Titles are the most important pieces of text on the Internet. A good title will communicate clearly, set appropriate expectations, compel to take action, and will help your search-engine optimization (SEO) on the web and podcast directories.
Each time you publish a podcast episode, it’s another opportunity to put out a great episode title. Here are six tips for making great podcast episode titles.
This article was originally published in Podertainment magazine.
1. Keep the show title out of episode titles
Many podcasters will take the lazy approach to episode-naming by simply repeating the name of their show in the title for each episode: “My Awesome Podcast Episode #10.”
All the major podcast apps already display your show title and your cover art for each episode, so it’s unnecessary to waste your episode-title space with this redundancy.
This is especially bad when your show title is “cute” and unpractical—like “My Awesome Podcast”—which most likely doesn’t communicate anything about your show.
2. Don’t be cute in your podcast episode titles
A “cute” title would be a word or phrase from your podcast that may sound interesting, but doesn’t communicate anything. Try to avoid cuteness in your podcast episode titles, unless you’re a comedy show.
Leo Laporte’s “This Week in Tech” is about the tech news of the week. That’s clearly understood, so each episode title doesn’t have to communicate all the stories they share. They choose some funny line from their discussion to set as the episode title. That may work for that weekly news format, but imagine how much better the title would communicate if it conveyed at least one of the news stories, like NPR does.
If your episode is titled, “10 ways to be awesome,” then your current and potential audience can understand what the episode covers. But if your episode is titled, “My barky dog sparky,” the audience may get the wrong impression about your content and have no idea what the episode is about and why they should care about it.
Look at conference session titles for upside-down examples of good titles. You’ll often see a cute and unhelpful title for the session, but a subtitle that actually communicate what the session is about. If your title needs a subtitle in order to communicate clearly, then you either need to use the subtitle, instead, or create a new title.
3. Write a compelling podcast episode title
The point of a title is to get people to click through to read, listen, watch, or do something. Social networks are full of “linkbait” titles like, “You won’t believe how ugly this baby is!” or “13 things you didn’t know about starfish romance, and #3 will amaze you!” These sometimes-crazy titles exist because they work.
This doesn’t mean you should start baiting people with amazing titles and horrible content. But you should consider how you can write your podcast episode titles so that they’re more compelling. The most effective content titles usually convey numbered lists; who, what, when, where, how, and/or why; and second-person pronouns (“you”). For example, “10 ways to be awesome” is more compelling than “Being awesome,” “How to make anyone laugh” is more compelling than “Getting people to laugh,” and “Why you need more awesomeness in your shoes” is better than “Awesome shoes.”
Think beyond your own audience. Because episode titles are often what is shared across social networks, consider what makes sense for your audience to share with their followers. This should help you immediately realize first-person pronouns (“my,” “me,” “I,” etc.) won’t communicate well, because your audience member is not the “me” in the title.
4. Use your keywords in each podcast episode title
Because your post title is the most important text to search engines (including iTunes), make sure you include keywords that people would actually use in their own search queries and expect to find your content. Don’t spam your titles!
Don’t use every relevant keyword for every title. Put some keywords in your content instead of your title. If your show is regularly about a specific topic, have different words for that topic and cycle through them in different titles. For example, my own keywords are, “how to podcast,” “podcasting,” “Audacity,” “WordPress,” “gear,” “equipment,” and “tips.” I could make the podcast episode title be, “10 tips on how to podcast with podcasting tools like Audacity, WordPress, video gear, and audio equipment.” But this is beyond friendly and it is just stuffed with all of my keywords. And then what would my next episode title be?
If you regularly interview people, or you have a special guest, their name or brand will be an important keyword for you. It can make your show appear when people search for that person’s content. Combine this with your keywords, too.
For example, “David Allen on productivity and gettins things done,” “John Williams talks about Star Wars music,” or “10 tips for making your first million, with Donald Trump.”
5. Shift episode number to the end of the title
Whether you number your episodes is a separate discussion altogether. But if you choose to number, I recommend shifting that to the end of your podcast episode title. At the front, it’s wasting precious space that allows people to read your title in small displays. Leading with an episode number can also conflict with well-written titles. See how confusing “#10: 3 ways to succeed” looks?
Podcasters will often claim “sorting” as their reason to start with a number first. But this really isn’t necessary. All podcast apps will sort episodes by publication date before anything else. Even the media-player apps that can’t read publication dates will sort episodes by the track number in the ID3 tags. So make sure you’re inserting track numbers in ID3 tags, and use your podcast name as the album title. This is why digital music albums don’t have tracks named “1 – Reckon Bowl,” but they still sort fine on all apps and devices.
I do recommend displaying an episode number in your title, but how exactly this looks is up to your personal preference. “10 ways to be awesome” could end with “[episode 3],” “(podcast #3)” (but remember that “podcast” refers to your show as a whole, not just a specific episode), my preference of “- MAP003” for my podcast network, or you could consider repeating your show title here with “- My Awesome Podcast #3.”
6. Remember your potential audience is reading your titles
Great titles not only tell your existing audience what your episodes are about, but they can also connect with your potential audience to make the content relevant to them.
Your potential audience doesn’t care about your episode number, show title, or cute lines. They care about how the content will help or entertain them. So ensure that they see that foremost and include the other stuff for your existing audience secondary.
If Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben* was a content marketer, he would say, “With great titles comes great responsibility to make great content!” Always make sure your content lives up to its title and that it’s something so helpful or entertaining that your audience will want to share it with others. A great title makes this much easier, but it’s just the start.
*In Stan Lee’s original Spider-Man comics, “with great power comes great responsibility” was never spoken by a character. The quotation actually comes in various forms from Stan Lee, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and even Jesus Christ.
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