By John Houghton on January 4, 2011
Updated For 2014: Gain maximum audience exposure and search rankings with these techniques
So you’ve decided to launch a podcast, and now you want to be sure to get as much return as possible for all the effort you’re putting into it by distributing it as widely as possible. Deciding how to syndicate (distribute) your podcast is a very important consideration, and can make the difference between a popular podcast that gets traction or one that never gets off the ground. This article is about how we do syndication at MobileCast Media, and it’s information you can use to build a larger audience with your podcast.
How Are Podcasts Distributed?
Podcast listings are placed into podcast directories, such as iTunes, via a programming language called RSS, or “Really Simple Syndication.” By surpassing WalMart in 2008, iTunes has become the largest distributor of music in the world, and it is also the largest distributor of podcasts. In iTunes, the same field you use to search for your favorite song is the same field used to search for your favorite podcast. When you use the main search field, both song and podcast results show up on the same page – which is great exposure for podcasts. Therefore, a proper listing in iTunes can provide a big turbo boost for audience development. Listing in iTunes is not easy, and how you are listed is very important.
Without an RSS feed, you technically don’t have a podcast – you have a simple downloadable audio or video file – no iTunes discoverability. RSS is written in XML, which stands for eXtensible Markup Language – a language used for making documents readable by machines. An RSS feed contains information, much like an old style library card, such as title, description, author, website, and so on, and makes it possible for users to subscribe to a podcast and receive all future podcast episodes without taking further action. New episodes are downloaded automatically. These podcast episodes can be seamlessly and automatically pushed to mobile devices (not just iPods, but nearly any mobile device – iPhone, iPad, Android, Palm, etc.) so that content can be consumed on-the-go. That’s the big advantage of podcasting – subscribe once and consume on your mobile device while you commute or while you perform tasks (such as working out, chores, repetitive work).
The key here is the podcast episodes are downloaded all at once, during periods of connectivity so that users can listen without being connected. It doesn’t sound very important, but this attribute has driven podcasting to popularity. You don’t have to be continuously connected, reducing network demands and conserving battery life.
Why Not Use a Free RSS Service to Create Your RSS Feed for iTunes?
Free RSS services tend to reduce your potential search engine ranking and therefore the popularity of your podcast. How does this happen? High search engine rankings come from back links (links that are inbound to your site). If your RSS feed is properly written, it will contain backlinks to your domain (www.yourcompany.com) which helps your site’s ranking. If links point to the free RSS podcast service, they are increasing the ranking of the podcasting service and not your domain. What’s the downside? If you’re an individual hobby podcaster, it’s probably a good trade to have a free service handle your feed in exchange for ranking because you don’t have the resources or knowledge to write your own feed. However, if you’re a business, you want to retain 100% of the search engine ranking benefit. A good search ranking is everything in this world, and companies spend a lot of money on search engine optimization (SEO).
Before we go much further, let’s run over some statistics about how your podcast is likely to be accessed. General numbers are based on our experience in producing hundreds of podcasts over the last nine years as a service provided by our podcast production company. Numbers for an individual podcast will vary on a case-by-case basis. 50% of your podcast downloads will come via iTunes. Another 40% of your podcast downloads will come via your web landing page (mostly PC and Mac). Hopefully you have a landing page. This is why search engine optimization so is important. The remaining 10% will come from other podcast directories, who provide a smaller number of downloads, but a good number of inbound links, which are very important. Some people will start a podcast or blog just to get these inbound links and the search engine benefits that come with them.
What Are The Best Options For RSS Syndication?
