8 Unique Marketing Strategies To Grow A Podcast To the Top of iTunes

by Scott - 24 Comments

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Holy Snikey it’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post.

The primary reason for my hiatus is I’ve been focusing on creating content for my podcast The Competitive Edge as well as exploring new opportunities since moving back on American Soil a few weeks ago.

I plan on writing a series of posts about some ideas and strategies for people who want to start and grow a podcast. This one is going to be about what seems to be the juiciest topic amongst current and future podcasters…

How do I market and grow my podcast?

I’ve tried a boatload of marketing tactics to grow my podcast and in this post, I want to share what works, what doesn’t and what the 80-20 for podcast marketing is.

First let’s chat results.

Podcast Launch Date: May 5 (8 weeks ago)

Total downloads: 54,934

Downloads Day 1: 334

Peak downloads in a day: 1,860

iTunes Reviews: 127 (124 were 5 stars!)

Here’s a nice little graph of the downloads from my hosting provider Libsyn:

8weeksdownloads

Here’s how my downloads were broken down by month.

Month Downloads Shows Downloads Per New Show
July 5887 1 5887.00
June 31038 13 2387.54
May 18009 15 1200.60
All Time 54934 28 1961.93

These download numbers exclude listens on SoundCloud and YouTube which are pretty insignificant compared to iTunes.

I still recommending reposting episodes to both channels it if it means capturing extra listens without cannibalizing iTunes downloads… especially if you can generate some SEO juice from YouTube which we’ll get into shortly…

Here are some vanity results during the first 8 weeks

  • Hit the #1 Spot on New & Noteworthy for both Business and Health a bunch
  • Hit Top 4 in all of iTunes Business and remained in top 10 in as late as Week 7
  • The show was named podcast of the month on Podcast Land

BusinessPodcasts

I share this so you can understand what getting #1 on New & Noteworthy for long periods of time really gets you.

Coolio. So what did this do for my life and/or business?

  • During these 8 weeks I added 2,545 email subscribers. The 8 weeks before the launch I added 2,321 to my list.
  • I had an uptick in purchases of products on my site in both months.
  • I’m working with 3 new coaching clients on online marketing/business development and have had to turn away a bunch of new coaching/consulting inquiries because I want to limit that stuff to less than 8 hours a month.

If we’re talking purely $$ investment, the podcast has definitely made me at least 3X more money than I’ve spent on it without taking into time costs.

This is all great and dandy, but by far the coolest and most fun stuff has been building relationships with awesome new people and deepening existing ones.

To get specific, I’ve had conversations with 30+ amazing people, 16 of which I never spoke to before.

I got to travel and meet multiple people in person since I’ve been back to the States after doing an episode with them.

My first trip was to go and hang out with Ted Alling and all the awesome people and companies involved with The Lamppost Group in Chattanooga. #ManCrush

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As I write this I’m getting to hang out with Noah Kagan in Austin who is a marketer and business mind I’ve enjoyed learning form for a few years now. #WeightroomSelfies

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These guys will be life-long friends and I’m not sure that this would have occurred if they hadn’t come on to my podcast.

Lastly, I’ve had the incredible gift of having listeners write in to let me know that the show has made a positive impact on their lives.

Reading these emails and similarly toned iTunes reviews makes the time investment incredibly rewarding and worth it for me.

Taking all this into account, I’m incredibly happy with my decision to start The Competitive Edge.

Alrighty now that we got that out of the way, here are the top 3 ways you can grow your podcast. This is the 80-20 in my opinion.

The 80-20 Podcast Marketing

1. Publish new episodes at least 3 times a week in the first 8 weeks.

iTunes gives you 8 weeks to be featured in the New and Noteworthy section following the day you launch.

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This section is your best bet for organic discovery amongst existing podcast listeners because it’s the first thing people see when they log onto iTunes.

It’s unclear exactly how the New & Noteworthy is ranked, but patterns I’ve seen lead me to believe that it’s a velocity-based, popularity algorithm.

To be more specific, every time I published a new episode and got a spike in downloads as indicated by the graph below, I’d usually jump to a top 4 spot in the New & Noteworthy section the next time iTunes shuffled the rankings.

downloadsspike_edited-1

As the number of downloads decreased and more time passed since each spike, my ranking in New & Noteworthy would decline. I found the correlation between recency to a new episode published and a rise in rankings to hold true for other newly popular shows as well.

This hypothesis leads to the next question:

How can you increase the number of downloads to your show?

The easiest way to increase the number of downloads to your show is to churn out additional episodes. You’ll get downloads from existing subscribers while accruing new ones via iTunes and off-site promotion. This is why I advocate for publishing more than one episode a week like most other podcasters.

