If you google podcast promotion tips, you’ll find most results read like an accumulation of tips jumbled together. It’s not that the tactics mentioned are bad in and of themselves. Rather, they are provided without context and structure.
The problem? Context is everything.
A tactic well suited for an indie podcaster can be a waste of time for a major broadcaster needing to take big swings. On the other hand, small podcast publishers will find little value in learning that Mozilla reached the million download mark after only seven episodes by featuring their podcast on Firefox’s home page.
The purpose of this guide is to provide you with a podcast promotion strategy. An exact blueprint you can follow to boost the audience of your podcast, tailored to your current audience size.
Table of content
A solid foundation
Building your audience is like building a house; you must ensure that your foundations are rock solid. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an established broadcaster going digital; you need to follow and complete the checklist below:
Make sure people can find your show in podcast apps
Consider how people find podcasts. According to our 2021 survey, 38.1% of podcast listeners find new shows directly in-app.
If people cannot find your content in the apps, you’re missing out on almost 40% of your audience. Let’s make sure that they can.
1) Audit and fix your metadata
When we say metadata, we mean your:
- show title
- publisher name
- show description
- episode titles
- episode descriptions
Why are they so crucial? First, they act like signs written in big, bold letters telling algorithms that your content is relevant to a user’s search query. Second, metadata optimization is still so underrated that competition is still relatively low. So much so that some of our clients have been able to grow their downloads by 40% by fixing their metadata. And if you think it’s a small publisher issue, think again! We have worked with broadcasters who were truly surprised by the outsized results these seemingly small changes yielded.
If you want to take your metadata to the next level, we highly recommend you read our guide to podcast metadata optimization. If you’re pressed for time, here are the Cliff notes:
- Include your 2-3 most important keywords in your show title.
- Use up the 4000 characters available for the show description. Insert keywords in abundance while keeping the text readable.
- Focus the title of your episodes on the core information.
- Write thorough episode descriptions.
2) Submit your RSS feed to all major podcast directories
Most podcast hosting services allow you to submit your show to several directories conveniently. If you haven’t already done so, head to the distribution section. We encourage you to submit yours to Apple and Spotify manually because of the precious podcast data you can access.
– Apple Podcasts: you will need an Apple ID to identify when connecting to Apple Podcasts Connect. After that, follow the steps highlighted by Apple here. A nice bonus is that successfully submitting your show to Apple will automatically get it listed on several smaller apps such as Overcast, PocketCasts, Castro, Castbox, and more.
– Spotify: head over to Spotify for Podcasters. You will need a Spotify account. The best practice here is to create a dedicated account and email address rather than your existing Spotify account.
If your hosting provider doesn’t offer 1-click submission for the following directories, it is worth the effort to go and submit manually: Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and Pandora.
An important note about TuneIn: it has 75 million monthly active users, so it is interesting to be there for small to medium podcast publishers. However, its monetization model makes it unattractive to broadcasters. For those who do not wish to appear there, a handful of hosting services offer the possibility to block directories and countries from accessing their RSS feed.
3) Make sure your episode limit is uncapped
Credit where credit’s due: Andi Last, who produces the Your Money, Your Wealth podcast, drew my attention to the issue. Some hosting services, such as Lybsin, cap the number of episodes available via RSS by default. Make sure the number is set to 0 to remove the cap.
Make sure your content is discoverable on Google
Going back to the graph I shared earlier, 12% of people find podcasts on the internet. That’s why it’s essential to have as much content as possible indexed on major engines such as Google.
1) Have a dedicated website for your show
If you play around with the operator inurl:open.spotify.com in Google, you will notice that show pages are indexed but not individual episodes. The practical implication is that your episode descriptions are not searchable on Google past the snippet of text displayed on the show page. On top of that, your show URL on Spotify is a random string of alphanumerical characters, which is not SEO-friendly.
A dedicated website will make it much easier for Google to find your show.
- You can choose SEO-friendly URLs
- You can have total control over your title tag
- Your full episode descriptions will be indexed.
Some podcast hosting services give you the ability to create a website, but the usability, look, and feel are usually not great. Great, inexpensive tools like podcastpage.io and podpage.com let you create a great-looking and SEO-friendly website in no time.
2) Add a transcript and show notes
The more content can be indexed, the higher the chances you will rank on long-tail queries. And it’s not as expensive as you think. Services like Descript already let you get 1-hour of content transcribed for free. As AI progresses, the transcription cost will become closer to 0.
