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What Is a Podcast?

When you think of something that’s “mainstream”, your mind wanders to Netflix, yoga, or smartphones. It’s the brands, people, or activities that both a 10 or 80-year-olds know about without much explanation. When things become this ubiquitous, they start to influence our behavior and culture. Having that amount of impact is why being mainstream is so powerful, and why so many strive to reach it.

Getting to this level of prominence is a landmark occasion. And as of 2019, podcasts have made it. Tom Webster, SVP at Edison Research sums it up perfectly. He says, “This is a watershed moment for podcasting–a true milestone. With over half of Americans 12+ saying that they have ever listened to a podcast, the medium has firmly crossed into the mainstream.”

Edison Research’s data shows  212 million Americans are aware of podcasting. But, that also means there’s a remaining 119 million people still in the dark, waiting to discover the enthralling content podcasts have to offer. To educate the other half of the population, this article is the guide to define what a podcast is and how it all started. 

What Is a Podcast: Defined

The first question for someone who has never listened to a podcast is, “what is a podcast?” It’s name doesn’t immediately tell you what it is or does, so the easiest answer is a basic definition.

According to Merriam-Webster, a podcast is “a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet.” But regurgitating a dictionary definition isn’t going to win over any new listeners so let’s break it down into plain English.

One of the beautiful things about podcasts is that there are multiple ways to describe them. But a few keywords do define the basics of podcasting. Namely, podcasts cover almost any topic, are typically free and on-demand. This means anyone can access them, at any time, about any one thing and across a variety of platforms, all for free. To put it into context, these simple definitions do the trick:

  • Podcasts are audio content similar to talk radio shows or e-books. 

  • Podcasts are about anything and everything, exactly how radio, books, television, or movies explore every topic under the sun.

  • Podcasts are free to access across desktop and mobile devices. Anyone can listen to a podcast with an internet connection and a pair of headphones. 

How to Listen to a Podcast

The last plain English definition is where many of the uninitiated get tripped up. It’s easy to grasp that podcasts are essentially a talk radio show, but how does one tune in? Luckily, there are options! Here’s how it works across multiple devices.

On a website via a desktop computer.
  1. Open a browser like Google Chrome or Firefox on a desktop computer.

  2. Google search for the podcast’s name and find their website.

  3. The most recently published episode will likely be on the homepage. Find the player, make the computer’s sound is on, and click play.

On an iPhone or iPad.
  1. Search for the Apple Podcasts app that comes installed with the device.

  2. Open the Podcast app and click the magnifying glass to open the Search page. 

  3. Search for the podcast’s name and click the correct result.

  4. The podcast’s listing will show every currently published episode. Click the play button on the episode that’s most intriguing.

  5. Bonus step: If you want to be notified when that podcast publishes a new episode in the future, click the “Subscribe”. This will automatically download every new episode to the Apple Podcasts app going forward. 

On an Android phone.
  1. Search for the Google Play Music app that comes installed with the device.

  2. Open the Play app and magnifying glass to open the Search page.

  3. Search for the podcast’s name and click the correct result.

  4. The podcast’s listing will show every currently published episode. Click the play button on the episode that’s most intriguing.

  5. Bonus step: If you want to be notified when that podcast publishes a new episode in the future, click the “Subscribe”. This will automatically download every new episode to the Google Play app going forward. 

How Did Podcasting Start?

The timeline of how podcasts started out begins in 2004, only a mere 15 years ago. Software developer, Dave Winer, and MTV video jockey, Adam Curry, are known as the godfathers of podcasting. That same year, The Guardian journalist, Ben Hammersley, coined the term “podcast”. A portmanteau of iPod and broadcast, the word was meant to explain a new wave of amateur internet radio shows that could be downloaded from the web. 

From there, podcasting started to interest the American public with people starting to search for the term on Google. Google Trends shows the term “podcast” started gaining popularity around October 2004, just a few months after Hammersley’s article.  

With a way to describe the new media content, more and more people started entering the industry. In 2006, Steve Jobs demonstrated how to record a podcast using GarageBand during his annual keynote conference. And by June 2013, Apple announced they hit 1 billion podcast subscribers on iTunes. 

Then in 2014, the series ‘Serial’ by this American Life was released and captivated millions with the story of Adnan Syed’s potentially wrongful murder conviction. The show was the quickest podcast to reach five million downloads and led to an increase in podcast listening overall.

The ubiquity of smartphones and the ease of tuning in through a variety of listening platforms are credited with the increase in podcasting’s popularity. As of January 2020, there are over 900,000 podcasts available and 104 million people listening to one at least once a month.

Benefits of Podcasting for Businesses

In order to discover and engage with a wider variety of customers, businesses need to distribute content where they already gather. By creating a podcast, brands open themselves up to a potentially untapped customer base and connect with them in an authentic way. The benefits of podcasting for businesses not only relates to increased sales but also brand awareness. 

