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The Step-By-Step Guide to Launching a Top-Ranking Podcast in iTunes

step-by-step-guide-podcast-650

Ever since the launch of Serial, This American Life’s runaway hit, the marketing world has rekindled its love affair with podcasts.

Suddenly, marketers are talking about the benefits of podcasting, which include:

  • Catering to different people’s learning styles
  • Speaking directly to your listeners with no interruptions
  • Building brand awareness
  • Finding new ways to invite your prospects to take action

But even with all this buzz, no one is teaching how to actually podcast effectively – in a way that engages prospects and actually gets them to convert.

When Unbounce launched the Call to Action podcast this past January, we were still learning the ropes. But within our first week on iTunes, we had secured the #1 spot for the marketing category (where we stayed for our first several weeks). #humblebrag

How’d we do it? By jumping in feet-first and learning the do’s (and don’ts!) first-hand.

Now, I’m going to let you in on how we did it. In this post, we’ll cover all aspects of creating and distributing your very own top-ranking podcast:

  1. Brainstorming ideas for your podcast
  2. Conducting and recording your first podcast interview
  3. How to edit your podcast episode
  4. Publishing your podcast
  5. Ranking your podcast in iTunes
  6. Promoting your podcast

And we’ll top it all off with a super-slick landing page template to help you easily pull in podcast subscribers.

Sound good? Let’s jump right into it.

1. Brainstorming Ideas for Your Podcast

Before you set out to create your podcast, you need a solid idea that will scale easily and cater to your audience’s needs.

Choosing a podcast topic doesn’t have to be complicated. For an easy win, try looking at content that you’ve already produced and see if any of it can be repurposed.

When we decided to interview our blog contributors for our podcast, we were able to pull from a treasure trove of content going back years, authored by some of the brightest minds in conversion rate optimization.

And since we already knew which blog posts our audience LOVED, using articles as interview fodder was a great way to vet content before putting time and resources into a podcast episode. Basically, it was a win-win.

Find your niche

The next step is positioning your podcast and identifying who your podcast audience will be. Are you targeting new leads? Current customers? A general audience?

Because iTunes’ search functionality makes it easy for new people to find you, it might be tempting to cast a wide net and go for a general topic. But having a super targeted and specific topic will pull in highly qualified people searching exactly for that.

In other words, you may not get hundreds of thousands of people clicking on your podcast, but you will get loyal listeners comin’ back every week.

If you’re having trouble figuring out your target audience for your podcast, I recommend drafting a proposal using this mad lib-style positioning statement template:

This podcast is for [TARGET: the audience you will be targeting] that [PROBLEM: your audience’s pain point that you’re aiming to solve].

The podcast is [MANDATE: the form and function of the podcast] that provides [VALUE PROPOSITION: how you’ll provide the solution to the audience’s problem].

Unlike [COMPETITION: other sources your audience could be turning to in order to solve this problem], this podcast will [DIFFERENTIATOR: how the content will be uniquely distinct from that of the competition].

Filling this out helped us narrow down the vision of what the Call to Action podcast was going to be:

This podcast is for [professional marketers] that [are looking for smart, actionable advice on running more successful campaigns].The podcast is [an educational interview-style podcast] that provides [actionable tips explained through engaging stories].

Unlike [any other marketing podcast], this podcast will [bring depth and an element of human interest/humour to popular conversion marketing topics found on the Unbounce blog].

Decide on the interview format

If you’re a big podcast fan, you’ve probably noticed that there are many different types of interview formats. Some are production-intense and involve artistic editing (think RadioLab or This American Life), while others have a direct question/answer style (Louder Than Words) or take the style of a chat (The Showrunner).

Once you know what style of interview you’re gunning for, find a guest and start brainstorming questions for them. Then, pass those questions along to the person that will be conducting the interview.

That way, the interviewer can tweak the questions to be in their own voice. This is important, because you don’t want your interviewer to sound like they are speaking in forced language. If it doesn’t sound natural, people will hit the pause button and move on to something else.

