Don’t let FeedBurner mess up your podcast episode descriptions in iTunes

FeedBurner SmartCast for podcasting

FeedBurner has a bug in the “SmartCast” feature that will duplicate your podcast-level description across all of your episodes. The only ways to fix this are to either insert the information into the right RSS tag, or disable SmartCast.

Short glossary of terms

Before I can fully explain the problem and its solutions, you need to understand some terminology I'll use.

  • Tags—RSS is a language made up of tags, like <title>, <item>, and <description>.
  • Show-level or channel-level—this information or collection of tags is for your podcast as a whole. For example, the show-level <title> tag sets the name of your whole podcast.
  • Episode-level or item-level—this information or collection of tags is for your individual posts or episodes. For example, the item-level <title> tag sets the name of one particular episode, not the name of your whole series.
  • <description>—at channel-level, this tag describes the feed; at item-level, it describes a single episode.
  • <itunes:summary>—at channel-level, this tag describes the podcast for iTunes; at episode-level, it describes a single episode. If this tag is missing, iTunes will use <description> instead.

Look back at how to change your podcast information in iTunes to see how these tags line up with podcast information.

The problem in iTunes

When your podcast is in the iTunes store, you'll see two things under “Description”: one is a few words of the episode subtitle and the others is an “i” information icon. Click on the “i” and the full podcast description shows.

If you use FeedBurner's SmartCast, look at your own podcast in iTunes and chances are high that when you click on an episode's “i” link, you'll see your channel-level description for every episode instead of unique text that describes each episode.

What's causing this?

iTunes will pull this episode description first from the item-level <itunes:summary>. If that tag isn't present, then iTunes will fallback to the item-level <description>, which is usually a truncated version of your written show notes, your full show notes, or an excerpt from WordPress.

While iTunes has a fallback chain to get the right text, FeedBurner's SmartCast has a broken chain.

If you activate SmartCast, FeedBurner will overwrite any existing channel-level information with what you enter in the SmartCast settings page. FeedBurner will also add the item-level <itunes:summary> field for each episode (or “item”) in your feed that doesn't already have that field. But instead of falling back to other item-level information, FeedBurner will pull the channel-level <description>, which is usually the description of your whole podcast and not the specific episode.

This will happen for each episode in your feed that doesn't already have it's own <itunes:summary> at item-level.

Here's a simplified example feed.

Source feed

Channel-level <title>: My Awesome Podcast

Channel-level <itunes:summary>: This is my show about awesomeness.

Episode 1 <title>: 10 easy magic tricks

Episode 1 <description>: Amaze your friends with these ten magic tricks you can do with regular household items.

Episode 1 <itunes:summary>:

Since there's no <itunes:summary> for episode 1 in this source feed, iTunes will correctly fallback to episode 1's <description> and display that when you click the “i” link. This is if you gave iTunes this source feed (LibSyn's currently looks this way).

If you activate SmartCast on this exact same feed, iTunes would receive and display the following.

Source feed

Channel-level <title>: My Awesome Podcast

Channel-level <itunes:summary>: This is my show about awesomeness.

Episode 1 <title>: 10 easy magic tricks

Episode 1 <description>: Amaze your friends with these ten magic tricks you can do with regular household items.

Episode 1 <itunes:summary>: This is my show about awesomeness.

What services are susceptible?

If you use FeedBurner's “SmartCast” feature, then any podcast RSS feed without item-level <itunes:summary> tags would be susceptible to this bug. This means LibSyn, hosted Blubrry, plain WordPress, WordPress with PowerPress, and almost anyone else.

The problem will be especially difficult to fix if your FeedBurner source feed comes from a provider who gives no option to manually or automatically populate the <itunes:summary> tag. If your system or provider doesn't add this, this problem is actually not their fault, because they've chosen to let iTunes do its job instead of bloating your RSS feed with redundant information.

Even if you automatically or manually popular the <itunes:summary> tag with PowerPress, the tag is removed if you use PowerPress's “Feed Episode Maximizer” feature (this truncates the feed information on all episodes before your latest ten).

