How to Start a Podcast and Measure Its Impact
In order to outline the process of starting a podcast, including managing production, publishing, promotion, and measurement of performance, we sat down with four highly accomplished podcast hosts and gathered their insights on things podcasting.
A Bit About The Hosts We Interviewed:
Jon Nastor from Hack the Entrepreneur
- He started podcasting in 2014 to bring entrepreneurial strategies and philosophies from successful entrepreneurs to his listeners, and also hosts another podcast called The Show Runner which is a podcast about podcasting.
John Wall from Marketing Over Coffee
- He’s been podcasting since 2006 and began Marketing Over Coffee with his co-host Christopher Penn in 2008 when they wanted to begin talking about the intersection of marketing and technology.
Larry Jordan from The Digital Marketing Buzz
- He is the host of the second longest running podcast in history. Though not the original host of the show, he has been hosting it since 2007. Larry brings a different perspective to the podcasting game because of his 30+ years of experience in live broadcast and media production.
Brian Peters from The Science of Social Media
- He’s a full time digital media manager who took on ownership of Buffer’s (a social media management platform) podcast and built it from the ground up over the last two years.
The invaluable perspectives of all of these amazing hosts are sprinkled throughout this article, but what’s better is that each section offers a link to the full-interview dialogue, so you can read how they expand on the respective topic, or explore links to more information on each of the topics covered here!
You’re here because you want to start a podcast, and you’ll leave with countless hard-and-fast takeaways to do just that, including:
Note that there’s a bit of a ‘corporate and brand podcasting’ angle to the advice you’ll receive here, but it can all be translated and used for getting a personal podcast up and running as well!
How to Build a Case for Starting a Podcast
Brian told us that one of the biggest challenges of getting a podcast off the ground in a corporate environment is making a case for it. The difficulty lies in the fact that the return on investment (ROI) from a podcast can be hard to measure, and the payoffs of a podcast tend to be more of a long game strategy.
With limited budgets and a push for ‘more results now’ from upper management, it can feel like now isn’t the time to get into podcasting. But, the opposite couldn’t be more true. With the saturation of the blog and video content space, Jon reminds us that the natural next step for any content marketing strategy is podcasting.
“Every company is in the content marketing business, whether we want to be or not. It’s the way the internet has gone. Audio on demand content – podcasting – is becoming a huge pillar of that. Whether you’re doing it or not, your competition is.
“[So], it’s more about recognizing that you’re in the content marketing business and need to make the most of the three mediums – video, text, and audio. You should be doing all three because none of those are going anywhere any time soon. They’re fundamental to the way we absorb content. And the simplicity [of the creation process], is foundational to the rise of podcasting.”
Your case for launching a podcast will need to include more than that, though. So, here are a few more points to consider:
Relevance, Relevance, Relevance
Really selling the idea of a podcast will come down to your ability to communicate how a podcast aligns with your brand and how the act of podcasting is relevant to your brand. In this, podcasting can become synonymous with ‘conversation,’ ‘sharing news,’ ‘interviews,’ ‘product reviews,’ and so much more. Think outside of the box and find that tie between your brand and using a podcast platform to project the brand.
For example, a toothpaste brand could have a podcast for a target audience of dental professionals, even though their brand has no obvious tie to the podcasting medium. They could have guests on the show to cover emerging research, the latest trends, tools, and techniques in the dental industry. They could discuss topics like strategies to get a toddler into brushing their teeth.
As you can see, a podcast can be suitable for any brand, really. Though, it does need to be based in reality and has to be tied into business objectives even though the ROI might not be seen right away. John explains:
“The biggest thing in podcasting for a brand is relevance. You really have to work hard to find a hook to the podcast content that loops back to your brand and what you do.
“You could easily come up with a stunt or some kind of promotional gimmick that will bring a lot of traffic, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to bring customers in the door. So, it’s that magic of finding [a topic] that’s both compelling and also something [that attracts] listeners who will eventually become customers. That’s the biggest part of it – you can’t do it just for its own sake.”
The rest of this article will help you further beef up you case for starting a podcast, but if you want to know more about the benefits of podcasting, check out our post on the 4 Benefits of Podcasting for Brands.