A lot of professional broadcasters will tell you not to send questions to interviewees ahead of time to keep your interview from sounding scripted. However, we elect to send our questions ahead of time since we reference case studies and statistics – it’s awkward sitting in silence while someone looks up their article to refresh their memory.

If you’re casual with your interviewee and establish the tone, they’re likely to follow your lead. But, like anything else in the marketing world, I would encourage you to test out what method works best for your show’s format and tone.

2. Conducting and Recording Your First Podcast Interview

At the beginning of the interview, make it clear what you expect and put the interviewee at ease. Make sure you warn your guest against hand talking, beard scratching and finger tapping, as those sounds will interfere with your audio (and are super hard to edit out in post-production).

To record our podcast, we use a program called Call Recorder, which comes with a free trial.

Call Recorder works in conjunction with Skype and records to an .mp4 file that you can then convert to .mp3. Remember to turn off the video recording feature if you won’t be using it – it could degrade the quality of your audio.

callrecorder

Intro

Once your podcast interview is recorded, it’s time to add some flair! Record yourself introducing the interview. This is where you can get creative. Do you introduce the interview with a story? Or some interesting facts about the speaker?

Outro and call to action

At the end of your podcast, record an outro with your call to action. This is your chance to plug other content that you think the audience would benefit from, or a perfect place to request feedback on the show.

We’ve experimented with cross-promoting other pieces of content such as our free ebooks, or encouraging people to use a specific hashtag on Twitter. This is tricky, because most people listen to podcasts away from their computer, so they’re less likely to complete the action.

We’re still experimenting with this one, and so should you!

Choosing music for your podcast

Next, you’ll want to choose some music to accent the interview. Make sure that the music you use adheres to copyright laws. The best way to do this is to purchase a royalty-free track from a website like Premium Beat, or pay someone from a site like Fiverr to write an original theme for you.

If you don’t want to spend money on your theme music, try checking out Freesound.org for an archive of creative commons music and sounds. All you will be required to do is credit the track when you post your episode.

3. How to Edit a Podcast Episode

Now that you’ve got all your .mp3 files recorded, it’s time to edit your podcast. Put in the effort to edit out heavy breathing and vocal tics. Podcasts like Serial and Startup can get away with that (they can contribute to the emotional and sometimes suspenseful narrative), but in a marketing interview, they’re just distracting.

Podcast editing software and tools

If you don’t already have audio editing software, I recommend ProTools or Adobe Audition, which are industry standards. That said, if you’re only mixing two or three tracks, you can get away with cheaper software. There’s a free tool called Audacity that can do the job.

audition
This is the Audition interface on opening. Aww yiss. Let’s get started.

Putting it all together

Once you have all of your files in place, it’s time to create a session! A session is a multitrack editor that allows you to put together a larger sound project involving multiple sound files. You do this by toggling to “Multitrack” view and dragging the files into place.

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You can see the progress of a session in “Multitrack” view in Adobe Audition. The green file is intro music, and the purple and orange files are the spoken intro clips.

If you choose to have music running while someone is talking, make sure that the music levels are low enough so they don’t drown out the speaker. I would use music sparingly in an interview format.

Once you’re finished editing your podcast episode, you should get someone else to listen to it. When you’ve been listening to something for a long period of time, it’s easy to start missing mistakes. A fresh set of ears can let you know if the theme music is too loud, if any cuts sound rushed, or if certain parts of the interview are repetitive.

Saving and exporting your podcast

Now that you have your theme music framing your interview, it’s time to save and export your file!

In Audition, head to your menu bar and click on “Multitrack.” Then, click on “Mix session to new file” and then “Entire session.”

mixdown
Clicking on “Entire Session” will create a new .mp3 out of your multitrack session.

This will export every audio clip in your session into one audio file.

Then, all you have to do is save the new file as an .mp3. A .wav has a higher quality of sound but takes up more space and could eat up your allotted RSS gigabytes.

4. Publishing Your Podcast

Now your podcast actually has to live somewhere.

iTunes pulls your podcast through an RSS feed, and there are many RSS hosts that you can choose from that have varying plans to suit different podcasting needs.

