How to Start a Podcast

The Ultimate Free Guide to Starting a Podcast in 2021

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  • Andrew McGivern

A lot of new people are looking at how to start a podcast. I know this because I did some keyword research and I can see that forty thousand people per month are searching for “How to start a podcast”.

If you are one of those people read on...

Before we get to the step by step instructions for starting a podcast lets go over a few podcast basics so that we are both on the same page.

These posts about podcasting are good background reading before getting started with the How to Start a Podcast Guide.

Why is Podcasting a Viable Platform?

Podcasting has had steady and consistent growth since its inception in 2004 but recently there has been more explosive growth. At least in awareness and in podcast company valuations ;).

Edison Research publishes podcast and broadcast radio statistics each year. Here is the latest presentation on the 2019 podcast consumer data.


How to Plan your Podcast (Pre-Launch)

#1 - You need to commit

Podcasts generally don’t have overnight success. You will need to take the time to develop your audience and create a community around your show.

The shows that seem successful right away, upon closer evaluation had an existing audience in another platform before the podcast launched. The podcast host just moved their large following over to the podcast.

#2 - You must work hard

Are prepared to do what John did and make 182 episodes before seeing any ROI? To put this in perspective, if he was doing a weekly show it would have taken 3 1/2 years! It takes time and effort to produce a successful show.

It takes time and hands-on experience to get good at anything

 

If you have never run a podcast before and don’t have broadcasting experience then you will probably not be good at it right away. You will need to find your voice and it takes time and practice. You wouldn’t expect to join any other industry as a newbie and instantly be at the top of the field, would you? Podcasting is no different. It takes talent to be a good podcaster and it takes time and experience to develop talent.

It takes time and effort to get good at podcasting.

 

Who are you trying to help with your podcast?

Define your avatar:

 

Jason Van Orden and others have advised establishing an Avatar for your show. Your Avatar is your ideal listener and the more specific you get the better. You want to feel like you know and like this person. And when you are presenting your podcast you will be speaking directly to him or her.

Choose your Avatar carefully though.

If you are selling a done for you service, a podcast teaching people to DIY will only attract people looking to get it for free.

What are the goals for your podcast?

Why are you going to invest time and energy plus some cash into producing a podcast?

What are you going to get out of it?
This needs to be very clear.

If you are not clear and intentional about what you are doing, after a while you will feel like it is is too much work to produce your show. If you don’t have a big reason for doing it you won’t want to continue.

Don't underestimate the amount of time and effort it will take to produce your show.

 

Most people underestimate how much research and planning time is involved. They underestimate post-production time. They don't realize it is hard work to prospect for guests and get them on your podcast interview schedule.

There are tools that can help with this work and you will get faster over time. You can outsource most of the work once you are ready and have a budget.

But once you know what you want, the focus needs to change from you to your audience.

Never forget about your audience.

The only thing you should be thinking about going forward is how can entertain your audience and add value to your listeners' lives.

Listeners will feel your passion and your desire to help them.

You need to be absolutely clear about why you are starting a podcast because you need to put in a lot of time and effort without any initial return on your investment. If you skip this part you will probably fizzle out and podfade quickly.

How to choose a podcast topic and name your show?

How to choose a podcast topic?

To pick your podcast topic grab a piece of paper and write down the answers to these five questions.

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What are you interested in?
  3. What are you an expert in?
  4. What are you fairly knowledgable in?
  5. What would you like to be good at?

Is there any overlap between what you are passionate about and your expertise?

If not, is there any overlap between what you are interested in what you are good at? And if not then look for overlap in what you want to be good at and what you are passionate or interested in.

Now that you have a list of topics that intersects with your skills and your passions, look for ways to narrow your topics down to more specific niches.

And finally, you need to check and see if there is a commercial market for this niched down topic?

How to do market research on your selected topics?

Keyword ResearchTools like MOZ, SEMRush, Serpstat or Ubersuggest (free) will tell you how many people are searching Google for your topic.

I like to use Keywords Everywhere because you see search data as you are searching Google.

Amazon Book Search

If there are some best selling books in Amazon about your topic you know that there is a potential market.

Udemy Course Directory

Search the Udemy course directory and see how many courses there are covering your topic. See how many students have enrolled in the courses to see how big the potential market is for your topic.

