Back in July of 2016, I started a podcast with Eric Siu called Marketing School.
We’ve come a long way since then.
In fact, we are over 600 episodes into our podcasting journey.
Sure, we had existing audiences on our other channels and platforms, but we still needed to get them to show up and listen to our podcast.
Eric has been podcasting for years and brought a lot of experience to the pod.
I have been a featured guest on many other podcasts, but this was my first foray into hosting a podcast.
Our podcast started with zero listeners and zero downloads on day one.
Every podcast does.
Everyone starts on equal footing.
Sound too good to be true?
This guide will show you 15 simple hacks to grow your podcast to 10,000 downloads or more.
So whether you are just getting started or an old pro looking for some fuel, these tips will help you ignite the fire and get your voice into ears around the world.
Podcasts are starting to generate big bucks
Podcasts are going mainstream.
Big investments are starting to flow into podcasts, podcast networks, and studios over the last few years.
Gimlet Media has now raised $27M for its network with popular podcasts like Startup and Reply All.
If you don’t feel like podcasting has truly gone mainstream just yet, then you probably haven’t heard about the Gimlet Media story becoming a TV sitcom on ABC starring Zach Braff.
It will continue to get harder and harder to get discovered in this medium when you compete against media and publishing powerhouses who are now investing significantly in podcasting.
You need an edge to be successful.
How you get that edge could make or break your podcast.
Audiences have more options than ever before. It’s your job to make them pick your podcast.
The problem is simple.
Many new podcasters don’t know how to use podcasting hacks to grow audiences and downloads.
You can’t turn off the mic, hit publish, and wait for the downloads to come streaming in–even if you have audiences on other platforms as I did.
Marketing School was able to get over a million downloads in just four months.
This is how we did it:
Where you are in your podcast journey will make a significant difference in the approaches you take to hack your way to more podcast downloads.
As I see it, there a three major phases of every podcast.
Launch: The first eight weeks
Life after launch
Where are you in your podcasting journey?
With all the big bucks flowing into podcasting, it’s time to start hacking and start seeing downloads.
1. Begin with value before you ever launch
A few months before his death, Albert Einstein said this:
“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.”
Mr. Einstein may not have been talking about content marketing. But his advice rings true for marketers.
The most successful podcasts deliver consistent value.
Consistently create and deliver valuable content listeners can count on from both your programming and your guests (if interviews are part of your podcast format).
Your audiences will show up if you do.
There are literally hundreds of other things that you can do to make your podcast a success.
Start by sketching out a list of potentially valuable interviews or episode themes.
Q&A sessions do well for episode topics in any area.
Find topics in your niche on AnswerthePublic.com or Quora that you or your guests can answer on your podcast.
2. Produce quality audio without the cost
When it comes to audio and production quality, you have to sound like a professional every time.
The good news is that you don’t have to break the bank to produce a high-quality podcast, thanks to the multitude of cost-effective equipment options available to podcasters.
Five years ago you probably could have gotten away with using the speaker on your phone or recording your guest interviews on a cell phone.
Not today. Consumers will just find another podcast that sounds like it was created in a studio.
Many podcasters offer up lists for their favorite podcasting equipment and the best microphones.
Check out what some of your favorite podcasters are using and create your own wish list.
It is much easier to deliver professional content when you’re working with professional tools.
3. Find the “super listeners”
We call these people “super listeners.”
So how do you attract them?
First, make it easy for them to subscribe to your content in a couple of clicks.
Second, offer in-depth content and consider building on it from episode to episode to keep them coming back.
And finally, create enough content to satiate their appetites for it.
4. Find guests that fit your niche
Securing guests can seem like a catch 22 in the beginning.
You can’t interview top-notch guests without an audience and you can’t build an audience without guests, right?
After all, size matters to big-name personalities who have a lot of requests for their time.
Thankfully, there are ways to get guests to commit, even before you’ve built up a big following.
Look for the right people in the right places.
One way is to look for authors and experts with upcoming book releases or publications. There is nothing an author loves more than a podium to talk about their work.
Just make sure their subject matter aligns with yours.
If your community is their community, then you’ve already won half the battle in booking a guest for a podcast episode.
Amazon is an easy tool to help you find authors who may want to pitch their book.
Simply filter your book search by “coming soon” to see what topics are coming down the pike that fit your podcast.
Tradeshows and conferences are another great recruiting venue. Take a look at the agenda and exhibitor list of experts that fit your niche.
