How to Grow Your Podcast Audience
There’s an old saying:
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Something similar can be said about podcasts. If you have amazing podcast content that you pour your heart and soul into and nobody downloads it, does it make a sound? Knowing how to get your podcast out there is just as important as creating epic content.
Growing your podcast means increasing your downloads, leveraging your content on different platforms, and building (and engaging with) a loyal fanbase who can consume your content wherever and however they want to.
Beyond that, you want to make your podcast accessible to people who aren’t yet avid podcast listeners. Let’s say 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, etc.
Educating people about podcasts may prove challenging initially. However, the upside of this is that there’s a huge untapped potential here. One that clearly suggests continued growth for podcasting as a medium.
As your podcast grows, you steadily increase your ability to gain exposure with each new episode. By exploring other avenues of exposure, you’re able to increase your reach, your distribution and ultimately, your audience.
We’ll look at the benefits of having a podcast website, leveraging social media, engaging with your audience, making your content widely available, measuring results, and more. Let’s get started.
Be Everywhere All at Once
In order to be discovered and find new listeners, your show has to be discoverable. The first step is making sure your podcast is listed in all the directories and players where listeners might find you.
This distribution guide lists the top podcast directories to ensure you’re in all the right places (though I would worry less about Google Play Music and instead make sure you’re in Google Podcasts). This list is far from exhaustive, but it’s more than enough to get started. Besides, directories that aren’t featured on the list above are unlikely to make any material difference to your download numbers.
Upload Your Podcast to YouTube
There are arguments for and against uploading your podcast to YouTube, but the fact is more and more audio is being consumed on the platform as the service continues to push its music offering.
Podcast hosts like Transistor make it easy to do. If you do decide to upload your podcast to YouTube, I’d recommend creating a dedicated podcast channel. It’s a great place to share behind-the-scenes and other bonus material in addition to your main episodes.
If you have an interview podcast format, take a leaf out of Joe Rogan’s book and film your conversations to make a video version of your podcast. While it does make for a much more complicated production process, it’s a great vehicle for creating shorter clips and stackable (or even clickbait-y) content for social.
We are seeing more and more video podcasts that are spawning off second channels that feature nothing but 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, to mention just two examples.
Grow 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 mostly untapped by podcasts that aren’t on Soundcloud.
Get Your Podcast Heard on Smart Speakers
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 to your podcast 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’ll definitely pay off.
Tap Into Podcast SEO
No matter what your budget is for growing your podcast, it’s worth spending the time to get your SEO dialed in. It can take some doing to begin with, but once the groundwork is in place you’ll be able to steadily grow your following without too much work.
Create a Podcast Website
Creating a podcast website that’s optimized for user experience is an important part of marketing a podcast to new listeners. It can mean the difference between someone landing on your site and bouncing straight off again, or having them stick around and maybe even subscribing to your show.
When it comes to someone potentially listening to your podcast, you want to make the barrier to entry as low as possible. This is critical when you don’t have a ton of money to spend on paid channels, but it’s equally important when you’re running ad campaigns. The last thing you want is to waste those valuable page visitors.
Just like a sales landing page, your podcast homepage is a sales funnel. Instead of making a purchase, you want the site’s visitors to convert into podcast subscribers. You therefore need to look at your homepage design with the same level of scrutiny you would a marketing site for a product or service.
Mobile First (Yes, It’s Still a Thing)
Some say there are too many screen sizes (and other variables) for us to consider one more relevant than another. However, with 65% of podcast consumption happening on a mobile device, having a mobile-first site design is still 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), Today in Focus and other Guardian podcasts.
Add an iTunes Smart App Banner
Talking of mobile-first, something to keep in mind when you’re designing your site’s mobile experience is to make use of an iTunes Smart App Banner.
Along with being easy to set up, it offers a conversion rate of 10-15%. That’s a really big deal, particularly when your site is attracting significant traffic. It’s also an easy win. Take a look.
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.
Podcast Website Design Template
Figuring out what your podcast website should look like can be overwhelming when you’re just starting out. (After all, you’re a podcaster, not a designer.) Here’s a template for you.
Of course, there are always exceptions and this is by no means a one-size-fits-all design, but if you need some guidance laying out your podcast landing page—go with this. (You can also look at these podcast website examples for inspiration.)
Let’s break it down:
iTunes Smart App Banner: only visible on mobile, but a non-negotiable nonetheless
Navbar: consistent across your entire site, it 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 discuss that later.
Again, the priority is to have new visitors engage with your content as easily as possible. So, having a player immediately visible will mean they are one click away from hearing your show.
While preferable to have this above the fold, it can sometimes be a squeeze on mobile once you’ve added in the subscribe CTAs, nav, and smart banner. However, on the desktop it’s simple enough to make this visible without the need for scrolling.