Brainstorming Podcast Topics
Coming up with podcast topics can be the first challenge you experience in the process of starting a podcast. Luckily, it’s a fun challenge. Just remember to take John’s advice mentioned above into consideration by ensuring that your topics fulfill that magical balance of being compelling and entertaining, and will eventually lead listeners to becoming customers.
John says that topics should, “Save people time or money. If you can make people more effective, or find them a better, faster, or cheaper way to do things, they’ll keep coming back to listen.”
Use Data to Assist Your Podcast Topic Selection
The brainstorming process can look different for everyone, but one thing should ring true for all: The process should be informed, at least in part, by data. For instance, there are tons of online tools to help you discover topics that hold the promise of popularity or speak to an informational need that your audience has.
One such tool is called Answer The Public. It allows you to search any topic, and then returns all of the questions and queries that Google has seen associated with that topic. Review the results to get a feel for what searchers are needing information on and then incorporate that topic into your podcast!
Here’s an example scenario of how to use Answer The Public:
A cooking company wants to find their next podcast episode topic. They search the topic ‘cooking.’ Here’s a screen shot of some of the results from their search on Answer The Public.
Though not every item on this list will fit as an overarching topic for a whole series, the data allows you to see emerging themes at a high level and draw inspiration. Plus, there are a few golden nuggets sprinkled throughout that can be leveraged into compelling podcast episode ideas.
For example, the four blue boxes bordering some queries above all pertain to health and cooking. Combining these four topics into one episode featuring experts in each of these areas would be a great way to thoroughly cover the importance of selecting the right cooking oil depending on your health or health goals.
Brian told us that Buffer’s process of brainstorming topics for The Science of Social Media involves pulling in multiple data points to select the most advantageous episode topics.
They take on a holistic view of the popularity of a topic. And it’s an important puzzle piece to what makes their podcast so successful. Read our interview excerpt on how Brian brainstorms podcast topics using the popular online content marketing tool Buzzsumo, and how he measures those findings alongside the performance of other podcasts in his industry, as well as the performance of their own blog. He outlines the step-by-step process so that you, too, can incorporate data into your brainstorming process.
Brainstorming and Vetting Podcast Guests
Featuring guests in your episodes is a really strong way to bring credibility to your podcast. Incorporating guests, and their perspective, certainly makes for a rich and interesting conversation, especially when you find guests who are knowledgeable on the topic, and are equipped with the gift of gab.
However, all four of our podcast hosts noted that they experienced difficulty booking a guest, unless the guest had something that they’re looking to promote.
Many of John’s guests are authors, and, as a podcast host, he said that he will gladly accept the trade off of letting the guest ‘plug’ their latest book in order to gain their insights. Remember, most experts and high level professionals are very busy. It’s only fair that if you ask them to spend time with you, technically for free, that they are offered a form of compensation via allowing them to promote their business or recent endeavors.h
In terms of physically finding potential guests and vetting their appropriateness, Brian and Jon lent some seriously useful takeaways. Read our interview excerpts with these two on the topic of Finding and Vetting Podcast Guests to find out exactly how they get their hands on awesome guests, and what goes into the selection process.
Being a Good Interviewer
After interviewing these four podcast hosts, a clear theme emerged around the topic of learning how to be a good podcast host and interviewer:
Aside from Larry, who is a master interviewer with 30+ years of live broadcast interview experience, the hosts all said that they spend ample time listening to other interviewers and emulating the techniques that they favor.
Brian says he’s a huge fan of Guy Raz, podcast host of NPR’s How I Built This.
I think that he’s amazing. Because at first you’re like, ‘Why is he so popular?’ But then when you listen to how he interviews, you begin to recognize things like how he’s a professional at leading people into questions. So, he’ll do a quick recap, and then it feels like he almost starts the sentence for the guest and leads them into a really great spot to answer the next question.
Jon offered up two interview skills that he’s learned from his four years of conducting interviews.
