If your podcast uses seasons, you have multiple options for how to display them. Here's some guidance to help you decide!
Seasons share many similarities with episode numbers, so please read or listen to my previous episode, “Should You Include Episode Numbers in Episode Titles?” That will give you the extra context upon which this episode will build. But we can be thankful that seasons are not as complicated as episode numbers!
Do you even need seasons?
I made an episode back in 2015, “Should You Podcast in Seasons?” that I think answers the question in great detail (maybe even exhausting detail). So please go back to read or listen to that for more information. And here's a concise and updated summary of my thoughts about seasons.
Similar to whether you should use episode numbers, I challenge you to question whether seasons will matter to your audience, especially if they listen a year from now.
I recommend you use seasons only when each season follows a particular theme or arc. For example, each season of Serial told a completely different story, each season (and sometimes half season) of serial TV shows has a separate story arc, and I've heard other podcasts follow different formats in different seasons (like a “tools” season, a “top 10” season, a “client stories” season, and beginner/intermediate/advanced seasons).
Put another way, the audience can easily associate a theme or arc with the season because the seasons actually make sense and serve an obvious purpose.
But if you are thinking of using seasons merely for your schedule, then I don't think you should use seasons. If you need a planned hiatus, then simply announce and take the planned hiatus! There's no need to use seasons if you only need a break. Your current and future audience likely won't care about these “seasons,” and they won't even make sense to your future audience.
If your audience will not notice any big content changes progressing immediately from one season to the next, then the seasons are probably not necessary.
But with the assumption that your show does need seasons, let's consider how to best display them with your episodes.
Use the season RSS tags
Both the Apple “iTunes Namespace” and Podcasting 2.0 “Podcast Namespace” offer RSS tags for indicating seasons.
For Apple Podcasts, the season tag is
<itunes:season>, which allows only a non-zero number. For Podcasting 2.0, the tag is
<podcast:season>. But, of course, the Podcasting 2.0 season tag offers more by letting you give each season a name instead of only a number. So the first season could be labeled “Getting Started,” the second season could be “Growing,” and the third season could be “Improving.” Use both tags as well as you can until all apps upgrade to the modern Podcasting 2.0 standard.
When you use these season tags, modern podcast apps can more intelligently display the season information in appropriate contexts and possibly group your episodes by season. It can even cause an entire season to download or start playing at the beginning of the latest season when you combine this with the “serial” podcast type.
Apple started offering this season tag with the release of iOS 11 back in 2017. Pocket Casts supported it quickly, too. Both Apple Podcasts and Pocket Casts provide good examples of how the seasons might be displayed.
First, neither app (and probably no other podcast app out there) will put the season number in the episode title, like Apple Podcasts sometimes does with episode numbers.
If your podcast type is “episodic” or not indicated (which defaults to “episodic”), Apple Podcasts does not display the season number in the episode listing or player, but only in the meta information when you open an episode.
If your podcast type is “serial,” Apple Podcasts groups episodes by season, lets you filter by season or all episodes, and shows the season number in the meta information both when opening and playing an episode.
Pocket Casts, however, does not seem to display “episodic” or “serial” podcast types any differently. In Pocket Casts, the season number is shown with other episode meta information in the episode listing, but apparently not anywhere else.
Podcasting 2.0 apps usually support the
<podcast:season> tag and display the season name, if present. Some apps might group episodes under their seasons, like Apple Podcasts does for “serial” podcast types; and other apps might merely show the season with other meta information in the episode listing, like Pocket Casts.
As you can tell, this is much simpler and less prominent than episode numbers. And this makes sense because seasons are a much larger context and are more important in making groups of episodes than indicating individual episodes.
Use your webpage field and groups, if available
You might have your podcast website from your podcast-hosting provider (like Captivate), on WordPress with a great podcast theme like SecondLine Themes, or with a third-party tool like Podpage or Podcastpage. (I will have a future episode about how to choose from these options.)
Each of these website-management methods might offer a season field that, like the RSS tag, allows the website to display the season number in better places. But since the season information is not very important to individual episodes, any kind of display will probably be only in the episode meta information and maybe with separate collections for each season.
Even if your content-management system (CMS) doesn't support podcast seasons, you easily group episodes of a season together by giving them the same tag or category. Then, your website probably allows you to make a page, episode list, or player that contains only that season's episodes (based on the shared tag or category), just like you could make a collection of episodes based on any other tag or category.
