How do you write your episode titles? Serious question. It sounds easy, right? It is, you just choose something descriptive and evocative. But does that guarantee a click?
Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going deeper into each of these problems to add more context, take a closer look at how to implement the fix and why I suggested each particular approach.
Next up, problem/fix #4, to recap is... your episode titles.
Episode titles are easy. Good episode titles are very hard.
You might have heard about "SEO". It means "search engine optimisation" and here's how Wikipedia describes it:
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. SEO targets unpaid traffic (known as "natural" or "organic" results) rather than direct traffic or paid traffic. Unpaid traffic may originate from different kinds of searches, including image search, video search, academic search, news search, and industry-specific vertical search engines.
As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, the computer-programmed algorithms that dictate search engine behavior, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines, and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. SEO is performed because a website will receive more visitors from a search engine when websites rank higher on the search engine results page (SERP). These visitors can then potentially be converted into customers.
Here's my paraphrased rewrite of that as it relates to podcasting:
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of new listeners to a podcast from search engines.
As a podcast marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, the computer-programmed algorithms that dictate search engine behavior, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines, and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. SEO is performed because a podcast will receive more potential new listeners from a search engine when shows rank higher on the search engine results page (SERP).
These listeners can then potentially be converted into followers and fans.
Every podcast app is a search engine. Every. Single. One.
In fact, Wikipedia tells us that, too - look:
...and industry-specific vertical search engines.
With this in mind, then, we need to think about our episode titles like "SEO" titles.
Outside of getting traffic, though, SEO has another goal: to get the click through to the thing we want people to visit - in our case: our episode.
Consider a Google search. If I search for "UK Podcast Experts" the Rebel Base Media site is the first organic (non-paid for) result.
The goal here is to rank for that search term and you'll see the people above (Trisonic) are paying for that position - we get it for free as we rank best for that search term.
But rankings aren't the only result we're looking for. We're looking to entice someone to click on the link, too - after all, there's no point ranking for something only for them to decide not to click.
Podcast episodes are the same.
It's rare that someone is looking for our show specifically unless they've been referred to us by an existing fan.
More often, they're looking for an episode about a specific thing because they're in the mood for it.
Even if they ARE referred to us, so they search for our show name in the podcast app that they use, they aren't going to scroll right back to the beginning and start at our episode one - only a hardcore fan will do that and to turn someone into a hardcore fan, we have to get them hooked on something (aka our latest stuff) - instead, they're going to search for our show and then find an episode that instantly appeals to them right now, to try.
I did for my show in Apple Podcasts and in Spotify on my computer...
There are some differences in the results, namely that Apple (very sadly) does not show my custom episode image (come on Apple, sort that please) but look at the commonalities:
Which is remarkably similar to Google, right?
And Google's intent is to get us to quickly scan the results, trust it to give us a decent set of recommendations and then engage with the actual content.
Podcast searches are no different and if you look closer, the episode titles are highlighted!
We can surmise from this that a podcast app's goal is to get a listener, listening. That's good for you, the podcaster; it's good for me, the listener.
A search on mobile is the same story. The title is the clearest, most specifically highlighted part of the search engine result.
It's the scannable piece of information - the piece of the podcast that is intended to stand out. It's the thing that should be written to get a click-through.
What is a click-through?
A click-through is when someone sees your search result and clicks on it. Simple to explain, tougher to get, though.
In the examples shown here, a click-through is what we want to achieve on any one of our episodes - the goal is for them to be enticing enough that someone gives our content a whirl and from there, we have a chance to hook them using the Listener Acquisition Flow.
What is a click-worthy episode title?
Many podcasters don't think like that, though. Granted, there's never been a need to - we don't get into podcasting to get good at marketing!
But one of the quickest ways to boost your listenership is to create click-worthy episode titles.
Episode titles are more than just labels and shouldn't be written quickly - in fact, in my opinion, they're the most important piece of meta-info about your podcast episodes by far. ("Meta-info" means info about info, so information about your episode, which in turn has info init. Like a label on a box of labels!)
There are some mistakes that podcasters make that mean that getting a click-through is harder than it should be.
I've analysed a couple of title trends from some of the podcasts I've found and broken down why they aren't fully optimised for podcast search and what I'd recommend instead.
You can learn from these.