While you are doing this research make a note of the suggested / related keywords, book names and chapter titles and course names and module/lesson titles. These are useful for episode ideas later as you plan your podcast editiorial calendar.

Chartable

To do your podcast topic research you can use Chartable to see which podcasts are ranking in your category. Look at the top podcasts in the category that have podfaded.

You may be able to rank in this topic eventually as these ranked podcasts are not producing episodes anymore.

But keep in mind this won’t happen overnight because podcast rankings in iTunes / Apple Podcasts are weighted by total lifetime downloads of the show. So it will take some time for your show to catch up. But it eventually you should outrank these shows if your content is more current and relevant.

Evergreen content has staying power though.

Competitive Analysis

Check out the competing podcasts in your niche? Which ones are successful? What made them successful? How can you stand out and be the best in the niche?

You don’t want to copy another show. Copying another shows format, style or name won’t help you succeed. You are checking out the top shows so you can bring something unique to the niche.

Find a new angle or different format that will allow your show to stand out from the crowd.

To read an in-depth post on this topic: Podcast Blue Ocean Strategy

 

A Note About Passion?

Do you need to have passion for your topic?

Some people say that you MUST have a passion for your topic or you won’t survive the 7 episode podfade zone.

Do you need passion? Cal Newport, author of Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You, argues that in your work life, passion is not a good way to go. He says that focusing on your skills is a much better option. If you are good at something you are more likely to enjoy it. Does this apply to podcasting though? If you are podcasting as a hobby, I don’t think so.

But it is food for thought.

Check out Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport to read more about the passion debate.

 

 

How to pick a podcast name?

Clever name vs Descriptive name.

Some podcasters come up with cool branded names for their shows.

Keep in mind that nobody is searching for your cool sounding new made up word.

A descriptive name with a popular keyword is better for discoverability. Although, now with 700 000 podcasts in Apple Podcasts, it is more challenging to rank even for your own podcast show name.

When Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner started his new podcast he called it The Social Media Marketing Podcast.

He could have named it the Social Jungle which ties in with his website branding but when people are looking for social media shows on Google, Apple Podcasts and other podcast directories they type social media marketing podcast.

And when they see his album art with the words Social Media Marketing Podcast on it, they know exactly what the content of the show is about. The Social Jungle isn’t as clear and only monkeys are searching for a social jungle.

Generally, a descriptive podcast name is better for discoverability and comprehension.

Once you have your potential show name(s) figured out you need to check for available domain names and social media profile user names. NameChk can check which domain name extensions are available and which social networks have that username available.

 

Podcast Launch is the ultimate guide for those looking to create and launch their podcast ON FIRE.

John Lee Dumas is the host of the top-ranked podcast Entrepreneurs On Fire and is an undisputed authority in the podcast world.

>

Make Your Podcast Today. Learn Podcasting Tips for Launching a Successful Online Show

Scott Paton is known as the Dean of Blogonomics, the Prince of Podology, the Earl of Udemetrics and the King of Digital Nomadlandia.

HOW TO PODCAST IN JUST 4 SIMPLE STEPS

Don’t waste time learning how to podcast like an audio nerd. Launch your podcast TODAY in just four simple steps. Make your podcast FAST and get it to your target audience NOW.

Choose a podcast format

There are a lot of options for podcast show formats.

 

What type of show you want to produce?

Are you doing this show alone or will you have co-hosts, guests or take questions? Will you report industry news or timeless content? Will you present case studies or conduct interviews? Will you tell compelling stories or teach something on your podcast?

Podcast Formats:

The Interview Podcast Format

One of the most common podcast formats is the interview format.

Usually, the podcast host will bring on a subject matter expert onto the show every week and conduct an interview. Some podcasters have set questions that they ask each guest and provide the questions to the guest in advance. Some shows are more casual and have a spontaneous conversation with their guests.

You need to decide where how you want to proceed with your interview show. I believe that the best interview podcasts are the shows where the podcaster has prepared well before the interview. A well structured interview with some spontaneous banter is entertaining.