Seasons in titles
Seasons are simpler than episode numbers, and I couldn't find any CMS or podcast app that automatically puts the season number inside the episode titles.
So should you?
While I already think your audience probably does not need episode numbers, I think they need season numbers even less. So for this reason, I suggest not including the seasons in your titles, with a couple of exceptions.
Include the season in the title if your episode is about a season, like “Season 2 trailer,” “Behind the scenes of season 3,” or “Season 1 bloopers.”
If your podcast is about other content that has seasons, like a TV aftershow podcast, you might want to include the TV show's season and episode numbers in the titles, but not the podcast's own season and episode numbers, which could be different. For example, my retired podcast about the Once Upon a Time TV show would have 2–3 episodes per week while the TV show would have only 1 episode per week. This is because we would usually have an “initial reactions” episode the night of the TV episode, a “full discussion” episode halfway between TV episodes, and sometimes a “spoilers” episode shortly after that (or included at the end of the “full discussion” episode). So by the time the whole TV series ended, we had published more than 350 episodes, and our episode numbers would not align at all with the TV show's. But we did align our seasons, and would indicate the TV show's season and episode number we were talking about within our episode titles since some people might actually search for content about the TV show by its season and episode numbers.
And that's it! These same guidelines can probably apply to all the other contexts and that full list of 6 places where you could have separate titles:
- The RSS feed item's future
<podcast:title>tag from the Podcasting 2.0 namespace (when this tag is finalized), which is the title Podcasting 2.0 apps will use
- The RSS feed item's
<itunes:title>tag from the “iTunes” namespace, which is the title Apple Podcasts and a few other apps will use first
- The RSS feed item's
<title>tag, which is the fallback if #1 and #2 are missing or unsupported
- The webpage's HTML metadata titles for social networks, which show in embedded previews when the post is shared on some social networks
- The webpage's HTML
<title>tag, which shows in the tab bar, bookmarks, search-engine previews, and is the default message text for social-sharing
- The post title/heading (usually in an
<h1>HTML tag), which shows prominently on the webpage
If you would (very unlikely) need the season in one of these titles, you'll most likely need it in all of them, unlike episode numbers.
And if you include seasons in your titles, please don't make the season and episode number the only things in your titles!
Put seasons on all episodes, if possible
If you start using seasons, consider editing even all your old episodes so they contain the relevant season information. If you have some episodes with seasons and some without, Apple Podcasts will group all the non-season episodes into “Unknown season.” They used to do that for any podcast with seasons, but it seems they've now limited that behavior to only podcasts with the “serial” podcast type.
And remember that seasons will likely affect groupings, too. So if your website has separate lists for episodes from each season, any episode marked for season 1 will be listed in season 1, no matter when it's published. This is the same way Apple Podcasts works with “serial” type podcasts. And it will play all of a season's episodes in order with this podcast type. But other apps most likely play and display episodes by published date.
How to write the seasons
If you're going to include seasons in your titles, or refer to episodes by their season and episode number, I think there are only two popular conventions for it:
- Uppercase S, season number, space, uppercase E, episode number (without leading zeros), like “S2 E7″—This is how Apple Podcasts and Pocket Casts will abbreviate season and episode numbers. I've also seen variations without the space, with lowercase letters, and with leading zeros. But I recommend the capitalized and spaced version.
- Less popular: Season number, lowercase X or × (multiplication sign), episode number (possibly with one or two leading zeros for clarity), like “2×07″—WordPress will probably automatically change the letter x in this format to the multiplication sign.
Either of these would be in places where you're referring to only a single episode. But don't follow this format for whole-season content, like “Season 1 trailer” and such.
Whether you write “season 1” or “first season” is up to you. “Season 1” seems to be easier to read, but “first season” is more formal and it's also how most TV shows write it. I think this might simply be a matter of what sounds or looks best in its context. But when in an episode title, such as for a trailer, I think the “season 1” format is better because it's shorter and the number is clear.
Are seasons worth it?
We don't face the same complications with season numbers (and season names in Podcasting 2.0!) as we face with episode numbers. You're also probably even less likely to need seasons unless they make sense to your audience beyond a schedule.
So the technical “cost” of using seasons is much less than episode numbers. And their usefulness is less, too (except for serial-type podcasts).
To figure out whether seasons are worth it and how you should include them in your titles and meta information should come down to what makes the most sense for your audience and actually enhances their experience. If it doesn't enhance your audience's experience, then it's probably not worth the small additional effort.
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