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
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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.
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
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.
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
/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!
- 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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