As you secure guests, don’t forget to ask them for referrals to gain access to future speakers.
It only takes a few high-caliber guests to create a snowball effect.
Take author and entrepreneur James Altucher’s podcast, for example.
His interviews are personable and offbeat, but more than anything, James makes it worthwhile for his guests to invest their time with him by giving them center stage.
As a result, guests are lining up to be on his show.
When I agree to appear as a guest on a program, I always make sure the podcast complements my own message and content before I say yes.
Foundr is geared toward entrepreneurs and marketing professionals.
I was confident that I would add value as a guest of the show and that it would help me gain new followers in return.
It’s worth repeating: Podcast success always comes back to delivering specific value–to both your audience and the guests on your podcast.
Know who you should target for your guest list and then go after them without apology.
5. Brand with clarity
It’s better to be clear than clever with your podcast branding.
Your audience should be able to tell what your podcast is about by just looking at the cover art.
What do you notice about the featured list of podcasts from NPR?
Simple descriptive titles?
No crazy spellings of common English words?
All of the above.
Podcasting expert Jeff Haden offers this advice:
Definitely take the time to do the brand work. You need creative, well-executed cover art for your podcast because people scan the Apple podcast app to determine what they want to listen to next. Your goal is to stand out, so put real effort into the artwork that accompanies your content.
Don’t overthink your podcast branding. Help your audience find you quickly or they’ll give up and listen to what someone else has to say.
6. Be everywhere your audience downloads content
Before cable and streaming video services of your favorite television programming, if you produced a program, you sold it to one of the three broadcasting channels.
Today, you can syndicate your podcast on all of them at the same time.
Why would you want to do that?
We’ve already discussed that podcasting is growing.
You need your podcast to be front and center on every channel your audience uses to stream podcasts.
In the car, where many of us consume audio, AM/FM radio and personal media collections (primarily CDs) are giving up ground to media streamed through our smartphones.
Edison research data shows this rise in podcasting:
At the same exact time traditional radio is dying:
As consumers, we want what we want, and we want it right now.
No more suffering through annoying radio spots to get back to the programming we tuned in to hear.
We are slowly tuning out of radio and turning on our smartphones to deliver the content we want.
Podcasting is simply audio-on-demand.
Consumers demand choices, and among those choices are the major syndicates for media.
The large media and publishing companies that have dominated the airwaves for years are starting to embrace the podcasting trend.
They are shifting their programming and advertising spending to podcasting in an effort to not lose ground to the upstarts.
If you are going to win against big media and all of the other creators trying to get an edge, it starts with getting discovered.
If listeners can’t find you, then you don’t exist.
Start by leveraging visibility in the podcast directories for iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and Google Play to get more downloads.
The way to get discovered in directories is to know how to play the discovery game.
You need listeners that care.
Kevin Kelly’s assertion that you only need 1,000 true fans to make a decent living as a creator is up for debate for podcasters using the popular crowdfunding support service Patreon.
The top twenty podcasters using the platform have built a large following of supporters and are successfully supporting their podcasts.
Podcasting can be another piece of your evergreen content marketing strategy. You don’t need an immediate ROI, but you do want to reach your ideal audience.
So, if you’re pre-launch or way past launch you will need a strategy to get listeners to become subscribers who will rate your podcast well and then review it.
I will discuss that in more detail later in this post.
First, have you heard of the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform?
If your campaign doesn’t get fully funded, you get nothing from those the people who pledged to back you as a creator.
It seems harsh, right?
It forces creators into a sense of urgency. Since your campaign has an end-date, you want to ensure that everyone discovers you and supports you during your brief campaign.
But only 36% of projects get backed.
So what does crowdfunding projects have to do podcasting?
Podcasts fail for the same reasons that Kickstarter campaigns don’t get funded.
They did not get enough people to care.
Publishing your podcast on a syndication platform won’t get you noticed. You have to do something notable first to get discovered.
Don’t just submit to the syndication platforms and wait to be noticed. Be worth noticing.
7. Hack to the top of Apple’s “New & Noteworthy”
As a new podcast, you have eight weeks to make the Apple New & Noteworthy list.
To get featured in time, you’ll need a podcast launch plan.
The algorithm Apple uses for the list is still relatively unclear, but the metrics that matter are around the velocity of subscriber growth, 5-star ratings, and reviews.
So how do you get more people to subscribe, rate, and review your podcast during those crucial first eight weeks?
First, don’t forget to email your subscriber list and invite them to listen.
Secondly, reach out to influencers and journalists in your niche and pitch the value of your podcast.