Andrew Warner's Mixergy podcast is one of the longest-running expert interview podcasts. Andrew spends time preparing for each interview and has his guests do pre-interviews with one of his team members in order to warm up his guests and find interesting talking points for the real interview.
Listen to "Mixergy - Startup Stories with 1000+ entrepreneurs and businesses" on Spreaker.

 

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Co-hosted Show

The Co-Hosted show is a good format because it is easier to bounce ideas off another person while recording a show. You have a conversation instead of recording a monolog.

How to pick a co-host for your podcast?

A goood match for podcast co-hosts is extremely important. Both of you have to be into producing the show or it will podfade. Listeners love good chemistry and it helps if your "on air" personalities compliment each other. Your off air personality traits are just as important because there is a lot of work involved and there needs to be an equitible division of labor. You should both have a good work ethic and your skills and strengths should complement each other. Remember that if two people are the same then one of them isn't necessary.

Podcast Partnership Agreement

A co-hosted podcast should have a partnership agreement in place. Who is responsible for scheduling guests?, who is going to do the post production work? Who is going to the marketing and podcast promotion? Who is going to work on sales, affiliate deals or joint ventures? All of this needs to be worked out in advance or there will be some friction between you and your co-host. If the show becomes popular and makes money then how will the profit be split? If their is a co-host breakup who owns the RSS Feed? What happens if a co-host passes away? Does half the show go to the estate of the deceased?

Podcasting with friends

If you are friends with your prospective co-host it is vitally important to have a comprehensive agreement upfront. Because without agreement each podcast co-host will make assumptions about how it should be.

Don't lose a friend over a podcast because you failed to do some simple planning.

She Podcasts is a good example of a Co-hosted podcast. Elsie Escobar and Jessica Kupferman talk about their experience as podcasters from a female point of view and it is a great show in the podcasts on podcasting niche. They are also hosting a major conference focused on women in podcasting.

Listen to "She Podcasts" on Spreaker.

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Panel Discussion Show

The Round Table discussion is a good podcast format when there are multiple co-hosts and/or recurring guests. This type of show runs the risk of losing focus and without good moderation people will talk over each other leading to a bad listening experience.

My favourite Round Table podcast is The Podcasters Roundtable with Ray Ortega, Daniel J. Lewis and Dave Jackson as regular co-hosts along with one or two visiting guests each episode.

Listen to "Podcasters' Roundtable" on Spreaker.

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The Q & A show

The Question and Answer Show is another popular podcast format. In this podcast format listeners ask questions via voicemail feedback, email or social media and the host answers the questions on the show.

The Solopreneur Hour with Michael O’Neal has a Q&A format each week with his Free Coaching Friday episodes. Michael takes email questions from people and answers questions related to online business, cars, hi-fi music gear, podcasting and more.

 

Listen to "The Solopreneur Hour Podcast with Michael O'Neal" on Spreaker.

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Variety Show with Segments

This type of podcast is a mixture of various formats.

Dave Jackson’s School of Podcasting show is a variety show podcast made up of many segments including podcast news and updates, a monolog, an interview, a question/answer segment, the “because of my podcast” segment and more.

This is a common format.

 

 

Listen to "The School of Podcasting" on Spreaker.

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News and Current Events Podcasts

Covering the news in a niche is a great opportunity to build an audience. The downside is that the content has a short expiry date. Nobody is going to listen to todays news a year from now.

James Cridland (the radio futurologist) has a great news podcast in the podcasting space called PodNews. He says that his short episodes get significant exposure in Alexa briefings.

 

Listen to "Podnews podcasting news" on Spreaker.

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Evergreen Content

Does your content stand the test of time? Why is evergreen content important?
Seth Godin’s Startup School podcast was a limited run show. He doesn’t produce new episodes as it was a podcast recording of his startup school course but this content is evergreen and highly valuable. People keep listening to it and it has no expiry date. Because of this, it stays at the top of the charts despite not having new content for years. It is important to consider if your content will be relevant in the future and for how long?

Paul Colligan, from The Podcast Report, has been talking about producing assets, not episodes.

In this short episode he explains what he means:

Case Study podcast

The Case Study podcast takes listeners on a deep dive into a case study. They can highlight how a company used a strategy or tactic or a response to a crisis for example.