Think about it…

The infamous “1 million downloads” podcast number can be achieved by trying to build up your podcast to 20,000 downloads per weekly episode.

20,000 x 52 weeks = 1,040,000 downloads a year

This is really tough unless you already have a huge name like Tim Ferriss.

Or you can reach 1 million downloads with by getting to 5,000 subscribers with a 5X a week podcast.

Not only is this a much easier way to achieve “big” podcast numbers that do things like help attract sponsors, but also this will help you spend the most amount of time at the top of New & Noteworthy in the beginning due to the consistent download spikes within short time intervals.

If you’re just starting out and you’re really looking to blow it out while you have a chance to get in the New & Noteworthy, I’d recommend publishing at least 3 times a week.

I released an episode 5 times a week for the first 4 weeks by backlogging 20 episodes before I even launched. I couldn’t sustain this rate due to my hectic travel schedule and started putting out 2-3 a week during weeks 5-8. My results were still strong, but I definitely was not optimized for organic iTunes discovery to the degree I was when I was publishing 5X a week.

I’ve seen people double down on this “volume play” by just producing a bunch of short sub-10 minutes episodes to publish everyday. This strategy works for getting featured in New and Noteworthy for sure. But I’ve seen their download numbers compared to mine and I often am ranked much higher in the business category and sometimes in the New & Noteworthy even though they were getting more downloads.

This leads me to believe that they might include some additional ranking factors beyond purely new download velocity, like number of minutes listened to. Positive reviews and number of new subscribers within a given time window might contribute as well.

2. Juicy Titles & Widely Applicable Themes

After 8 weeks of throwing marketing ideas against the wall, I did a deep dive on my episode analytics. I started by reviewing which episodes got the most downloads.

I looked for both patterns and anomalies then tried to work backwards in order to see why some were more popular than others.

Due to the lack of transparency iTunes provides you, I was really only able to draw two actionable observations…

I used the same core promotional strategy for pretty much every episode. One element of this was asking the guests to share with their audience and most of the guests reciprocated with a similar promotional effort. #TokenRetweet

This made the downloads # a relatively control environment which was perfect for determining calculus as to why certain things did well.

Here are my top downloaded episodes:

showstates

Generally, the most popular episodes weren’t the people with the biggest online presence. They were the ones that had the juiciest titles, containing show themes applicable to the largest group of people.

For example, topics like How to Pitch Anything were more popular than The Marketing Formula Behind the Fastest Growing Blog on the Internet.

Both are great titles, but pitching anything is applicable to a wider audience that growing a website.

I used a title formula cheat sheet that contains engaging syntaxes that have done well for me with blog posts in the past to help with the creation of each title. I’d use this to write at least 5-10 title permutations before selecting what sounded best. The gold always starts coming out after the 6th or 7th effort.

You can grab the Title/Headline Creator Cheat Sheet here:

 

Big Takeaway: spend the extra few minutes crafting a stellar title and choose interesting topics for large cohorts of people if you’re doing a general self-improvement podcast like mine.

3. Get Guests to Promote You In Their Email Lists

Having guests help promote the episode you do together is nothing new. It was a core part of my strategy.

One success anomaly helped me discover that there is definitely an 80/20 for guest promotion that should be engineered…

The main anomaly I noticed in terms of # of downloads was episode #13.

My buddy Mike Hrostoski’s episode was the 4th ranked out of 30 in total downloads.

Mike is the man, but he’s definitely not the biggest name I interviewed. In fact, I published his episode on my blog here  before I even launched on iTunes as a preview to my audience….

This meant that many people in my tribe had likely already heard this conversation…yet it still had the 4th most listens…[ominous blog hush sound]

So why did Mike’s interview get so much traffic?

Simple. He sent an email out to his mailing list linking directly to iTunes right after I published our interview.

HrostoskiemAIL copy

I can’t measure clicks from the email, but I can clearly see that there was much meatier traffic on the 3 days following his email blast than the typical episode download trend.

Check out the difference in listens after initial publishing following Mike’s episode on the left vs. Episode 14 with Ted that immediately followed it.

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Mike’s interview was getting nearly 3X the listens 3 days after I initially launched it then the next episode which was an excellent show, heavily promoted by the guest via social media.

A lot of people think that having big name guests tweet out their podcast is going to move mountains.

The truth is that it probably isn’t going to move the needle nearly as much as having someone with a loyal following include a link to your episode in an email to their list.

One of my guests Ross Tucker has 114k Twitter followers. He’s got a top football podcast and used to be the voice of ESPN’s podcast so I strongly suspect his followers are real people that are highly engaged.

