The Secrets Behind a Successful Podcast – @podcast411
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Podcasts are a great online marketing tool for your business. They are portable, and therefore a more personal way, to connect with your audience. Whether you’re thinking of starting one or just getting into it, there are a few tips you’ll want to follow to ensure your podcast’s success.
It’s no coincidence that the number of podcast downloads has increased as more people have gotten smartphones. Now use that to your advantage by making it easier for them to find you by considering getting an app specifically for your podcast. And now that you have a podcast, you need to find a way to consistently attract new listeners – and more importantly – get them to subscribe to and review your show. Finding them, reaching and engaging them, and keeping them is your ultimate goal. And how you choose to go about that will determine the success or failure of your podcast.
Rob Walch knows more than a little about podcasting, not only because he hosts 3 of his own shows, but also due to his role as VP of Podcaster Relations at Libsyn. Rob’s knowledge, know-how and experience has helped both aspiring and seasoned podcasters to create and maintain successful shows.
Rich: Rob Walch is the Vice President of Podcaster Relations for Libsyn. Prior to joining Libsyn in 2007, he was President and founder of podCast411, Inc. Rob was listed as the 5th Most Influential Person In Podcasting, according to the book, Podcasting For Dummies.
He’s consulted on podcasting for Jack Welch, Senator Edwards, Governor Bill Richardson, Noah Shanok from Stitcher, Tim Ferriss and Sacramento Kings/Monarchs, just to name a few. He is also a monthly columnist for Podertainment, the podcast magazine.
Rob started podcasting in 2004 and is the host of the award winning podcast, 411 podcast, and the host of, Today In iOS – the iPhone podcast – the first and largest podcast about the iPhone. He is also the host of the KCstartup411 podcast, which covers the Kansas City startup scene.
Rob, welcome to the show.
Rob: Rich, thanks for having me on.
Rich: Now I assume with all those podcasts under your belt and working at Libsyn, you must get interviewed all the time by other podcasters.
Rob: I get interviewed every so often, yeah. It’s fun.
Rich: Ok, because I was intimidated. My god, you’re the guy with all the answers when it comes to podcasting. You actually work behind the velvet rope behind the scenes.
Rob: It’s fun because I get to see statistics, I get to see numbers, I get to see the actual numbers for what people out there are claiming what their numbers are, and I get to go, “Uh, no, you really don’t have those numbers.”
Rich: You know when the emperor is not wearing any clothes.
Rob: Yes. And there are a few people that run around saying they have a certain amount of downloads and I look at their numbers and go, “No you don’t.” I can’t say anything, but inside I make a mental note that this person is full of it.
Rich: When they say that , is there any place where you can actually, like is there a com score of publicly available numbers where you can see people’s actual numbers?
Rob: No there’s not. That’s why people can run around. The joke I make is a little off color – because most podcasters are male – I go, “You’re more likely to get the accurate measurement of a male podcaster’s member than you are their actual downloads.
Rich: There you go. Excellent. Now we were talking a bit before we started the interview, and as I mentioned, of all the social media platforms that are out there – including things like blogs and YouTube – podcasts seem like the most work to a lot of small business owners and they’re not sure that their audience is out there, so they often won’t go there if it’s something new to them. What do you say to those people?
Rob: I think they’re looking at it completely the wrong way. They need to be looking at it as “who is my potential audience and how much time in a day do the have to consume content”. And you have to look at it as content you’re competing with – spoken content, video content, audio content.
Audio content has more time in the day for people to consume than any other form of content. While they’re driving the car, working out, walking the dog, doing yard work, they can be consuming your content.
So as a business person – especially if you’re trying to go after business people that are commuting to work or walking through the airport – you have a chance to reach them when they can’t be reached by a blog or a video. On top of that, there’s over 200 million active blogs out there, but there’s only about 250 thousand “active podcasts”, and the number is really less than that. So the ratio of active bloggers to podcasters is 2,000 to 1 sometimes when you run the numbers.
Rich: So it’s much easier to get heard on a podcast – no pun intended – than it would be by starting a new business blog.
Rob: You’re going to stand out from your peers if you have a podcast and the people are going to have more time in the day to consume that content. So those are 2 big pluses for you to look at podcasting.