We use a service called Libsyn. It’s affordable and trustworthy. Their help section has extensive step-by-step instructions on how to use the service.

You may choose to embed Libsyn’s audio player or go with a secondary service such as SoundCloud. I prefer the design of their player:

SoundCloud has the added benefit of an online community that can give you extra exposure.

Uploading an episode

Once you’ve saved your .wav as an .mp3, it’s time to upload it to your RSS feed.

If you’re using Libsyn, you will have to create a new episode. Click “Add media file” to upload your .mp3.

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Then give your episode a title and a description.

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After you’ve uploaded your sound file and added your copy, make sure that you rate your episode appropriately. If there is any mature language in your podcast, mark it as explicit.

raiting

Tread lightly! If you have mature language in your episode and your podcast is marked clean, your podcast will be rejected from iTunes.

Scheduling your episode in iTunes

Once your audio files are locked and loaded, you’ll want to schedule your episode for release in the iTunes store.

Click the drop down menu titled “Schedule Release/Expiration.” You’ll then find the scheduler under “Basic Release/Expiration”:

release
Click “set new release date” to schedule your episodes ahead of time.

Testing and validating your podcast RSS feed

Once you’ve uploaded an episode, it’s time to test your RSS feed – this way, you can catch any error before you get *gasp* rejected from iTunes.

Take the RSS URL that your podcast host gives you, and test it in Feed Validator. If you’re using Libsyn, you can find your RSS URL in the “Destinations” menu under Quick Links.

quicklink

Enter your feed URL and the validator will tell you if you’re good to go, or if you have any errors.

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Aww yiss. We’re in business.

Feed Validator tells us that we’re good to go, so let’s continue, shall we?

Podcast artwork

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The cover artwork for Unbounce’s Call to Action podcast. Fun fact: that’s the Montreal skyline to mirror the Vancouver skyline in the Unbounce CTA Conference artwork. Reppin’ the hometown of our two offices.

Here are the specifications for submitting artwork to iTunes. It must be:

  • In the JPEG or PNG file format
  • In the RGB color space
  • A minimum size of 1400 x 1400 pixels
  • A maximum size of 2048 x 2048 pixels.

Take a look at your podcasting app on your phone and pay special attention to font sizes. You want to make sure that your title is readable on mobile.

How to submit a podcast to iTunes

Now that you have your episodes uploaded and your cover artwork created, it’s time to submit it all to iTunes!

Before submitting, it’s recommended that you have at least three episodes published so that potential listeners can get a better feel for your podcast.

More importantly, the iTunes algorithm keeps track of all download activity, so when someone hits “Subscribe,” you’ll automatically get three downloads as opposed to one. This helps your ranking position in the iTunes store. (We’ll go more into this later.)

To submit your podcast to iTunes, go to the podcast section of the iTunes store. On the right menu bar, click “Submit a Podcast”:

submit

This is where you’ll submit your podcast RSS feed URL.

Once you’ve submitted your information, it’s time to wait! It takes Apple 24 hours to 14 days to approve a podcast.

The Call to Action podcast took three work days to get approved, so you need to be flexible in your campaign launch to allow for an unpredictable launch date. We set up our email and social campaigns beforehand, but held off on scheduling them.

Once I received the email that our podcast had been approved, we manually fired off our campaigns and waited for the downloads to come flowing in.

And boy, were we delighted:

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That’s us in the Top 4 podcasts OVERALL in the iTunes Canada store, just behind three Blockbuster podcasts. No biggie.

5. Ranking Your Podcast in iTunes

Before we dive into how you can get ranked highly in iTunes, I have to mention that no one has pinned the iTunes ranking algorithm down yet.

The most common story you’ll hear is that you have eight weeks to make it in the New & Noteworthy section. This is mostly true, but if you’re an older podcast that suddenly sees a lot of download action, you can make it back onto the section homepage. That’s why it’s called New & Noteworthy.

However, the most common occurrence is that after eight weeks, your podcast will move into the What’s Hot section to make room for new podcasts.