Optimize your listening start rate
Ensuring podcast listeners can find your content is only half the job. Now you need to convince them to actually start listening. When they find your show, potential listeners will make a decision very rapidly and based on four main criteria:
- your cover art
- the show or episode title (depending on what was suggested to them)
1) Take a hard look at your cover art
When people find your show for the first time, the first thing they see is your cover art. The brutal truth is that they will decide in 1-3 seconds if they want to dive deeper. Not more. Let’s put ourselves in a user’s shoes for a second. The four shows below are currently ranking 1-4 for the keyword ‘real estate’ in the US. Let’s be honest: Could you have guessed the topic of 2 and 4?
Guidelines for your cover art:
- Easily legible text element that helps identify the brand or topic.
- Distinct look and feel to differentiate your show from competitors.
- Make sure it looks good in both light and dark modes.
- Optional: humans tend to react well to smiling human faces.
Be sure to use this excellent tool to visualize how your covert art will render in the different placements.
2) Increase your number of reviews
Not all users check reviews, but a non-negligible amount of them use them to gauge the quality of a show. It’s especially true if they found you by chance rather than through word of mouth. There are several ways you can boost the number of reviews for your show:
– In your episodes, encourage listeners to leave reviews as a way to support you for free.
– If you need a quick spike in reviews, you can throw a giveaway where one lucky reviewer will receive a prize. For example, we will let reviewers win free podcast visibility audits for our up-and-coming show, The Audience Growth Podcast.
3) Create a trailer episode
If a podcast app user stumbles upon your show (as opposed to being directed to a specific episode), they will want to know what the show is about before they explore it any further. Make it easy for them by setting up a trailer episode to get them excited and set expectations. On the technical side, your hosting provider usually allows you to choose between 3 episode types: full, trailer or bonus. You want to select the second option. Now, what should go in the trailer episode?
- A brief sentence explaining what the show is about
- If it’s interesting, explain why you created the show, who will love listening to it and why
- A recap of your guests, along with funny or insightful quotes
- Passages that elicit curiosity and laughter or make listeners go ‘aha.’
What makes a show interesting depends on the host’s personality, the genre, and other factors, but always keep this in mind: the trailer is there to get potential listeners excited within 2-3 minutes.
Spare them unnecessary details, and don’t get lost in a long-winded backstory. Keep it short and sweet.
Maximize listener retention
Growing your audience without proper listener retention is like trying to fill a leaky bucket. Before investing a lot of time and money in promoting your show, you need to plug the holes in the bucket.
To improve your retention, you need to do two things:
1) Create sticky content that people enjoy listening to a lot.
2) Make sure that the people who like your content do come back for more. This is not as obvious as it seems. Why wouldn’t they come back if they liked it, you ask? Because you’re competing for their attention with hundreds of distractions, not just other podcasts. TV, radio, social media, you name it. Often, they will need to be reminded about your show.
We don’t claim to have the secret formula for 1, but we know a thing or two about the latter.
Here are six tactics you can use to drive listeners back to your show and increase the number of episodes they listen to:
1) Be consistent in your publishing schedule
A regular schedule will help your show stay top of mind. It will also improve your podcast authority.
2) Ask listeners to follow your show and activate the notification bell
New episodes will automatically be auto-downloaded to their device when a listener follows your show. These automated downloads will drive additional revenue and boost your show authority.
3) Publish when your audience is most likely to listen
In the analytics section of your hosting, you can see what day of the week and time of day people are most likely to listen to your show. Make this your new release time.
Your new episode will be at the top of their download queue when they’re ready to listen.
4) Cross reference older episodes in your new content
A great way to promote binge consumption is to refer to old content in new episodes where relevant and encourage your audience to go back and listen to them. Adding these bread crumbs in your episodes will help new listeners navigate your content and find value faster.
5) Send out a newsletter when you release a new episode
Generally speaking, owning your audience will be incredibly beneficial in the long run for anything you’re trying to achieve. Follow these steps:
– Get a subscription to a CRM (a service that will let you send emails to a large list of contacts). SendInBlue is a pretty affordable option.
– Create a lead magnet, such as a bonus episode, as an incentive to sign-up.
– Embed a sign-up form on your website.
– In your episodes and show description, encourage people to claim their gift.
6) Leverage social media to drive re-engagement
As Marion Abrams rightfully pointed out when she came on our show, it also plays an integral role in driving back listeners to your show. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve re-engaged with a show I already knew just because it surfaced in my timeline or popped up while scrolling through Youtube shorts.
The social media engine
Choosing the right platforms
Social Media offers an unmatched, free opportunity to grow your audience. But you need to play your cards right. You have to leverage platforms that provide good organic reach and not just to the people who already know you and follow you.
More mature platforms tend to throttle organic reach to prioritize ad space. For example, the average organic Facebook Page post sees just 0.07% engagement (source: Hootsuite).
