Photo Credit: Håkan Dahlström via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Håkan Dahlström via Compfight cc

Do episode numbers really matter to you or your audience? Is there a better way to title your episodes or make your show-notes URLs?

This topic was inspired by Mario Zamarron’s question in the Podcasters community on Google+ and also inspired by Dino Dugan’s passion opinion in the Podcast Community group on Facebook.

Challenging the Podcasting Assumptions

This is a special miniseries to challenge the ideas podcasters have accepted as truth for years. Some will stand up against the challenge while others crumble, and some will reveal new options you may have never considered.

Where did we get episode numbering?

Since the inception of podcasting, the podcasting “forefathers” like Adam Curry, Dawn and Drew, Leo Laporte, and others have often used episode numbers.

Episodic number actually isn’t that common in traditional media, even less so now. Movie series used to have numbers (like the original Star Trek movies), but the recent trend is subtitles, which is actually far more common—Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, the Bourne series, Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, most of the Marvel movies, and so on.

Even in television, where each episode is numbered, the individual episodes are rarely referenced by their numbers in public.

My guess is that podcasters mostly use episode numbers without giving it much thought, mostly because that’s what they see other podcasters do.

Benefits of podcast episode numbers

Episodic numbering is not meaningless and it provides several perks.

  • Progress measurement—It’s great to look at your history and quickly see how many episodes you have released just by your current episode number. But that number could also be skewed based on alternative numbering (see below).
  • Reputation—It feels great to get past episode 7, then to feel grown up with double-digits at 10, pass a milestone at 50, and celebrate when you break 100. If you’ve been podcasting for a while, your high episode numbers boost your reputation. Just look at Daily Giz Wiz near 1,500 episodes, or Geek News Central near 1,000.
  • Potentially easy shortcut show-notes URLs—If you have smart show-notes URLs, it’s much easier to tell people, “visit myawesomepodcast.com/5” for your show notes instead of telling them to find you show notes.

Sidenote: I never recommend replacing the WordPress slug for posts so visitors land on /#. Let that URL be the full title for SEO. I’m only referring to a shortcut URL (also known as a redirect).

Disadvantages of podcast episode numbers

It’s not all pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows when you number your episodes.

  • Alternative numbering—How do you handle seasons, bonus content, or spinoffs?
  • Multiple podcasts on one website—If you use a /# URL scheme, you’ll have to extend that for each podcast.
  • Prerecorded episodes—Do you know for certain when your episodes will publish?
  • Changing the order—What if you want to squeeze in a different episode among your scheduled content?
  • Distinguishing from blog content—If you actively blog on your site, podcast episodes need to stand out without being repulsive.
  • Updating old information—What if your original information is now out of date, but you don’t want to remove your original podcast episode?

More detail on episode numbers and show notes URLs

The biggest benefit to using episode numbers is that you can have easy show notes URLs, especially if you use Pretty Link Pro (which gives you a Pretty Link creation widget right in the post editor page—makes the process much faster!). When I’m recording this episode, I can tell you, “visit the show notes for episode 175 at theaudacitytopodcast dot com slash one seventy-five.”

This also means that I can easily refer you to previous episodes by giving you their episode number. This is easy for episodes I have memorized. Like I know my PowerPress setup tutorial was #72, I talked about getting into podcast directories in #69, I gave an overview of editing podcasts with Audacity in #60. But there are other episodes to which I don’t remember the number—ironically, the episode about making easy show notes URLs (#21) is one such number I can never remember!

A show notes URL with just a number may be easy to remember, but it’s not memorable. Practically, this means that while you may remember episode 175 right now, you may not remember it in the future—and maybe neither would I!

Since I have topic-focused episodes, it’s easy for me to refer to a specific episode for that specific information. For example, I can send you to theaudacitytopodcast.com/8 for my discussion on stats—but I desperately want to update that episode! So if you listen to #8, visiting its show notes URL (theaudacitytopodcast.com/8) would give you old information. If I revisit that topic in a new episode, would I redirect /8 to the new episode, add a notice, or leave it? What if, instead, I said, “Learn more about stats at /stats,” and I make that URL point to my latest information about stats, with links to previous discussions?