So how do you ensure a spot in the New & Noteworthy section to get your show front row and center to the general and diverse iTunes audience? For starters, aim for as many downloads, ratings and reviews as you can muster.

The iTunes ranking algorithm also seems to take into account “rating velocity” (the speed at which ratings and reviews are added to iTunes), perhaps moreso than downloads. That’s why it’s extremely important to encourage your audience to review your podcast once they give it a listen.

6. How to Promote a Podcast

If a podcast launches in iTunes and no one knows about it… does anyone hear it?

Maybe one or two people. But you’re not going to get into the New & Noteworthy section if no one knows that your podcast exists. Now is the time to take advantage of your network and the marketing channels at your disposal.

Project brief

A marketing campaign has a lot of moving parts, and you need to get all the details sorted. The best way to do that? A marketing strategy brief. I know it may sound tedious, but it’s the best way to get all of your ideas down in one place, and it’s the easiest way to loop in everyone on your team.

Our Director of Campaign Strategy Corey Dilley recently wrote a post outlining the brief process that Unbounce uses for each of their campaigns. He even included a brief template. You can grab all of that here.

The brief will help you determine who is responsible for what, and it’ll enable you to run a smooth campaign where every person is accountable for a specific part of the launch. It’ll help you solidify important dates and outline all the tasks and objectives you need to complete.

Once you’ve gotten down all your ideas, it’s time to call in the troops (if you have troops, that is).

Email

First, you need to figure out where you’re going to send your audience to listen to your podcast.

Since the podcast interviews were based off Unbounce blog articles, we decided it would make the most sense to direct our audience to our blog. That way, we could still capture blog subscribers and encourage readers to subscribe and rate us on iTunes.

email
The Call to Action podcast launch email.

After segmenting out duplicate email addresses, we sent out a launch email to a few of our lists:

  • Leads list
  • Blog list
  • Conference list
  • Customers list

Social

Many people use their phones to listen to podcasts and browse social media networks.

So hit ’em while they’re browsing their Twitter feed on their lunch break!

We wanted to hype the Call to Action podcast as much as possible on our social platforms, but we didn’t want to beat anyone over the head with it. Our Community Manager Hayley came up with a variety of tweets to promote the show in between our regular content schedule, so that it wouldn’t feel like we were spamming our audience.

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One of the first general tweets about the podcast.
tweet2
An episode-specific tweet.
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Another general tweet, two days after launch.

Giveaway

Another tactic we used to attract new listeners was holding a giveaway in the first two weeks of the podcast launch. Visitors were prompted to rate and review the podcast to enter to win six months of Unbounce Pro99 and an awesome pair of wireless headphones.

Reviewing a podcast takes time and effort, and people probably aren’t super interested in doing so unless a) they LOVE your work or b) they’re given added incentive. And while I’m sure people do love what you put out, why not sweeten the pot?

Partnerships

If you have relationships with people in your space, partnerships are an excellent way to increase your audience reach. This can be done in a couple ways.

  • You could offer to do an interview exchange with a related podcast, where you can plug your own podcast.
  • You could interview an influencer in your space and ask them to share the episode with their audience.
  • You could solicit sponsorships.

We decided not to go the sponsorship route as we don’t want to make money from our podcasting and want to keep things as delightful as possible, but it’s an option to consider.

Let’s Hear It…

With a solid marketing campaign and a delightful audio experience, we became the #1 marketing podcast on launch, and if you use this post as a guide, you can have similar results!

Now that you have the audio tools and marketing tricks, it’s time to get started on your very own podcast. And to help make gathering podcast subscribers super easy, check out the landing page template that we created for you below!

About Stephanie Saretsky
Stephanie Saretsky is the Multimedia Producer at Unbounce. Producing projects like the Call to Action podcast and The Landing Page Sessions by day and a radio DJ by night, she is a lover of all things multimedia. Find her on Twitter: @msbeansie
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Comments:

  1. Adam Lundquist

    I am always impressed at how thorough your articles are on UnBounce! Keep up the good work.

