Are you drowning in podcast growth advice and wondering what actually works and what are myths that have just been perpetuated? In this episode, I am joined by Dan Misener as he busts the 3 most common podcast growth myths.
Dan Misener is a Co-Founder of Bumper, a podcast growth agency. He is an audio storyteller with nearly 20 years of experience, and has worked with hundreds of brands, networks, organizations, and institutions to increase their podcast success.
"The single biggest recommendation I have for any podcaster of any size in any industry doing any kind of show, is to spend the time upfront deeply understanding your audience, your intended audience, and what they are looking for." - Dan Misener
Dan Misener is a Co-founder of Bumper, a podcast growth agency. He is an audio storyteller with nearly 20 years of experience, and has worked with hundreds of brands, networks, organizations, and institutions to increase their podcast success.
With the latest coach or Guru always preaching a certain tactic, it is important to remember that there are no silver bullets when it comes to podcast growth.
As Dan and his team have learned from over two decades of experience, there is instead a rather long list of best practices that will increase a podcast's reach over time. He also advised that podcasters should spend time understanding their audience and what they're looking for, instead of making shows driven by what they want to say.
In this episode, you will learn the following:
EXCLUSIVE BONUS CONTENT Want to learn what Dan’s favorite tactic is for podcast growth and marketing with real examples of companies and podcasts who are doing it? We recorded bonus clips where Dan dives into the detail! Click here to unlock it
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Resources mentioned in this episode
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The thing that makes somebody good at producing episodes is not necessarily the same thing that makes people good at marketing those episodes. Hi, I'm Dan Misener. I am one of the cofounders at Bumper. We are a podcast growth agency.
I first came across Dan in a blog post that he wrote that was shared on Hot News. It was such a fascinating post because he had actually stumbled onto something that Apple podcasts are doing, something that actually completely changes the way that we think about podcast player SEO. But more on that later. So when we hopped on a call to formally meet each other, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit, someone who was equally, if not more nerdy than me about marketing and who has deep philosophical thoughts and views on all things podcast growth and marketing. In the space of 20 minutes, we spoke about a whole range of topics, from social media to the purpose of podcasting to the future of podcast marketing.
And that was when I knew that we had to get Dan on this podcast so that you could benefit from our conversation too. And given our conversation, I wanted to post Dan some different questions for you. Rather than his three top tips that he would share about growing a podcast, I wanted him to bust three common myths that we have about podcast marketing and what to do instead. So if you've been hearing a ton around things like how to use social media to grow your podcast or how to use your podcast player SEO and you want some of those myths busted, then this is the episode for you. My name is Deirdre Tshien, CEO and co founder of Capsho, the fastest way to grow and market your podcast.
And this is the Great my podcast show.
I started making audio nearly 20 years ago. I fell in love with radio through the campus community radio station in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the mighty CKDu 50 watt radio station. This was before podcasts existed. And I was so enthralled by the idea that you could walk into this campus community radio station, and if you paid your dues and you put in your volunteer hours, people would teach you how to make great radio. How to use a microphone, how to record your own voice, how to layer in music or sound effects, how to do interviews with people.
This idea of DIY media and this idea of anybody who has a story to tell or has music they want to share or is curious about a question that there was a space in the media ecosystem for that was expressly not meant to be commercial and not meant to be public broadcasting in the traditional sense of that word. And so I fell in love in the early 2000s with audio and radio storytelling and then in an attempt to turn that into my career, started pitching stories to the Canadian Broadcasting corporation. CBC Radio, which is the national public broadcaster here in Canada, sold some freelance pieces. The freelancing turned into a short term contract, the short term contract turned into longer term contracts. Eventually a full time position at CBC and then at CBC met all kinds of wonderful people, including my friend Steve Pratt, who founded Pacific Content, a podcast agency, in the mid twenty ten s.
I ended up working with Steve for about six or seven years, making original podcasts with brands at Pacific Content. And just a few months ago, in August of 2022, I left Pacific Content and started Bumper with my co-founder, Yonis Woost. We were really excited and continued to be really excited about this idea of a podcast growth agency. An agency that specializes not in making audio, lots of great shops that do that, but in working with podcasters, with networks. With organizations, institutions, brands, working with anybody who's got stories to tell and a message to get out, to increase the size of their audience and increase their podcast success.
I'm always curious about what makes people start the businesses that they do, because it tells me a lot about their perspectives and where they see the fundamental gaps in the market that they're operating in. So I needed to learn more about what Bumper actually does. I feel like there's this specialty that is just starting to emerge. There is a certain mindset and a certain toolkit that is required to grow the audience of a podcast or to increase the reach of a podcast. And those are related mindsets and skill sets and toolkits.