Rich: Now you mentioned that people can listen to podcasts almost everywhere, and I know years ago I was surprised to find out that most people were listening to podcasts on their computer. This was years ago. Has that shifted with everyone having a smartphone now?
Rob: Oh yeah. So the percentage of people that downloaded podcasts last month when we looked at the numbers, 69%. Over 69% of downloads were directly to mobile devices. And then you’ve got to figure some people are still syncing to their computer and consuming. So consumption is probably well above 75% on a mobile device.
Now people are still downloading at work and are still consuming at work, so they’re still there. But the amount of downloads has grown and it’s really grown because of mobile. So mobile – by far – is now the predominant place. Just a couple years ago it was less than 40% downloads were mobile. Now we’re over 69%. It’s really changed quickly in the last few years and most of that has to do with the iPhone, you can say “mobile” but when we look at mobile there’s a 5.5 to 1 download ratio between iOS and Android.
Rich: So what you’re saying is even though Android seems to dominate the market in smartphones – or at least have the lead in smartphones – that you’re actually getting more podcast downloads on the iOS devices?
Rob: Yeah. If you’d actually take it nominalized per device, the average iPhone consumes over 25 times more podcasts than the average Android device.
Rich: Why is that? Do you know?
Rob: There’s a few different reasons, but the biggest reason has to do with there’s a native podcast player on iOS, there is no native podcast directory on Google/Android. In Google/Android, if you want to discover a podcast, the only native way to deliver a podcast today is to have an Android app for your podcast so someone discovers you in the Google Play store. But outside of that, there’s no podcast directory, there’s no generic podcast app like the podcast app for Apple. You have to go and download a third party app like Stitcher or the podcast app for the podcast itself.
Rich: I live in Apple’s walled garden, so please excuse my ignorance. So if you’re on an Android device, there is no iTunes app then?
Rob: There is no iTunes app, there is nothing native in there for consuming podcasts, you actually have to download a third party app. Again, Stitcher is #1, that’s the biggest one. Shifty Jelly Pocketcast is #2 and Beyondpod is #3. So those are the 3 apps that people mostly consume – and there’s others – but those are the big ones.
Rich: Alright, so you mentioned getting your own native app. So if I wanted to have an Agents Of Change Podcast app in the Google Play store, that would be my best opportunity?
Rob: You should. I always say to podcasters today, “If you don’t have an app yet for your podcast, you’re not serious about your podcast.” You want to have it, because even on the iOS side some people – most people – still don’t search for podcasts they search for apps.
The most recent numbers I was able to find on this is 1.5 billion people download apps in a given month, and that was a year and a half ago. So imagine where that is today. So you’re looking at over 1.5 billion people globally download smartphone apps every month. In any given month, the best we’ve seen on podcasting is about 70 million people are downloading podcasts.
It’s an app-centric world, if you want to be discovered, go where they are, and there’s no better place to go than the app stores. And that includes the iOS app store. So you want to have an iOS app, and Android app and a Windows phone 8 app.
Rich: Not to turn this into a commercial for Libsyn – although I’m a huge fan and this is where I host my show – you guys have some sort of solution for that, right? You can upgrade your show and it becomes an app, or something?
Rob: Absolutely. We’ve had apps for podcasters for 6 years now. I have it for my own show, a lot of the big podcasts that are out there that you hear of, we do the apps for them (such as Adam Carolla, Aisha Tyler, Ben Greenfield, Jay Mohr). Even if you’re not going to get the app with us, even if you’re not hosting with Libsyn, if you’re a podcaster and you don’t have an app, you need to get one. If not with us, go get one with somebody else. Go have someone build one for you, but you really need to get an app as a podcaster.
Rich: Very cool, very important, and that’s now going to be on my “to do” list. So if iTunes does seem to be the 100-pound gorilla here, how do we get more visibility in iTunes?
Rob: You have to understand how iTunes works, a lot of people don’t get this. First off, search is really important in iTunes, and how search works in iTunes is so Alta Vista 1996. It’s about what’s in the title of your show and what’s in the author information of your show, and that’s it. They don’t even look at the description, it doesn’t matter. So what’s in the title of your show, what’s in the author information for your show, and that’s all that shows up in the search results. And also the title of your episodes.