Ask if you can cross-promote with other podcasters.
Finally, create shareable snippets to get the word out on your social media channels.
8. Friend of a friend
Don’t forget to leverage the audiences of your guests.
It’s free marketing.
Getting introduced to their networks opens up your podcast to new listeners and potential new subscribers.
If you’re attracting audiences that fit your niche, it stands to reason that their audiences will also enjoy your content.
We’ve tried to interview guests who have their own networks in our niche, so when the episode goes live, they share us within their network – so since we are all in the personal finance space, it gives us very targeted exposure. It’s not a random guest – we always interview guests who always have a following that will align with ours.
Sharing is caring, friends.
It shows that you are interested in helping your guest grow their personal brand as well as your own.
9. Contribute to the tribe
Being a valuable contributor to online communities will expand the reach of your potential podcast audience.
How do you find the right ones?
Communities like Facebook and LinkedIn groups, online forums, and other digital congregations are great places to find an audience.
Spend some time observing to see what group members are talking about.
Can you contribute to the discussion? Great!
Jump in with both feet.
There are even communities just for podcasters to gain insight on how to better interact with their peer groups and audiences.
10. Leverage your social network
Promoting your podcast through social channels like Twitter is a valuable way to traffic back to your podcast, website, or syndication application.
We promote our daily Marketing School podcast on Twitter.
And don’t forget about that “friends of friends” hack.
Influencers will also promote relevant content through their social feeds for you if you ask (and offer a promotion in return).
11. Inspire your audience to take action
I talked earlier about the importance of helping your audience subscribe, rate, and review your podcast.
Apple makes it simple for your audiences to do all three through simple, timely popups.
Leaving a rating separates the good content from the great content quickly and with an easy visual (stars).
Don’t be bashful about asking your audience members to leave a 5-star rating.
It will help your podcast with that coveted “new and noteworthy” ranking.
Get creative when you ask for reviews.
Offer swag giveaways or run contests as an incentive for your audience to spend their time on a review for you.
12. Show up again and again and again
People expect you to produce new valuable podcast content consistently.
If you call your show a “daily podcast,” then produce every day.
We always produce new episodes well ahead of the daily commitment that we have made to our audience to keep the content well from running dry.
If you turned on the TV for the big game and the players just decided not to show up to play, what would you think?
Don’t leave your audience hanging.
Commit to a schedule and keep your content delivery promises.
13. Improve your interviewing skills with practice
First of all, know that it takes a lot of experience to be a better interviewer.
It doesn’t happen overnight.
You have to interview people to gain experience and get better at the process.
Pat Flynn has been interviewing guests on his podcast since 2010.
Needless to say, he has a ton of practice interviewing guests of all kinds.
Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your early interviews to podcasters who have more experience than you do, but watch experienced interviewers and learn from them.
14. Interview swap
Booking guests can be a chore.
Just like any other chore, there are services you can enlist to alleviate the burden.
Some companies, like Interview Valet, connect potential guests with podcast hosts for a fee, but it is a worthwhile investment if you want to keep your focus on content instead of administrative tasks.
15. Get ranked in search
Every podcast needs a home base.
It’s a separate site outside of the syndication platforms where you can grow your audience engagement.
Ranking for SEO with your podcast follows the same principles as ranking for your blog or web pages–it comes down to good writing to engage readers and following search engine best practices.
Creating thoughtful show notes is just one of the ways to improve your SEO for podcast content.
As a bonus, it will also help your guest’s SEO ranking after their interview with you.
Just like with your podcast branding, be descriptive and straightforward in your notes so your audiences can easily find you.
Hanging out your shingle in the podcast directories and chanting “Produce it and they will come!” is not going to cut it in an ultra-competitive market.
Take blogging for example.
You know you have stiff competition in the blogosphere, right?
It hasn’t stopped you from consistently writing blogs even though there are millions of unique voices typing away right now.
Your podcast is your chance to be heard.
Make it count.
It takes work–especially if you want to produce quality content for your audience. There is a reason that so many podcasts fail so quickly.
Be the exception.
If you want more downloads and subscriber engagement, you need to do more than turn on the mic and start talking.
The majority will give up too soon.
They will skip a few steps, cut a few corners, and ignore those who have found success before them.
I built an audience of true fans who showed up via a million downloads in four months at the Marketing School podcast.
Now it’s your turn to put the 15 hacks above into action.
What strategies have helped you improve your podcast downloads and grow your audience?
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