Sidenote: I never say, “forward-slash,” because the “forward” is unnecessary and redundant. There’s a slash and a backslash and most people are familiar with slashes outside of computers, like “n/a,” or “and/or,” and such. If someone doesn’t know which key is the regular slash, they won’t know the difference between forward-slash and backslash anyway.

Alternative numbering complications

If you like the numbers format, even if you don’t use them for your URLs, you may run into other issues.

Seasons

If you’re on the fifth episode of your third season, should it be numbered 305, 3×05, or 95 (if this is your 95th episode)? TV-show-producers commonly use the “305” style, where the first number indicates the season and the second to numbers indicate the episode number of that season. But the public will sometimes use 3×05 or s5e05.

If you choose “305,” then your audience may think you’re on your 305th episode—but this is, of course, because they’ve been conditioned on what “305” means.

If you want to do seasons, I recommend naming the episode “3×05,” but your shortcut show-notes URL can be /305.

Bonus content

You have your regular episodes, but you want to provide something extra, like an announcement or something else. I’ve seen half-numbers, like “80.5,” and others. This kind of content is usually time-sensative, so I think it would be fine to not include a number. In fact, you may want to remove the episode from your feed after the deadline has past.

Spinoffs

If you have spinoff content or formats, this can also complicate your episode number. When we first started Are You Just Watching?, we had our regular episodes that discussed DVD-released movies, and initial-reactions episodes that discussed in-theater movies that we could only see once. I still regret the original decision to number these separately. We would have episode 25 while we’re on initial reactions 8. It got confusing.

You might also consider this for feedback episodes. But I recommend that if you use episode numbers, to keep them arbitrary and carry them across any style of content. If you have something bonus or time-sensitive, don’t number it.

007 vs. 7: leading zeroes or not?

Leading zeroes are not human-friendly (especially if you have a license to kill!), so I don’t recommend them for anywhere humans are supposed to see, like shortcut URLs, titles, or body text.

The only times I use leading URLs are in my file names (tap001.mp3) and episode abbreviations in titles “TAP001.”  I do also use them in Pretty Link Pro, but I have some fancy server-side code that will accept /1, /01, and /001 just the same.

Still use an episode number, even if it’s meaninglessly arbitrary, in your Track Number field in the ID3 tags.

When would you not want episode numbers?

The best rule I can give you is to not use episode numbers when they either don’t make sense, or they are distracting.

I like how John Lee Dumas does it. I was in Entrepreneur on Fire #549, but he gave me the URL eofire.com/danieljlewis for sharing. It makes sense and it’s memorable.

Here are some tips, but not “rules.”

  • Use numbers in the title and URL if your episodes cover several topics.
  • Use a word or words in your URL if you review a particular movie, interview a single guest, or address an individual topic.
  • Consider dropping the number from your title if you blog heavily on your site and your show notes could read like a blog post.

Conclusion: it depends

Should you or shouldn’t you use numbers? That’s really up to you and what makes the most sense for your content, your presentation, and your audience.

What you should not do is use numbers just because “everyone else” does. The most important part is that your show notes are easy to get to, so that may mean using numbers or words in the URLs. It’s up to you!

Sidenote: Remember to keep your landing URL the same, long slug your content-management system (CMS, like WordPress) suggests. If you make additional shortcut URLs, set them as 301 redirects, so no search engines ever index the wrong URL.

I’m changing some of my numbering

After all of these considerations, I have decided to make The Audacity to Podcast’s episodes more timeless by referring to a word-based show-notes URL instead of a number-based one. For example, the show notes for this episode are at theaudacitytopodcast.com/episodenumbers. But the Ramen Noodle and ONCE podcast will continue to use episode numbers.

This will mean extra steps for me as I continue to make /# URLs and Pretty Link Pro will only make a single URL in the post editor. So I’ll have to take extra steps for the extra URLs.

Should you have an episode 0?

Coming up next, I’ll challenge the podcasting assumption of having an episode 0 to introduce yourself and your podcast. Send your feedback!

Announcements

  • Learn how to take your podcast from average to amazing with Podcast Master Class. The next course is in September, 2014
  • Check out my article in Podertainment magazine about episode titles (with some mention of episode numbers)

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About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.

