How do I get more people to listen to my podcast?

Building a great show (7 minute read)

With the work I do on the Podcast Awards, here in the UK and Australia, I often get asked lots of questions about podcasting. They include topics like monetisation, hosting, content, what success looks like and then often how to get more people to tune in.

After someone’s been doing a regular podcast for six months to a year there’s often a point where the team think “jeez, this is hard” and “we don’t seem to be growing very fast”. Whether it’s a big corporate one, or a solo project, everyone tends to hit this wall.

This can either spur them on, or make them quit.

I think there’s a couple of things that podcasts that have been going for a while get wrong, and that’s what inhibits continued growth.

New listeners

If you’ve been running your podcast for a while you’ve probably got into a rhythm. You might have got some correspondence and perhaps even a few thousand downloads per episode. This, to me, is the danger zone.

It’s dangerous because you start thinking about your current listeners as ‘the audience’. These people are not your audience. They are merely early adopters. The audience your show needs (and you want) is probably ten times the size of this current group.

You should not be concentrating on the first people through the door. As a new show, 90% of your effort should be getting new listeners.

New listeners come to podcasts a few ways:

  1. Someone sees your show artwork, they look at the name, they may read the description, they then hit play to ‘test it out’.

  2. Someone they trust has recommended your show, they search for it, they then hit play to ‘test it out’

  3. Someone reads a review of your show, they search for it, then they hit play ‘to test it out’.

Never mind hoping for a subscribe. Your main job is to ensure that the beginning of your show is really, really good.

In the opening seconds you need to communicate what it’s about and give them a reason to keep listening. Over-long introductions, in-joke banter, off-topic discussions are for when you have 1 million listeners. Not when you have 500.

Got an interview? Make a speed-cut of some great lines and put that up front. Make sure your hosts have bullet points for the intro, specific jobs to do, and then edit that down tight. Some audio production would not got amiss either. Remember you are trying to entice people who’ve hit play to ‘test it out’ to just. Keep. Listening.

Your enemy is their back button.

Marketing

I’m very sorry but you need to put as much effort into your show’s marketing as you do its content. If you just build it, I’m afraid they probably won’t come.

Firstly - metadata. You last looked at it when you set the show up. Is your image, name and description doing the best job at selling your show? If you showed the three elements to some random in the street, could they tell you what your show’s about?

Your description needs to be at least two paragraphs long. I don’t need your social media handles and website at this time. Remember to use words that people search for. Descriptions are also truncated in some places, so make sure the good words are up front.

Follow the same guidance for episode titles. Go back and fix all of the old ones. Create imagery for each episode. Images of people are good. More and more apps show episode imagery now, so something more attuned may get that first tap.

Get a website. Or a section of a website. If someone’s been recommended your show they might like a bit of reassurance before they listen. Yes, really. Just think how much time you spend reading the reviews and looking at pictures of that new toaster before you buy it. Podcast listeners can be the same.

On your website explain what the show is about and have examples, maybe audio ones, that back it up. Have a page about your hosts, with links to their social media and such. Have a page per episode. Put a transcript on that page. Google likes text for SEO, but also potential listeners can scan through to see what they’re going to get.

Also on your website is there a one-pager for press, with information how to listen and phone and email contacts for a specific person? Opportunities are lost because there’s just a contact form on a site. They may want to speak to a person, rather than worry they’re typing into the abyss. Is there some ‘best of’ audio and a link to good episodes? Do you make it easy for someone to review you?

Press

Have you reached out to any press proactively? Sending a press release when you start is probably the wrong time to promote a podcast. A single episode doesn’t build much confidence.

Six months in though, you understand what your show is trying to do and you’ve got some history too. However, if you’re sending in a show to someone, make sure there’s an actual reason for them to review it. This reason needs to be good for them, rather than just for you. You need a hook, an angle. It might be about something that a guest has said or it might be something that the show has achieved, or something different that you’ve done. Podnews gives great guidance about how to get featured.

If you’re podcast is on a specific topic, you’ve got a great opportunity to position yourself as an expert. If you know, in advance, that something related is coming up, reach out to guest bookers with information about you and the show, but particularly how you can help them out on that topic. Make it easy for them to book you.

Expertise

Being an expert is something that you can easily communicate online too, on Twitter, LinkedIn or wherever works for your topic. Tweeting about your show hoping that it gets found by new listeners will probably leave you disappointed. But if you start to grow followers to your network because you provide good day in and day out expertise and build a relationship, then this is more likely to convert to podcast listeners too.

By building your network around expertise, it also makes it easier to appear on other podcasts. Appearing on other relevant shows is almost the perfect marketing opportunity - people in your target audience who know how to download a podcast!

Offer a reciprocal appearance to other podcasts in your topic area too. Now is not the time to be fussy. You’re trying to build scale and any single listener that you’re adding is good.

Recommendation

All of these marketing suggestions though are really just the basic, essential stuff. This is the minimum that shows should be doing to give themselves a chance of being successful. The core way to truly grow an audience is through making sure your show is in a position to be recommended by existing listeners to future listeners.

Tom Webster, from Edison Research, did an excellent keynote about this at Podcast Movement. It’s 30 minutes and is a must watch.

Respect

Finally, really think about whether you respect the time of your listeners. If you want a large listenership you need to be doing the show for them, rather than doing it for yourself.

Every minute of your show should be considered. If it doesn’t suit a useful purpose it shouldn’t be in there. If the current draft of your show is 40 minutes, I bet there’s a better 30 minute episode in there somewhere. No one knows what you cut out, but they sure know what you left in.

Stand-up comedians labour for months and months improving their ‘tight 5 minutes’ that they do at comedy clubs. Authors use editors to go back and forward with multiple drafts. Films have many versions of scripts and then are polished and edited. Live TV shows plan their guest interviews, working through questions and likely responses. Production teams do pre-show interviews with talent to see what areas they should focus on.

All this is in the service of the consumer. They respect them and work to deliver something well thought out. Make sure you do the same with your podcast.

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