I learned you should try and ask ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions, because they don’t leave the guest an opportunity to only say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ [A rule of thumb I follow] is to ask a question, follow it up with one more related question, and then pull them back to the next one so the show doesn’t go down a rabbit hole that takes it away from where your listeners are trying to go.
To Provide Questions Ahead of Time Or Not
A topic that comes up frequently amongst interviewers is whether or not to provide your guest with a list of questions ahead of the interview. It’s typically said that to provide questions ahead of time is a best practice or industry standard, which John and Brian agreed with. They’ve expressed various reasons for doing so.
Brian – “We absolutely have questions prepared ahead of time and also send them over to the interviewee. Interviewees typically request it, and prefer to have those questions going into the recording. Especially with the bigger influencers, they’re not necessarily thinking about your podcast all week. So with them jumping on last minute, having that list of questions seems to be their preference.”
John – “Because the majority of the guests that we get are authors, I read the book ahead of time and then return my questions back to the guest for review so that they know everything that is coming.”
However, Larry offers a different perspective and often withholds questions in order to create a more natural, free-flowing conversation. You can read about his interviewer philosophies in our interview excerpt on How to be a Great Interviewer. Larry’s passion for the topic might make you think twice about how you handle your question distribution.
Podcast Show Formats
There are plenty of podcast show formats to consider, and you don’t have to look too far to find examples of all of them. Plus, any podcast with a few years of history has most likely experienced some shifts in their podcast format along the way.
A main reason for switching up a podcast’s format is experimenting with what works best. Considering multiple types of podcasts right out the planning gate will help prioritize what format you want to try first, then second, and so on.
Experimentation can be scary, especially when each episode needs to be awesome in order to retain listeners. You can’t shy away from taking small risks along the way!
Brian explained how critical testing out different formats was to the success of their podcast over the last two years.
“At Buffer, we had an interview format for a while, then we did a storytelling format, and now we’re working [in] a co-host format. So, I think our podcast has morphed with the times and it’s helped us increase numbers so it’s been awesome.”
We’ll get more into how Brian has been able to quantify that increase in numbers and justify the experimentation they did along the way down below in the measuring performance section.
Larry recalled that Digital Production Buzz tried out a format that became too costly, but from that ‘lemon’ came a rejuvenation of the podcast.
“We’ve experimented with a format of live news reports from different cities worldwide. It was logistically difficult and expensive,” he says. “Given the budget the show has, it was more than we could afford to spend to produce the show.
“What we did do, out of that experiment, is we found a number of experts around the world, which we now call our regulars. We go back to them to get their take on different topics.”
This is all to say, take the risk of experimentation. Shake things up in order to see what format really suits your show best!
Want more on the specific types of formats available to you? This article highlights the most popular podcast types and is equipped with examples of each format.
Publishing the Podcast
Publishing, uploading, hosting, etc… Getting your podcast ‘live’ and into the ears of your audience goes by many names, and can be achieved through many avenues. However, one of the most popular tools used to publish podcasts is Libsyn.
While no one can tell you exactly which podcast hosting or syndication service is right for you, Libsyn did come highly recommended by our four hosts.
But what’s right for some, isn’t right for all, here are some considerations worth weighing when selecting a hosting platform.
6 Considerations When Selecting a Podcast Hosting Service
1. The level of available analytics
A common remark made by podcasters is that the vast majority of podcast analytics tend to be sub par, because they only provide insight into vanity metrics like downloads. However, some providers are able to get more granular and provide the percentage that individual episodes are listened through (e.g. listened through 65% of episode on average), and more. Having analytics will help you understand what you’re doing right and what needs improvement.
2. Determine if you need both a podcast hosting service and a website for the podcast as an all-in-one solution
Some podcast shows already have a website and simply need the syndication aspect, in which case they’d only need a plugin that’s compatible with their content management system like WordPress. Otherwise, there are service providers who will equip you with both a website and the syndication required to push the podcast across other listening platforms.
If you’re in the ‘full steam ahead’ phase of starting your podcast, and you see the bright future of your endeavor, you may be more comfortable with investing in a monthly or yearly fee for a top-notch hosting platform. If it’s more just for fun, maybe you’d prefer to not dole out any cash and find a free platform for hosting.
