Podcast definitive guide – Elements of success, how-to, and tips
When it comes to making successful podcasts, we have many questions:
- How do I broadcast it and make it famous?
- What hardware and software are needed to make recording easy and effective?
- How do I get more listeners?
- How do I improve show quality?
Finding the right answers to those questions will bring us closer to recognizing how to make a successful podcast. In this post, we will try to summarize what it is that creates podcast’s long term success.
Finding all of the elements of a successful podcast requires us to analyze a broader context. So we will focus in this article on trying to explain how success comes from:
- History of podcasting – essential elements that shaped this medium and made it shine in the first place
- Understanding benefits for listeners – the more benefits you will deliver the higher chance for success
- The workshop, mindset and work effort that you need to achieve success – the more focused effort you will put the better your podcast will be
How the origins and history of podcasting determined the shape and success factors behind modern podcasting shows
Let’s start at the beginning because to fully understand what creates a successful podcast. We need to quickly review the origins and check what made the predecessor of podcast successful.
What is a podcast?
The simplest way to define a podcast is probably to compare it to a downloadable radio show, which people can listen to whenever they want. The podcast is an audio format, which often focuses on a specific theme and is published in interconnected episodes. We can subscribe to and download it.
Why create a podcast?
Studies bring us the first answer. This format is engaging.
- People listen to 4 out of 5 downloaded podcasts,
- 40% are listened to in the 48 hours of downloading,
- 80% within one week
- ad revenue is growing each year – it will break thresholds of $800 million in 2020 and $1 billion in 2021
- podcasts’ audience is well educated – 60% of regular podcast listeners have a 4-year college degree, postgraduate degree or advanced degree
- podcasts’ audience is affluent – 41% of monthly listeners are people from households with annual income above $75k
How the first podcasts came to be?
The podcast is born out of a long evolution: the first talk shows and audio files put online on the Internet were later integrated into RSS feeds to subscribe to them. These were “audio blogs,” and they lasted until the day developers created a feature to pass audio streams to an iPod via iTunes to listen to files on a mobile, in complete convenience.
The word “podcast” was first used in an article Audible revolution by Ben Hammersley published in 2004 in The Guardian.
Hammersley sought to describe this new phenomenon and invented the word “podcast”, out of “iPod” and “broadcast”. Apple, delighted to see one of its flagship products be the subject of a neologism, took over afterward creating “podcasting”. The term has gained popularity. The media quickly echoed the trend. Podcasts aggregators began to develop to help users find the podcast that suits them, and Apple continued to actively promote the creation of podcasts, including via its GarageBand software and finally separating the Apple Podcast application from iTunes.
So podcast characteristics which impact the success are:
- Publishing schedule – regularity of new episodes delivered in a consistent, well-produced and high-quality way,
- Host and his personality – podcast host should be at least likable, knowledgeable in the area of his podcast and carrying about their audience,
- Episode format – episodes give structure to the narration, and they allow for stories and message to flow naturally and be more approachable,
- On-demand – listeners love to have their favorite shows available on-demand, preferably every week, or more often, at the same time.
Common Benefits for Listeners – address what podcasts should do best for a higher chance for success.
Creating a podcast has many benefits. Here are the tips to change those listeners’ benefits into a recipe for success.
1. Podcasts are flexible and allow you to consume a lot of content without reading
People who spend a lot of time on the road or who work “with a background of sound” often seek alternatives to traditional radios (because they have very repetitive playlists). The podcast becomes for them a way to open to a host of topics, in line with their current interests.
To be successful: have a great script and talking points for your podcast. As you will be competing for the attention of your listeners, you need to deliver excellent quality.
2. Podcasts’ format is convenient and easily combined with other activities
The podcast can live in parallel with another activity: you can listen to a podcast while driving, working, cleaning, cooking, getting ready in the morning, playing sports, etc. This audio format has a different way of use, which can be complementary to a blog.
To be successful: have an optimal length of an episode. Usually shows with episodes lasting between 30 and 40 minutes perform better than other shows.