FeedBurner's SmartCast is the problem here. It's the service that is falling back to the wrong source.

2 solutions to fix your descriptions

If your episode descriptions are important to show in the iTunes store, then you only have two options to fix it.

Option 1: Deactivate SmartCast (recommended)

iTunes behaves properly with a properly formatted feed, even when the feed omits the optional fields. Because SmartCast causes the problem, and it's antiquated anyway, I highly recommend deactivating this feature. Instead, use your content-management system (LibSyn or PowerPress) to add the appropriate podcast information to your RSS feed.

This isn't the only dumb thing “SmartCast” does. It also splits multiword keywords (keywords are deprecated in iTunes, anyway), offers more iTunes categories than necessary, misrepresents the clean/explicit tag, and recommends the wrong size for podcast cover art.

Deactivating SmartCast is really the smartest thing to do. This will let you manage your RSS feed where it is created (such as LibSyn or your own WordPress with PowerPress). The only reason to ever use SmartCast is if your feed-creator doesn't already support any of the custom iTunes tags for podcasts.

Option 2: Force your source RSS feed to include the summary tag

If you use PowerPress, you can force it to add the <itunes:summary> tag to each episode. This can be an automatically optimized, plain-text version of your blog post content; or you can customize this tag each time you publish an episode.

  • For automatic, optimized text, go to PowerPress > Settings > iTunes (or go to the iTunes tab for your appropriate category, channel, taxonomy, or post type). Then checkmark “Optimize iTunes Summary from Blog Posts” and click “Save Changes.” This will convert HTML links into full URLs, which is no longer necessary for iTunes and the Podcasts app for iOS, so this feature will probably change.
  • For optional, custom text, go to PowerPress > Settings > Basic Settings. Then checkmark “iTunes Summary Field” and click “Save Changes.” This will enable a new text area in your “Podcast Episode” widget in the WordPress post editor. Enter whatever custom episode description you want here.

You may combine these two options so that you can write your custom episode descriptions, or leave it blank.

This will add bloat to your RSS feed, so I usually only recommend this if you keep your item limit low, or opt for short, custom summaries.

If you can't apply either solution to your RSS feed, then you would need to either change your content management system altogether, or just ignore the issue.

Want to fix this issue on your WordPress or LibSyn feed but feel overwhelmed? I offer a flat-rate RSS repair and optimization service!

Need personalized podcasting help?

I no longer offer one-on-one consulting outside of Podcasters' Society, but request a consultant here and I'll connect you with someone I trust to help you launch or improve your podcast.

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This post may contain links to products or services with which I have an affiliate relationship and may receive compensation from your actions through such links. However, I don't let that corrupt my perspective and I don't recommend only affiliates.

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.
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Steve MoneyPlanSOS Stewart

I purchased an almost identical kit (my kit included three identical stands, no hairlight/sandbag stands). They are awesome – especially for the price.

I put a green-screen behind me and have created some really cool videos (editing with ScreenFlow). Totally worth it!

Thanks Daniel.

Chuck Staton
Chuck Staton
9 years ago

Just wanted to let everyone know – you don’t need to turn off Smartcast to fix this.
Smartcast helps me with all the tags besides the summary, so I wanted to keep it on.
The problem is, “Smartcast” turns on “Summarycast” – and that is what cuts off the description.
I turned off “Summarycast” and that fixes the description problem 100%. Extremely, extremely simple fix.

Chuck Staton
Chuck Staton
9 years ago

That’s weird. I thought I replied yesterday to this but it looks like my comment disappeared or maybe didn’t finish posting before I closed the browser window.
Anyway – No, my description WAS replicated across all episodes. Each description would display the first 200 characters of my actual episode description, but then just end abruptly and show my general podcast description.
Also – I will say now that I have still have Feedburner, with Smartcast turned on (and Summarycast turned off) – and all my descriptions are absolutely perfect:

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