4. The platform’s relationship with Google
In terms of search engine optimization (SEO), if you’d like your platform’s assistance with getting your podcast to rank in Google, pay attention to whether or not SEO is a feature or focus of the platform.
5. Syndication support
Where does the platform push your podcast live? Just to iTunes and Google Play, or elsewhere too? And does that align with where you want it published?
Does the platform offer sufficient storage for the size and amount of shows and assets you wish to house within the platform?
This is a preliminary list of considerations meant to convey the amount of research you should put into your platform selection. Making the right choice from the get-go will help keep your podcast running smoothly and will avoid any future dissatisfaction or need for migration to another platform (which can be quite the pain in the neck.)
How to Effectively Promote Your Podcast
See if Your Guests Have Any Upcoming Projects That You Can Assist With
One of the best ways to promote a podcast is to find a way to be featured in another podcast or publication. For instance, Jon talked about how essential this tactic was to his early success with his podcast show, Hack The Entrepreneur.
“It was about 4-5 months into the show that I had a guest on and he ended up writing for Entrepreneur.com. He recommended that I also write for them, and he literally, like a half hour later, sent an email introducing me to his editor. I was like WOW okay! And I [started writing] for them. It ended up doubling and [then] tripling the audience within weeks because it was a huge exposure to a new audience.”
According to Jon, another instance where his guest (a fellow podcaster) was able to return the promotional favor was through offering him a repeat feature position on their podcast, which allowed Hack The Entrepreneur to experience another amazing listenership boost.
Jon’s experience is an excellent example of how your guests can be a foot in the door to new opportunities, and can result in massive promotional wins. Building and nurturing relationships with your guests is a key takeaway here.
Guest Speaking on Other Podcasts
Another way to set your brand up for podcasting success (whether you’re a major company or a small business), is to start by having thought leaders from your company as featured guests on other podcasts.
There are a plethora of well-developed podcasts who are always looking for guests with unique perspectives and philosophies. Many of these podcasts tackle an array of topics under different psychographic groupings (self help/motivation, business, home life, hobbies, pop culture, etc.).
You can reach out to these podcasts by following the advice in our Finding and Vetting Podcast Guests article, as it has a section on 5 ways you can perform outreach to connect with these other podcasts. This peek behind the curtain shows how different podcasters can work together to co-promote one another via guest hosting and/or becoming an interviewee.
The Promotional Power of a Newsletter
According to John, Marketing Over Coffee sees big wins with their newsletter, which not only helps with repeat listenership, but also helps to monetize the podcast by reinforcing the CTAs mentioned throughout the episodes. Sponsors love seeing that the newsletter translates the podcast advertisements into dollars. Jump down to the Podcast Advertising and Sponsorship section below for more on the topic.
SEO Helps to Grow Podcast Listenership
Brian said that Buffer’s podcast saw early success with publishing the podcast’s episode show notes and transcripts. This, of course, fairs well in the world of SEO and brings Google’s attention to the content of the podcast as it exists in text form.
Having your show notes and transcripts published in iTunes, on your website, and elsewhere, offers yet another avenue of exposure for your show. This is because Google reads the text, discerns the topic at hand, and the insights from the conversation. This ultimately helps to optimize your show for search (SEO), allowing those who are interested in hearing about your topics and from your guests to find your podcast in Google search results.
For an established brand with a preexisting strong online presence, this is a must-do promotional tactic from the very beginning! (Really, everyone should be making SEO a focus of their promotion strategy! In fact, we were able to connect with all four of our host interviewees because we found them online with a quick google search. If their SEO game wasn’t so strong, we wouldn’t have been able to find them to bring forth their insights to you!).
Actually, Brian was full of awesome podcast promotion strategies. Take a read through the interview excerpt of promoting a podcast with Brian to see how a mere $20 translates into thousands of listeners, among other genius tips.