It’s very limited on what iTunes search for, and then iTunes sorts based on the total number of subscribers you’ve had alltime. So it’s really important – even if you do have your own app – to be driving people to iTunes to click that “subscribe” button to your podcast to pump you up in the search results in iTunes.
Rich: So if I have an app and people download the app and listen there, that’s actually not counting towards my iTunes subscribers?
Rob: Correct. So what you need to make sure of is first you focus sending all your audience to iTunes to make sure they click that “subscribe” button. And then after they’ve done that, their work is done, then they can go download your app and consume you that way.
Again, you do what the app from a discoverability point of view, so every now and then on your show you should be sending people and saying, “Hey, if you haven’t gone over to iTunes and clicked “subscribe” yet, please do it, it helps me out.”
Rich: Alright, interesting, nice little piece of information there. And then you said the title is important and the description is not important.
Rob: The description is irrelevant. They don’t look at it. I’ve put special keywords in my descriptions for my shows that don’t show up at all in search results in iTunes except for one show where I have it in the author information. I’ve done this experiment as I have multiple shows, and it never looks at what’s in the description at all.
Rich: Ok, so now we put our best keywords in the title and also in the author’s name – what did you call it?
Rob: The author field. If you go into iTunes you’ll see the title of your show and right below it you’ll see in smaller print some other text. Usually it’s your name or “unknown” if you haven’t put anything in. Those are the 2 fields that Apple looks at. Title has more importance than author, but then again everything after that is sorted based on the number of subscribers you’ve had alltime.
So when you’re starting out as a new podcaster, you’re really behind the 8-ball, so you really need to be focusing your audience to go and click “subscribe”.
So when I talk about the smartphone app, that’s for established podcasters that have been out there doing it for a good 6-8 weeks and you’ve already driven your audience there. But in the initial phases, what I see works is email lists – like Amy spoke about on a recent episode of yours. If you can get a good email list put together, when you launch you should hit your email list up with a direct link to your iTunes store page and have people subscribe.
Rich: Way to do your research on my show by the way, Rob. Kudos for that. Alright, so you mentioned 4-6 weeks, and then there’s the magic 8 weeks of “new and noteworthy”. How important is “new and noteworthy” to us?
Rob: It is the most overrated thing people talk about.
Rob: It is so overrated. “New and noteworthy” is so, so overrated. People play that up and it’s almost worthless.
Rich: It sounds like it’s a vanity metric then.
Rob: It is. People get “new and noteworthy” and they take a screenshot and send it out to people and try to use that to get interviews on their show. Just from that perspective, maybe that works. You can use Photoshop to do the same thing, by the way. So I always say to people, if you’re trying to get guests on your show, little white lies don’t hurt. Get your guests however it takes. I would highly recommend IMdB pro and figure out the contacts celebrities and get a celebrity on your show, exaggerate the truth to get them on your show and then use that as proof of actually having a celebrity on your show to get other guests.
But if you want to spend all this time and effort in pimping you up into “new and noteworthy” to take a screenshot – which you could easily have done with Photoshop – sure, go for it. It has about the same amount of validity as the Photoshopped image, anyway.
Rich: Alright, so don’t worry too much about “new and noteworthy”, that’s a good piece of advice. Now is there an algorithm that iTunes uses to determine – forgetting about “new and noteworthy” for a moment – who’s going to be featured in the “best of “ list or anything like that, or is it hand curated?
Rob: The Top 200 list, and that was why I said early on when you launched your show, launch your email list and do all your marketing push at once right at the beginning, because the way the Top 200 list works is the algorithm is the number of new subscribers in the last 7 days with a weighted average for the last 24, 48 and 72 hours.
So if you do a heavy push right up front when you first launch your show, a few hundred subscribers will get you into the Top 200 list – overall – not just your category. A few thousand will get you into the Top 10, and 5,000 usually will get you to #1 in 2 days. If you get 5,000 to click that “subscribe” button in a 2 day period when you launch your show, that should get you to the #1 – or at least the top 3 – for sure.
Rich: So again – and this is a recurring theme on the Agents Of Change podcast – your email list is becoming one of your most critical marketing tools, even if it’s not the most sexy tool out there.
