Podcasters don't have to be perfect, and it's easy to fix most of our mistakes. But here are thirteen things that you can't fix later if you don't get it right when you start podcasting. Most of these apply to blogs, too.
1. Control your RSS feed
The RSS feed is the lifeblood of your podcast. Whether you have your own website, use a free service like WordPress.com, or you pay for premium podcast services, you must have full control over your RSS feed.
Feedburner is the best way to keep this control. Yes, it's owned by someone else, but it's the easiest and most effective way to control your feed, no matter what you do.
WallysModcast feels this pain, “Sucks using wordpress.com cause i can not change my rss.” And Ileane agrees on using Feedburner from the start.
Also check out “Feedburner vs. PowerPress” with my friend David Jackson.
2. Launch with at least three episodes
You can launch a podcast in most directories with just a single episode, but having more episodes to start provides several benefits.
- Shows prospective listeners that the show is already going strong
- Greater likeliness of being featured in iTunes
- Acceptance into more podcast directories
- Gives listeners more to listen to in order to get the feel for your show
3. Have podcast cover art when you launch
I work with podcast cover art as one of my freelance design services because it's crucial to podcasting. You don't have to hire me to design your cover art, but you shouldn't launch a podcast without some.
Launching without podcast cover art will prevent your being featured in iTunes or many other podcast directories.
4. Keep episode numbering simple
Illeane and Jim Kerwin both shared similar thoughts on episode numbering. Keep your numbering simple and understandable.
Don't harm your podcast's brand by mixing it up with several different episode number systems. When we launched Are You Just Watching?, we would have full episodes and initial-reactions episodes and number these differently. While we might be on “episode 15” of the regular episodes, we were also on episode 8 of initial reactions.
Separate numbering systems for a podcast make it confusing for you and your listeners. Does “ABC010” come before or after “XYZ020”? Also consider how you would number the episodes in the ID3 tags.
Keep it simple!
5. Offer standard formats
iTunes popularized “Enhanced Podcasts,” which were AAC audio files that offered chapter markings and changeable cover art. This sounds neat, but it's merely a novelty that isn't in high demand.
Adding these extra chapter markings and cover art produced a lot of extra work for an audio podcaster, and there aren't many programs for doing this (GarageBand on OS X and PodReel for Windows).
Enhanced podcasts also work only on iTunes and iOS devices. And don't assume that everyone who subscribes in iTunes wants only an enhanced podcast.
6. Split podcast and blog RSS feeds
A good podcast should also have some accompanying blog posts, especially if you don't write good shownotes. But using a single RSS feed for blogs and podcast episodes produces a few problems.
- Every blog post will bump a podcast episode from the feed.
- If you raise the feed items limit, you may max out your RSS size, and it creates a larger file than necessary for podcast subscribers.
- Titling your blog and podcast separately is an extra step for iTunes, but impossible for other feed-readers.
Instead, separate your blog and podcast feed by:
- pulling a category-specific RSS feed (/categoryname/feed/, if permalinks are enabled), and add Posts Per Category to adjust how many episodes appear in the podcast-only feed;
- using PowerPress and taking their podcast-only feed, which pulls podcasts from any category (also offers similar adjustments of posts limits); or
- combining both of these techniques to keep your podcast episodes in their own category, but use PowerPress's podcast-only feed.
7. Have and use your own domain
Regardless of where you host your podcast when you start, get your own domain and at least forward it to your website. This makes it a lot easier when you move to somewhere else.
Domains cost only $12–$15 per year, and are often included with web hosting.
8. Make a branded email address
When you have a domain, also use it for your email address. “firstname.lastname@example.org” sounds so much more professional than “email@example.com.”
It's easy to make an email forwarder point to whatever email address you use, and it's easy to send from that podcast email address, even without making an extra email account.
9. Use a media host, or not
A media host like LibSyn or Blubrry offer truly unlimited bandwidth for a limited amount of storage. This is great for podcasters because it means you can upload a single episode and not pay anything different whether its downloaded by just your mom, or by the entire world.
If your podcast could get popular, you must have a media host. Otherwise, moving your media from one place to somewhere else can be difficult or expensive.
But if you won't get popular (have realistic expectations), you may be okay with hosting your media with your website (ask them first), or using Archive.org (not recommended because they're so slow).
10. Encode your files well
If you use a media host, your monthly storage is limited. If you start podcasting in 256 kbps stereo, then you'll fill up your monthly storage very quickly.
64 kbps mono is fine for most podcasts, and saves space and download time.
11. Write at least basic shownotes
Google and other search engines like words. Start your podcast with shownotes containing at least a simple bullet-point list of your topics. Then Google and other search engines can start crawling your site and finding those keywords.
What you do with words on your website now will affect how easily people will find you a month, a year, or even further from now.
12. Reserve social accounts with your brand
I've made this mistake many times in which I started using a brand or trademark, but didn't reserve it in the right places:
- Facebook page
- YouTube channel
- Twitter account
- Email address
- Other social network IDs
Even if you don't use these social accounts, reserving your trademark on them will prevent others from stealing it, and gives you that option to do something in the future.
13. Start strong and on-topic
I recommend against an introduction episode or “episode zero.” Only your first listeners will hear it, but it will turn away prospective listeners looking for your content.
Most podcasts don't need a full episode as the introduction and should instead include an introduction or reminder in each episode. You hear this in The Audacity to Podcast when I say who I am and what the podcast is about.
But if your podcast is deeper and requires some fundamental knowledge, that is good content for a first episode, and then keep referring back to that episode for more information.
Make sure you get into your niche content right from the start. Despite my precise marketing of The Audacity to Podcast when I started it, people still thought it would be a podcast exclusively about Audacity. So when it took five episodes before I started talking about Audacity, I lost some listeners and earned some negative reviews.
14. Recommended: skip USB mics and buy a mixer and mic
Although not required, I highly recommend that you start with a real XLR mic and a real mixer. These are both upgradeable or easily replaceable, without having to replace everything. An XLR mic and mixer can grow with you more easily than a USB mic will.
Another podcaster's list of regrets
Chris Cowan sent a list of his podcasting regrets.
- Submitting iWeb's RSS feed to iTunes
- Changing podcast names
- Using Podcast Maker
- Enhanced podcast
- Didn't have specific purpose to podcast (people don't want random)
- Didn't plan with detailed shownotes
- Podcast title that doesn't describe the show
PowerPress 3.0 is out and offers several great features. Most notable is that the HTML5 audio player's button image can be changed.
DoubleTwist (Android app) no longer requires payment for podcast streaming [via AndroidCentral].
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— Daniel J. Lewis (@theRamenNoodle) February 13, 2012
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