    (2)
    Reply
    • Dan Levy

      Thanks, Adam! We definitely make an effort to make our content as comprehensive and actionable as possible, so that’s great feedback to hear :)

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      Reply
  2. Georgiana Laudi

    Ahh-mazing. You leave little excuse for anyone considering launching a podcast.

    As usual, you didn’t miss a beat, Beansie.

    (0)
    Reply
  3. Jen Pepper

    This is a terrific post, Steph. The detailed walkthrough re: exporting, uploading, scheduling, and submitting to iTunes is crazy helpful.

    (0)
    Reply
  4. Joe

    Amazing!! This article is very helpful for us. Thank you Keep up the good work.

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    Reply
  5. Monica

    I’m in digital marketing and recently (6 months) I’ve started running a podcast, and I’ve had to figure it all out on my own. Very fast learning curve, especially when the launch was 2 weeks after the first interview.
    But your article is helping clear some things for me, and that says a lot.
    The article is well researched, documented, and explained. THANK YOU! and please keep doing this high a quality job :-)

    (0)
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    • Stephanie Saretsky

      Thank you so much Monica for the kind words! I’m glad that it’s helped you sort out some kinks post-launch. It’s never too late to make changes to a podcast strategy. Thanks again for your feedback and good luck with your podcast!

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  6. Shum Attygalle

    This is quite possibly one of the most useful blog posts I’ve read this year. AMAZING job!

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    • Stephanie Saretsky

      Thank you so much Shum! iTunes can be a shot in the dark so I wanted to provide as much insight as I could on what we’ve learned so far at Unbounce. I’m glad you found it useful. Have a great weekend!

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  7. Matt Rassette

    Wow. Clear, clean, concise and complete. This is an excellent reference guide. Thank you for sharing. Just what I needed as we prepare a launch for early 2016. You mention using Call Recorder for capturing your interviews. Does that provide really clear recordings? So many podcasts have that empty well on the other end of the phone sound. I assume all calls go through a computer using Skype or FaceTime? Any other software recommendations? Thanks again!

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    • Stephanie Saretsky

      Hi Matt! My pleasure. Call Recorder does an amazing job of providing clear recordings. I find that you can tell that they’re not talking into a microphone in our studio, but there is no echo or “old school land line” distance that you can hear in some recordings. Call Recorder is connected to your Skype, so you would use your computer to record the interview.

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  8. James VanOsdol

    I don’t think putting your platform host’s RSS (e.g. Libsyn) into iTunes is the best course of action. If you change providers (say, moving from Libsyn to Soundcloud), the iTunes process to change RSS feeds is absolutely miserable.

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  9. Elliott F.

    Great roundup. How do you guys ensure that you don’t fall off the wagon and stop making podcasts when things get busy? It seems making use of ‘seasons’ helps batch the production into a few sprints.

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    • Stephanie Saretsky

      Hey Elliott! That’s a great question. We have a weekly production schedule and the only time that things kind of get wonky is when we take our vacation time. What we’ll usually do is take a break for a month (like August or December) that is usually considered down time for people at their jobs. We make note of it in the last podcast episode and on our blog, and let people know when the show will be back.

      I know seasons work pretty well for shows with high production value (see StartUp podcast). It might be something that we start to experiment with as we try to add more involved episodes to our podcast rather than straight up interviews.

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  10. Thad

    Great step-by-step instructions. As someone who is recording podcast episodes now, with plans to launch on iTunes in the next few months, this was very helpful.

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  11. Deb

    Great article to launch a podcast! One question I did have was about the landing page – how can you ensure that people leave a review or rate your podcast? Is there a way to track it?

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    • Stephanie Saretsky

      Thanks Deb! I have to admit – we don’t actually have our podcast on a landing page. We have built an MVP hub for it at unbounce.com/call-to-action-podcast/. This way we can track the people who leave feedback via the hub. This is only for our own interest because it doesn’t affect our iTunes ratings. Unfortunately there is no way to ensure that people will leave a review or rate you on iTunes outside of simply encouraging them to. I hope this was helpful!

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Comments