How to Grow Your Podcast Audience
There’s an old saying about a tree falling in the woods, and something similar can be said about podcasts. If you have amazing podcast content that you pour your heart and soul into, but nobody downloads it, does it make a sound? Knowing how to get your podcast out there is just as important as having a podcast in the first place.
Growing your podcast means increasing your downloads, getting the most use out of the content you’re creating by leveraging it on different platforms and building up a loyal fanbase who can consume your content however they want to.
Beyond that, you want to make your podcast accessible to people who aren’t avid podcast listeners yet, too. If you have a B2B podcast but your field isn’t tech-adjacent, it’s important to remember that podcasts are still foreign to a portion of your target market. They don’t have podcast apps, they aren’t subscribing to YouTube channels... The challenge involves educating people about podcasts. The good news is that this is a huge untapped potential, and suggests continued growth for podcasting as a medium.
When your podcast is growing, you’re increasing your ability to gain exposure with each new episode. By growing your exposure network onto other platforms, you’re increasing your reach and your distribution.
Here’s how you can get more listeners without spreading yourself too thin or putting too much energy into platforms that won’t move the needle.
Podcast distribution: a strong foundation for podcast growth
Or ‘where should I list my podcast?’
It goes without saying that in order to be discovered and find new listeners, your show has to be discoverable. Make sure your podcast is listed in all the directories and players where listeners might find you. Developing the skill-set that comes with knowing how to do this is the difference between feeling like you’re climbing uphill through molasses, or skating downhill on rollerblades.
I won’t bore you will a full list here, but if you want all of the top directories, check out this guide to ensure you’re in all the right places (though I would worry less about Google Play Music, make sure you’re in Google Podcasts instead). And if you’re really into the long-tail, here’s an even longer list, but I wouldn’t worry about these unless you have lots of spare time on your hands as those listings are unlikely to make any material difference to your download numbers.
Upload your podcast to YouTube
You may also choose to publish your podcast to YouTube. There are arguments for and against doing so, but the fact is that more and more audio is being consumed on the platform as the service continues to push its music service.
And podcast hosts like Transistor make it easy to do.
If you do upload your podcast to YouTube, I’d recommend that you create a dedicated podcast channel. Use it to share behind-the-scenes and other bonus material in addition to your main episodes.
Or if you have an interview podcast format, take a leaf out of Joe Rogan and co’s book and film your recordings to make a video version of your podcast. It makes for a much more complicated production process which is not easy to pull off well. But it’s great for creating shorter clips and stackable (or even clickbait-y) content for social.
We’re seeing more and more video podcasts that are spawning off second channels that feature strictly clips and highlights, and the viewership numbers for that extra content speaks for itself. The JRE Clips channel has over 3 million subscribers, the H3H3 Podcast Highlights channel is at nearly 1.5 million, and the list goes on.
Growing your podcast audience on Soundcloud
This probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think about podcasts, but Soundcloud has been investing in adding new features for podcasters after realizing that the format was growing on their platform.
Soundcloud is a good example of putting yourself where your listeners are. It wouldn’t be our first choice to use as a primary podcast host, but there’s no reason not to put yourself on there.
A poll of rookie and veteran podcast listeners conducted by Edison Research shows that 11% of rookie podcast listeners get their podcasts from Soundcloud most of the time. Even among experienced listeners, 5% listen on Soundcloud most of the time. That’s 16% of podcast listeners that are untapped, most of the time, by podcasts that aren’t on Soundcloud.
How to get your podcast heard on Smart speakers
Finally: can Alexa play your podcast? Despite huge adoption in Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and others, podcast consumption is still pretty low on smart speakers at this point.
Nevertheless, making an Alexa skill for your show, or educating your people on using existing skills like AnyPod or Pocket Casts are great ways to give your listeners access on their smart devices. Supporting smart speakers might not be the best way to increase your listenership today, but as adoption increases and listening to podcasts on these platforms becomes easier and more intuitive, it could pay off.
Owned and organic channels (AKA free podcast promotion)
No matter what your budget is for growing your podcast, it’s worth spending the time to get these elements right. They’re largely free and will set the groundwork from which you can build your following.
Grow your podcast audience using your website
Optimizing the user experience on your podcast website is really important to marketing a podcast to new listeners.
It’s the difference between someone finding your show and bouncing off to the next page, and them sticking around and subscribing. You want to remove as many barriers to someone listening to your show as possible. This is critical when you don’t have a ton of money to spend on paid channels, but also super important when you’re running ad campaigns to be sure you don’t waste those valuable page visitors.