Generating Revenue with Your Podcast Through Podcast Advertising
Podcast advertising is a great way to generate revenue for your show but earning advertiser dollars doesn’t happen overnight and should only be approached once you have established a solid following. According to Jon, John, and Larry, your audience doesn’t have to be large in order to be attractive to potential advertisers, but it does have to be highly-targeted. John explains:
“For us, it’s such a highly focused audience. We found that there are advertisers that don’t care how big the volume is. [What they do like is] seeing that they got 30 qualified leads over the course of the quarter from sponsoring the podcast. If you’re selling a marketing automation product where a customer is worth five-figures or more a year, then [what you spent on sponsorship for those leads] is a great bargain. But, if you’re selling toothpaste you wouldn’t be talking to us. If an advertiser is well aligned with our content, it’s a great opportunity to get business in the door.”
In Larry’s case, advertisers who are interested in his podcast’s core audience of media producers, are companies that sell expensive, highly-specialised production equipment. In offering potential advertisers a scope-focused audience, it’s clear who the opportunity should appeal to, as well as deters others who are looking for sheer volume. Larry explains:
“For us, podcast advertising is different. We talk to media creators, which is a fairly small market. If we were to talk to, say, a large automaker, they’d ask, ‘Well, do you have 20 million followers?’ To which the answer is ‘no.’ There’s not that many people who shoot movies in the world.
“So, what we offer [advertisers] instead, is [exposure to] a focused market of media creators, which rules out a lot of the mass advertisers, because they simply want bodies. Instead, we talk to people who want to reach filmmakers, because they’re selling cameras that cost $50,000 – and they want to reach our audience, but we’re not a mass market. We’ve had to change our advertising into more of a boutique sale and less of a mass market sale. Our audience, although they’re [highly] interested and have the money to spend, they’re not measured in the millions, they’re measured in the tens of thousands.”
Jon’s experience actually builds on Larry’s quotes above. In his experience, by offering reach into a highly-targeted audience, you can actually charge more for advertising.
“At the beginning, it was just, ‘Okay, I get this many listeners,’ [when describing the opportunity to advertisers], but the more you learn and know about those listeners, the more you can charge. If [your listenership] aligns with a company, it’s invaluable to them to be in front of that audience. Don’t listen to people who say it’s $15 – $20 per CPM and that’s it. I’ve seen people get $50 – $70 per CPM in very small, hyper targeted markets.”
If you’re new to the term, CPM refers to an advertising industry standard of measuring reach. Though the acronym technically translates to ‘Cost Per Mille,’ it really means ‘Cost Per Thousand people reached.’ Here’s some more introductory information on CPM, if you’d like to learn more.
Podcast Advertising Sponsorship Models
The hosts all provided the basics of their sponsorship models to give you an idea of how you can structure your own.
Here’s what Jon said about Hack the Entrepreneur’s sponsorship model:
We go a bit more in depth with sponsorship now. We have offerings that tie into our courses, such as giving away free domains from Hover to attendees of website conversion courses as a part of the promotion that Hover received in their sponsorship package. As you develop more products, services, email lists, etc. [as part of your show’s success], you should start to include those things [in your sponsorship package] to entice advertisers.
John said Marketing Over Coffee breaks out more of a quarterly subscription sponsorship model:
We offer quarterly sponsorship packages with the show. So vendors can come in and get 10 episodes over three months. We limited it to two sponsors per quarter, so that only two companies are featured at a time. That way we only spend 3 or 4 minutes with the sponsors and then spend a solid 20 minutes on content.
Larry also ties in multiple marketing channels to entice advertisers:
We have an integrated approach on sponsorship packages. We’ve integrated the podcast with our social channels, mailing lists, and public events. You can buy short or long contracts, a specific delivery mechanism, etc. because we’re associated with a couple of other websites (doddlenews.com, and larryjordan.com) as well. That allows us [and advertisers] to, again, reach media creators, but lets us reach them in a variety of different ways.
From these examples of subscription models, there are a few solid takeaways:
- Limiting the number of sponsors for a certain time frame allows the show to generate revenue, without becoming spammy.
- Integrating your many marketing channels like email, social, website, etc. into your subscription model makes the whole package more attractive to potential advertisers.
- The more you know about your audience, and the more targeted your audience is, the more you can charge for advertising.
