I turn down podcast promotion work a few times a month. Yes, my firm does help our clients to promote their shows. And yes, my background is in running advertising and marketing agencies, so it’s clearly work we’re skilled in.
Yet still, every time someone requests a proposal to help promote and or market their podcast, I always politely decline.
I turn down those jobs because I know the only predictable way to make a podcast successful is to nail the basics first. I know that spending money on promotion before the basics are in place is a waste of money. And I don’t like wasting anyone’s money.
But you’ll notice I said, “politely decline”. That’s because along with my “no, thanks” message, I always tell them my firm’s approach to podcast promotion. Because it’s not a secret. It’s just often overlooked, probably because it’s not an easy answer. And you know how much I like not-easy-answers.
Before you spend any marketing/advertising/promotional dollars on your show, you have to get these three things nailed down. Ready?
Thing One: Foundational Fundamentals
There are actually four parts of Thing One, and they are equally important. No corner-cutting:
1. A web presence for your podcast.
I mean a real and functioning website for your podcast. I do not mean an automatically generated website that is powered by your podcast’s RSS feed. Your RSS feed is designed to distribute episodes of your podcast to directories and apps. It is not designed to propagate a website.
Yes, there are some very nice looking services that will give you a very pretty website using your podcasts RSS feed and a little bit of new information from you.
They don't work.
At least they don't work as well as having a dedicated website. They will not get you the “juice” you need. The RSS feed for your show just doesn’t contain the right content for a website. Not a website that actually helps with discovery. And for all of the attention given to hacks and tricks to get a podcast into some special location on various podcast apps, search engines remain the best place for discovery. Yes, even for podcasts. And that still requires a website. (I’m working on a case study with this show as the subject that I hope to share next month).
When you’re building that website, make sure it's optimized for conversion. No, strike that. Make sure people can actually listen to your podcast on that website! I’m constantly amazed at and dismayed by the number of websites for podcasts that make it so, so hard to listen. For many, it’s difficult to understand the website has a podcast component at all.
Why drive traffic to a site that is designed to not let people listen?
2. Complete distribution of your podcast
The right way to use your podcast’s RSS feed is to send out your episode to various apps and directories. Yes, that means Apple Podcasts. It also means Spotify and Google Podcasts. But it also means a dozen or so other directories and apps that maintain their own list of podcasts. You don’t get to control where people find your show. You don’t get to control what apps they use to listen. All you can control is ensuring that your show is everywhere someone might find it and on every app they might use to listen.
This is exceedingly easy. It’s largely a one-time effort because once you’ve submitted your RSS feed, you never have to update it. That’s what your RSS feed does! Every few months, I suggest you check to see if any new directories have popped up (which happens) and submit your feed there as well. Again, it’s exceedingly easy.
But it gets skipped, which is why far too many shows in Apple Podcasts aren’t also available in Spotify, Spreaker, or other locations that matter to someone. Don’t make that mistake.
3. Don’t forget listenability!
Quality matters. So before you throw money at getting people to sample your audio, make sure the sound quality doesn’t drive them away. No, “good enough” probably isn’t. Not when you’re talking about investing ad dollars. Listenable audio files are table stakes, and I’m a little ticked that I have to keep saying that.
4. Rinse & repeat
So everything thus far requires some effort. Perhaps more effort than you thought. Perhaps more effort than you can commit to on a regular basis.
You have to be able to repeat your processes with every episode. You have to be able to do that and meet your self-imposed release schedule. And if you can’t, then you need to make an adjustment.
Thing Two: Remarkable Content
“Advertising is a tax paid by the unremarkable.” Everything I just said above is moot if the contents of your episodes aren’t remarkable. You can have the best-looking and most-optimized website in the world distributing pristine audio files to every single platform on tight schedule… and still fall flat if the content is “meh”.
Make remarkable content. Make the kind of content that makes people say, “Wow! I had no idea I could get this information in a podcast!” Because if you’re just another voice putting out the same content as a bunch of other people… why should anyone choose your content? More to the point, why should they tell anyone else about your average-at-best show?
Thing Three: Leverage Your Network
Before you try to bring in people from the outside (ala advertising), you have to start at home. Notice I didn’t say leverage “a” network. I said leverage “your” network.
There’s a good chance you’re saying “But Evo… I don’t have a network!” when you read that. You probably do. You’re just not thinking about it as a network. Or it may not yet be fully-formed.
I’m not talking about your bridge club. Nor am I talking about your friends and family. But unless you’re really a social recluse, you probably engage with other humans somewhere. Maybe an online group? Maybe a local community? Maybe you’re only peripherally involved in one of these? Maybe it’s time to get more active?
In the unlikely event that you honestly have no network: start building one! No, not with other podcasters. I mean start building a network that relates to the contents of your podcast. Are there opportunities for you to write for publications in your area of interest? Can you start small by crafting a newsletter that’s relevant and meaningful? Once we can go to events again, start looking for opportunities to speak or facilitate conversations. Networks come in all shapes and sizes. Start building yours now.
And if you can't build your network, then you borrow one. No, don't pay to access one. At least not yet. But you borrow someone else's network when you ask them to be a part of your show. You can (and should) also become a part of someone else’s show.
No, There Isn’t A Better Way To Promote Your Podcast
You have to do all three of those things before you spend a dime marketing your podcast. But here's the cool thing: If you do all three of these things really well, you probably won't need to spend any money advertising or promoting your podcast.
You may still want to spend money to grow your show even more, and that’s fine. Especially if you can draw a straight line from more listeners to more income.
But don’t do that before you have all three of these things nailed down.
Things To Do During Lockdown
I know you’re probably busy with things, but if you could spare a minute or two telling me about your experiences as podcast living through the novel coronavirus pandemic, I’d love to feature you on Thursday’s episode of the show. Put a minute or so worth of audio on Dropbox and then send the link to firstname.lastname@example.org, please?
And if you have one more minute for me, please use that minute to tell one friend about Podcast Pontifications. It really makes a difference when you personally reach out to someone and tell them why you think they should listen. It's great when you retweet me and you share my content on Facebook, of course. But nothing beats an individual outreach to one person.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.