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What Makes a Good Podcast Great? Tips to Leveling Up

Do you want to improve your podcast's quality and get the engaged listeners your show deserves? Take your podcast from good to great with this guide.

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We are in an era where the demand for quality content is high. Podcasts neatly fill that need. With that, marketing departments are sitting up and taking note. Podcasts are content treasure troves. They build loyal audiences, motivate high levels of engagement, and can work in tandem with a brand's other content to help form a robust content marketing strategy.

But planning and creating engaging podcast content takes time and workforce, but brands can undoubtedly reap the rewards when it's done right. So, what makes a good podcast great? 

Here's how to improve your content's quality and draw in those engaged listeners your show deserves.

Refresh Your Podcast Idea

There will come a time for every podcaster to take a step back and assess their podcast. If the content isn't landing as well as it needs to, it could be time to refresh your podcast idea. We aren't talking about starting a brand new podcast. Instead, invest energy towards breathing new life into your show.

  • Change Up the Format: Look at adding new segments, answering listener questions, explore different topics, switch segments around.
  • Change Your Podcast Intro and Outro: Add new brand-friendly intro music, record a new introduction, change the call-to-action
  • Repurpose Old Content: Recycle old episodes, repost high-performing episodes for new listeners, and roundup episodes. 
  • Rearrange Your Recording Environment: Revamp your physical environment and improve the recording space. Add new furniture, pictures, plants, etc.
  • Increase Audience Engagement: Host a giveaway or contest, answer listener questions, or even have a listener on your show!

No podcast idea should be set in stone. Audiences will always appreciate a change in direction if it helps make the content more valuable. 

Focus On Your Target Audience

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you will never make a podcast that pleases everyone. It is clear that podcast listeners across the board are highly receptive and committed- but they have to be treated with respect. 

 "We're past the point of 'If you podcast it, the audience will come. '" - Joni Deutsch

If you were to make such a broad, generic show, it would ultimately lack any personality and be boring for most people. So instead, a great podcast focuses on your target market – the people most likely to find value in your podcast.

You can narrow down your target audience by defining:

  •  Demographic: personal information such as age, education, income, gender, relationship status, etc. 
  •  Psychographics: human characteristics, such as opinions, values, interests, behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyle. 
  •  Behavioristic: their listening behavior can include knowing if a listener is brand loyal and how much time they spend listening to a similar podcast to yours. Where do they listen (at the gym, washing up, on their commute)? 

A target audience is simply a group of listeners with the potential to respond positively to your brand message and help drive all the decisions you make in content creation. 

Try to make your podcast as niche as possible. For example, refine it down rather than being a podcast about marketing for marketers; you could target content marketers for B2B retail brands instead. 

Rounding your podcast content down to have some niche appeal will take your content away from being one-dimensional and generic to a more humanized and consumer-focused position. 


 

Address the Jargon

Actress Loretta Swit once said, "You only know what you know." No statement could be truer for podcasts specializing in information-heavy subjects like marketing, science, or technology.

Certain words that aren't part of our everyday vocabulary need to be explained within these kinds of podcasts. Some podcasts, like Ologies, do this beautifully. Ologies is a podcast that interviews experts on particular subjects (usually ending in "ology").

As you can imagine, the terminology could go over our heads, especially when it comes to Carnivorous Phytobiology (Meat-eating plants), Genicular Traumatology (Bad knees), or Kinetic Salticidology (Dancing Spiders). So, as a courtesy to her listeners, host Alie Ward will add an aside when editing to explain it further. Such a small act can help audiences get a deeper experience with the content and not feel excluded- or stupid!

Transcribe Your Podcast Episodes

It's important to make sure your show is accessible to everyone. Podcasts are an audio medium, but there is a place for written content. To increase the listener experience, transcribe all your podcast episodes. 

Transcription is the process of translating audio into easy-to-read text. Not only are transcripts great for listeners, but creators too. Investing in transcripts is one of the most invaluable resources a podcaster can have- especially from a content standpoint. Transcripts are a treasure trove for content and are a repurposing dream. Lift text for pull quotes, blog topics, social media snippets, etc. 

  1. Inclusive: Podcasts rely on hearing audio to participate. According to the World Health Organization, over 500,000,000 people suffer from hearing loss, and podcast audio can be a significant obstacle for many. Transcribing your podcast episodes can only expand your audience further while simultaneously upgrading your reputation as an inclusive podcast that's accessible to all.
  2. SEO: When optimizing your podcast for search engines, transcribing your podcasts will also help SEO. Google can crawl the text, which in turn boosts your searchability. 
  3. People Prefer Reading: It's not just deaf or hard of hearing audiences that benefit from transcripts, but also those who prefer to read or find it more convenient than listening.
  4. Social Media Friendly: Transcripts make your podcast easier to share on all social media platforms, especially when pulling quotes, highlights, or interview segments. 

