The Secrets of a Successful Podcast Launch – @colligan
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Measuring the success of your podcast is more than just getting in the “New & Noteworthy” section at iTunes. And that means it’s more about getting people to actually subscribe to your podcast than to simply just listen to it.
The most obvious way to garner buzz about your podcast is to utilize your email list. But what you tell them in the email is one of the most critical and key components to a successful podcast launch. Simply asking them to check it out will not do, you need to tell them what you want – and that is for them to hit the ‘subscribe’ button (even go as far as to tell them how to do it) – and of course make sure you tell them all the benefits of doing so.
Rich: Paul Colligan helps others leverage technology to expand their reach and revenue with reduced stress and no drama. He does this with the lifestyle and business designed to tackle the challenges and opportunities of today’s ever-changing information economy.
He has played a key role in the launch of dozens of successful internet products that have garnered tens of millions of visitors, traffic, dollars, and revenue. Precious projects have included work with StoryBrand, the US State Department, Traffic Geyser, Rubicon International, Piranha Marketing, Microsoft, and Pearson Education.
In addition, he’s helped dozens of authors launch their books and become bestsellers on Amazon. He’s helped podcasters get to #1 on iTunes and has been the secret weapon behind millions of video views on YouTube. Paul’s topics of passion include podcasting, new media content creation, multicasting, product development, and lifestyle design. Paul, welcome to the Agents of Change podcast.
Paul: You know actually, that “multitasking” might be closer to reality than others, so I will take it. Thank you for having me on, man, it has been too long.
Rich: I agree, I appreciate you making the time for me. So let’s talk about podcast launches. I know we had a little pre-call and we talked about it. So I guess my first question to you is, how important is the launch for a podcast? I mean, is there really a downside for me just throwing something up on iTunes and continuing improving the show over time?
Paul: Well no, if that’s your strategy. What happens is you never get that second chance to make the first impression. And if the majority of your first impressions are as people find you over the course of time, then you’re good to go and you’ve got no problem.
But if you’re launching because you want some acclaim, because you want to rank – and rank in real ranking, not the imaginary ones – and you want to kind of be a mainstay in your niche and in your industry, then you really need to launch strategically. And it’s everything from how many episodes, what platform, what frequency, all that good stuff.
Rich: So before I ask my next question, you said “imaginary rankings”, so can you just talk a little bit more about that? What are “imaginary rankings” in your mind, and what should we be paying attention to?
Paul: Well in the podcasting space/genre there’s this focus and attention on the iTunes “New & Noteworthy”. And one can have very different opinions as to where this focus and attention came from. Put some tinfoil on me and I might give you some conspiracy theories. But what’s important is does that matter, does that work, does that have an impact. And every test I’ve done – multiple, some in my name and some not in my name – every piece of evidence I’ve read, every experienced I’ve had – and I have launched dozens of people that are #1 in their category, and I’ve launched a handful of Top 10 people and even one #1 – and never ever has the “New & Noteworthy” category brought any traffic of concern or traffic of worth.
Now you add to that the simple fact that the whole “New & Noteworthy” thing seems to be a little bit broken right now. I’ve been tracking the “self-help” category and iTunes has not updated “New & Noteworthy” in over 9 months. So anything on there by the very words “new” is not New & Noteworthy. And I did an episode of the podcast a little while ago where a friend of mine finally got into “New & Noteworthy” on episode 175.
Rich: And I’m guessing they didn’t knock out 175 episodes in the first 2 weeks.
Paul: No! Good point, good point. This was over the course of several different years, several different co-hosts, several different this and that. That’s just the industry that we’re in. So what happens is a focus gets played on the charts that don’t matter, which results in zero/minimal impact. And therefore when the people who are really in this to be serious, “but I made it here, how come I’m not famous?” And doing the podcast to get into “New & Noteworthy” is like opening up a restaurant to get into the phone book.
Rich: Ok, so what you’re saying is “New & Noteworthy” is not – and just for those of you who are listening that don’t know – if you go to Apple iTunes in each one of these categories whether it’s business or history or love, you’re going to see something under “New & Noteworthy” and it shows 8-16 an then if you click on “see more” you’ll see even more of those podcast.
Paul: That’s correct. But the big thing is, I am focused, I’m obsessed, my entire business in the last decade has been spent on doing what works. And I’ve never seen a business, I’ve never seen a podcast, I’ve never seen anyone see greater success because they got into the “New & Noteworthy” list.