They're related to the skills that you might have when you produce shows, when you're writing scripts, or cutting tape, or choosing music, or coaching on-air talent. It's a related skill set, but it's distinct. And this is where Bumper's specialty comes into play, and it's where our experience and our expertise comes into play. And so we take a pretty deeply collaborative approach to the projects we work on and the clients we work with, because marketing on its own is not enough. You need to be able to market something that is marketable, that is designed to reach an audience, that is designed to serve those audiences, and needs to meet them where they are.
And so what does Bumper do? We work with our clients in part on the marketing and promotions of shows, which is an important component to growing an audience. But more than working on the marketing and promo, we also work with our clients on the marketability of their show. And so that really comes down to helping them better understand, or ideally, deeply understand, the audiences that they want to serve and the needs of those audiences and the competitive set. You cannot stand out from the crowd, you cannot cut through the clutter unless you understand what the clutter is.
And so to call us a marketing agency is true, but it's not the whole story. We work on both marketing and marketability because the best possible show, you can spend hours and hours, you could spend huge chunks of your life making perfect little gems of episodes, but without the marketing and promo, nobody's going to hear them. And the other version of that is true too. You can make crummy, mediocre, not very good episodes and market the pants off them, and maybe you'll trick somebody into listening once, but they're never, ever going to come back. And so for us, success means really high quality audio.
Marketable audio, well marketed. It turns out that when you ask most podcasters, would you like your audience to be larger? The response is usually yes. The challenge is many people don't know how to move the needle. Right.
Again, just because you're good at interviewing, or just because you're good at editing audio, or just because you're good at selecting music or all of the things that go into producing really high quality episodes, doesn't necessarily mean you are great at marketing audio. And so we realized that Bumper should exist when we looked around at the marketplace and no one was doing this, at least that we were able to see at an agency level serving enterprise podcasters. And we saw it partly by surveying the landscape and partly by listening to prospective clients, hearing their pain points. Right? When you spend time with podcasters, if you ask them what's hard, what's difficult, what's your biggest challenge, what do you wish was different about your show?
One of the most common responses is I want more listeners, or I want my listeners who do listen to have a bigger impact on our mission, on our business, whatever the goals are. And so how did we arrive at why Bumper should exist? Partly by surveying the landscape and realizing that there was an opportunity, but mostly by listening to our clients. And one of the biggest pain points that I think a lot of podcasters have is not reaching the audiences that they care about, or not reaching enough members of the audiences that they care about. That's what we've set out to do.
And so far, so good. Yes. And let me ask you a question, dear listener. Are you struggling with some of these things too? Are you also looking for more listeners?
Are you also looking for listeners to take action? Specifically, are you looking for ways to reach your ideal listeners who will view it as a no brainer to be part of your community, free or paid? If so, then hang with us. We're going to take a quick ad break and when we come back, we are going to get into the Three myths that Dan is going to help us bust about achieving exactly these outcomes. Dan Misener from Bumper has joined me for a little bit of a different take to podcast growth.
We are going to get into the Three Myths to Podcast growth. And marketing that he is going to bust for us and what it is that we should be doing instead. So let me know in this podcast fan page which link is in the show notes. Which of these myths that you've personally fallen victim to. An insight for me.
I've fallen victim to all of them. Yikes. Okay, so let's get into myth number one. The big myth is that there are silver bullets. The reality is that there's just a long list of best practices.
Maybe it's 150, maybe it's 200 best practices. And success in podcasting typically doesn't happen overnight through growth hacks. It typically happens slowly, incrementally over time when those best practices are adhered to and executed episode after episode after episode. So, yeah, no silver bullets, as much as I wish they existed, and it doesn't stop people from selling silver bullets, right? There are many companies and individuals out there who promise the podcast equivalent of a get rich quick scheme.
They promise that if you just do this one thing, your show is going to be an overnight success, or if you just make these three changes to your workflow, your show is going to be significantly more successful than it was last month, last year. I really dislike One size Fits all podcast growth advice. Because if I'm a small nonprofit trying to get my work or the communities that I serve highlighted to get more attention to further our mission driven organization's goals, that's very different than if I am a stand up comic. And I want more people to come to my show next week or I want more people to send me money through Patreon or any of the other direct patronage options that are out there. And so why on earth would a small nonprofit use the same growth tactics as a comedian when their goals are entirely different, when success looks very different for them?