Cold Call distills Harvard Business School's legendary case studies into podcast form. Hosted by Brian Kenny, the podcast airs every two weeks and features Harvard Business School faculty discussing cases they've written and the lessons they impart.


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Free Coaching Podcast

In this podcast format the host of the show brings in a guest to do some one on one coaching to help them solve a problem. Ask Pat 2.0 is a good example where Pat Flynn brings someone on to talk about an issue they are having in their online business.

My favorite free coaching podcast is More Cheese Less Whiskers. Dean Jackson brings on a guest each episode to talk about how to market their business in a more effective way.

 


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StoryTelling NPR Style

The Story Telling podcast format is a highly produced and professional sounding podcast. The best example is NPR podcasts like This American Life or Gimlet Media shows like Reply All. If you want to produce a story telling podcast keep in mind that NPR shows employ a large staff and put in a tremendous amount of resources into each episode. Most indie podcasters can't match that level of investment.

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Fictional Stories

The Fictional Stories format is a great option for authors who want to get their stories and characters more exposure. Gimlet Media has a show called Sandra which is a great example of this format.

My favorite example the fictional story podcast is Girl in Space, by Sarah Werner.

 

Listen to "Girl In Space" on Spreaker.

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True Crime

The True Crime format became popular a few years ago when Serial, a podcast about a controversial murder conviction 15 years ago is investigated by the host of the podcast. Serial was the first breakaway hit podcast and it brought a lot of attention to podcasting. Since then, other noteable true crime podcasts have been produced like S Town, Dirty John and others.

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Comedy

Comedy is one of the more popular podcast formats with celebrity comedians like Marc Maron, Joe Rogan and Conan O'Brian having their own shows. Not all of these shows are explicitly funny though. Some of them feature interviews and stories that are not comedy.

The Ron Burgandy podcast is a podcast about Will Ferrels Anchor Man character and it is a comedy show. I didn't like it at first but I find it genuinely funny and entertaining now.

Listen to "The Ron Burgundy Podcast" on Spreaker.

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Teaching Educational Podcasts

John Lee Dumas has a podcast called Free Podcasting Course that teaches his method of podcasting.

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Meetup Podcast

A podcast that is recorded as part of a regular in-person Meetup. The Bunker Project podcast was a Meetup podcast that met inside a bar in downtown Vancouver, BC.

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Local podcasts

Although podcasting is global and anyone around the world will be able to access your show you can choose to produce a locally focused show. There are plenty of podcasts that cater to local communities, cities or countries.
These shows will attract people who live there, who want to move there or want to visit.

The Vancouver is Awesome podcast features people and things to do in the city of Vancouver, BC.

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This book is for podcasters who can't quite figure out what they're doing wrong (and are ready to do things right).

If your podcast hasn't quite taken off like you thought it would.

What happened?

Long Form vs Short Form

Most podcast pundits agree that there is no perfect podcast length. People have been suggesting the perfect podcast lengths for years.
45 minutes is the perfect length because that is the average commute time.
20 minutes is the best length because that is how long they are working out.
5 minutes is the best length because most people will finish your show.

There is no perfect podcast length is there?

 

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What is the ideal length of a podcast?

How long is a piece of string... as long as it needs to be and no longer.

James Cridland, podnews.net

Explicit vs Non-Explicit Podcasts

 

This is an important decision because it will restrict your audience. Some people are offended by coarse language and will not listen to your show. Other people will not listen to your show when they are with their kids or sensitive people. I love the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast but I won’t listen to JRE in the car when my kids are there because I don’t want them to hear profanity and adult conversation. This limits the time available to me for listening to explicit
shows.
Also, perhaps even more importantly, if you have even ONE episode that is marked explicit in your entire back catalog you will be banned from the Apple Podcasts / iTunes directory (the largest podcatcher) in several countries including India, the complete list of countries banned for an explicit tag.

Why will people listen to your podcast?

No matter what your show format is you will need to hit all or most of these points to have a successful show. People listen to podcasts for different reasons and you can increase your show's appeal by covering more of these points in your show.

Entertaining | Inspiring | Emotional | Encouraging | Thought Provoking | Informative | Funny | Educational

What is your podcast budget?

You can spend a LOT of money on podcast equipment and software. Or you can spend next to nothing.