Just like a sales landing page, your podcast homepage is a sales funnel. Instead of making a purchase, we want the site’s visitors to convert into podcast subscribers. So you need to look at your page design with the same level of scrutiny as you would a marketing site for your product or service.
65% of podcast consumption happens on a mobile device. So, having a mobile-first site design is a must if you want to capture these users effectively.
Great examples of mobile-first designs are Mozilla’s IRL, Reply All (or any podcast from Gimlet), and Today in Focus and other Guardian podcasts.
iTunes Smart App Banner
Talking of mobile-first, something to keep in mind when you’re designing your site’s mobile experience is using an iTunes Smart App Banner.
They are easy to set up, and result in typical conversion rates of 10-15%. That’s a really big deal, particularly when your site is attracting significant traffic. It’s an easy win - here’s how.
Simply add the following code into your site’s <head> tag:
<meta name=“apple-itunes-app” content=“app-id=XXXXXXXXXX”>
Where XXXXXXXXXX is your show’s unique numerical ID.
A quick way to find your unique ID if you don’t know it is by looking for your podcast on the Apple Podcast directory, like this:
What’s more, you can make this banner link trackable using Apple’s Performance Horizon. We’ll get to that later in the measurement and attribution section of this guide.
Making a website for your podcast
So what should your podcast website look like? Here’s a template for you.
Of course, there are always exceptions, and this is not a one-size-fits-all design, but if you wondering how your podcast landing page should be laid out - go with this.
Let’s break it down:
- Be sure to include the iTunes Smart App Banner. You’ll only see this on mobile of course.
- Navbar - likely consistent across your entire site. Includes your logo and menu items.
- Hero and subscribe CTAs
- This is super important and must be above the fold (ATF) on all devices. The point being you want to reduce as much friction between a visitor landing on your website and becoming a regular listener. At this point, since arriving on your podcast’s website, the user is one click away from opening the podcast on their preferred platform. No scrolling necessary.
- There’s an entirely different conversation to be had around what CTA to use here. Subscribe, listen, follow? The debate rages on, so we’ll come to that later.
- Embedded player
- Again, the priority is to have new visitors engage with your content as easily as possible. So having a player visible immediately will mean they are one click away from hearing your show.
- This is preferably above the fold, but on mobile, this is sometimes a squeeze once we’ve added in the subscribe calls to action, nav, and smart banner. But on desktop, this should be simple enough to be made visible without scrolling.
- Testimonials or sponsors
- Social proof. Include brands or names that have appeared on the podcast, notable listener reviews, or list off your paying supporters if applicable.
- In the same way as a blog, we want to list all podcast episodes here as separate posts.
- Important to remember that instead of simply having a text headline and ‘read more’ link, the embedded players should be visible for each episode right here on the podcast homepage. By doing this and removing the additional click needed for a user to listen to the episode they are looking for means you will lose less of those precious listeners!
- When they do click the link, however, each episode then has its own page which houses guest photos, behind-the-scenes and other bonus content, as well as the show notes which are both a resource to your listeners and something that will boost your on-page SEO over time. More on that in a second.
- Not much to add here as your site-wide footer will be used in most cases. But I like to include social media links for those that want to engage further.
SEO and written content
Each episode will, of course, have its show notes. An opportunity for you to pitch your episode to prospective new listeners. Use hooks from the episode as teasers and encourage people to listen to get the full story. It’s also a chance for you to point towards any resources mentioned in the episode if that’s relevant.
But this written content is going to benefit your site from an SEO perspective, too. Especially when the episodes build up and your back-catalogue lengthens. So it’s important to format your show notes correctly and be smart in the way you target specific keywords around the topic of the episode. Just as you would with any of your written content.
But writing doesn’t have to stop there. You can get a ton of benefit from SEO traffic if you take the time to repurpose your podcast episodes into long-form blog posts. We do this for our clients at Lower Street and it’s a very efficient way of creating high-value blog posts for your brand’s website.
Take a key theme from the episode, and expand on it in writing. Bringing in additional expert input - internally or externally - to add to your story. This makes for great bonus content for those listeners who want to go deeper but will benefit your organic search traffic as well.
Other blog content ideas to consider for increased engagement, to bring out your brand’s personality, or to boost search traffic:
- Episode or season previews
- Bonus interviews - additional guests or behind-the-scenes segments that don’t make the final podcast cut
- Guest posts from guests, contributors, or fans of the show
- Use posts to resurface old episodes based on current events, holidays etc.
Should you transcribe your podcast? Enter Google audio search results.