Increased traffic generation. 

Like other marketing efforts, podcast episodes should include a CTA (call-to-action) that encourages listeners to take a next step. Common CTAs include subscribing to the podcast, signing up for a brand’s newsletter, or visiting their website. By adding a podcast to a marketing mix, brands have a new channel to distribute their CTAs to generate more site traffic and subscribers. 

Another benefit of podcasting is the increased amount of content it creates. Brands can add a podcast specific section to their blog that houses every episode. Each episode post creates additional SEO opportunities to grow organic traffic. It also increases the amount of rich media on the page to boost the SEO ranking.

Easy to create. 

In Ben Hammersley’s 2004 article for The Guardian, he highlights the extremely low barriers to entry for anyone to create a podcast. Fifteen years later, not much has changed. To start a podcast, a brand needs three things: a microphone, recording and editing software, and a podcast hosting service

Investing no more than $100, a company can produce a podcast and reach the 155 million listeners in the United States. For brands with larger budgets, hiring a dedicated podcast team or outside production agency makes it even easier for the industry. 

Highly engaging.

Listeners report feeling a close bond with podcast hosts and trust their product recommendations over other advertisements. And it’s easy to imagine why. Podcasts are based in spoken word storytelling, offering a more intimate connection compared to written content. Brands should prioritize finding host talent who understands this influence to capitalize on building trust with their audience.

As an added benefit, podcasts are set up similar to addictive TV shows. They’re highly bingeable and engaged listeners won’t hesitate to listen to an entire back catalog to catch up. An enticing podcast benefits businesses over the long term as episodes are always on demand across apps like Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Build relationships with a target audience. 

A basic building block of marketing is meeting an audience where they are. As of 2020, the demographics of podcast listeners runs the gamut–there is about an even split of male and female listeners across every major age group. Meaning there is a community of almost every target audience searching for podcasts.

Better yet, the medium can cover niche topics to reach a smaller, but more engaged ideal listener base. Apple Podcasts alone has over 67 primary and sub categories to choose from. For example, if a brand sells subzero weather apparel, starting a podcast about extreme winter sport athletes would appeal to their target market. Listeners gain value from exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes details about the sport while brands can weave in how their products protect the athletes.

Improves public speaking skills. 

It’s no secret that podcasting is an audio-based medium. Great podcasts rely on seasoned hosts who can keep listeners engaged until the end, and then push play on the next episode. Consistently producing new episodes improves public speaking skills sets for a company’s public facing employees. 

Businesses benefit as employees get better at effectively conveying company marketing messages. As more listeners connect with the podcast, there’s more opportunities to turn them into customers.

Bonus: Enter the podcasting industry as a sponsor.

While starting a podcast doesn’t require much, there’s another popular avenue businesses can benefit from. Podcast sponsorships have similar opportunities to reach a target audience and have the host authentically recommend their products. 

The industry’s advertising revenue is projected to reach $1B by 2021. The increased demand signals the opportunity for returns on investment. If a company is debating the benefits of podcasting, purchasing sponsored ads within relevant shows can provide a proof of concept. 

Steps for Creating a Podcast 

Creating a podcast follows a straight-forward process that doesn’t stray far from traditional marketing exercises. Determining the podcast’s format and promotional plan should be built from the objectives of a business’ other content distribution channels. With the addition of purchasing audio equipment and software, we’ll walk you through each step on how to start a podcast.

Choose topic and name.

Choosing a podcast topic should hinge on this question from Pacific Content, “how do I create a podcast for my audience?”. Not “how do I create an audience for my podcast?”. The basis of the show should fulfill the audience’s need–either solving a problem, educating, or entertaining. Narrow down the list by eliminating options that don’t generate a genuine interest from the host or marketing team. Remember, podcasts should publish new content consistently, so a lack of interest will shine through if the topic is lackluster. 

With a topic in hand, next comes the name. Podcast names don’t need to follow any traditional framework but there are a few criteria to keep in mind:

  1. Remember standard SEO rules. Think about how the intended audience searches for information related to the topic. Include those keywords in the name for a better chance at appearing in search results.

  2. The podcast’s host will say the name multiple times throughout each episode so make sure it rolls off the tongue. Avoid hard to pronounce words and make sure it isn’t a mouth full.

  3.  Avoid overly clever titles that need explanations. This hurts the searchability if the play on words or obscure spelling isn’t obvious to someone who wants to Google the podcast later. 

Episode format. 

The diversity in podcast formats is where this medium really shines. The structure should complement the topic and align with the intended audience’s preferred format. However, analyze the competitive landscape to see how podcasts with similar topics format their shows. If every single one is interview-based, use this as an opportunity to offer a different style to satisfy the target audience’s needs in a new way. 