There is nothing wrong with starting small and adding gear as you go.

How much does it cost to start a podcast?

It doesn’t cost much to get into podcasting. All you need is a basic microphone and some free audio editing software. You can pick up a good starter microphone for under $80.00.

Can you podcast for free?

You can start podcasting for free if you absolutely have to. But it is not a good idea.
You can record a podcast using your smartphone’s internal microphone and the audio quality is “ok”. Several years ago this may have been good enough but the bar has been raised and you need to have great audio quality now.

A good microphone is a necessity now but an expensive microphone is not…

I’ll be getting to Podcast Equipment later in this guide but regardless of your budget you will be able to start podcasting right away.

There is a lot of other things you can spend money on though, like branding your podcast.

Podcast Branding

Branding your podcast includes picking the fonts, colors, logo, cover art and audio branding.

You can do it yourself or you can use professional services to create these elements for you. If you don’t have a budget for a professional branding agency you can use services like 99 designs, upwork, etc.

And you can also DIY your branding elements yourself using free or almost free tools.

Read my in depth article on this topic: Podcast Cover Art Design

 

How to choose intro/outro music?

Do you need a professional jingle?
Music Radio Creative can produce a proffessional recorded intro/outro, jingles and stingers that will make your show sound like a professional radio production.

Some podcasters don’t use intro or outro music. They just start talking and that is fine. Chris Brogan’s show is a good example.

Audio branding with intro music and jingles, segment identifiers, sound fx and outro music can make your show sound more proffessional or ‘produced’.

Where do you find music for your show:

AudioJungle

Pond5

BenSound

Podcast Studio Space

Do I need fancy studio?

Find a place in your home or office that has the least amount of background noise.

Most of the time background noise is a distraction. When you are at an event the bacground sound is part of the experience and creates a sound scene. But in general, noise is distracting and should be eliminated from your production. Air conditioner hums, fans and other household noises do not sound good in the background of an audio program.

You want a room that isn’t too big and doesn’t have many empty walls. Bookshelves are great as they diffuse the sound and reduce echo or reverb. You can treat the room with audio panels to absorb the sound and make the room sound more like a recording studio.

If you don’t have much space in your home you can podcast from your closet. The clothes provide good sound dampening and you won’t have to deal with reverb and poor audio. Also, some podcasters record their show in the car because the angles of the dash, seats and the fabric or leather make for good audio accoustics.

If you have dedicated recording space it is more convenient because you won’t have to set up your podcast recording equipment every time you want to record an episode.

Practicing your podcast presenting skills

Before you go out and buy a bunch of podcasting gear you can practice your podcast presenting skills in your newly chosen podcast studio space.

You can use your smart phone to record some test recordings to see how your studio space sounds. It may need some audio treatment to make it sound better. Audio accoustic panels or moving blankets can be used to ‘treat’ the recording space.

Keep in mind that the podcast microphone you purchase will sound better but you can get a general idea of how noisy a room is by recording with your smart phone.

Practice makes perfect…

Your smartphone is great device to practice podcasting.

Record a short trial episode into your phone and you will realize that once the record button is pushed this podcasting thing is harder than it looks.

The first time I recorded a sample episode I hated the sound of my voice. I was at Scott Paton’s podcasting bootcamp where he got everyone to record and publish an episode to iTunes during the 2 day event.

I sounded horrible and found it a disheartening process.

But don't worry because everyone (apart from speaking professionals) feels the same way initially.

This is why we are practicing first.

You won't like the sound of your voice because you never hear your actual voice. You are used to hearing your own voice as the sound vibrates through your head. Hearing a recording of yourself for the first time is disconcerting.

You will also realize that doing a monologue show (solo) is tough.
This is why many solo podcasters find scripting their show makes it easier to present their content.

If you aren't used to presenting information verbally you will need lots of practice.

Keep practising your mini episode over and over. The more practice you get the better.

 

 

The only other “must have” is podcast media hosting which runs from FREE to $40 per month for new podcasters.

Podcasts are distributed through RSS Feeds but in order for listeners to find your show your RSS Feed needs to be listed in Podcast Directories. Register your RSS Feed at all the major directories plus any niche specific directories that apply to your show.