Transcribing every episode is an additional cost and it could be argued that it doesn’t add to the listener experience.
However, many people recommend offering transcripts of your episodes. This could be for accessibility reasons - many deaf visitors enjoy podcasts by reading transcripts. It’s also suggested that transcripts are good for podcast SEO.
But that may no longer be the case.
#RAIN #podcast summit off to great start. @ZackRW, Founder and Head of Product, @Google Podcasts announces search results will include specific episodes via #audio search, and other discovery and uptake tools for the 2 billion Android users. pic.twitter.com/C9fpRvKoJP— Mossappeal (@mossappeal) March 5, 2019
This potentially makes transcribing your podcast redundant.
Transcripts are not something we recommend for all podcast clients, so it’s something you’ll have to consider for your particular case.
Leverage social media
The next and most obvious channel after your website is promoting your podcast on social media. It’s a no-brainer to use these free outlets, but just posting a link to your latest episode on each isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need a strategy in place to make an impact - repurposing your podcast content for each platform to give it the best chance of reaching a large number of people. What works on LinkedIn probably won’t work on Reddit.
Pull quotes from your episode and highlight surprising, inspiring, thought-provoking, or otherwise relevant snippets to use as bite-sized teasers to hook your followers.
You can format these as plain text quotes and open questions - which work well on LinkedIn to encourage a dialogue that increases a post’s view count.
Creating images out of your quotes can increase engagement on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Where is your community most active? That could be in relevant subreddits, old school forums, Dischord or Slack communities. Get involved in conversations around the topic your episode covers, and link to your episode as a resource. All obvious stuff, but the vast majority of podcasters aren’t doing these things.
If you’re active on YouTube, then a two-minute promo is a great way to get your subscribers from one channel to another.
Talking of video…
Using video to promote your podcast can get 3x the engagement of static image posts on social. Instagram and LinkedIn are two platforms where this works particularly well. So creating engaging video snippets of your episodes is a great way to drive traffic to your podcast.
What’s an audiogram? It’s an animated waveform, visually representing your audio clip. When combined with a still image or video background and a transcript, it can catch a lot of attention and engagement in people’s busy feeds.
It might sound like a lot of work, but luckily there are some tools out there to help you easily make animations from your audio clips.
One of those tools is Wavve. We asked Baird Hall, founder of Wavve, his advice for using audiograms on social:
Captions are a must when it comes to social video in 2019. Interview style podcasters are successfully leveraging these in a way to feature guest quotes and encourage guests to share the podcast clip to their networks on social media. Clips at or around 60 seconds seem to be performing the best.
-Baird Hall, founder of Wavve
Another great tool for creating audiograms is Headliner. I spoke to its founder Oliver Wellington who made these suggestions for optimising your social posts:
Captions are often helpful but you need to make sure you pick a bold style that is easily readable from a mobile device. I usually suggest people use the “Bold Description” caption style based on our tests.
Using an image with a moving waveform is easy, but you may see increased engagement if you use multiple images and video as well.
Featuring a person’s face prominently in the video will usually also help with engagement.
-Oliver Wellington, founder of Headliner
Services like Wavve and Headliner don’t cost a lot (and even have free options) and can turn a short mp3 and transcript into something that gets much more attention.
Instagram and podcasts haven’t always been the best mix. But in fact, more and more podcasters are leveraging their Instagram followers by using their profile for cross-promotion.
One great way to drive traffic straight from Instagram to your show is by sharing it from Spotify to your stories. Here’s a quick and simple guide to doing that.
Overcast clip sharing
Another option for promoting clips of your podcast on social media is Overcast’s clip sharing feature.
The best thing about this tool is that it’s not only you who can put up these clips. Your listeners can cut their favourite pieces from the podcasts they enjoy and share them with their connections. So think about how you can encourage your listeners to share the quotes from your podcast that resonate with them most.
Linking to your podcast on social media
This can be tricky. The person reading your carefully crafted video tweet could be on Android, so if it links to your show on Apple Podcasts, that’s no good to them and you’ve wasted their precious click!
You want to make the journey from reading a message on social media (or anywhere else for that matter) to listening to your podcast as simple as possible. So it’s important to have a way of linking to your show that works no matter what device the user is on, or whether they prefer to listen on Spotify, Overcast, Google Podcasts, PocketCasts, or anywhere else.
My advice used to be to send the social traffic to your podcast website. That way, you can track your traffic, control the user journey, and give your audience all the options they need to listen wherever they prefer. But now thanks to services like Plink, you can make one link that will open the show straight up in the user’s preferred podcast app. Awesome.