And so I think Bumper exists in part to dispel the myth that there is one size fits all advice that is universally applicable to all shows and to promote the idea that what works for you may not work for someone else. And what worked for Joe Rogan or what worked for Alex Cooper or what worked for Terry Gross at Fresh Air may not be the same thing that's going to rocket you to success. And so I think we're talking about myths that could or should be dispelled. One of them is silver bullets. We definitely started with a big one there.
There are no silver bullets. So what would Dan recommend that we do instead? I think the single biggest recommendation I have for any podcaster of any size in any industry doing any kind of show, the biggest piece of advice I have is to spend the time upfront deeply understanding your audience, your intended audience, and what they are looking for. What do they want to know? Who do they want to hear from?
What stories are they most interested in? What problems do they have in their lives? And then make the show that scratches that itch make the show that solves the problem. Make the show that is worth spending time with. So often I see what I might call failures of empathy for the listener.
Podcasters make shows driven mostly by what they want to say and not driven by what audiences actually want to hear. And so the first and best practice is to do the work, spend the time and understand what your ideal listeners or what your intended audiences actually want. What are they reading, what are they watching? What other shows are they listening to? And then making a show that is in fact distinctive and intended to serve that audience rather than to serve your own ego as a podcaster.
Right? And I think this is especially important for anybody who is a B to B podcaster or anybody who is trying to market their own business through audio. One of the biggest traps is spending way more time focused on what you want to say and not nearly enough time on what listeners actually want to hear from you. It's the audio equivalent of being the person at the party who only talks about themselves. Yeah, it usually starts with a competitive analysis, right?
And so you're right, we do, we do some work with brands and often brands have pretty well developed documentation around their brand voice, around their intended audiences. Many of them have done persona work or similar kinds of work. And we start really when we're designing a new show with a client by looking at what already exists. And so what that typically means is either on a category by category basis, looking at what shows already exist, what is already popular, and then listening to those shows to achieve the goal of not making your version of someone else's show. Right.
You sort of need to survey the landscape in order to make something original, to make something creative, to make something that hasn't been done before. And so this is work, this is, this is serious work. And I typically recommend to anybody who's starting a show for the very first time or launching a brand new series, do the work up front and understand what your intended audience is already listening to, then go listen to a bunch of those shows and then figure out that what you can do that's different. Because the world does not need another version of the same show. The world needs something that is unique, that only you could make.
Right? And I don't know what that unique angle is. For some people it's their worldview, for some people it's their access. For some people it's their expertise. But there's got to be some reason why somebody would choose your show over someone else's.
And a really easy shortcut to having mediocre audience numbers is to basically do your version of somebody else's show. Oh, man, that hit me hard. Because you may not know this, but I've started five different podcasts in the space of two years. And the big reason why so many of those did not work was exactly because of this. Because I started very much from the place of what is it that I want to be talking about?
Rather than who am I trying to talk to and what did they want to listen to? I'm sure I'm probably not alone here. Come on, then, don't be shy. Let me know if this was you too. So sometimes it's easy to say this or to hear it and be like, Duh.
But the reality of figuring this out is a whole nother story. So how do we actually go about doing this? When I was at a previous company, Pacific Content, we were lucky enough to work with the software company Red Hat. They make software open source software and one of their most important audiences is software developers. And the great advantage that Red Hat has when interacting with their audiences is they're often in the same space as their audiences.
Right. Red Hat is a big software company. They go to conferences, they go to industry events, they go to trade shows where software developers are. And so when I got to work with Red Hat, I was so impressed by their approach, because it didn't start by asking, what does Red Hat want to say to software developers? It started with a deep understanding of what software developers want to hear.
How did they get that? They went to industry events, they went to conferences, and they carved out the time to talk to software developers. Representatives from Red Hat at these conferences engage software developers and ask them questions like, what podcasts do you listen to? Why do you turn podcasts on? Are you looking for technical information?
Are you looking for community? Are you looking for fellowship? Are you looking for the name of a particular software package? Is it about leadership? Is it about business?
Or is it about the tactical day to day of becoming a programmer or being a software developer? And so if you've got the time and the bandwidth to do that kind of work, there is no substitute for regularly being in community with the audience that you intend to serve. One way to do that is to be in the same places. Those can be physical places, like a conference or a trade show floor. It can also be virtual spaces, right?