So what does 114,000 Twitter followers get you?

One retweet from Ross got me 38 clicks. This type of click-through is pretty typical.

RossTuckerTweets copy

Ok this seems simple enough…get included in mailing lists!

The challenge is that most people guard their mailing lists like hawks. Why? Because every time they email there will inevitably be some unsubscribes.

Right now I’m testing a new strategy that ensures people mail the interview out to their lists, but it’s too early to say how effective it is. When I have more data, I’ll share it with Life-LongLearner folks. Subscribe below so you don’t miss out ;)

 

In the meantime, a simple thing you can always do is suggest to guests to include the interview in the P.S. section of an existing email that is already going out that week…this is way less intrusive than asking for an entire mailing dedicated to your episode.

Below is an example email I’ve sent to guests you can swipe that eloquently asks them to promote the show to their mailing lists:

EmailLive_edited-1

You can get this promotional email template here:

 

Publishing lots of episodes with high quality guests and getting featured in mailing lists is by far the biggest 80/20 to grow your podcast in the beginning in my opinion.

Potentially getting featured on other shows might be number #4 but that’s not realistic for everyone so I’m not going to deep dive into that.

Why Focus On iTunes?

Shortly I will be sharing some marketing tactics to grow a podcast which I haven’t seen many people use…but first, lets explain why you should focus on iTunes vs. other platforms despite the analytics being a mess.

To give you an idea how opaque iTunes podcast analytics are, you can’t tell where iTunes listens came from, how many subscribers you have, or how long someone tunes in. All you get is total number of listens from your hosting company graphed over time.

You might be saying, why not push people to somewhere like SoundCloud that has better analytics?

Despite crappy analytics, I still recommend driving people to iTunes because this is the easiest place for people to subscribe to your podcast. Like blog posts, you always want to push people to subscribe to create a lasting connection.

In addition, iTunes has by far the biggest audience and network effect mechanisms like New and Noteworthy and “Listeners Also Subscribed To” which makes it an attractive platform.

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I have a friend at the Earwolf podcast network who says that amongst the biggest podcasts, 80% of their downloads come from iTunes and “then there’s everything else.”

When I heard this I decided to stop wasting time on other platforms and double down on the mothership.

Unconventional Podcast Marketing Tactics

1. Get Placement In Podcast Directories

When I was game planning marketing strategy, I wanted to find all the places that people were looking for podcasts and see if there was a way to get in front of them there.

I started with searching for directories. The best one I found was PodcastLand via the podcast subReddit.

Podcastland is a directory for podcast listeners to find new goodies to consume.

I got excited when I found that each month they let people vote for the best podcast and the winner gets featured on their site for an entire month. All that is required to vote is submitting your email address.

I called on friends, family, and my trusty militia of VA’s to secure The Podcast of The Month for June ;)

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According to Libsyn’s non-iTunes analytics, direct plays on Podcastland didn’t move the needle much.

But my guess is that few people consume what they find on their site (vs. iTunes/smartphone) and I couldn’t measure those conversions so there might have been a lift here….

2. Drive Traffic via Reddit

Anytime I create a piece of content, I try to find out where people who would find it valuable are hanging out and then make sure they see it (in a non-douchey way).

As part of my post production process, I’d denote whether there was any relevant subReddit with meaningful volume that made sense to share my audio to.

[get my post production process leads]

People don’t usually share podcasts to Reddit so I was very intentional to indicate that the content was Audio and provide a variety of listening mediums to appease the bands of grumpy Reddit trolls.

Here are two example Reddit posts where I promoted specific episodes:

redditderek

chrisbaileyreddit

Being thoughtful about the fact that audio usually isn’t shared on Reddit by telling people exactly where to listen and/or clearly denoting (Audio) seemed to be pretty effective.

I was able to successfully get a few podcasts at the top of multiple different subReddits without a nuclear Reddit-hater meltdown.

Again, unfortunately I have no insight into how many subscribers this drove and there is no indication from episode downloads where I employed Reddit marketing that there was a huge lift in listens.

If you try Reddit marketing directly to iTunes, it might make sense to track each instance using a bit.ly link…

3. Create Sponsorship Partnerships in Exchange for Free Ad Space

Totally gotta give my homeboy Billy Murphy from Forever Jobless credit for this idea.

I basically hit up all my favorite companies whose tools/sites I personally use and offered to mention them on the podcast in exchange for promotion on social media and any other channel they’d be down for.

I ended up doing partnerships with the following companies:

In addition to promotion, I also asked for free prizes to give away as part of a giveaway contest that required iTunes reviews for entry.