A focus and an attention on being on the “New & Noteworthy” list is again, like opening up a restaurant to get in the phonebook. I mean it’s nice to be there but very, very few people going to look for it there. And really let’s be honest, do you know who cares about noteworthy podcasts? You and me. You want to know who your competition is, and I want to know who my competition is. So we want to be looking in that category. But nobody gets up in the morning that’s a bookkeeper and says they wonder who the “New & Noteworthy” bookkeeping podcasts are. No, they’re already listening to bookkeeping shows, they know who they like. If they hear somebody on a bookkeeping show that they like they might jump over. And that’s a whole other source that we’ll chat about. But people aren’t going to “New & Noteworthy” despite what guru X might have told you.
Rich: Ok, so if “New & Noteworthy” falls under your category of imaginary rankings or imaginary factors, what should we be paying attention to?
Rich: Downloads. That’s the #1 only thing we should be paying attention to, the number of people downloading our show each week.
Paul: And real downloads. I tell every one of my customers, I can get you as many downloads that you want. The issue is we’ve got to get real downloads. You can go to websites and you can order 3,000 YouTube views for a couple of bucks. The thing is, we want impact, that’s what we want as a podcaster. We want to do a show and have our lives and business changed, that’s what we want. Not to be on a list that only our competition is looking at.
Now in some cases some people have the wherewithal to rank in the iTunes top podcast categories. Now that becomes interesting. Not forma situation of a lot of people are going to the rankings – although a lot of people go there then go to the other places – Now it becomes interesting because now you have a ranking that can help others to take you seriously.
If you email your list and you say “look at my podcast”, and then you email your list and say, “currently in the Top 10 of Management Marketing is my podcast”. That ranking is a piece of social proof that is absolutely tremendous. Yeah you can tell someone your show has been listed as “New & Noteworthy”, but it’s not quite the same and it’s not quite as defined.
I had a customer who got a book contract because for about 5 minutes his podcast was ranked higher than Oprah’s.
Rich: And I hope he took a screen capture.
Paul: He did take one, he called all his friends. So the thing is, podcasting is a mechanism of communication and it’s a fantastic one. You and I are chatting about this on a podcast, it’s the best way to do this. Communication is about reaching the right person at the tight time. If you and I in our pre-interview chatted about our microphone or the web host platforms or which RSS tags we’re going to use, that doesn’t matter, that’s not what I’m in it for. So a podcaster should say, “What am I in it for?” If you have the numbers and you have the capacity to rank in the real charts, then you want a strategy for that.
Rich: Alright, so with that being said… well actually, before we even get to that. Let’s say that we’ve already launched a podcast and had medium success – or not much success at all – I want you to be brutally honest here, is anything we’re going to talk about today going to save the podcast or is basically this you have to do right out of the gates?
Paul: I don’t want to promise myself as the savior, that’s the other gurus. But let me tell you a couple things we can do. There are some things that we can do extremely well for your podcast, let me give you one real world example.
So I take one customer, JJ Virgin, New York Times bestseller, she launches and she makes it to #4 of all of iTunes. Because she made it to #4 in all of iTunes, she was listed in the “recommended health” podcasts at Apple, and she was even listed in the “new to podcasting, click here for recommended shows”. Good job, JJ, applause. Word gets out, I did an episode about it, a mutual friend of ours calls and says, “Paul, you’re the rainmaker, and I’ve got 5, 6, 7 times the audience of JJ. If you got her to #4 with your strategies, what can you do for me?” I said if we follow my strategies we can make it to #1, it’s not that complicated. He made it to #57 in all of iTunes. Now, 4 times as many downloads.
Rich: So how does that happen? Math is fuzzy.
Paul: Exactly. See here is where iTunes – despite what you hear from gurus – iTunes tracks one thing, clicks to the ‘subscribe’ button, that’s what they track. It’s a closely guarded secret like Coca-Cola and KFC, but 90% of all your score the best we can tell – and I’ve done it many times over the last decade and it’s never changed – and I’ve got better data than anyone else. And by the way I should come back in a couple of months, I’ll have some real interesting data.
But 90% of your score appears to be how many people have subscribed in the last 24 hours. So what JJ did, JJ’s message to her audience was three different emails at three different times of the day, “I want you to subscribe to my show.” And her graphics and artwork were, “subscribe to my show”. That was the message and that was the expected action.
Now this other mutual friend of ours, his message was, “Hey, I’ve got another podcast, come to my website!” Now these people came to the website and what they did is they clicked the ‘play’ button. Because the message was not ‘subscribe’, the message was “listen to my podcast”.
There is not a person out there right now who couldn’t… I’m going to hope your audience is bigger than 10.