Testimonials or sponsors
Social proof is valuable. Be sure to include brands or guests that have appeared on the podcast along with notable listener reviews. If applicable, list off your paying supporters as well.
In the same way as a blog, we want to list all podcast episodes here as separate posts.
Note: instead of having a text headline and ‘read more’ link, the embedded players should be visible for each episode right here on the podcast homepage. This one simple addition means one less click for a user to listen to the episode they are looking for. Which in turn means you will lose less of those precious listeners!
When they do click the episode link, they should be taken to a stand-alone page that houses guest photos, behind-the-scenes, bonus content, and show notes. Done right, the page will serve as a resource to your listeners and boost your on-page SEO. More on the latter in a second.
Not much to add here as your site-wide footer will be used in most cases. However, it’s definitely worth including social media links for those who want to engage further.
SEO and Written Content
Show notes are 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. When relevant, it’s also a chance for you to point to any resources mentioned in the episode.
This written content can also benefit your site from an SEO perspective. These benefits will increase as the episodes build up and your back-catalog lengthens, so it’s important to format your show notes with SEO in mind. For starters, you need to choose keywords around the topic of the episode. (Just as you would with any of your written content.)
It 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 written content for your brand’s website.
Take a key theme from the episode and write about it more in-depth. Bringing in additional expert input—internally or externally—to further enhance your story. This makes for great bonus material for those listeners who want to go deeper, while simultaneously benefiting your organic search traffic as well.
These are some other blog content ideas to consider for increased engagement, to bring out your brand’s personality, or simply 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 even fans of the show
Posts aimed at resurrecting old episodes based on current events, holidays, etc.
Should You Transcribe Your Podcast?
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 episode transcripts for accessibility reasons, since it gives deaf visitors the opportunity to enjoy a podcast by reading transcripts. It’s also suggested that transcripts are good for podcast SEO.
Some say that may no longer be the case...
...which means transcribing your podcast could be for naught if you’re doing it purely for SEO purposes. At the end of the day, this is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Transcripts are not something we recommend for all podcast clients, but if you do decide to go ahead and do it we recommend using Descript. (It's free to get started, so why not give it a try.)
Leverage Social Media
After your website, the next obvious channel for promoting your podcast is social media. Using these free outlets is a no brainer, but just posting a link to your latest episode on each platform 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.
Formatting them as plain text quotes and open questions encourages a dialogue that increases a post’s view count. This approach works well on LinkedIn, while creating images out of your quotes can increase engagement on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Where is your community most active? It could be relevant subreddits, old school forums, Discord or Slack communities. Get involved in conversations around the topic your episode covers, and link to your episode as a resource. These things might sound obvious, 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. And speaking of video…
Using video to promote your podcast can get 3x the engagement of static image posts on social media. 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, for 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. Headliner’s founder Oliver Wellington made these suggestions for optimizing 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 you’re not the only one who can put up these clips. Listeners can cut their favorite pieces from the podcasts they enjoy and share them with their connections. 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 it’s of no use 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. It’s therefore 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—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 Linkfire (who acquired and will be replacing smartURL as of February 28, 2023) you can get even more detailed, and tightly control where the traffic is sent. Again, if you combine this with trackable links (more on that later in this guide), you’re in the best possible position to gauge attribution, which will inform your future social campaigns.
A third option (and in our opinion, the best) is Chartable SmartLinks. Not only does this offer the functionality of the two services above, it 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 and tracking section.
Connect With Your Listeners
Fostering meaningful relationships with your most loyal listeners—your true fans—is especially important for the long-term growth of your show.
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 podcast 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 his listeners' thoughts and questions. 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.
Keep in mind though, that this is only worth something if you actually respond to your audience’s questions and comments. People want to know they’ve been heard. If they feel like they haven’t, there’s a good chance they’ll go in search of another podcast to listen to.
Measure Your Results
With so many ways to promote your podcast, it’s important to measure the results to find out what’s working and what isn’t. If you’re just tossing out promotions and seeing your numbers go up, it’s time to start measuring and optimizing.
By leaning into what’s driving results—and away from the things that take up resources without accomplishing all that much—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 let you know 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 your 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 listened on. This will give you a good sense of how your listeners are consuming your show. It can also impact the kind of content you’re producing as well as how and when to promote it to them.
Chartable is a great place to aggregate all this data. 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 profiles, on your website, in emails, 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 tracking and analytics can be broad, and not really let you dial in specifics about each listener. However, 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 then try 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 in the interests of podcast growth, then it’s worth doing right.
Now that you’ve studied up on building a podcast audience, it’s time to get to work. There's no getting around it. If you’re serious about learning how to get more podcast listeners, you'll need to put in the hours to make that happen. The good news is that it doesn't all have to be done in a day (or even a week).
Go through our list of suggestions systematically until you've addressed them all. Before you know it you'll have a steadily growing podcast with engaged listeners who keep coming back for more. Don't forget to have fun while you do this!