I ended up getting 67 people to enter the contest many of which hopefully left a positive review on iTunes. Big ups to Jay Neyer for winning the grand prize of a free trip to San Diego to jam on business for a weekend.

The coolest deal I did was with Feedly. If you’re not familiar, they’re a pretty popular RSS reader.

In addition to Facebook and Twitter promotion, I got them to feature my show’s audio feed as the 3rd ranked recommendation in their “entrepreneurship channel.” This is essentially a curated list of content sources for people interested in Entrepreneurship.

FeedlyEntrepreneurshipPackarrow

They included my show for a few weeks and it resulted  into 1k+ feedly subscribers to my podcast feed. This means that every time I publish an episode 1,000 people see it in their RSS reader and can listen to it right there. #saweet

4. Share Episodes on Quibb

If you don’t know what Quibb is, I highly recommend checking it out.

It’s basically a place for people to share what they’re reading. The most valuable part of the site is that there is some really interesting and talented people that use it which means any content you create and share has a high likelihood of getting in front of cool people.

As a publisher, you can see who  clicks on the links that you’ve shared. I started sharing the blog posts that accompanied each podcast which gave me additional transparency into who some of my listeners were by viewing who clicked on my show.

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Quibb isn’t a huge traffic driver, but I now have a ton of people I can connect with that I otherwise probably never would.

Maybe I’m a bit aggressive, but when I see someone is listening to my podcast who looks interesting, I feel a greater license to send them a cold email to strike up an email dialogue…

Think about all the “silent” readers content producers have that never leave comments, but are interested in what someone has to say.

Quibb surfaces these folks!

QuibbActivity copyThis is actually how I met popular growth hacker Andrew Chen.

Back in the day I published an article on how I got a free personal assistant from Zirtual for 6 months and saw that he read it.

Naturally I was excited when Quibb showed me this because I’d been following his blog for a bit.

When I saw he liked my post, I immediately emailed him some cheeky thing referencing the post to strike up a convo. Eventually this turned into us meeting in person the next time I was in San Francisco.

This would have never happened if I didn’t publish the article on Quibb and see that he enjoyed it.

Andrew if you’re reading this, I owe you an email to update you on my life like I said I was going to!

5. Create A Handle on Twitter And Drive Traffic Using An Auto-Follow System

I have a buddy that gets 15-20 blog subscribers a day by simply following and unfollowing people with the hope that they click on his profile link and subscribe to his blog after he follows them. #CRAY

When I heard this, I decided to create a handle for my podcast and implore his system by targeting people who follow other podcasts and podcasters using ManageFlitter.

I selected this follow criteria because it’s easier to get people already consuming podcasts to listen to yours rather than to try and convince people who’ve never listened to a podcast before to tune in.

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I inserted a Bit.ly link within the Twitter profile to track the number of click-throughs. According to the Bit.ly stats k it looks like 487 people have clicked through to iTunes.

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Some of these people have even indicated that they subscribed to the show! #CherryOnTop

TwitterFollowSubscriber

Again, I sadly can’t measure the number of subscribers I have beyond guessing using implicit data from Libsyn.

But when you’re just starting out and you’re not an Internet titan every single one counts.

6. Guest Hosting

People who want to drive traffic to their blogs often write guest blog posts…

So why the heck is no one out there guest hosting to drive listeners to their podcasts?

I recently guest hosted an episode for GrowthHacker.TV that hasn’t come out yet.

I don’t know the yield on this activity, but I like this strategy because it’s focusing on inserting yourself amongst an audience who is already consuming content on this medium.

I wanted to bring this strategy up because it might be a more viable option for upstarts than trying to be featured as a guest on other people’s shows. The fact is many people with podcasts that are trying to grow their audience haven’t done something cool enough to be a guest on a top show. However, if you’re a killer host you might still be able to get in front of that audience by propositioning yourself to “guest host.”

Here’s a free strategy that I’d implore if my number one focus right now was growing my podcast vs. determining what my next business venture is that has nothing to do with selling my information…

**Go to every big podcast and see if the host has done episodes where they talk without another guest. Ask them if they’d prefer to have you interview them for future solo episodes to make the conversation more dynamic and offer to accommodate their schedule.

You could also proposition yourself to interview them if they’ve never had a chance to tell their personal story to their audience…

Before we move on to #7 let me know if you’re interested in having me on as a guest host by emailing me here.

Also, get more free strategies by requesting to join my private Facebook group…I’ll approve you if your profile isn’t you in a bikini with a grand total of 6 all-dude friends.

7. YouTube Audio On Your Site

I originally had my right hand man create blog posts with audio, shownotes and searchable transcripts that were all optimizing for the keyword syntax “guest first + guest last name + interview” to see if I could score some long-tail SEO wins.