Example one: do not be cute
This first example is from The Parentpreneur Accelerator Podcast and its episode "Joshua & Judy Lisec: How to couplepreneur..."
The first issue here is that the guest names are front and centre.
That's cool if you have a HUGE guest (more on that later) but look then at the ellipses at the end of the title, that's not there because the title is too long for the search results and gets chopped off, it's there because the host chose to add it as a bit of a tease.
But what is being teased?
"How to couplepreneur"? What is that?
I assume it's "How to run a business with your partner"? I don't know, maybe I'm wrong but it's feeling like it's that to me from the episode notes.
I had to think about that.
Let's assume it IS that.
What would I search for to get to that episode? No idea.
If I was a fan of the podcast I'd listen to it anyway, because I'm a fan and I guess that if I'm recommended to this episode by a friend, I'd listen to it too - maybe?
But what about if I'm searching for things related to this episode like... "how to run a business with your partner"?
Well, I ran that search and NOTHING comes up... that's a missed opportunity.
What's the lesson?
Be direct. Don't sweat getting your guest names upfront because even with HUGE guests it doesn't affect much - instead, focus on doing what you say you're going to do - don't tease with your episode title, be straight and honest and do not make me think, wonder or have to question what might be in this episode.
Example two: episode numbers in the title
It's old and bad practice to put your episode numbers in the title of your episodes. It takes up valuable space on screen and leads to the same issue as above - scanning looks easy but who the hell is looking for episode numbers?
Sure, someone might tell me to listen to episode 12 of your podcast but we have episode number fields for that in Captivate and your podcast hosting platform that Apple respects.
Look here, I've not manually typed these episode numbers into my podcast title - they're added in Captivate's episode number field.
If I do add them manually to my episode they'll be duplicated and take up space on the screen which we don't need to do.
JLD from EOFire has done a great job of evolving how his show handles this.
He used to put episode numbers in his episode titles (check out his archives) and also the guest name upfront.
But more recently, he's evolved the show with the podcast directories and now names his episodes more enticingly, showcasing what's being covered in the episode and doesn't overfill his titles with episode numbers.
The episode title formula
Good SEO starts with acting and thinking like a human.
Writing good podcast titles does, too. We don't have to get cute or clever and we don't have to try to entice for the click. We aren't in the game of clickbait.
The formula that you need to follow for good episode titles is very, very clear: say what outcome you're delivering for people, write it and then edit it to make it simpler and simpler every time.
Make it scannable.
Let me give you an example.
Let's assume that I'm deciding to interview our digital marketing manager, Mark Musgrove about how to grow a podcast audience.
I could start with a title like this:
Mark Musgrove - Grow a Podcast
But it's a bit dull, so I'd entice you in a bit:
Mark Musgrove's Secrets about Podcast Growth
That's ok, but it's a bit click-baity, so let's edit down again:
Grow Your Podcast with Mark Musgrove, Digital Marketer
Not bad and getting tighter but actually, we can get even tighter by adding relevance and context:
Podcast Growth Tips from Podcast Industry Marketer, Mark Musgrove
That's getting along nicely, but I'm not promising that I'll actually deliver something, so I can get a bit more specific on this:
How to Grow a New Podcast with Industry Insider, Mark Musgrove
Now that's pretty solid.
People search for things like "How to Grow a Podcast" and by adding the word "new" we're targeting those who're new to this whole podcasting malarkey and we're adding a lot of credibility by stating up front that Mark is an industry insider.
You'll notice how I've avoided going super hyperbolic or click-baity on this. I could've gone real "guru" here with something like "3 Secrets to Supercharging your Podcast's Growth within 7-Days" but that's way too BS-y and is clearly aimed at getting that click through.
And this is another lesson: you have to get the right clicks. If you go hyperbolic like that you get the transient listeners looking for a quick fix and not for long-term quality content - I know that sounds cynical but it's true.
When you're writing a podcast episode title, ask yourself what you'd search for to find that episode and reverse engineer that.
I've found that starting with "How to..." works well when you're educating or interviewing and being really clear about what you're about to deliver will generate more long-term listeners after the episode has been released.
If you spend a bit of time on this per episode, you'll find that episode's lifecycle is greatly extended - try to get into the head of your prospective listeners, not your current listeners because those who already love you will listen anyway - your episode title is there to attract new people more than it is to serve existing listeners.
And remember, simplicity wins!