There’s always the option to create a show that is completely original but to get started, these are the most popular formats:

  1. Monologue: one host who speaks the entire episode, telling a story or sharing their personal expertise and experience.

  2. Co-hosted: two or more hosts having a conversation about their experiences or expertise.

  3. Interviews: one or more hosts interviewing different guests each episode.

  4. Call-in: one or more hosts field questions or comments from audience members.

A podcast can weave together multiple formats for different segments throughout a single episode. However, it’s important to follow a consistent style so the audience knows what to expect each time they tune in.

Cover art creation.

A podcast’s cover art is the thumbnail image that appears across podcasting apps like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. It’s inevitable that the target audience will judge the podcast by its cover, so it’s key to create polished graphics. Many brands choose to include their logo or feature the host’s face if they’re well-known talent. Make sure the podcast’s name is legible across multiple sizes as listeners will primarily see it on their cellphones. 

But no matter the design, the final asset must follow these restrictions to adhere to Apple Podcasts’ requirements:

  • A square, 1:1 ratio

  • Specs are at least 1400 by 1400 pixels

  • In JPG or PNG format

Intro and exit music. 

Podcast episodes shouldn’t abruptly start but rather hook listeners with an introduction. Intros typically explain the podcast’s tagline or purpose, the host’s names, a musical jingle, and what the episode covers. Exit music, or outros, are also a common addition to professional sounding podcasts. This is where the production credits live and is the perfect subtle transition to the end of the episode.

Royalty-free music is a must for any podcast’s intro or outro. There are options available at Incompetech, The Free Music Archive, and Danosongs. 

Equipment selection. 

A few pieces of relatively inexpensive audio equipment can take a podcast from amateur to polished. Most veteran podcasters recommend this set up:

  • AudioTechnica microphone: the USB hookup offers minimal setup and is easy for a beginner host to master a clear speaking tone.

  • A pop filter: reduce plosive sounds with his squishy microphone addition. It reduces the harshness of words that create a lot of wind noise in an audio recording (for example, powerful or please). 

  • Over-the-ear headphones: while iPhone earbuds will do, stepping up to a pair that fits over the ears will help the recorder hear their voice more clearly.

Audio recording and editing software. 

Once equipment is purchased, it’s time to hook it up to a recording software to start capturing episodes. Choosing the right software depends on if the podcast needs local or remote recording capabilities. 

Local recording software

Local recordings are when each person being recorded is located in the same room. Everyone has their own microphone and is recorded on a separate audio track. The most widely used local recording software is Audacity because it’s free and easy to use. 

Remote recording software

Remote recordings are when each person being recorded is located in a different place. Again, everyone has their own microphone and is recorded on a separate audio track. The most popular remote recording softwares include Zoom, SquadCast, and Zencastr

Editing software 

After the podcast episode is recorded using either a local or remote software, it needs to be edited for the final cut. The most widely used editing software options include [tk link] Audacity , Hindenburg Pro, and Adobe Audition. Audacity has the lowest learning curve and is free as well. Both Hindenburg and Adobe Audition offer more bells and whistles but require a paid subscription.

Submission to podcast hosting provider. 

A common misconception about podcasts is that someone can upload it directly to a listening app for people to find. However, this isn’t how the technology works. Instead, podcasts run on RSS feeds that are connected to each podcast listening app. In order to create a podcast RSS feed, a brand needs to upload the episode audio files to a podcast hosting provider. Each time new content is uploaded, the hosting provider automatically updates the RSS feed and sends the information to each app.

Popular podcast hosting providers include Castos and Anchor. Each service will host, or store, the podcast’s audio files and distribute them to the target audience.


The last, and potentially most important part of producing a podcast, is promoting each new episode. A podcast should be marketed across all major channels like social media, newsletters, and blog posts. Start with the platforms where the target audience already gathers to drive more listens. And similar to promoting written content, tailoring the promotion to each channel is the best way to generate more engagement. 

Currently, audiograms are the new trendy way to attract listeners. With social media platforms favoring video posts, audiograms are subtitled video clips that feature a soundbite worthy moment. Tools like Headliner and Wavve offer easy, no-code solutions to create these assets for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

As a bonus, consider converting the entire podcast episode into a video. With 2 billion monthly active users, brands can reach more of their target audience by republishing episodes YouTube. 

Executive Summary 

Podcasting is a young industry at just 15 years old. Much of the technology that started the medium, like RSS feeds and low barriers to entry, still remain today. Now that they have entered the mainstream, this is the tipping point where more people will start seeking out this content. 

Given the rise in popularity, this is the right time for businesses to consider the benefits of podcasting. It’s a chance to create an authentic connection with the target audience that drives multiple company initiatives forward. To get started, brands can keep it simple with an affordable recording setup and an easy-to-use podcast hosting platform. After considering the competitive landscape and crafting a show that provides new value to a listener base, businesses will start reaping these benefits and differentiate themselves from the pack.

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