I didn’t get much traction here partially because my site authority isn’t as high as many other people out there doing interviews…. but also because Google values video 53x as much as text!

If you Google anyone’s name + the word interview, you’ll likely encounter a bunch of YouTube videos.

Once I realized this, I started focusing on driving all on-site listens from each accompanying blog posts to YouTube.

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Since I started doing this, I’m now beating out people that have way more site authority than me like in the example above.

I still publish blogposts, but instead of hosting on site audio on SoundCloud or Libsyn, the only onsite audio is a YouTube video that Lazar (my right hand bro) creates from the Audio and guest image.

Now iTunes and YouTube are the only way you’re going to be able to listen to my podcasts from each blog post.

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You can see the exact structure of my blog post episodes here.

I’m still not getting a ton of listens on the videos, but I’m getting some SEO value on a few interviews due to the shifted focus on YouTube.

I get about 3-5 new YouTube subscribers a day which is way more valuable than a SoundCloud subscriber in my opinion.

8. Guest Interview + Expand

About a month ago, I dusted off my business development cleats and did an interview for GrowthHacker.TV on how to get meetings with anyone via cold email.

There was an awesome response and I decided that it was kinda lame that my audience might not hear it…I also only got to share about half the goods during the allotted time window.

This prompted a follow-up “selfie-interview” where I expanded on all the cold email strategies I talked about in the GHTV episode.

When you use this strategy, you can hit up everyone who pinged you about the interview on someone else’s show about the new and expanded episode on yours. The outreach is highly relevant because these people have already “raised their hand” that they’re interested in this particular topic.

I did this with everyone who gave me love on the GrowthHacker.TV interview and got some great emails and responses from people who might have never discovered my show.

Here is an example of how I did  this on Twitter:

itunesreachout

Quick side note…in order to isolate these instances, I used a tool called Snapbird to search for recent mentions of my handle and the word GrowthHacker in case they did not @ tweet me.

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This is an awesome tool that I highly recommend to anyone looking to find particular people or interactions on Twitter that I use all the time for all types of marketing and business development activities.

Additional Podcast Marketing Ideas

Here’s a bunch of other marketing strategies I tried that I think didn’t move the needle a ton and/or aren’t very novel, but am happy to talk about in the comments:

  • Sharing episodes in relevant Facebook + LinkedIn groups
  • Sharing episode blog posts in Google+ Communities for SEO juice
  • Tweeting episodes w/ SoundCloud linked so that they could be played within the Twitter stream
  • Sending episodes to influencers who I know were very interested in a particular topic with the hope that they’d enjoy and potentially share
  • Recap emails to my list every few weeks that reference multiple episodes linking directly to iTunes
  • Offering up myself to be interviewed on other shows – got on GrowthHacker.TV, EntrepreneurOnFire, SideHustleNation, NoviceNoLonger…think that’s it.
  • Sending relevant episodes to students on Udemy through their platform messenger. You could probably reverse engineer an episode to interview a teacher with a massive student list contingent upon them sharing it to their audience #JustSaying
  • Invite two guests on the show to do live mentoring sessions in order to get multiple people sharing + spice it up!! Episode here
  • Tried sharing in SoundCloud groups…no dice
  • Stumbleupon, Digg etc. Nothing much here.
  • Linking in Quora posts
  • Changing up the layout and images of episode blogposts in order to promote subscriptions and iTunes play
  • Reverse engineering episode topics by seeing what questions are being asked in large forums and then answering them via a podcast episode so that the marketing channel is already established
  • Literally asking everyone who emails me about the show to leave a review <333

There are probably some other things I’m forgetting, but this seems to be the meat of it.

You might be reading this and be thinking…. uhhh it seems like a lot of this requires big time effort for a small numbers of subscribers.

I’d have to agree that many of these things I tried did not end up being 80-20.

BUT I would have never known unless I tried and going through the process is what results in cognitive learning…. see Sebastian Marshall Interview if you’re not familiar with this concept…. :p

I also think it’s important to realize that getting started in anything that’s competitive (like having a business podcast) you’ll often have to fight, scratch, and claw for everything to give yourself a shot of succeeding.

I still got a long way to go, but for just over 2 months in, I’m pretty stoked about these results so far and all of the amazing things that have occurred because of creating the show.

I plan on doing a few more posts on podcasts and ideas on how to market them…subscribe below if you want to get your hands on these ideas when they’re fresh out of the oven : )

 

What questions do you have on these podcast marketing strategies? Hit me in the comments

I’d also love to hear some ideas about ways to grow a podcast that have worked for other people in the comments too!

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