Paying attention to fan communities online, paying attention to where your intended audience tends to congregate and hang out. I just don't think there's any substitute for doing that work and meeting with and understanding the audience and what you can offer them that nobody else can. Is this starting to spark some ideas for you? It certainly did for me. I'll be at Podfest soon and this is a place full of my ideal target listeners.
So I'm really looking forward to having these conversations and asking people what it is that might currently be missing from what they're already listening to. And by the way, Dan goes into even more depth on this with examples of real companies and podcasts that he's seen do this and how they've done it. So what I'm going to do is to make that a free bonus clip that you can access through the show notes. So if you wanted to access that bonus clip, then go ahead and access them in the show notes now. And with that, let's head over to myth number two.
And this is a big one, it's a bit of a bugbear of mine, right? Social media. I wanted to hear Dan's thoughts on the efficacy of social media to help us promote and grow our podcasts. I don't want to say it's impossible to use social media to grow the reach of your show. I will say that in our experience, it can be very difficult and the returns on investment, especially when it comes to paid social, tend not to move the needle in a cost per download lens.
And I say that in part because we've run a lot of campaigns and we've measured a lot of campaigns. And when you compare paid social posts to other kinds of tactical activations, like, for example, paid audio promos in a highly relevant third party podcast or feed drops or collaborative episodes or any of these other tactical pieces, when you compare paid social to nearly anything else and you use a cost per download, the cost per download tends to be really high. Again, I'm not saying that you can't get a low cost per download. I'm saying that it's really difficult and that historically we've not seen a lot of success there. People want paid social to work and I think people want paid social to work in part because it's easy to buy.
It's way easier to pull out your credit card and go to your social platform of choice and buy some ads. It's very easy to do that. It's way harder to research relevant shows for your audience, get in touch with the producers or the hosts of those relevant shows, figure out what a promo swap or a paid feed drop might look like, and then deal with all of the follow up required to actually execute that campaign. No contest. Paid social is easier to buy, but in our experience, it doesn't perform nearly as well as the stuff that's harder to buy.
And I think that's one of the reasons that paid social is appealing. I think one of the reasons that paid social tends not to be effective on a cost per download basis is that you are swimming upstream. When you buy paid social ads for a podcast, you are asking your listeners to leave where they are and jump somewhere very different. If I buy ads on Twitter or I buy ads on Instagram. You're asking people to move from a modality where they are in short form mode, where they are in snack mode, where they are scrolling through maybe even an entirely different media type like an image or a video and you're asking them to go from snack mode to full meal mode.
I have never been scrolling through my social feeds. I like Instagram, I like to scroll through Instagram. I like to see nice photos and videos of my friends, animals and kids and love that. I've never been on Instagram and thought I'm in the mood for an hour long meaty conversation about systemic injustice. I'm never looking for that when I'm in bite size scroll mode.
I've never been on social and thought, oh, I wish there was a multipart long form documentary that I could spend 8 hours on. Right, so there's that mode switch and then there's also just the friction that the platforms themselves introduce. If I tap on a relevant link in Instagram to get to a podcast app, it's going to throw potentially scary, are you sure you want to leave Instagram and are you sure you want to open Spotify or the podcast app or whatever else you've linked to? And so I think social, especially paid social, we tend not to see a lot of results from on a cost per download basis, partly because there's just inherent friction in the social platforms and because you're asking listeners to really switch from a snack mode to a full meal mode. So interesting.
Okay, so this is definitely a myth that I've fallen for promoting on social media. And it actually reminds me of something that Mark Ascott spoke about in episode 42 of this show too. That social media is great for brand and podcast awareness, but a bizarre in actually converting followers into listeners. So if you've been following me on social media at all, especially Instagram, you may have noticed that my activity on there in terms of promoting my podcast has definitely gone down. Definitely gone down and what I've been testing on with on other platforms, rather than posting just about a new podcast episode going live, we're taking that theme or that topic and we're focusing more on how we use it to create engagement instead.
So we're really transitioning from promotion to engagement. It's something we've been experimenting with and have therefore also started building into Capsho. So capture now not only generates social media promotional content for your podcast, but also engagement and educational content specifically for social media. So if you've been tearing your hair out trying to be on social media all the time about your podcast, then you can now rest easy. Okay?
That's what we learned in Busting myth number two. Okay, so now we're at myth number three, which is another big one. This is all about podcast player SEO and specifically the future of podcast player SEO. I mentioned at the very beginning of this episode that I actually first came across Dan because of what he discovered Apple podcast was doing. And so I wanted him to explain that in a little bit more detail and specifically what it means for what we do with our titles and descriptions.