Here’s a ranking of platforms by potential reach:
– Tier 1: Youtube and YT Shorts, TikTok
– Tier 2: LinkedIn, Instagram Reels
– Tier 3: Twitter
– Tier 4: Facebook, Instagram
There’s a lot of talk about choosing the platform based on your audience. There’s some truth to that. Intuitively, it wouldn’t make much sense to use IG Reels if your audience is mainly made up of 40-year-old men.
That being said, you want to prioritize efficiency in your content distribution. If you’re already creating vertical video content for YT shorts and Tiktok, you might as well post it to IG Reels.
How to easily create video content for social media
We generally encourage podcasters to think video first and invest in a decent video setup:
– A DSLR camera (you can even skip this one and just invest in a tripod to mount your iPhone)
– Lighting equipment (at least a key light and a fill light)
– A neat-looking background.
If you’re filming your episodes by default, you will have a steady stream of material ready to be repurposed for social media.
Just create mini-clips of the best moments of an episode with a tool like qlip.ai.
If you don’t want to go down that path, you can cheat by creating audiograms. These are short sound bites of your episode, with a background image and light animation (e.g., a progress bar, sound waves, etc.)
Wavve.co is an excellent tool for creating audiograms.
Make it easy for people to listen on the platform they prefer
If people find the short clip interesting, chances are they will want to listen to more. The problem is what happens once they click on the link. Where do you redirect them? You don’t know what operating systems they use or if they have the Spotify app installed. An excellent solution to this problem is using a service like Podbio by Onlypod. This lets you create a mini landing page where users can choose the podcast app they prefer and redirects them there.
Understanding what works
One crucial aspect of a successful social media strategy is understanding what drives engagement and listening. You can measure engagement directly on the platforms, but if you want to know precisely how many listens a given post drove, you have to rely on an attribution solution for podcasting like Voxalyze.
Promotion tactics for indie podcasters
As an indie podcaster, you probably don’t have the budget or the reach of a big podcast studio. This is why you need to play to your strength and employ tactics that don’t scale, at least at first. Some of the tactics below become more powerful as you scale your audience and have access to higher-profile guests and podcast swaps.
Families and friends
This sounds like humble beginnings, but it is probably where you will find your first listeners.
Word of mouth
Encourage your listeners to tell their friends and family about the show if they genuinely enjoy it. Word of mouth is extremely powerful for two reasons. First, trust. If someone whose opinion you value recommends something to you, you have a much higher chance to try it out than if you were about it in an ad. Second, if we go back to the graph I shared at the beginning, 16% of people discover new podcasts via word of mouth.
Facebook groups, forums, and Reddit
Join FB groups, forums, and subreddits that revolve around the topic you cover in your show. It’s essential that you give more than you take. Before plugging your show, you should try to contribute, help, and establish yourself as a member of these communities. There’s no strict rule, but it can take weeks or even a couple of months before you get there. Even after you reach the point where it’s socially acceptable to promote your content, the value/promotion ratio should stay high.
Another term to describe pod swaps is podcast visibility exchange. The host of another show takes the time to recommend yours during one episode, and you return the favor. If there’s an imbalance in the respective audience sizes, you can always repay the favor by mentioning your swap partner’s show in several of your episodes. This is a really effective tactic that has been recommended by all the guests we’ve had on our show thus far. The reason why it works so well is twofold. First, these people already listen to podcasts, so you don’t have to sell them on it. Second, the recommendation comes from a host they trust, which makes it likelier they will act upon it.
You might be wondering how to get into pod swaps. It might be tempting to become active in podcasting-related FB groups and r/podcasting on Reddit, but it’s easy to waste a lot of time there. Newcomers keep asking the same questions, so the signal-to-noise ratio is low. It’s probably more efficient to research other shows in your niche and start interacting with their social media accounts.
Appear on podcasts as a guest.
There are several services you can sign up for that will help you find speaking opportunities on podcasts:
Leverage Your Guest’s Audience
This tip is a classic, but it is not as easy as it seems. Since you have to introduce the guest to your audience, you will have to ask basic questions. When the guest shares the episode with their audience, they will likely know the details already, and you run the risk of boring them out. You need to ask unique, thought-provoking questions no one has asked them before. To increase the chances your guest will share with their audience, start talking about it before and after recording the episode. Say things like “when you share this with your audience” so it seems like not sharing it never was an option to begin with. Make it easy for them to share; you can, for example, write their social media post for them to reduce friction to a minimum.
Promotion tactics for big studios and broadcasters
Leverage existing assets
Make sure you max out potential placements for your shows in owned assets. Owned assets include newsletters, homepage banners, social media presence, unsold display, and native inventory.