It’s important to not only recognize the appeal that your captive audience has to potential advertisers in your space, but to also make sure that those advertisers are bringing forward products or services of interest to your audience. Who you allow to advertise on your podcast says a lot about who the show values – and who is more important to the show’s producers: the advertiser (and the revenue) or the listeners (and the growth of interest in the podcast).
There’s so much more to say around the opportunity that podcast advertising holds, what it looks like in practice, and how to plan your own podcast advertising offering. Check out this post on podcast advertising if you’re searching out more examples of how it’s done by brands, and how you can do it, too.
Measuring the Podcast’s Performance
Though measuring podcast performance is, chronologically, one of the last steps in the process, understanding what you will look for to measure ‘success,’ needs to be planned out before you record your first episode. Ensuring that a solid measurement plan is in place from the get-go will help you avoid gaps in your reporting and make you more efficient in your improvement cycle.
When it comes to analysing data and measuring performance, people tend to either regard it with passion, or see it as a loathed task. Luckily, the hosts we interviewed felt passionately about the topic and were able to provide interesting philosophies on what really matters to them, as well as some seriously creative ways to report on performance.
Podcast Success Isn’t Just Downloads, Its Revenue
Jon says, “We have really good analytics for downloads, but not so much for plays. Apple is trying to get better with [reporting on] it, but even then, [the data is only] iTune downloads. So, to me, lots of those things don’t matter. Honestly, I don’t consider episode downloads as results.
“You have to look at [success] holistically. To me, the revenue from the podcast is what tells me the podcast is working.
“[To measure podcast performance] there are lots of other things you can do. For instance, we only mention certain urls on podcasts. So, if that url is getting traffic, it’s because a podcast listener typed it in. It’s just like radio commercials that use special codes or numbers as a way to measure the radio spot’s effectiveness.”
Jon’s insights make it clear that he is truly focused on measuring the impact that each episode’s CTA has on the overall business. Incorporating these kinds of tactics into your podcast plan will put you in a good spot to report on performance and justify your podcasting efforts sooner.
While Jon is using specific landing pages or promo codes within podcast episodes to drive web traffic, you can also flip that model and use tracking parameters on your website and other online placements to track the growth in popularity of your podcast.
Use UTMs to Track Podcast Growth Success
Many marketers are already familiar with UTM tracking parameters, but if you’re not, here’s some introductory info on them. A UTM is a unique tracking code that appears as an extension on the end of your url, and contains source, medium, and campaign elements that you can set yourself. That url becomes specific to a certain placement or location – where ever you plan to use it. The information that the UTM collects is tracked in Google Analytics and shows you every time that specific url was interacted with.
For instance, if Jon wanted to know how much traffic was generated for his podcast from his feature here on our article, he could provide us with a link containing UTM parameters like:
Campaign: Podcast Features
Medium: September 2018 Interviews
The link could send our readers to his podcast webpage. Then, in his Google Analytics, he could see every click that came specifically and directly from the payoff of participating in the collaboration of this article.
Want to know more about UTMs? Visit this blog post from Agency Analytics.
Want to build your own UTM? Head to Google’s UTM Builder Tool.
On a different note, Brian really went into detail around Buffer’s efforts to track the success of The Science of Social Media. Take a read through our interview transcript of measuring podcast performance with Brian for a play-by-play of how he collects both qualitative and quantitative data to create an ongoing improvement plan that genuinely works. His dedication to shortening the feedback loop is just superb!
That’s a Wrap on How to Start a Podcast
As you just read, there’s a lot that goes into the planning and management of a podcast. Take it all in stride and embrace the ever shifting landscape to test new formats, promotion strategies, and measurement plans as you go. If you incorporate all of the above components into building your case to start a podcast, you’re proving that you’ve thought of every step of the process. With that much forethought, you’re sure to make a much more compelling case to pursue a podcast for your brand.
At this point, we should mention that if you’re interested in having a professional voice over recording for your show intro or outro, Voices.com can help. Sign up for a free account to connect with voice actors who can provide you with the perfect intro or outro to give each of your podcast episodes a polished feel!