19 comments on Are episode numbers REALLY necessary? – TAP175

  1. Brent Mair says:

    Bit Torrent isn’t illegal. It was the way I got my first podcasts back in 2005, before inexpensive hosting. The vast majority of traffic on torrent sites is definitely illegal, but don’t confuse the activity with the tool. Definitely numbering my podcasts three digits, for alphabetical reasons.

    1. Yeah, I should have explain that more. The technolog isn’t evil or illegal, but I think we’d both agree that the majority of uses are illegal.

      So you use leading zeroes? What’s an example of an episode title?

      1. Brent Mair says:

        Just starting a podcast about board games. Nothing released yet, just two recorded. Episode name will be: Meeple Nation Episode 002 – Legendary

  2. Stephanie b says:

    I like episode numbers as a podcast consumer because they assure me that I haven’t missed any content. Especially for podcasts that publish less frequently/not on a regular schedule, I really like having the numbers. Sometimes I won’t realize that I haven’t changed the settings in one of my podcatcher programs from the default “download most recent episode” until I see a skip in the numbering.

    That being said, I do listen to a couple of podcasts where I wish they didn’t number the episodes, specifically ones that frequently re-release old content. It’s fine that they do that — their content is timeless — but the number insinuates (to me) that it’s new content, which isn’t really accurate. To use your example from mainstream media, when they rerun an episode of a TV show, it doesn’t get a new episode number — why should a podcast episode?

    I’m curious what you’re going to say about episode 0. I think it’s unneccessary to do an episode 0 intro episode. Even if you just want to introduce yourself, make it episode 1. However, Rob Walsh recommended on The Feed to make a 30 second or less promo for your show and have that as episode 0 in your feed, and that possibility intrigues me.

    1. Oh the reruns! Yes, that would bug me, too!

    2. I also like the episode numbers there as a podcast consumer. My favorite format is still like the TAP001-name, as it’s meaningful for reference in my brain or referring to it. It fixes sorting problems, both computer and mentally where I’m at in the series. I’m often listening while working, driving, and hopefully soon, cycling. It’s a lot easier to make a quick note or voice memo referencing a number and abbreviation for the podcast than trying to get down a podcast title and figure out the date (as I often listen to a new podcast and do all the past episodes).

      That idea about an episode zero for promo is interesting, but then would you go back and replace it if you updated it? I think I’d just start at episode 1 with an intro about the podcast (different than the promo) and then probably include my first set of real content in that first episode. The promo could always be a ‘special’ episode, but I guess having it at zero doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

      1. Stephanie b says:

        You definitely could replace the promo if you wanted, but you certainly don’t HAVE to number the promo. If I remember correctly (it’s been a while), I think Rob suggested having a promo as “Episode 0” (even if you didn’t number it in your feed) so that you had a promo for your podcast that people could easily download if they wanted to promote you on their own podcast. You could post it as an unnumbered episode at any time, but I think Rob’s point was that putting it in the Episode 0 position makes it easier to find.

        You make a good point, Steve. The episode numbers are easy to note, and by extension using episode numbers for the shortcut shownotes URLs make it really easy to figure out what the URLs are.

  3. I’m sorry I don’t have anything to contribute or comment about from this episode because I agree with everything you said! I’ve experienced the benefits and the pains from using episode numbers in my episodes.

    I’ve tried using episode numbers a few different ways before settling on this: I am using episode numbers at the end of my URLs and announce it in my episodes when appropriate, However, I think I’ll begin using “word URLs” like you suggested. It’s a no-brainer, I can’t believe I didn’t think about Word URLs before! After all, I use word URLs for affiliate links, why not do the same with interviews and topic-specific episodes?

    Thanks for being a thought leader!

    1. Thanks, Steve! I, too, think the hybrid approach can serve most podcasters really well.

    2. I’m thinking the word URLs can get confusing as well. For example, lets say you record an episode about microphones. You use ‘mics’ to point to it. Then later, you create more episodes about mics, so you maybe repoint that to the latest or best one. Then you have a more in-depth episode about condenser mics and one about dynamic, etc. And, then maybe a dynamic mic episode that isn’t necessarily better, but talks about some other aspect. There are ways to do it, but it becomes muddy at some point and maybe just as complex as numbering. Plus, numbering doesn’t mean you can’t have both a number and word easy reference.