Rich: They are.
Paul: Exactly. There isn’t a person out there that couldn’t benefit from a simple message of, “Hey, I know you follow me on social and I always talk about my podcast. I know you’re on my email list, and I always talk about my podcast. And I know you come by the website and I can see the stats that you’re there, thank you for being my friend and audience. But here’s the deal, I want to make sure that you get every episode the second it’s released, so go ahead and click, ‘Subscribe’, here’s how you do it”.
A lot of people don’t even know this is an option, a lot of people don’t even know this is a benefit. And if you think about it, do I have a better chance of listening to the Agents of Change because he has a new episode out, or my phone beeping, “New episode of the Agents of Change”? So you go to your audience and you ask your audience to subscribe. Some may already have but some haven’t. Some have changed computers, gotten a new iPhone, subscribed a while ago, and you ask them to subscribe.
This is going to do 2 things; a) this is going to bring you up the charts, but b) now their consumption is not based on whether or not they happen to catch your social screen that day. Their consumption is now based on the fact that you released a new episode.
I released a new episode of The Podcast Report on Wednesday and I happen to have Overcast running as a platform, and before I even got the blog finished I saw the popup on my phone for The Podcast Report. This is fantastic, this is where the carts so. So if anybody out there can right now go to their audience and can say, “Hey, if you haven’t subscribed, please subscribe.” And here’s the thing, you and I are social media nerds and we know this stuff, a lot of our audience doesn’t. So a lot of times they don’t even know the benefit of subscribing.
Rich: So we can pitch to them on the benefits of subscribing and we can explain to them how it helps them, and just like you did. Is there a disconnect because there are seemingly so many clicks that I have to take between getting from your email or social update, to actually getting into iTunes and clicking on that button? Is there a way that you’ve discovered that’s the simplest, most easy way of explaining or getting a newb to subscribe to your podcast?
I’ll just say that months ago I was at an event and I heard people say, “I don’t do podcasts, they’re confusing, I don’t think I can get it on my phone.” And I asked if she had an iPhone – which she did – and in about 3 seconds I got her the app and subscribed to the Agents of Change podcast. She had no idea, some people just don’t know that. So do you have any secrets in terms of simplifying or demystifying that process?
Paul: Yes. Well the first thing you have to do is – this is a rule for internet marketing regardless of your YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest – every click you ask someone to make, you lose half the audience. That’s just the facts. And so the question is, how do we get as few clicks as is humanly possible. If the average person says, “Come to my website”, click 1. “Subscribe to my iTunes button”, click 2. Which opens up the iTunes page, then they have to click on ‘open in iTunes’, click 3. And then they have to click on the ‘subscribe’ button, click 4. That’s what the typical person does.
Let’s see what we can do to cut down the amount of clicks. If you go into iTunes and you find your show. Underneath your album art on the left hand side is a dropdown, share on Twitter, share on Facebook, and there’s one called “copy link”. That link is the link to your show that pops up the page in your Chrome browser. So now we move form instead of sending them to your website and then to iTunes, we send them right to iTunes, so we’ve dropped one. So we’ve taken that and cut it down by 25%.
Now here’s #2, take that code that iTunes gives you and end it with the “&” sign, lower case L, lower case S, = 1. (&ls=1). So if you end it with &ls=1, it automatically opens up iTunes if they have iTunes on their desktop.
Rich: What if they’re on a mobile device, not to make this overly complicated?
Paul: Well first of all let’s talk about what kind of mobile device. If they are on an iOS device, the link will actually automatically open up. If they’re not on an iOS device, then you have to have an answer for them. And we can chat about that in a second, we can chat about some strategies there. But if you take that link and you do &ls=1 it will now go from link to opening up iTunes, so you cut it in half, which is huge. And then the message again has to be not “find me on iTunes”, not “I’m available on iTunes”, it has to be “subscribe to me on iTunes”. And that just needs to be part of your message and people will do that.
Now let’s fast forward and visit JJ Virgin. So I’m checking some stats for JJ and doing some follow-up, and you know what? Every Tuesday she has this massive spike of downloads. Massive, awesome, the type that every podcast dreams about. So I do a search on Twitter and Facebook and I can’t find anything. So I emailed her and I asked what she’s doing because every Tuesday she’s killing it. And JJ is a good leader, she doesn’t know her teams does, so she forwards it on to them. Her team thought I was insulting them and thought I was saying they weren’t doing any work, but here’s the thing, the reason she had all these massive downloads on Tuesdays was because Tuesday was the day that we did the launch 6 months ago and theses people were getting the episodes automatically downloaded to their computer.
