Episode descriptions and headlines are crucial in attracting podcast audiences

Andrew Davies is Digital and Engagement Editor for ABC Audio Studios, the ABC’s specialist podcast production house.

The single best thing you can do as a podcast creator or publisher to make your show stand-out is focus on the audio, right?
Well actually, before a listener gets to your killer audio, their first impression is formed by what they see and read, not what they listen to.
Headlines and episode descriptions (also referred to as show notes) might not seem sexy, but they’re seriously underrated when it comes to ensuring your show stands out in a sea of podcasts.
On current estimates, there are more than 680,000 podcasts in the Apple Podcasts database. According to Chartable, a podcast analytics company, 210,000 of those actually published their first episodes in 2018. 
Copy isn’t just important in attracting new listeners, it’s also critical when it comes to a show’s existing subscriber base.
Why? Many people might subscribe to your podcast but more often than not they’ll still make decisions about whether to download a new episode based on the headline and episode descriptions.
A great headline is equally important in attracting the person skimming through a podcast app looking for something new, and an existing subscriber selecting what episode of a show they want to listen to. 
Dan Misener, Head of Audience Development and Strategy at Pacific Content, a Canadian podcast agency, wrote about headlines and episode descriptions as being part of the product packaging for podcasts, which includes artwork, category and metadata. 
There’s very little value in embarking on a major distribution and marketing push when the headlines and descriptions aren’t as compelling as they could be. 
Optimise for search
The majority of people will probably be looking at a headline and description from within a podcast app but it’s important to also think about search, particularly with the launch of Google’s podcast app in 2018.
For Android phone users, podcasts appear in Google search results, complete with play buttons that take people into the app. In March, Google announced that search results would start showing individual episodes as well as whole shows. 
Lead with something interesting
A Podnews test of how show notes appear in 40 different podcast apps found the display varies quite widely.

Episode descriptions that are front loaded are much more likely to hook people in: lead with a key moment, point, fact or quote. Give people enough to understand what the audio is about, and enough to want to make them hit download/play.
Don’t over-write
There are varying schools of thought about the optimum length for episode descriptions. I’m a fan of the short, sharp style. The character limit for Apple Podcasts is 4,000 and Google Podcasts truncates descriptions to 1,000 characters. 
Never assume 
Know your audience and never assume when it comes to who guests are or particular terms – both within the show and in what you write. Podcasting is global by default. 
Podcasting’s long-tail means that time-specific references – ‘this week on the show’, ‘today on the show’, ‘this week we talk to’ – are less relevant.
Avoid repetition
I’ve seen a growing number of podcasts repeating the show name and one-line description in their episode titles. Every word counts so avoid this form of repetition. Topic-driven descriptions work best.
There’s a lot to think about when planning, creating and releasing a new podcast, but don’t ignore the headlines, episode descriptions – and the other elements of product packaging – as they can make a big difference in not just attracting an audience but converting them from casual listeners to regular subscribers. 



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