  4. Upendo says:

    I find that it also depends on how I listen to the podcast. As one who writes reviews about podcasts, I find having the episode number as apart of the filename very helpful in that I like to listen to them in order if I download a few episodes.
    Having the episode number also helps at times on how I review the show depending on the show’s format. With a show like yours, it is helpful in that it is an indication that it’s one that has a real life to it, and time and effort is being put into it to make sure that it last. On my main podcast I don’t use the the numbering system, but when I was doing the show through a “network”, I had to use dates so that they knew which episode to play. When I left that “network” I went to the subname method and it has worked well for me.
    You make great points throughout this episodes for and against the numbering system.

  5. Ileane says:

    Hi Daniel. I really enjoyed this episode. Do you have a link to the comments that Dino made? I must have missed them but I agree with him totally! I find that most of the time I completely ignore episode numbers when they are mentioned in a podcast and here’s why: I listen to podcasts in the car on the way to and from work or at night when I’m taking a break from being in front of a monitor. As long as I know the website url of the podcast, I can go to the site and find the show notes I need using the search box. If for some reason the person doesn’t have a search box (or they don’t have a good search tool) as a last resort I will go to the show’s iTunes web page and scroll down the list of show titles until I see the one I want. Then I can come back to the site and I have a better chance of finding what I want. But for a podcast addict like me, who subscribes to tons of podcasts, the episode numbers are wasted.

    I use the Google powered search on my podcast and my blog and the great thing is, it will search all 3 of my blogs for relevant content. I always recommend people use the Google search instead of the default WordPress search. It’s a great way to get people to visit more pages and spend more time on your site as well.

    Thanks for opening up the discussion here and this series for challenging podcast assumptions is fantastic!

  6. One comparison that wasn’t made — which I find to be a good case FOR numbers — is that of a magazine. While podcasts may not be published weekly per se, it’s nice to have a numerical touchpoint that shows the order items were released. An evergreen article may not need to reference the issue number, but for someone working in the production, it’s imperative to keep things organized in a systematic way. To this end, I will always advocate numbers over names. Even months should be numbered, such as “02 February” or as I prefer to add the year “2014.06” so they will always appear in the appropriate order when listed by a computer, as well as human-readable.

    I’ve been using episode numbers in my podcast for many of the reasons you describe. I’ve been making short URLs with ease-of-typing in mind — especially if someone is typing on a mobile device — but I will start making my slugs more “natural”. I’ve been renaming these but realize that you’re right about SEO.

    Also, I think that some shows like Keith and The Girl or Entrepreneur on Fire use numbers strictly to “brag” about how many shows they’ve done (in the case of KATG, which is approaching 2000), or to simply show duration (in the case of EOFire).

    One very obscure reason for numbering is to consider the listening needs of folks like me who fall way behind in the queue. There could be 100 episodes from various shows lumped in there, and I want to be sure that I listen in their respective orders, as well as not to repeat anything. Numbers help me do this.

    In conclusion, I like episode numbers because I’m a systematic, numerical person. When investigating a new show or searching for a specific topic/guest, they’re not strictly necessary, but I find them very helpful for navigating and managing the shows I subscribe to.

    1. That’s an interesting point on numbers, but how are you applying that in a podcast sense?

      1. I number each episode. Makes it easy for me keep track of production if only to create a chronological list of what aired in what sequence. Call me old-fashioned. The difference, I suppose, is that I love numbering things where many other podcasters may simply be following convention.

        I will agree, though, that it’s tough to be numerical and logical before you know precisely which episode will be published next. I’ve taken to using a placeholder “9” in front of each, so if I don’t know the exact episode number, I’ll call it 914 if it’s likely to be episode 14, for example. Always trying new things

  7. This is a timely discussion for me as I just made the decision to repost my episodes by using the ‘PJ’prefix followed by ###. It seems to be the standard, and I like giving the user a chronological list to browser through. For those that like completion it lets them see the progression and work through them all if they like the content. Thanks for bringing up the topic Daniel!

  8. What about the new episode tag? How do you handle that now?

    1. I think obviously put episode numbers in it if you use episode numbers. But I think you’re asking a bigger question. Can you share more of what you’re thinking?

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