So she did it right once, and by doing it right once she has this impact and then stayed in there. So if you get them to subscribe and if you make it easy, use that &ls=1 link, cut it down form 4 clicks to 1 and get your messaging right, you’re going to see some great results.
Rich: Cool, alright. What other things can we do? If you’re going to walk us through a perfect launch, what are some of the high points that we should consider when launching our podcast?
Paul: I like the way you phrased that, I like the way you phrased that a lot, “consider”. Well the first thing you have to consider is the numbers. I don’t care who you are, 80% of your audience is going to be listening on an iPhone or an Apple device. That’s just the way the stats are. So you definitely want to speak to that audience well. And what you’ve got to decide is, are you going to serve 80% of your audience, 100% of the way. Or are you going to serve 100% of your audience, 80% of the way. This is something really important to think about.
So a lot of people send a message that says, “I have a show on iTunes, click here to subscribe”, with a button that shows you how to subscribe. That’s email #1. How many choices are on that email?
Paul: Exactly. Now the average podcaster that sends out the email, “Hey, I’ve launched a podcast and if you’d like to listen on iTunes click here, if you’d like to listen on Stitcher click here, if you’d like to listen in Tune In click here, if you’d like to listen on your Alexa click here, if you want to click on Google Home click here.”, and we have this message with 37 choices. And do you know what happens when you get 37 choices? You make none of them. So you have to decide.
I’m not saying that Android users are evil, I’m not saying that Stitcher is bad. I’m just saying when you make a marketing decision are you going to focus 100% on 80% of your audience?
Rich: Oh, you always focus on the 80%.
Paul: So you’ve got to decide what your message is. Is it, “I have a podcast here at 37 Options”, or is it, “I’m now on iTunes, click here.” I’ll tell you, it’s B.
Rich: Right. And if you want to capture that audience I might suggest sending an email later that week with the subject line, “Do you hate iTunes?”, and then link them to Stitcher.
Paul: Great idea!
Rich: Feel free to steal it.
Paul: But here’s the funny thing, the world knows what iTunes is. They don’t’ necessarily know what a podcast is. My dear mom…
Rich: You’re not going to throw her under the bus are you? You’re not going to throw momma from the train are you?
Paul: I’m not going to toss mom, but I’ll tell you something, mom helped me with a moment of clarity. To this day my dear mother still believes that she cannot listen to my podcast because she doesn’t have an Apple. Now the funny thing is mom, I will buy you one. But no, she’s very happy with her Kindle Fire. I come over one day and do you know what she has on her Kindle Fire? She has the I Heart Radio app. Now I did not know that mom even knew how to install apps. So hey mom, why is the I Heart Radio app on your Kindle? And she said the radio told her to install it.
Now the whole fact that the radio said to install it and she did, that’s a whole other story. So I said, “Mom, I’m on I Heart Radio.” And she said, “No son, this is for radio.” And I told her that if she opened that all I’m there. And she said, “Are you on the radio now?” Sure mom, I’m on the radio. As far as she’s concerned I am.
So the thing is, if we do this message I have a podcast and not everyone knows what podcasting is, but people know what iTunes is. So when the message to your audience moves from the vague, “I have a podcast and here are the 37 ways to do it”, and a tutorial on how to use podcast platform X, you’re going to confuse them. The message is, “Now released to iTunes, click here.” The game totally changes.
Now internally we look at our stats – we love stats – and we’re going to see that this episode was picked up at random website X, and the RSS was stolen somewhere, maybe some of those popup websites showed up that pretend that they own us. See the thing is, if they’re clicking and playing and listening to you, they’re right, they’re in the right place to listen to this episode. But here’s the deal, the Agents of Change is a fantastic show and what I want you to do right now is open up iTunes and search for Agents of Change and I want you to subscribe to the show, because this one is probably his worst. So if you click ‘subscribe’, every time he does a new episode you’re going to get it sent automatically to the device of your choice. And just by doing that, you’re good to go.
Now if you want to get nerdy, this audience is a bit more sophisticated, we’re also going to say something like, “By the way, it’s available on all the other platforms as well, but what we’d like you to do is going over to iTunes and click ‘subscribe’ as well.” That’s the message.
Rich: Alright, makes a lot of sense. What other things can we be doing to increase the success of our podcast launches?
Paul: First of all, who’s the audience, what’s the message? Then, here’s the thing that we always forget; the best radio station in the world is WIIFM – what’s in it for me. I meet Rich at a conference, I’m impressed by the guy, I find out he has a podcast, I even look up his podcast. How many episodes you got up now? I mean, you’re huge.