Option 1. Consider using a blogging platform for your podcast website. You can save a lot of time and avoid a lot of complexity by integrating your podcast with a blogging platform. At MobileCast Media, we like using WordPress, but other platforms will do. Its very important for search engine optimization (SEO) that your blog is self-hosted. A hosted site is much easier to set up, but doesn’t provide SEO benefits for your domain. Let’s say, for example, you own Acme Butter Company and you’re starting a podcast called Butter Sticks. If your site is a hosted blog, the URL would be “buttersticks.wordpress.com,” with all of the search engine ranking benefits going to wordpress.com. On the other hand, if you host your own site (self-hosted), the URL will be “blog.buttersticks.com” or “www.buttersticks.com/blog” and your domain “www.buttersticks.com” will get the search engine benefits.
The main advantage of putting your podcast onto a blog website is that it creates the RSS feed for you automatically (with the right plugin), and blogs like WordPress have a lot of features that automatically provide search engine optimization benefits. All of this saves you time. If you haven’t guessed by now, publishing and promoting your podcast can take a lot of time.
If you are a corporation and your look-and-feel is very important to you, it’s possible to customize a WordPress theme to match your corporate theme. Blogs have a lot of social features (e.g. trackbacks, comments, etc) built-in, which helps your podcast become “part of the conversation.”
Option 2. If you cannot use a blogging platform, you can create a page on your corporate website as the podcast landing page and create your own RSS feed and host it alongside your web page. Technically, you don’t need a web page to have a podcast, but if you don’t have a web page, you’ll be missing out on 40% of your audience (see above). Hopefully you have a podcast landing page and it looks good. Not only that, but the podcast needs to be well-described with proper keywords and a good title. Crafting the title and description is a mixture of good copy writing and SEO. After all, how can someone arrive at your web page via a search engine if you don’t have the relevant keywords on your page?
Having a web page alongside an RSS feed offers the most control of your syndication while providing you maximum search engine benefit. Creating this RSS feed can be developed by some webmasters if they follow the iTunes Technical Specifications for podcasts.
Are there Pitfalls?
Whether you’re dealing with a free service or developing your own feed, there are pitfalls when dealing with RSS. The largest pitfall that many unsuspecting webmasters soon learn is that header (channel) information in the feed, such as the podcast title and description, or the feed URL, can be extremely difficult to change once submitted. Normally with a web page, the webmaster can “hack it until it’s right,” but a feed is more like a press release – once it goes out it is difficult to retract. Apple has set up change processes, but these processes haven’t worked well in the past and feeds can remain broken for years. It can be nearly impossible to even remove a broken feed. At one point in 2008, one-third of the Fortune 50 companies had bad feeds in iTunes, resulting in untold brand damage. A prominent example is the feed for the Chevy Volt which has been broken since 2008.
How does Really Simple Syndication work?
RSS starts by creating an RSS file. This is a text file usually called “rss.xml,” and it contains all the information about your podcast, where the download files are, episode titles, descriptions, etc. Once this file is complete, you put it on your website, for example, “https://www.acmebutter.com/podcast/rss.xml.” Once it is on your website, you perform a one-time action to register your podcast with podcast directories (such as iTunes). The podcast directories then pull information from this file to create the podcast listing. From now on, podcast directories are going to check this rss.xml file for updates every few hours. When you want to release a new episode, all you have to do is upload the new mp3/mp4 and then update the rss.xml file. The podcast directory will read the new file and automatically update the listing, and users can start downloading.
By the way, now that you know what the URL for a RSS feed looks like, it is a good time to reiterate the point that free RSS feeds are not optimal. If the RSS feed uses your domain, such as “www.acmebutter.com,” this is great and helps your search engine ranking. If the RSS feed is hosted on another site, it will help the ranking for that site, but not yours. We’re not talking about directories that list your site, we’re talking about a website that is generating your RSS feed. This is why it’s important not to use free services that point to their own site. Properly executed RSS feeds can have such an impact on ranking that sometimes the podcast landing page has a higher ranking than the corporate homepage. If the feed is self-hosted, it means Acme Butter has full control of the feed and it can’t be held hostage or be at the mercy of a free service provider’s downtime.
What’s The Process for Getting a Syndication Feed Started?