Rob Walsh has the ultimate list of podcast directories at his Podcast 411 site.

Podcast Equipment

There are a lot of choices when it comes to podcast equipment. There are microphones, mixers, audio interfaces, audio processors, pre-amps, headphone amplifiers and cables and connectors.

There are so many options and a lot of information to cover on what podcast equipment to use that we have a separate guide for this topic.

The Ultimate Podcast Equipment Guide 2019

Podcast Software

There are different types of software for podcasters.

You can use specialized software to record your episodes, edit your episodes, encode and tag your audio files and for branding and promotion.

How to Launch a Podcast?

Podcast Launch Strategies:

Should you spend time and energy on an elaborate podcast launch?

The common advice I see around the internet when it comes to launching your podcast goes something like this:

    • Launch your podcast with at least 5 episodes already live (David Hooper from Big Podcast recommends 25 live episodes at launch).
    • Leverage your network and social media contacts to get as many downloads as possible out of the gate.
    • Participate in review trading schemes to get more social proof and improve your Apple Podcasts ranking (myth).

The idea behind this podcast launch strategy is to try to get listed in the New and Noteworthy section of Apple Podcasts. In the old days all you had to do to get listed in New and Noteworthy was to publish a new podcast. Almost all new podcasts were listed in New and Noteworthy back then. But now with the amount of new podcasts being launched every day you can't just be new you also need to be noteworthy.

Does getting listed in new and noteworthy make a difference for a new show?

This is debatable. If you get listed in a category listing (marketing, technology, etc) the extra exposure is minimal. But if you get listed in the front page of Apple Podcasts overall then you may get more significant exposure. But will that result in a larger audience over time... Maybe, maybe not.

It appears that Apple may have eliminated the New and Noteworthy category pages. This means that you probably have to be hand picked by an Apple employee to be listed on the front page.

Launching with multiple episodes:

The reason why podcasters launch with multiple episodes is that Apple Podcasts / iTunes ranks podcasts based on downloads and subscribers. If a new listener discovers your show during your launch and loves the episode they may want more. If you already have multiple episodes they may consume them all and will be more likely to subscribe. This will give you a spike in downloads and hopefully subscriptions which will signal to Apple that people like this show and so maybe they will feature it.

There may be some merit to this strategy but there are a couple of problems.

  1. Your show might not be very good at first. If you are a new podcaster and don't have broadcasting or public speaking experience then your show will not be top quality at first. As a new podcaster, it takes time, experience and feedback to find your voice. Your first few episodes will suck and you will improve over time.
  2. Your launch platform may be too small. If you don't have a pre-existing platform that you can leverage then you won't have enough new listeners to make a significant difference. If you are a celebrity, popular blogger or successful youtuber, an author or business leader with a huge following then you may be able to get enough new listeners for you multiple episode launch strategy to get traction.

A multiple podcast episode launch strategy can actually do more harm then good if your show isn't great and your network is small.

Leverage Contacts and Social Media to get as many downloads as possible:

This is a good thing to do. When you launch your show let people know. Spread the word using your social media presence. If you don't have a huge following don't spend too much time here because the return on your time will be limited.

Participate in review trading schemes:

Do NOT do this. I don't know why this became a thing in podcast launches. Don't try and game the system with unauthentic reviews. Definitley do ask your actual listeners to review your show. But do not ask non-listeners to review your show and don't trade reviews. In my opinion this is a dishonest way of promoting your show.

And the funny thing is that it doesn't work anyway.

  1. Reviews are not a ranking factor in Apple Podcasts (with the exception of possibly the What's Hot section).
  2. Trying to game an algorithm to get featured on the Apple Podcasts front page doesn't work because they hand pick front page feautured podcasts which means your show actually has to be noteworthy.

So what do you do if you aren't already an awesome audio producer and you don't have a pre-existing platorm or network?

Dedicate all your time into making a better show. Make your show original and fresh. Produce something noteworthy and your show will grow over time.

There are many ways to market your podcast and grow your audience once you get going and have a well produced and consistently published show. Don't worry about your podcast launch and do NOT worry about losing your 8 week window to get into New and Noteworthy.

You can be featured at any time... if you are noteworthy.

 

More content on planning and launching your podcast.