So this fall, the fall of 2022, I was poking around in the preview pages in Apple podcasts for shows and episodes. In Apple podcasts there is a corresponding web view and you can visit it in any web browser and you can right click View Source and you can see all sorts of stuff on that page. And I'm pretty familiar with what's in the guts of those pages. And one day I noticed something unusual, something I had never seen before, which was a section called Topics. Now, none of this is displayed on screen anywhere.
These are essentially topics that are hidden or just not displayed in the main visible part of the website. But in that source code, you can see a list of topics per episode. And my best guess is that Apple is using their speech technologies, listening to some large number of podcast episodes, generating machine or robot transcriptions from those, and then using natural language processing techniques like topic extraction to take a robo transcript and turn it into a list of relevant topics. And so for not all but many episodes that are in the Apple podcasts directory, you can find topics. And these topics often include words and phrases that do not appear in the episode title, do not appear in the episode description, but appear to.
And this is the only way I can think of that they would have been able to do this, appear to have been extracted from transcripts or probably BroBo transcripts. So that's what I saw. And when I saw it, I was very intrigued and it made me wonder how many of these topics are there and what could we do with this data? The biggest takeaway that I have from finding these topics is that podcast SEO goes way beyond the textual elements of your show. It is absolutely important to have well written episode titles.
It's important to have well written and well crafted episode descriptions or show notes or episode notes. And I know this is something that is near and dear to your heart and you've got some wonderful tools that help people do that. So yes, all of those textual elements do matter and they are an important part of your product packaging. What this Apple Topics data seems to suggest to me though, is that podcast SEO is more than just the text that you type into boxes. It includes every single word that is uttered in your show and how a machine learning model or how an AI system chooses to interpret and extract topics from those words, which is in some ways scary and in other ways.
Really a wonderful thing that even if I didn't include a particular person's name or a particular city's name in my episode description, that it might actually be surfaced in a search for that topic. I think that is a wonderful thing. Of course, the other big takeaway for podcasters, individual podcasters, is that unlike the textual elements that you and I can directly control, change the title, change the description, these transcripts are not something that you or I can correct as creators, right? If there was a mistranscription or if there was a homonym that was spoken and was misinterpreted or mischaracterized, there's no way to change what Apple's system thinks your episode is about. And so that's where I worry a little bit that traditionally most of our podcast metadata has been directly within the creator's hands.
You want to change the title of your episode, you can change the title of your episode and there's nobody standing in your way to do that. Whereas with these machine transcriptions and the topics that come out of them, if they're wrong, I don't know what you're supposed to do. We hear a lot of varying opinions on what to do with our episode description. So, for example, should we be using the Max character limit to give its best chance of ranking in a podcast player? Maybe.
But more and more, as we can see, it's going to make less and less of a difference, which completely aligns with my philosophical stance that we shouldn't playing the beat the algorithm or beat the machine game. We know from the gambling industry that the machine will always win. So going back to myth number one about creating content relevant to our audience, and if we create descriptions designed to give them the right amount of information they need to decide whether or not they're going to press play on your episode, that's really what we should be focusing on. It's the same with Google SEO. How we actually help our pages rank is to actually give the user engaging, useful, relevant content.
If we can do that, then Google will just rank for us. Let's not play around with keyword stuffing or play that keyword stuffing game or try to beat the machine because the machine will always win. And on that note, Dan and I actually went into exploring the future role of AI in podcasting and specifically how it can help your podcast get discovered by your audience. So if you want to access that bonus clip, you can do that in the show notes too. Wow, this was a big episode.
Busting some common myths that we get told about podcast marketing and growth. Let me know. Your thoughts are in this podcast fan page. Have you fallen victim to one, two, or three of these myths? What have you been doing in each of these areas?
And what will you look to do instead? Or maybe it's already working for you. Either way, I'd love to know. And a reminder that you can. Grab two bonus clips from this episode in the show notes.
And if you want to learn more from Dan, here's where you can do it. We have a website. We are Bumper.com, and that's where you can find all the articles that we write. So I've done some writing recently about Apple podcasts topics. We have a newsletter you can sign up for from Bumper.com.
So that would be the place? Yeah, that's it. That's the place. Thanks for hanging with us on this episode, and as always, stay awesome.
Dan Misener is a Co-Founder of Bumper, a podcast growth agency. He is an audio storyteller with nearly 20 years of experience, and has worked with hundreds of brands, networks, organizations, and institutions to increase their podcast success.
Here are some great episodes to start with.