A lot of people ask us for the process for working with an outside vendor for RSS feed creation, so I have listed the process for my company, MobileCast Media. If MobileCast Media were providing the recording and syndication services for Acme Butter, this is how the interaction would work:
1. MobileCast records and edits Acme’s first podcast.
2. MobileCast writes the title and description using professional copy writing standards and with SEO in mind.
3. MobileCast gives mp3 or mp4 files to Acme to post on the webserver. If the file is called “episode_one.mp3″ and Acme wants to place this in a “podcast” directory, the URL will be “https://www.acmebutter.com/podcast/episode_one.mp3.” Acme communicates this URL to MobileCast.
4. MobileCast provides podcast art (a 1400 x 1400 pixel graphic) to Acme to post on the webserver. Lets say the file is called “podcast_art.jpg” and Acme places it in the “podcast” directory, then the URL will be “https://www.acmebutter.com/podcast/podcast_art.jpg.” Acme communicates this URL to MobileCast. PNG images are supported but have been problematic.
5. Acme creates a podcast webpage and calls it “index.html.” This makes the podcast landing page “https://www.acmebutter.com/podcast/.” Acme communicates this URL to MobileCast.
6. Acme decides where the rss.xml file will live. If Acme places it in the “podcast” directory, the URL will be “https://www.acmebutter.com/podcast/rss.xml.” Acme communicates this URL to MobileCast.
6. MobileCast now has all of the information necessary to write the XML feed: the mp3/mp4 URL, the graphic URL, the landing page URL, and the rss.xml URL. MobileCast writes the rss.xml file and provides the file to Acme.
7. Acme then uses the written copy (title and description for the overall podcast and the individual episode) from the rss.xml file to list the podcast on Acme’s podcast page. Acme places the rss.xml file in the designated directory. Optionally, Acme can write additional copy about the episode for the web page, since the RSS description is brief and the web page has more room to describe the podcast or place a transcript (which is great for search engines). Once the page is posted, the podcast is “live,” though only to visitors to Acme’s website who can also manually subscribe.
8. Acme informs MobileCast that the rss.xml file is in place. MobileCast then submits the podcast to iTunes and perhaps other podcast directories, as desired by Acme. Anywhere from two to seven days later, the podcast is accepted into directories and is listed. The podcast is now live on iTunes (and other directories) and users begin to download.
By following the steps above, MobileCast Media can assist with the podcast distribution without our customer having to give up control. To the extent that URL paths and file naming conventions can be determined in advance, the process will be smoother. With these tips, you’ll be able to maximize the exposure and search rankings for your podcast, which can help you build a larger audience for your program.
If you want to have us handle your podcast distribution, please contact us. Podcasts get a lot of traction by putting them in a custom app, where the app not only plays podcasts but offers other resources on the subject such as videos, calculators, maps with overlays, or whatever is most useful. In this way the app becomes an interactive experience on the subject. Here are a few other posts you might be interested in:
How To Drive Revenue With Mobile Content Marketing – This post talks all about the necessary steps to be successful with your podcast. Also, a new term has sprung up in the last few years called Content Marketing and this can be synonymous with podcasting.
5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Hosting a Mobile Video Interview Program – By hosting, we mean being on camera, as in show host for a program like a video podcast. The main thing is you want a dynamic (as opposed to boring) performance. At MobileCast Media, we employ top broadcast consultants to get the best on-camera performance out of our customers and you can find the biggest mistakes people make and how to correct them in this blog post.
Podcasting Empire Built on Tech Talk – 3 Keys to Success – An oldie but a goodie, this article was published in 2010, but it’s still relevant. There are three keys to success and you need to know them to be successful. A lot of what my company does is geared toward business podcasting, but the tips are relevant for any podcaster.
5 Tips for Successful Mobile Video Content Marketing – Top tips for making your video podcast or video program more compelling. It’s geared toward business podcasters but applies to all.
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Posted in Podcasting