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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.

Contents

We are in an era where the demand for quality content is high. Podcasts neatly fill that need. We've seen small unknown show shoot up in popularity as they build loyal audiences, motivate high levels of engagement, and work in tandem with a brand's other content to help form a robust content marketing strategy. All of that potential is making marketing departments across the globe sit up and take note. 

But planning and creating engaging podcast content takes time and a strong workforce- yet we know that 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.

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

Broad and generic shows will often lack personality and be boring for most listeners. But focusing directly on exactly what your ideal target market will provide not only entertainment, but value!

A target audience is simply a group of listeners with the potential to respond positively to your brand messaging. The people who will not only listen, but engage with your calls-to-action, social media posts, community discussions and more.

Defining your target audience is key in driving all your content creation decisions. 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)? 

Try to make your target listener 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. When it comes to jargon, acronyms and niche terminology it can be a real turn-off for listeners.

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 during the editing phase to explain it further. Such a small act can help audiences get a deeper experience with the content and not feel excluded, or worse - stupid!

Transcribe Your Podcast Episodes

A podcast should be accessible to everyone. We know that podcasts are an audio medium, but there is a place for written content, too. Transcribing all your podcast episodes is a great way to increase the listener experience,

Transcription is the process of translating audio into readable text. While transcripts are a great resource for listeners, they also hold a lot of usable content for podcasters too. Transcripts can be repurposed in multiple ways dream, including quotes, blog topics, social media snippets, and more.

Inclusivity: Podcasts are an audio format. According to the World Health Organization, over 500,000,000 people suffer from hearing loss, and tuning into podcasts suddenly becomes a roadblock. Transcripts provide a written copy of your episodes for a community that otherwise would be isolated from your content.

SEO: Transcripts can aid in search engine optimization by allowing Google to can crawl the text, and increase your searchability.

Readability: People who are unable to listen to a podcast at the time or just simply prefer to read find transcripts more convenient than listening.

 OtterRev, and one of our favorites, Descript, all offer affordable transcription 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. 

The Reflection
is usually caused by large flat surfaces within a fairly open room. Windows, glass and tiles are often the culprit. Try to limit any reflection within your recording space to prevent reverb.

Absorption will stop most of the sound waves from bouncing around. To create an absorbent recording area use clothing, sofas, curtains, soft furnishings, or even specialist sound-absorbing acoustic panels.

Diffusion will happen when there are many objects within a room. Things like tables, chairs, soft furnishings, rugs etc. Diffusion is the scattering of soundwaves in multiple directions- reducing reverb but keep a natural tone and sound.

If you find yourself getting "echoy" sounding audio, try to record in a smaller space with more soft furnishings and carpets. To test a space for reverb we suggest saying a few sentences aloud in a natural tone of voice for you. If things sound a bit "roomy," your like there is an echo, your microphone will most likely pick it up. Draw your mic towards you, no more than 4-5 inches or a fists' distance from your mouth to reduce the mic picking it up. Or, change your room conditions.

Mic Technique  

Understanding how to use your microphone correctly can drastically improve the sound quality of your audio. While all microphones are are very different, in how they behave, there are some simple things you can do to find that sweet spot.

  • Use a stand or boom arm to stabilize your mic and keep it at an appropriate distance of 3-5 inches to 1 foot away from your mouth.

  • Pop filters reduce plosives hitting the mic; those consonant sounds like 't', 'k', 'd', 'b', and 'g.' 

  • Change the mic's angle by slightly tilting to the left or right of your mouth to avoid mouth noises hitting the mic

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: Recording software tends to have an LED Volume Unit (VU) meter or recording meter bar. It shows as a moving dial or graph that jumps between Green, Yellow, and Red as you record audio. This indicates how loudly or quietly your audio is transmitting into the microphone. On these VU meters there is a numbered scale, -36dB to "0." The green segment is within -36dB and -12dB, the Yellow within -9dB and -3dB, and red at 0.

Your aim should be not to enter into the red segment. There's no harm in hitting the orange, but getting your gain levels into the green is ideal.

 

Gain is how much you are increasing the level of your microphone's output signal. Surprisingly a microphone's output signal is very quiet (-50db to -30db). To get good sound, you should be aiming to have that signal at a level that workable in post-production.

Don't set your gain too high though. If you do it may cause your audio to clip. Instead, set your gai levels to around -12db to -6db to allow for any loud surprises and to avoid clipping. 

Hosting Skills and Preparation

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. So before you start spouting off your thoughts into a microphone, think of a host as the captain steering the ship. You have to steer the conversation the right way, engage with listeners, be a good storyteller and be prepared!

"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. Please don't copy another podcaster's entire format or content! Instead, 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, or there are online tool such as Rephonic's Podcast Audience Graph. Find a podcast you like the look of or is highly rated within your category, 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. 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.

Happy Podcasting!

Are you considering starting a podcast? Speak to our team at Lower Street and see how we can help. Contact us!


Claire Gould

Author

Claire Gould