Rich: You’ll be close to episode 200.
Paul: So I’m close to episode 200, and if somebody looks at that they’ll think, “Rich is now 200, we’ve now got this library of rich content” (pardon the pun). You know, that should be the new name for your show. But we’ve got this library of 200 shows of truly rich content. Now I’m thinking to myself here is another asset. And you and I have been in the industry long enough that we’re going to speak to the audience old language of, “I’ll come back and visit often”.
There has to be a reason to subscribe, there has to be a reason to start from the beginning. This is the part about the launch that can be so exciting. There are a lot of gurus and a lot of people with podcast books that will tell you that you can launch with 5, 10, 20 episodes because you want to show your audience how serious you are. If I tell you I’ve just launched and there’s 20 episodes up on the website, a) it doesn’t look like it has launched and b) there’s 20 episodes at the website, that’s more than I’m going to bookmark and come back often.
But if I launch with one episode and that one episode is my heart sharing with you what the show is, what it’s about, why I’m doing it, what you can expect and the power of subscribing, I’ve got a lot better chance. You send out “save the date”, you let people know it’s coming, and then they all get to #1. And if they’re listening to #1, then they have to subscribe because they’ve got to get the rest.
So if you launch knowing that your audience is coming with you on this journey, then WIIFM – what’s in it for me – well, I get to be part of these people and what they create. That’s the whole basis of social media. So if I invite you to join me from episode 1, you’re going to come along with me for the ride. If I spam you with a vague message after I’ve filled iTunes with 20 episodes – it’s nice to know – but there’s no personal connection.
Rich: That’s a very good point, I’ve never thought of it that way. I launched this show with 3 episodes because I was told at the time iTunes downloads the 3 most recent episodes, so that would triple my amount of downloads and get me into…”New & Noteworthy”.
So we’re just about out of time here so Paul, what other things should we keep in mind as we’re preparing this perfect launch?
Paul: I think we hit the perfect launch well. Let’s hit existing podcasters, because this is key, too. Can you do a relaunch? Can you do a number of things? Here’s a couple of real simple things you can do if you have an existing show.
Number one if you have a longstanding show, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to do a second show that is a greatest hits. Rich, if I only have 30 minutes a month with you, which one should I listen to every month? That could be a whole new feed.
Paul: And you can relaunch that. A lot of people are doing that. And then you have 2 options, but really it’s just a logistics thing and another $5 over to Libsyn or whatever it is that you’re paying. So that’s one thing that you could do.
But another thing that you can simply do is just send out an email why you should subscribe to that podcast. And that will bring up those numbers and that will be like a secondary launch. I had a show with 22 episodes – it was a test show – and then I finally emailed my list 22 into it, and 22 into it just by emailing my list and telling them to subscribe I made Top 100 on the charts for that category.
So just think about it in terms of launch. And if you’ve got to start over again, maybe a new one, if not just tell everybody and maybe take away all the options. If you’re really happy with your relationship with Podcast Pete – you know the hot new app from Indonesia – you might want to look at your stats and see just how many repeat users you have. And maybe if that number is what I suspected it is and that you’ve kind of always known it is but you didn’t want to look at your stats, maybe get rid of your relationship with Podcast Pete and focus on the important stuff that makes your audience grow.
Rich: Good advice. This has been really helpful both for existing podcasters as well as those people who are just about ready to launch their podcast. Hopefully they find this, if I do my job with SEO they will. Where can people find you online, especially if they might be interested in launching a podcast coming up soon?
Paul: We have the good ‘ol paulcolligan.com, that’s my blog. I have a book that I always update called How To Podcast. You can find that at howtopodcastbook.com, that will have the latest version. I usually keep it pretty cheap for the digital version. But I do have a show called The Podcast Report, and that show is about the business of podcasting. There’s a lot of interviews, a lot of examinations, reports in the field. I’m lucky enough doing this full time that I’ve got real numbers and real stats and I share them all the time.
Rich: That is awesome. Paul I want to thank you for coming on the show and sharing some of your knowledge with us.
Paul: Thanks for having me on the show.
Paul Colligan wants to help your podcast have a successful launch. Check out his blog offering great tips and strategies, as well as his own podcast aimed at the business of podcasting. He also regularly updates his book that teaches up to date data and info on how to podcast successfully.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, creator of the Agents of Change Digital Marketing Conference, and author of a new book, The Lead Machine. He loves helping business’s fine tune their strategies for digital marketing in the areas of search, social and mobile.