Your Podcast Needs a Host
Posted on Feb 7, 2023 by FEED Staff
With so many podcast hosts to choose between, the best strategy is to keep it simple
Words by Neal Romanek
If you want to get your video out on a public platform fast, the options are pretty obvious. Your first choice is going to be YouTube, then probably Vimeo, and then depending on the length and purpose of the video, various social platforms including Instagram and TikTok. Enterprises might go to one of the other major platforms like Brightcove or Kaltura. The point is, there is a fairly well-understood hierarchy of engagement and ease of use which, for the time being, has created a relatively stable set of platforms.
However, when it comes to the world of audio – specifically podcasting – it’s the Wild West, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The podcast ecosystem has a tremendous advantage over video. Video platforms are designed to host your video, generally with the purpose of using it to keep eyes glued to that site. Podcasts emerged alongside the early days of blogging, where the RSS feed was briefly king. The principle that content would be hosted in one place, but accessible across countless outlets and aggregators around the internet, was built into how we thought about podcasting from the very start. An emerging media-rich internet wasn’t made to deftly handle video in this way, but with audio it worked beautifully.
The multiplicity of podcast hosts isn’t a new story. Hosting platform Libsyn, launched in 2004, has been capitalising on its status as one of the first major places for people to upload and distribute their podcasts – in its marketing, Libsyn insists it was ‘the world’s first podcasting host’. Even in 2004, lesser-known competitors like Odeo or AudioFeast were offering audio content producers options for hosting and distributing their shows. But when Apple enabled iTunes to become a way to access and download podcasts, the options for hosting truly bloomed.
What to listen out for
Almost 20 years later, Libsyn is still going strong as a podcast host with expanded features, but is only one of many powerful podcast-as-a-service solutions. Some are little more than places to store and play audio files, others are complex platforms with marketing tools and analytics – and often their own distribution platform.
The great benefit of podcasting has always been the ability to distribute high-quality media to absolutely anywhere, very simply. When video enters the picture, workflows and distribution get much more complicated and digital pipes get clogged quickly. Audio is the perfect medium for anyone to take on serious broadcasting without needing a budget, or even experience. Podcasts reward simplicity.
Jordan Blair, producer for podcast hosting platform Buzzsprout, agrees.
“Starting a podcast shouldn’t be overly complicated. Podcasters should look for a host that feels both intuitive and simple,” explains Blair, who is also creator and host of the bedtime-friendly Dreamful podcast.
For Blair, there are a handful of parameters to consider when looking for a host, and quality support is paramount.
“If things go wrong, it’s important that you have quick access to someone who can help. Make sure the hosting platform has a good customer service track record,” she says.
Varying tools and features are another angle podcast hosts will dangle in front of customers to lure them into paying for a platform. But some will charge extra for features that competitors may be offering for free. Putting hosts side by side to compare the variety of features – and costs – is tedious but essential. A quality host will also help improve, market or monetise.
The all-important balance between pricing and features is not something podcasters need to go into blind. If they hope to be in it for the long haul, they’ll need to realistically assess their budget and make choices accordingly. However, most platforms worth considering will also have a free trial option, which should be taken advantage of before making a final commitment.
Analytics are a key component of any online enterprise and podcast hosting platforms now offer big analytics – some of which can integrate endlessly with other marketing and customer management tools. But a couple of simple stats you can understand and regularly use to inform decision-making are far more powerful than a whole suite of tools that make your head hurt. Think about what metrics you really want to track and start there.
Roni Gosch, customer success manager at monetisation platform and podcast host Podbean, notes that your choice is going to be dictated by your business objectives.
“It’s a decision that you shouldn’t make lightly – it involves sitting and asking yourself, ‘What do I want to do with my podcast? What are my goals? What can a podcast host do to help me reach them?’ Just saying that your goal is success isn’t really much of a starting point, as success looks different to everyone. Do you want to be invited as a guest speaker to conferences? Do you want to join a network? Are you aiming for specific guests? Ask yourself what success looks like and what a podcast host can do to help reach that success, then look for the one that best fits your needs.”
“Know that it’s okay to start small and scale upwards“
Pod me the money
From a simple toolkit, a thriving content offering can blossom, and there are many who have made their podcasts the core of a successful business. Podcast platforms have not only grown with the years, but with the demands of their customers’ success.
“Just like the podcasting industry itself, Buzzsprout customers have been maturing in their podcasting journeys,” notes Blair. “It started with the simple need to distribute. Then they got more serious about the audio quality and cover art design, exploring more marketing tools to grow their show. Now, with money rolling in, podcasters need to have access to every possible method of monetising their hard work.”
Buzzsprout has implemented multiple features for podcasters to link to donation platforms, affiliates and sponsors, recently rolling out Buzzsprout Ads, which allow for dynamic ad insertion in episodes. The methods of monetisation are as wide as a podcaster’s vision.
“There are revenue streams that will work great for some, and not so great for others,” explains Blair. “The most common methods are listener support and donations, offering bonus content behind a paywall, affiliate marketing, sponsorships and merch. Some podcasters have boosted their revenue through writing a book, offering private sessions or webinars, performing in live events or even charging guests to be on the show.”
Gosch agrees that it pays to get imaginative: “So many people focus on advertising and sponsorships without looking at other revenue paths. Your listeners want to support you, and giving them multiple ways to do so increases the likelihood of them contributing, especially when it comes to merch.
“One of our best suggestions for starting off is using a company that makes the item and ships it out for you, so all you have to provide is the design. As you grow, look into ordering in bulk and shipping things out yourself, but having another company do it at first is a great way to start.”
Beyond the tech
The technology platform a podcaster chooses will go a long way in creating a stable base for building success. But podcasting is a marathon, not a sprint. Starting one enthusiastically, only for it to sputter out and vanish in a few months – or weeks – is a phenomenon so common it has acquired its own snappy label: podfade.
“New podcasters sometimes feel they need to put out as many episodes as possible to grow quickly. This is a recipe for burnout,” says Blair. “The top podcasts in the industry don’t share the same publishing schedule – some are daily, others drop an episode once a month. Being consistent and maintaining passion are the most important things for your podcast’s growth.”
“It’s so easy to get carried away with a new idea,” agrees Gosch. “Everything seems brighter and easier when we’re spinning it in our minds. We start listing everything we’re going to do – weekly, hour-long, perfectly edited episodes, custom graphics for each episode, a highly engaging social media presence – without thinking ahead about the work that’s going to take.”
This article first featured in the winter 2022 issue of FEED magazine.