Attract users to your platform
A lot of broadcasters maintain a complicated relationship with major podcast apps. They want to benefit from the additional reach but also give up control and monetization opportunities. For that reason, more and more broadcasters have released their own apps and are trying to get users to adopt them to (re)gain control over that audience. To help with that, advanced hosting platforms allow you to restrict the content available in podcast apps. They do so not simply by limiting the number of episodes but by replacing the standard audio file of past episodes with a message inviting listeners to download the broadcaster’s app.
Regularly switch between podcast categories.
As a major broadcaster, your shows already generate a number of downloads that will immediately propel them in the new and newsworthy charts when you switch categories. Of course, the categories need to be closely related to remain relevant for listeners (e.g., business and marketing).
Split episodes into smaller segments
We deemed this the ‘salami tactic.’ For a given episode, you don’t release only the full version but also several shorter segments. What the segments are made of highly depends on your show’s content. It could be a best-of, a passage only containing the interview of a famous guest, etc.
This is great for a couple of reasons:
- Audiences are made up of two types of listeners. Those who listen to the full episodes and the skimmers who like to snack on shorter content. Keeping the full episodes while breaking it down into smaller parts caters to both consumption types.
- More segments mean more automated downloads, which helps boost your show’s authority.
- More segments also mean more opportunities for ad placements and, thus, more ad revenue.
A word of caution on this: multiplying segments has downsides if taken too far. You don’t want to clog listeners’ download queues and make navigating your show hard. You need to strike the right balance.
Run paid ads
Figure out the math
Before you start running paid ads, you need to be able to answer these questions:
- How much is a listener worth to me? Depending on your monetization model(s), this may vary.
- How many downloads are generated by an average listener? More on this in our article about podcast analytics.
- What is your word-of-mouth coefficient? In other words, how many new listeners does an average listener bring on board? You can estimate this number by running a survey with your audience.
- How many additional downloads do you get from being featured in the top charts?
- Once you have started running ads, how many paid daily downloads do you need to get featured?
Based on the above, you will get an ideal cost per paid listen that you can optimize against.
Having worked in media buying for many years, I can tell you buying media can be a tremendous accelerant. It’s also the best way to light your money on fire if you don’t know what you’re doing.
You need to hire your own in-house team or an agency with proven experience growing podcast audiences with paid media. If you hire an agency, it’s always good to ask for references and backchannel with clients whose logos are featured on the agency’s website. Unfortunately, unserious actors abound in the industry.
Buying placements in other podcasts
Every single guest I’ve had on the podcast so far has mentioned advertising your show on other podcasts as a great channel. This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. This audience already consumes podcasts, so it removes the friction that comes with adopting a new medium.
You must be very deliberate about the shows/networks you choose to advertise on. Genre and demographics greatly influence performance. Stephanie Arakelian, who propelled the show SOLAR past the million download mark, ran an epic A/B test. She split her budget between two podcast networks. One specialized in fiction, the other in non-fiction. Considering that the show SOLAR is a fiction show, can you guess which network performed better? The fiction network brought in new listeners at a fifth of the price compared to the non-fiction one!
Running ads on social media platforms is tricky. Inventory is getting more expensive every year. The targeting is getting worse because of privacy changes. As a consequence, you need a solid creative strategy. One that will generate a lot of engagement on your ads, especially shares. This will have two significant benefits:
- It will boost the engagement score of your ads and bring down your CPM.
- The shares will give you free additional reach.
Some broadcasters still manage to run very successful campaigns. For instance, NPR has developed a particular tactic. Their goal is to always be in the top charts to benefit from the free publicity and downloads that come with it. This is how they run this play:
- They turn on FB ads for a show until the number of new listeners and followers pushes the show to the top charts.
- They regularly query the Apple API to check if the show is in the top charts. Once it is, they programmatically turn off FB ads to be as efficient as possible with their budget.
- Being in the top charts naturally brings new listeners and followers, so a positive feedback loop kicks in. The show will stay in the top charts for a while until it eventually slips out.
- They regularly query the Apple API to see if a show has slipped out of the top charts. Once it does, FB ads are programmatically turned on once again.
- Back to step 2
Optimizing your campaigns
To understand which creatives drive the best cost per click, you can rely on the data provided in the interface of ad-buying platforms.
The problem is that clicks are just a supporting metric. They don’t give you the true cost per listen, which is the event you truly care about. Not to mention that platforms work with different definitions of a click. Some, like Facebook, will let you see the number of unique outbound clicks, while others report all clicks, no matter if a user has clicked several times or if a click was an ad interaction that didn’t result in a listen. As a broadcaster, the only way you can compare the performance of platforms apples to apples is to use an attribution solution for podcasting like Voxalyze.