Rob: Right. For podcasting it’s the one thing I’ve seen work. What doesn’t work, Twitter. Twitter is worthless for podcasting, I’ve never actually seen Twitter work for anybody.
Rich: How do you mean it doesn’t work for anybody? Like, can we just delve into that for a second? How do you determine – and I know you’ve got the numbers behind you – but how are you measuring it to say this is just not an effective marketing tool to get more listeners or downloads for your podcast?
Rob: I’ve seen people with 200,000 Twitter followers or more with less than 150 downloads in an episode. And they’re out there pimping the fact that their show is out there all the time on Twitter. I’ve seen people with less than 2,000 subscribers or followers on Twitter get a million+ downloads an episode. Twitter followers do not equal podcast audience. And when people go out there and pimp their podcast you might pick up 1 or 2 people that come across you because of some keyword, maybe. But you’re not going to grow your audience, I don’t know anyone that’s successfully grown their podcast audience through Twitter marketing.
Rich: I would agree. And maybe it’s because Twitter is so short and so brief – you tweet obviously in only 140 characters or less – and a podcast takes anywhere from 10-15 minutes ,on the low end, to over an hour to consume. So it may just not be the right segue for onboarding somebody to a podcast.
Rob: Right. It’s exactly the opposite type of content as a podcast. A podcast can be an hour long audio, whereas you’re looking at 140 characters or less of text. They couldn’t have 2 more opposite types of content.
Rich: Interesting. Are there any other social media platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook that you’ve seen have more success with podcasting, or is it really coming down to emailing people to get them to subscribe?
Rob: First thing I want to say is this, if you have a podcast you should still tweet when you release new episodes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t use Twitter.
Rich: It’s also a great way to remind your guests that you’re doing promotion for the show that they spent their time on.
Rob: Right. I’m not saying don’t use Twitter, I’m saying don’t expect Twitter to really do anything. That said, as to your question about what does work, Facebook seems to work better than anything else in general. And that’s if you have a really good Facebook following. Like anything, if you’re more business oriented, than LinkedIn is going to have better play for you than Facebook.
But in general, I’ve seen where people have a good fan following on Facebook where you have a fanpage, yeah that’ll work for you. I’ve seen people come over with a good fanbase – comedians or whatnot – when they launch their podcast and use their Facebook as their primary marketing method to let them know the podcast was there and I’ve seen that work well. But you can also use Facebook to build that email list.
And I do believe you have to put out a tweet, you have to put out a Facebook post, a LinkedIn message, whenever you release new episodes. That’s primary as a minimal amount of marketing for your podcast each episode. But don’t expect much from it. If you can pick up 1-2 people here or there, that’s great. At the end of the day what really does work the best in podcasting and people hate this, is word of mouth marketing. It’s your audience telling their friends.
Rich: So at the end of my podcast I’m telling them to sign up for my email newsletter or subscribe to my podcast or follow us on Twitter, you’re saying that maybe the best thing I can do is just say, “Hey, if you think that a friend or an associate of yours would benefit from a show like this, let them know about the show?”
Rich: Cool. I’ve one that, too.
Rob: If you spent an hour marketing your show a week – or you had a thousand people spend even 5 minutes- you’re going to get a lot more bang from those thousand people that you are from your hour.
Rich: It’s definitely more scaleable and more replicable, as well. Just to jump around for a second, so back to iTunes, because I wanted to ask this question before. So with iTunes, a lot of times you hear a podcaster say something like, “Hey, go and leave me a review on iTunes.” If I had to make the ask for a review versus a rating versus a click on the “subscribe” button, which one is more valuable? Do the reviews matter for iTunes?
Rob: The click on the “subscribe” button is the most valuable. The reviews are also valuable. So don’t downplay it. I say to people, “Hey, if you haven’t clicked “subscribe”, please do that. If you have, then please leave a review.” I always do it as a contest on my show, today I had some really nice apps to give out so I said. “Hey, this is a $40 app for Mac, leave me a review in iTunes, email me back and let me know you left a review with a screenshot, and I’ll enter you in pool to win.” It was a nice enough app that I had almost 35 people that left reviews for my show that hadn’t done it before. For a show that’s 7-8 years old now, that’s a pretty good number of people that hadn’t left a review before that just did it for this contest.