Transcribing the audio to text is easy nowadays with lots of online transcription tools. OtterRev, and one of our favorites, Descript, all offer affordable plans that will help convert your audio to text.

Reduce the Housekeeping

When listeners commit to pressing play on a podcast, they want to be entertained or educated. So if an hour-long episode is plagued with 20 minutes of sponsored ads, merchandise promotion, "go to the website for X, Y, Z," and full-length recaps before the host even gets to the meat of the show- that's a bad sign.

Sometimes, there is housekeeping to take care of, such as calls-to-action and ads. But it should never go on for more than a few minutes within the intro. Keep it short, tidy, and extremely to the point.

Sound & Production Quality

Most types of content require your undivided attention- think videos and blogs. But podcasts are an entirely different experience. Audiences can tune into an episode wherever they see fit — work, home, the gym, the garden, outer space- anywhere! 

However, not having a listener's full attention should never be an excuse to skimp on the audio production side. 

Audio quality matters. Bad audio isn't great for audiences- vocal pops, hissing, sloppy cuts between points, or speakers can all turn listeners off. 

In a recent USC study, they reported that poor audio quality doesn't just affect a listener's enjoyment but it also drastically reduces a brand's credibility.

No matter how well researched or interesting your content is, good sound quality will keep listeners on board.

The best podcast recordings have three main characteristics that take them from basic and amateurish to polished and professional:

✔ Consistent volume levels

✔  All speakers can be heard

✔  There's little to no distracting background noise.

Those three elements all start with you. The type of equipment you're using, plus where you record, have a significant role in creating high-quality audio. 

Production Quality

Production quality will inevitably affect the success of a podcast in one way or another. But, the sound is of particular importance. Podcasts are a form of entertainment and are often a way for people to relax. If your listeners need to work to hear the content, you'll likely turn them off. 

To drive listenership from the start, make sure you equip your team with the right tools and audio basics. 

Several factors help to determine the quality of your podcast's sound.

  • All the microphones used pick up an authentic voice recording that doesn't sound muffled, hissy, or tinny.
  • Sound is distortion-free, so there's no interference or handling noises.
  • A low level of 'noise floor' – e.g., no intrusion of any underlying background noise or hiss over speech.
  • Volume levels are consistent throughout the recording- regardless of the number of speakers.
  • The recording is free from any excessive echo, roominess, or reverb.

Manage Your Recording Environment

Before you begin recording, establish the sound within the recording environment. You want to prevent as much additional noise from filtering into and bouncing around the space.  

The core principle is to reduce reflection by adding lots of sound absorption. 

  1. Reflection: This can be caused by the corners of your room and large flat surfaces, including windows, tiles, and bare walls free from pictures of wall hangings. Ideally, you want to limit any reflection to prevent reverb.
  2. Absorption: Clothing, sofas, curtains, soft furniture, and specially made sound-absorbing materials (such as acoustic panels) greatly reduce reverb.
  3. Diffusion: It happens when there are multiple objects within a room. Diffusion is the scattering of soundwaves in various directions and often creates the best sound.

Reverb or echoes can result from a room filled with hard, shiny surfaces such as blank walls and tiles. Aim to record in a smaller space with soft furnishings and carpets. Say a few sentences aloud in your normal speaking voice. If your chosen area sounds a bit "roomy," your microphone will probably pick that up. Bring your mic no more than 4-5 inches from your mouth or change your room conditions.

Mic Technique  

Understanding how to use your microphone correctly can drastically improve the sound quality of your audio. Use a stand or boom arm to maintain an appropriate distance, which should be about 3-5 inches to 1 foot away from the head of the microphone. All microphones are different, so you will need to experiment to find that sweet spot.

Invest in a pop filter to reduce the likelihood of your microphone picking up pops or plosives. Plosives are produced by small bursts of air when a speaker uses one of a variety of consonant sounds (such as the first 'p' in the English word "podcast" or "puppy"). Other plosive consonants include the 't', 'k', 'd', 'b', and 'g' sounds.

Pop filters are thin pieces of circular mesh positioned in front of the microphone. These filters act as a barrier between the speaker and the microphone and help disperse the air, so it doesn't interfere with the microphone's internal diaphragm.

Gain Levels 

Before you begin recording, you want to ensure that your subject's voice level meter doesn't 'peak,' i.e., hit the red. Most professionals would suggest staying in the green to get the best overall audio quality. 

  • TIP: Most recording software has an LED Volume Unit (VU) meter (also known as a recording meter bar) that bounces between Green, Yellow, and Red as you record audio. VU meters have a numbered scale of between -36dB to "0." green sits between -36dB and -12dB, the Yellow between -9dB and -3dB, and a tiny portion of red at 0.