3. Podcasts’ are immersive and represent a modern approach to content consumption
The audio format is by nature immersive: through the voice, the music, the atmosphere, we can pass a lot of emotions while capturing the attention of the listener. As a result, creating a podcast is an intelligent choice when it comes to motivating, inspiring, convincing, or when you want to add value to formats such as interviewing or reporting.
To be successful: use the format of the podcast and have music bits. Delivery of speech can be significantly impacted when it is amplified with correct background music.
4. Podcasts are versatile
The podcast leaves a lot of freedom to its creator: you can opt for a short or a long format, you can present it alone, or as a small team like a radio program, you can have guests – it can be used for very different purposes (inform, motivate, explain, entertain, educate, etc.).
To be successful: mix it up. Before you find the perfect form for your show, you can try a few different formats for your episodes and verify which gets the best response from your audience
5. Podcasts address many topics and points of interest
If you start to get interested in podcasts, you’ll quickly find that there are a lot of topics to dwell on well-being, self-confidence, feminism, e-commerce, love, ecology, entrepreneurship, general culture, personal development, etc.
To be successful: be sure you are passionate about the topic you choose for podcasting. Usually, people are more willing and interested to listen to people who truly love the topic about which they are talking.
The workshop, mindset, and work effort that is required for success – stuff you need to do in order to have a successful show.
1. Create an amazing concept
To be successful: you need to be talking about the things people want to hear, and through your narration, make them feel that your podcast is the best source of knowledge, entertainment, education, etc.
A podcast needs preparing, just like a great blog post or video! Creating a podcast starts with a reflection on the editorial direction you want to take. What are you going to ask? What will your tone be? What’s the broadcast frequency of your podcast? Will you be hosting guests, hosting the podcast alone, or with others?
Try to anticipate several episodes of your podcast. Planning is an excellent way to think about the editorial line but also an essential way to predict the tasks to be accomplished. Indeed if you have to invite someone, it is better not to ask the person at the last minute because you may get refused.
Like a blog, you do not always have an exact idea when you launch. The theme of your podcast and its personality will likely become apparent over a couple of episodes. Nevertheless, it is useful to know where you are going, if only to describe your podcast and to name it to attract the attention of Internet users.
We have several useful articles suggesting ideas for podcasts. Check our biggest list of ideas.
2. Prepare the episode plot and structure
To be successful: don’t work at random. Make sure each episode is a carefully crafted piece of art.
Preparing your podcast may involve doing some upstream research to get critical figures, quotes, interesting facts at your fingertips.
To guide you, do not hesitate to prepare a plot, a kind of “plan” that will guide you through the different topics you choose to address. For example, you can write down the key elements you want to highlight.
If your podcast involves conducting an interview, prepare an interview guide with some key questions to guide the discussion. Of course, it is also essential to learn about the person that you will be interviewing: it avoids odd pauses, and it allows you to ask more qualitative questions! In the same way, a radio host can have cards at hand, get a little support!
Explore this step further by reading our tips on planning a podcast episode.
3. Record the podcast in the right audio conditions
To be successful: make sure your podcast sounds the best way possible. Audio quality is a field of competition and people will choose shows that sound better. Make sure you are not behind your competition.
Use good audio software (Audacity, for example) to record the podcast.
Remember to create a quiet environment to limit the risks of interruption. For example, turn off the phone, close the windows, etc.
Do not talk too fast! Remember to limit “uuuh” and other plosive sounds. Speaking slower gives you a little more time to think about what you’re saying. It also makes the recording more intelligible and more natural to edit.
There are two main ways to improve recording parameters:
- work on improving the audio of your recording room/studio – check this detailed soundproofing guide
- improve the way you sound – take care of your voice and be prepared for a recording session – check this rich list of tips for better vocals
4. Have professional hardware to make a podcast?
To be successful: have a workshop of powerfull recording tools at your disposal that will make the recording process easier, more professional and will support your efforts towards the best quality.
You can now create your podcast very quickly, in the same way, that you can create a YouTube video – just with a simple smartphone. It’s up to you to choose the level of sound quality and production quality of the podcast. An amateur can record with his smartphone (using the built-in microphone) or with applications to make podcasts, for example, Podbean (available for iPhone and Android) or Anchor (available for iPhone and Android).