Rich: Good to know. How important is it to release on schedule? I sometimes freak myself out, it’s Tuesday night and I have to get it up by midnight and I’m yelling at my kids to quiet down so I can finish up this podcast. Am I driving myself crazy for no purpose at all, or is consistency important here?
Rob: If you can release consistently, so it. However, if you have to choose between releasing right now or right, always choose right later on. Consistency for release schedule is well overrated. Some people say you have to release at the same time every day of the week. But the problem is if you release one bad episode because you were rushing to get it out, you will do more harm for your audience numbers than anything else. With one bad episode, you’re going to lose a certain percentage of your audience. The worst email you can get is, “What the heck happened to that episode?” The better would be, “Hey, where is that episode?” Which one would you rather have?
Rob: Dan Carlin is a perfect example of why you really don’t have to worry about it. Dan Carlin, Hardcore History, one of the largest shows out there, 3 million downloads an episode. That’s what he gets for his regular episodes now. He’s one of the 3 biggest up there with The American LIfe and Serial. He releases every 8-18 weeks, kinda.
Rich: Exactly. That’s my favorite podcast, I love that show.
Rob: If people like your podcast, they will email you asking where it is. Now this is another reason – to get back to getting an app – if you worry about these things. I didn’t worry when I released my episode today because over half my audience has my app. And when I release a new episode, I send out a push notification saying the episodes up. I’ve literally released that show on every day of the week.
Rich: Ok, so make sure you get the quality down before you actually rush to publish. One last question – and I don’t know if this is your area of expertise – but it’s something I’m always wondering about. What is the best way to get sponsors for our podcast? If we’re looking to monetize that way, is there an approach..?
Rob: Have an audience. I get emails all the time, part of my job is to bring monetization to podcasters at Libsyn. I get emails for podcasters all the time saying they’re ready for advertising, and my wife and I play “over/under”. I’ll pick a number and my wife will say either “over” or “under” and then we go look at their subscribers and usually it’s under 150.
Rich: Ok, so 150 is not a breaking point for going out to get sponsors, unless maybe that 150 are all corporate CEO’s of Top 500 companies. Then maybe somebody would be willing to pay to get in front of those people.
Rob: Right. I mean, if your podcast is uber niche focused, great. And you know what, if your podcast is uber niche focused, how you’re going to get advertising is if you have a magazine in your industry that’s uber niche focused, get the magazine, look at anybody that’s sponsored less than a half page ad and contact them. Anybody that sponsored a page ad or half a page ad has money and is probably not going to be experimenting. But anybody who’s done a ¼ page or ⅛ page ad, contact them and say, “Hey, I’ve got a podcast that’s in the same niche as what you advertise in X magazine. 100% of my audience is the same psychographic as what you’re looking for, will you advertise on my show?” Give them a flat rate, $200-$250 if your show is small, and get an advertiser. Then get another one, then get a lot and up your rate.
Rich: Good advice. Rob, this has been very helpful and I’m definitely going to tweak some of the settings on my own podcast. Where can we find you online and check out some of the stuff you’ve been into?
Rob: To email me – if you want to contact me – it’s email@example.com, so it’s easy to contact me. If you want to hear my podcast about all things iOS, go to TodayIniOS.com, or about podcasting go to Podcast411.com, and then I’ve also got TheFeed.libsyn.com and that’s the one I do about podcasting.
And then if you happen to be in the Kansas City area and you’re interested in what’s going on in the startup scene, KCStartup411.com.
Rich: Rob this has been great, thank you very much for your time today.
Rob: Rich, thanks for having me on.
- Rob is literally all over the internet with his hands into as many things as he can manage. Definitely check out one – or all – of his podcasts:
- Today in iOS
- 411 podcast
- KC startup 411
- Follow Rob on Twitter, and/or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Building your list continues to be a recurring theme on this podcast, Rob even referred to a recent Agents Of Change podcast episode where Amy Porterfield touched on that some subject. Check it out in case you missed it or want a refresher!
- Did you miss out on the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference? Don’t worry, you can still purchase “On Demand” access until November 30th by registering here!
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