. Meetings face to face (remember them?), live podcasting events, networking, t-shirts, giveaways, even local/mainstream press – I mentioned my podcast last month as an aside (I promise it wasn’t my intention to plug) on a radio call-in and got a massive upswing on the Monday of people checking me out. I think people focus purely on social media, the same people who get the same adverts again and again, and forget that, shock horror, there are quite a few people not on FaceTwitSnapgram.
I hope what comes over in that roundup is the idea that building an audience is organic – you go where they are, talk to friends or people you know, they listen, and hopefully suggest it to their friends. It builds slowly, although half the battle is letting people know you are out there, and talking about things they might be into, or them, or playing their band, etc.
There is no magic bullet, and I think a lot of the snake oil around SEO and paid promotions is just that – hot air. If you can mention your podcast on radio, TV, in newspapers, get reviewed, get attention, then do it…it will provide an uptick to views and hopefully subscriptions to your podcast, and some people will just randomly find you. Obviously if you go hide in a hole, nothing will happen, but also if you stress about numbers it will alienate your love for podcasting – I’ve been there. The best thing is to promote what you do, but also have fun doing it, and accept that you won’t be found overnight. Until maybe you are…podcasting is a niche sport, but it can be a very wide niche. Those few people, those that are through being cool might be in every town and city, so go find those spuds.
That’s the last part of this series – I hope you’ve found it useful and go ahead and make sweet, wonderful, podcasts together, or alone!