Regardless of who you use to host your podcast media and generate your podcast RSS feed, check these eight things to own your platform.
1. Check which RSS feed is actually being used
I'm surprised how often podcasters either don't know which feed Apple Podcasts and other apps are actually using or they don't even know their own RSS feed URL!
Regardless of your own situation (I'll assume the best about you), here are a few ways to check what feed is being used.
- Log in to Podcasts Connect, click on your podcast, and look at the “URL” field.
- Use this tool by Regan Starr to search for your podcast by title or author and see what feed is listed. (Sometimes, you have to re-enter the search if no results show.)
- Subscribe to your podcast in the app and you may have an option to copy or see the feed URL. (In iTunes, right-click your podcast in your subscriptions and click “Copy Podcast URL.”)
- Subscribe to your podcast in the app, export your subscriptions to an OPML file, open that file in a text-editor, look for your podcast name and the feed URL after
xmlUrl=in the same block.
Feed URL changes from redirects or the
<itunes:new-feed-url> tag may take up to a couple days to be reflected in podcast apps and catalogs.
2. Check who controls the Apple Podcasts Connect account
Without control of your podcast in Apple Podcast Connect, you won't be able to fix Apple compliance issues, you won't be able to refresh your catalog listing, and you won't be able to see your podcast analytics from Apple.
Most likely, this isn't a concern for you because no good podcast host submits their clients' podcasts to Apple. If a company does do this, then they're not a good podcast host!
Apple is in the slow process of verifying and moving podcasts between Apple IDs (or assigning them where missing). So please be patient with their team. I suggest waiting until the second quarter of 2018 before you contact Apple to change or add your Apple ID.
3. Check whether you can redirect the RSS feed
Although we can debate the finely detailed definition of “owning” and “controlling” your podcast RSS feed, I think the most important requirement is the ability to redirect your feed to somewhere else. This level of control ensures you can move your podcast feed to anything else and take your audience with you.
Ideally, this redirect should be three things:
- A 301 permanent redirect (not 307 temporary)—All my top-recommended hosting companies do this
- Remain in place even after you cancel your service (forever is best)—Some companies (Libsyn is one of them) may charge extra for this
- An option you can set yourself (with several safety precautions)—This is quite mixed with companies and it probably depends on your account status
4. Check that your email address is in the feed
Even if you don't control the Apple ID used to submit your podcast to Apple, it's easy to verify ownership and stay informed about issues with your podcast when your email address is in the RSS feed.
There are two places an email address appears in a podcast feed:
<itunes:email>tag inside the
<itunes:owner>block—This is the most important.
<managingEditor>tag—this is less important, but still best to be your email address.
The email address itself isn't important, but it is publicly accessible, so you should probably make it something branded to your podcast and not your personal email address. But that you have access to that account is important.
Some podcast hosting companies will default to using their own email address. I consider that a sin, but many companies (even SoundCloud) will let you change that to your own email address.
But if a company puts their email address in
<itunes:email> and they don't let you change it, leave now!
5. Check that the website URL points to your website
RSS feeds contain simple
<link> tags that point to web pages. The top
<link> tag (before the
<item> tags) should point to your website for your podcast. I recommend inserting the URL to your podcast-specific page if your podcast is not the primary purpose of your website.
Most podcast media hosts will default to inserting their URL for your web page on their platform, but you can usually change it to your own website.
Many podcast apps and directories will link to this URL in their catalog listing for your podcast. In iTunes and Apple Podcasts, for example, this is the “Podcast Website” link in your listing.
This is most likely not a problem if you're generating your podcast feed from your website (such as with PowerPress or if you want the podcast host's web page). But you may still need to update the URL if your podcast is not the primary purpose of your website. And you should change this if you're creating your RSS feed separate from your website.
6. Check that episode links point to the correct episode web pages
For a while, there have been concerns over search-engine optimization (SEO) and usability if your episode links pointed to the wrong web pages. Apple Podcasts in iOS 11 made this a whole lot more important because each episode now includes an “Episode web page” link in the app.
This URL usually comes from the
<link> tag for each episode (in the
<item> tag), but some apps may also look at
<guid> if it is a valid permalink URL. However, that tag is usually set to
<guid isPermaLink="false">, which is a way of saying that even if the GUID looks like a URL (such as from PowerPress feeds), to not treat it like one.
This is most likely not a problem if you're generating your podcast feed from your website (such as with PowerPress or if you want the podcast host's web page). But you should change this if you're creating your RSS feed separate from your website.
7. Check that you can include HTML in the show notes
Many podcast apps will display the full blog post or show notes with your episodes. That would come from the
<content:encoded> tag if your feed includes it. WordPress feeds, for example, have the option to use only the summaries, and not the full content, and thus would not include your full show notes.
Because of this wide support, it's becoming easier to tell your audience to get your show notes from inside their podcast app instead of always sending them to your website. And if you want basic formatting of those notes, including lists and especially hyperlinks, you need the ability to include HTML.
This doesn't mean you have to know any HTML. High-quality platforms like WordPress (with PowerPress) and Libsyn give you a rich text editor that makes hyperlinking as simple as a click of a button on some selected text.
Some platforms, like SoundCloud, strangely support HTML in the content, but they don't let you enter it yourself. But if the content was entered with an API (such as Libsyn's OnPublish), then the HTML and carried through.
Other platforms allow only plain text. But most apps will still hyperlink a plain-text URL as long as it is a full, valid URL (including the
8. Check for full support of the new iTunes tags
Apple's iOS 11 introduced new features in the Apple Podcasts RSS spec. These new features are not mandatory, but implementing them can make your podcast a better experience for your current and potential audience. Plus, it's more likely Apple will feature your podcast if they see you are using their new tags effectively.
Not every podcast needs to have seasons, use the serial type, or include trailer or bonus episodes. But I do think it will make a better experience if all podcasts use the new
<itunes:episode> tag for episode numbers and
<itunes:title> for clean episode titles (without episode numbers or podcast titles).
These are reasons why I think full support for the new iTunes tags is an absolute requirement for any podcast media host. Blubrry, PowerPress, Libsyn, and Podbean were quite quick to support the new tags. I've also been pleasantly surprised by how many of the less-popular startup hosts had full support in place before iOS 11 was released: Art19, SimpleCast, Megaphone, and Podiant supposedly had full support in time (though I haven't verified).
The companies you hear professionals diminish will probably never offer such support.
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