And with smartURL, you can get even more detailed and tightly control where the traffic is sent. And again, if you combine this with trackable links (getting to that later in this guide), you’re in the best possible position to gauge attribution, which will inform your following social campaigns.
A third, and probably the best option, is Chartable SmartLinks. Not only does this offer the functionality of the two above services, but also allows you to track attribution - super important if you want to understand which promotion channels are working. We’ll get into that later on in the measurement section.
Fostering meaningful relationships with your most loyal listeners - your true fans - is super important for the long-term growth of your show.
So setting up a place for your audience to have an open dialogue with you and each other is a great way to encourage engagement, get feedback on the content you're creating, develop new content ideas, and provide value outside of the confines of your RSS feed.
Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Slack channels, or even good old forums are all great ways to give your listeners a platform to communicate with you and one another.
Call-ins and questions from the audience
Seth Godin’s podcast Akimbo is a great example of using listener interaction to increase engagement and directly respond to the thoughts and questions of his listeners. Consider doing something similar.
Using a service like SpeakPipe, you can easily add this functionality to your website to make it easy for listeners to record and submit their questions to your show.
Measuring your Results
With so many ways to promote your podcast, it’s important to measure the results and to know what’s working and what isn’t working. If you’re just tossing out promotions and seeing your numbers go up, it’s time to start measuring and optimizing.
By steering into what’s driving results, and away from the things that take up resources without accomplishing enough, you’ll be able to exponentially increase how effective your podcast growth strategy is. Before you can interpret the data, you’ve got to gather it...
Sources of Analytics
Apple Podcast Connect and Spotify offer information on the engagement and consumption of your episodes. This is very useful data to help inform you of which episodes are resonating most, which segments of your show are being skipped, or where you’re losing listeners.
Spotify’s analytics are currently better than Apple’s, with basic demographic information available as well. These platform-specific data only tell a part of the story, but it’s a starting point.
Combining this information with the data from our hosting platform can inform how you structure your episodes, what kind of content to double down on, and what to cut.
The information provided by your media host will also give you an idea of where your listeners are based, what time of the day or week they are typically listening, as well as what device they have listened on. This detail will give you a good sense of how your listeners are consuming your show and can also impact the kind of content you’re producing as well as how and when to promote it to them.
A great place to aggregate all this data is Chartable. It combines data from your media host, Apple Podcast Connect and Spotify accounts along with your iTunes chart rankings, ratings and reviews. It’s a great place to get all your data in one spot.
Chartable also has a service called Smartlinks that allows you to create a special link to use when promoting your podcast. You can post this link to your social media, on your website, emails, in paid marketing campaigns, etc. When someone follows your Smartlink, they’ll be taken to their preferred platform for listening to podcasts and you’ll be able to track clicks and downloads from each of these sources. This means you can determine which marketing channels are converting to downloads the best.
Another source of analytics is your podcast’s website. Podcast analytics can be broad and not really let you dial-in specifics about each listener, but combining your podcast data with data from Google Analytics (or another web analytics service) can help you paint a clearer picture.
Putting the Data to Work
Podcast analytics aren’t always as in-depth as we would like them to be, and there are some traps to look out for to make sure you aren’t forming false conclusions.
An example of this might be if 10-15% of your listeners find your podcast on your website and you tried to extrapolate their demographics across the rest of your audience. The data you get from your website will tell you a lot, but remember that it’s entirely possible that the demographics of users that visit websites for podcasts instead of using an app could be very different from your “average” listener.
Tracking the ROI of your podcast can be tricky, too. If you’re selling sponsorships, it’s pretty straight-forward to know how much you’re earning and how much you’re spending. If you’re using your podcast to promote your own business, it can be a little trickier. In cases like that, you can use coupon codes or set up a mailing list to better quantify how much your podcast is helping your sales.
No matter where you’re posting your podcast, you’ve got to respect the platform. Don’t just upload the same audio file everywhere. It’s going to sound weird and off-putting if your Soundcloud listeners hear you saying “Don’t forget to subscribe and rate us on iTunes.”
It’s crucial that your content fits into each individual platform. It takes a bit more time and effort to learn and understand the nuances, but if a platform is worth pursuing podcast growth, then it’s worth doing right.
Now that you’ve studied up on growing your fanbase, it’s time to get to work. If it feels overwhelming, like you’ve just taken in so much information at once, that’s because you have. We’ve created an essential 5 point action plan to help you implement everything that’s been mentioned here. To receive your copy, just enter your email address in the box below and we’ll send it to you right away.