Choosing the right category for your podcast has the potential to help your podcast get discovered and featured. But what should you do with so many categories to choose from, and sometimes seemingly not enough?
Sidenote: “genre” and “category” are often used interchangeably in podcasting, but I'll stick with the “category” term for this episode.
Categories in Apple Podcasts
Apple was the first company to popularize RSS features to standardize podcasting back in 2005. For more than a decade, Apple offered 68 categories. Apple offers 110 categories you can use for your podcast (19 of which are parent categories). And since nearly all podcast feeds use the “iTunes” RSS namespace to make podcasting possible, most other podcast apps also use Apple's categories, at least the top levels.
While Podcasting 2.0 is also seeking to build an expanded category list that apps can use, Apple has laid a nice foundation that will probably be built on for many other innovations and improvements.
Podcasts can be in more than one category
Publishing tools have a variety of limits, but Apple's official statement is “You can choose up to two categories or subcategories that best reflect the content of your show” [source]. So even if your publishing tool lets you pick 5 categories, assume only the first 2 or maybe 3 will actually matter.
If you pick a subcategory, you are also automatically included in the parent category. Here's how that looks in the RSS feed:
<itunes:category text="Religion & Spirituality"> <itunes:category text="Christianity" /></itunes:category>
So don't worry about trying to put yourself in both the subcategory and its parent. Focus on a subcategory if you can.
The primary category matters most
No matter how many categories you put in your feed, the first one is what matters most.
Your secondary and other additional categories will help you show up in those category collections, editorial features, searches, and browsing. But Apple says that in addition to what your secondary category/categories do for your podcast, it's your first category that is used for top charts, displaying on your podcast, and even for recommendations on other podcasts in the catalog and “Listen Now.”
4 steps to pick the right categories for your podcast
With this in mind and so many podcast categories to choose from, here are some steps to help you pick the right one!
1. Ignore the charts and saturation
Look at the number of podcasts in each category from Podcast Industry Insights and you'll see that “Education” and “Society & Culture” have the most total podcasts by large margins. But filter out the inactive podcasts and you'll now see four categories fighting for having the highest numbers of 90-day active podcasts: Education, Religion & Spirituality, Business, and Society & Culture.
And as for what category the 90-day active podcasts mark as their primary, “Society & Culture” still leads by more than double the runners-up, and then it's a close battle for second place between Comedy, Education, Business, and Sports.
These stats are based on the top-level, parent categories. If we drilled down to the subcategory level, these stats would start drastically splitting apart and you would find categories that have hardly any podcasts.
But this shouldn't really matter! Just because a Movie News podcast could top a subcategory's charts doesn't mean it should be in the Tennis category! Look at these statistics only as informational, not as guidance.
2. See where your “competitors” are
There are probably other podcasts talking about similar things, or maybe even your exact niche! See how they categorized their podcasts.
While you might think it best to avoid the same categories as your “competitors,” I think it would actually be best to choose the same categories.
This makes it more likely for podcast apps to recommend your podcast as relevant to the other one, it gives you more opportunity to be featured within that category in case there's ever a special collection, and I think it even increases your chances to be discovered because your podcast could appear in the same relevant contexts as your “competitors.”
Think of it this way: grocery stores don't put ice creams with pet food! Sure, it might stand out to see an ice cream next to pet food, but when someone wants ice cream, they'll go to the ice cream shelves of the frozen foods section. So if your brand of ice cream was being sold next to pet food instead of with all the other ice creams, probably none of the ice-cream-motivated shoppers would see or buy your ice cream!
Or to quote the philosophy I remember from young Haley Mills in Disney's 1961 film The Parent Trap, “Let's stick together, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
3. Pick what best describes your content
While your podcast can probably fit under several categories, or maybe you feel like it doesn't fit under any of them, look at the list and consider what can actually describe your content the best.
Take The Audacity to Podcast for example. I cover podcast marketing, how-tos, and technology. This show appeals to geeks, entrepreneurs, businessmen, businesswomen, and hobbyists. So what actually describes my content the best? Looking at my archive of episodes and plans for the future, I can see that I talk about technology the most and what that technology enables you to do. Sometimes, that's marketing; sometimes, I explain exactly how to use something; and sometimes I step completely away from technology and focus on motivating you—whether you're a professional or a hobbyist. Thus, I think the “Technology” category is the best fit for The Audacity to Podcast. And that gets confirmed by seeing that most of the other podcasts about podcasting are also in “Technology.”
Yes, some of my “competitors” are primarily in the “Marketing” category, but The Audacity to Podcast talks about technology and what you can do with that technology more than about marketing.
And while I think all my content is educational, not every episode is formatted like a “lesson” or “tutorial.”
So I still include “Marketing” and “Education ➜ How To” as additional categories. And in the 2023 People's Choice Podcast Awards, I submitted The Audacity to Podcast in the Technology category and the Education category. And in the 2023 Spark Media Podcast Awards, I submitted my show in the “Business” category.
(Sidenote: please vote for The Audacity to Podcast in these awards when voting opens soon!)
To see if you chose the right category that best describes your podcast, try describing it to someone else as “I host a [category] podcast” where you can pick only one category. For example, “I host a technology podcast,” “I host a TV aftershow podcast,” or “I host a personal journal podcast.” The one that fits best is probably the one you should use.
Yes, I know this isn't always so clear. You may just need someone else to look at the list of relevant categories and tell you which one they think best describes your podcast. For example, there was an unsuccessful campaign a couple of years ago to get a “Climate Science” category in Apple Podcasts. But I think “Earth Sciences” fits those podcasts just as well.
And if Apple ever wanted to make a featured collection of podcasts about climate science, they would probably look in the “Earth Sciences” category first.
4. Pick where your audience would expect to find your podcast
Similar to seeing how someone else would primarily describe your content, consider where people might expect to find your podcast when browsing different charts, categories, and features.
Bringing back my ice cream example, if someone is searching for organic ice cream, they'll probably go to the frozen organics section first. And if there is no such section, they'll go to the ice cream section. They won't go to the pet food section looking for ice cream!
Similarly, where would your ideal audience go and expect to find your podcast there? I think that's in the “Technology” section for The Audacity to Podcast, and your show could be completely different.
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