However, there is room to hit the orange, especially for louder sound sources such as a yell or a laugh. 

 

Gain is how much you are increasing the level of your microphone's output signal. It's important because a microphone's output signal is very quiet (typically recording at around -50db to -30db). Therefore, you need to get this signal to a level that you can work within during post-production.

Many podcasters instinctively set their gain too high, which can cause their audio to clip. Set your gain volume around -12db to -6db to allow headroom. Headroom is the difference between the loudest part of your recording and 0dB, which is the point where your recording will begin to clip.

Editing

Editing can profoundly affect your podcast's audio quality and content value. Unfortunately, most podcasters find the idea of sitting down and editing the least appealing part of podcasting. However, you may think that editing is unnecessary- especially if you want your show to sound natural or spontaneous.

But besides a few rare exceptions, 99.9% of podcasts should be edited. Again, it all comes down to your listeners. Audiences can get frustrated if a host continuously pauses for thought or goes off on a tangent. During the post-production stage, you want to prevent that as much as possible.

Good editing will help distinguish between a poorly recorded conversation and a great-sounding, memorable interview.

Hosting Skills

Being an engaging host can take a podcast to the next level. As Marc Maron, host of WTF, once said, 'It's not difficult to do a podcast … but it's hard getting people to listen," and it's true.

Podcasts are an incredibly intimate medium. Listeners tend to tune in during their downtime, often while alone. Usually, the thing that keeps these listeners engaged is the host that's talking in their ears. Think of a host as the captain steering the ship - and they need to be able to engage with listeners, be a good storyteller and be prepared!

QUOTE "I think of podcasters as my friends – and I am not alone," explains Rachel Aroesti, a writer for the Guardian. "To my relief, my actual friends seem to feel the same way about the podcasts they listen to."

Pre-prep is important. Host Aaron Mahnke of the podcast "Lore" can spend 30 to 40 hours preparing for each episode. Because in his eyes, "successful podcasts do one thing: they deliver consistent quality content that exceeds the listeners' expectations." And to do that, solid preparation is key. Research and prep will take away the pre-recording nerves, give you confidence in the topic, help you formulate the content, and ask much better questions.

The Schedule

If you publish it, they will come- or so many podcasters think. While you can slowly drive organic traffic towards your show by simply creating and posting content, consistency is the key factor here.

People are creatures of habit; we like the warm bosom of predictability. When it comes to podcasts, audiences want to know where and when something will happen. So, in launching a podcast, stick to a consistent release schedule.

If you start to feel pressed for time later down the line, publish less frequently. It's better to release fewer episodes consistently than post more episodes on a sporadic schedule.

Record your episodes in batches to help keep you on a guaranteed schedule. Some of the podcast pros and production agencies will record 4-5 episodes at once, providing them with a month's worth of content.

Notify your listeners of any absences. Audiences are generally very forgiving if they know of any changes beforehand. Use your website, social media, and email list to inform them.

Listen to Other Podcasts

Fresh content is important for the longevity of your podcast. Listening to other podcasts is the ideal way to mine for inspiration for your show. Set aside time to listen to similar podcasts within the same category, topic, or target audience. Don't copy another podcaster's entire format or content, but look for certain aspects within these shows that can help give you a new perspective.

Comb through alternative shows in your category in Apple Podcasts, use Rephonic's Podcast Audience Graph, and check out the "audience's also listened to" sections in different podcast apps to get a good overview.

Rephonic: Podcast Audience Graph
 

Pay Attention to Feedback

Managing criticism is a skill, and it does take time to grow a thick skin in the face of negative feedback. However, a podcast should serve its listeners, and if audiences are telling you something isn't working, use it to improve your show instead of having an internal meltdown. 

As your audience grows, approach your listeners for feedback on what they like about the show, dislike, what they'd like to hear more of, and what topics they'd like you to cover. 

Asking for feedback is relatively simple:

✔ During your podcast

✔ On social media

✔ In your newsletter

✔ Ask listeners to email you 

✔ Encourage listeners to send you an audio message via tools like SpeakPipe.

There are many ways to get feedback. It's easiest to get people to respond to questions if you ask them to answer something very specific or fill out a survey with a few questions.

Always assume positive intent- listeners want you to succeed, and with the feedback, they're providing you, they're trying to help you.

SUMMARY

What Makes a Good Podcast Great? There are so many factors to leveling up a podcast. The number one thing we have found is being open to evolving your podcast to meet the needs of your listeners. Creating and maintaining a successful podcast isn't easy. It requires a lot of attention and constant engagement. Keep evaluating the content you are creating, how your podcast sounds, what your listeners are saying and the areas you need to be improving.



Author

Claire Gould