The primary investment here is the microphone because a right mic can limit background noise and make you sound more warm and pleasant. You can opt for a static microphone, like USB Yeti Pro, compatible with Mac and PC. If you move a lot to interview people and want excellent sound quality, there are more expensive options, but they also offer high performance.
Check our mic recommendations describing USB and more advanced, XLR microphones.
I also advise you to invest in a headset if you do not already have one. It allows you to hear the sound rendering for the interviews much better. Choose a closed-back headset that isolates you from outside noises like Sennheiser HD280 Pro.
Check our headphones recommendations discussing best closed-back headphones for audio monitoring.
5. Have good software for creating a podcast
To be successful: have software that will make the editing process simple and fast. Invest saved time into quality content development efforts
The audio reference software for managing recordings and audio editing is Audacity. It’s been around since 2000. It’s free and compatible with Mac, PC and even Linux. It has a lot of features and continues to evolve.
It’s the best free solution to edit your podcasts (cut the parts to delete, gather fragments to keep, add sound effects or music, correct some minor flaws in your audio tracks, etc.). For more advanced solutions, turn to Hindenburg Journalist or Adobe Audition.
These programs have the advantage of being popular, so there are many online tutorials to learn how to use them. Depending on the type of podcast you’re doing, you may need to supplement this kind of software with applications or conversation recording software.
On Skype, from Skype 8, the recording of conversations is integrated into the software. For phone calls, there are many applications on the Play Store or App Store. You must test them before recording the actual interview or podcast because depending on the model of the phone and version of the software, not all work correctly.
For more professional use, there’s a host of online audio conferencing services like Zoom, for example, that offer recording options, which can be very convenient if you have different guests.
6. Edit the podcast
To be successful: learn the art of editing. Great music intro and outro make your podcast look professional. Adding music samples amplifies the message you want to send with your show.
Using your audio software of choice, edit your recording to remove repetitions, noises and to correct small sound defects. Professional editing software will also offer the possibility of adding music to your podcast – it works great for intros and outros. There are a lot of sites where you can download or create royalty-free music (but careful to use only legal audio samples and not infringe copyrights).
If you have more professional ambitions, it could be helpful to work with a musician to create a very recognizable beginning or end jingle, which will be part of the sound personality of your podcast.
Other essential steps: export the audio file in excellent sound quality (at least 256 kbps) and remember to fill in the metadata of the file.
Check our detailed review of top Digital Audio Workstation editing software for podcasters.
7. Create an identity for your podcast
To be successful: learn to be easily distinguishable in the crowd of other creators by building and nurturing your visual identity.
Work on those critical things:
- Give a clear name to the content because that’s what people will see and push them to listen (or not to).
- Most platforms require you to associate a minimum of visual identity with your podcast, especially a square image to represent it. This image will often be displayed in a small format, so consider opting for something readable in a small size. Nevertheless, create the image in large (at least 2000 pixels wide) to ensure its quality regardless of the platform.
- Think about a description that makes you want to listen while showing the personality of your podcast. But also think about the search engine optimization. Indeed, the description can help to give visibility to the podcast, so you can fully consider using keyword research tools like SEMRush to understand the expectations of users in terms of podcasts better!
- Have a website dedicated to your podcast. This is a crucial tool in communicating, promoting, and finally monetizing your podcast. The benefits of having a site are countless. Visit our guide and understand how to build a website for your show.
- The 4 key success elements deriving from history and origins of podcasting are (1) regular publishing schedule for new content, (2) the role of the host, (3) story flow within an episode, and (4) accessibility of old content.
- The 5 key success elements directly tied to providing benefits to your listeners are: (1) script and talking points providing good content quality, (2) optimal length of an episode, (3) immersive character of your show through music samples, (4) versatility of formats allow you to make the show most appealing to your audience, and (5) genuine love for the topic of your podcast will bring in more listeners looking for knowledgeable and passionate people.
- The 7 key success elements coming from mastering tools and skills are (1) compelling concept, (2) plan for each episode, (3) audio quality management, (4) investment in high-quality equipment, (5) right software to save time, (6) mastering the editing tricks, and (7) management of audio quality.