Every podcast app displays three things by default: audio player, artwork and show notes. While audio and artwork are the reason your listeners are there, podcast show notes are a valuable springboard for them to engage with your show both during and after playback. While they’re listening, they can pull up the show notes and click through to a homepage, blog or Podchaser page to express their feedback on the episode. You’ve done the work of getting the audio up, but that’s really only half the game. People listen with their eyes and are often browsing your podcast show notes while listening. Make them count. Here’s how.
Links and mentions
We’ve all heard a host say something like this on a podcast: “I’m looking at a really interesting photograph of a crowd of people who appear to be suspended in mid-air. This is the artwork of Chinese photographer Li Wei. I’ll put the picture in the show notes for this episode.” Doesn’t that just make you immediately want to go and check it out?
As podcasting converges with TV, hosting platforms are becoming more visual by adding elements like customizable show notes and transcriptions. Properly formatted show notes are a great way to earn the confidence of your listeners and get a few more clicks on your site. Well-crafted show notes will have a link to the picture clearly labeled somewhere near the top. With proper show notes, you just got someone to visit your site. Once they’re there, they’ll poke around. If they like what they see, they’ll subscribe. And, hey presto! A new fan.
Include an accurate transcription
It’s a good idea to have a transcript available somewhere. Most podcast hosting services are starting to make auto-generated transcripts available to listeners in-app. You can also upload your episode to YouTube and link to the video, which will generate captions for you. A transcript can also be hosted in full text on an episode page of your site.
Make your transcript accurate. Despite the awesomeness of AI-powered transcription tools like Descript and Otter, we still don’t have any that can convert audio to text with 100% accuracy. When checking, spot the nonsense. For example, a speaker might say: “The area around the factory used to be farmland.” But in the transcription, it reads: “The air around the factory used to be farmland.” Because “air” is also an English word, the sentence will still pass a spell check.
The key to a perfectly readable transcript is to take the extra, time-consuming step of giving the text a final read-through. Yeah, it’s a bit boring. But if you’re asking ‘who cares’, just take a look at your favourite shows and see how few errors their transcripts contain. None? Now that’s a pro show!
Show notes UX and page readability
Your podcast show notes should be laid out in a way that’s pleasing to the user. Relevant links should be closer to the top. Reward the user for clicking through by making the thing they’re likely there for easy to find.
How do we layout the show notes to make the reading experience look and feel better to the user? A minute of speech is typically around 150 words. So even a short 20-minute podcast episode will have a transcript of 3000 words, not even counting the links and other elements of your show notes. That’s a huge chunk of content to fit on a page, especially on a mobile phone. We have to break up the text and label sections.
Using speaker headings is a good start. Most transcription software will recognize and designate a heading (eg ‘Speaker 1’) each time someone speaks. Before exporting the text, you can rename that placeholder to ‘Peter’ or whatever the speaker’s name is. The result is a series of paragraph headers throughout the text that change every time the speaker changes.
Podcast apps all display show notes differently
Typically, podcast listeners are viewing the show notes in their podcast app. So as the show creator, you’re kinda at the mercy of the app in terms of layout and formatting. Some apps will automatically create HTML links from your input, others use markdown to display the text and the link alongside it in brackets. You can’t control how your show notes look on all players, so best to keep it simple. Take inspiration from shows like NPR and your biggest influences to see how they lay out their show.
This compatibility issue is also a good reason to have your own podcast website. Instead of including an info dump in the listener’s app, you can simply put a brief description and a ‘more’ link to your homepage. Then you can more tastefully include images, videos and format links to make the user experience more sexy and pleasing to the eye.
What goes in the podcast show notes?
Common items within show notes include:
- A brief description of the contents of the episode and a link to where people can find out more.
- A subscribe link and a link to your own website if you have one.
- A link to a transcript is a nice touch and shows that you care about accessibility.
- If you’re using music, credit the artist or provider.
- Links to crowdfunding sites like Patreon or Ko-Fi.
- An email signup link to notify users when there’s a new episode, or a premium subscription link to let fans know they can power the show.
- A cluttered, messy dump of a text document (which looks nice in Google Docs but not in a podcast app)
- Long blocks of text are next to useless.
- Affiliate links can be ugly, but work if your podcast is more sales-focused than brand-focused.
- Poorly formatted text filled with HTML tags looks horrible
Make sure you preview and refine your show notes in actual podcast apps. Checking out how your show looks on a friend’s phone is actually something fun to do together. Might also result in a new subscriber!
Podcasting still has a major problem: there’s no central place to comment on an episode. Centralized commenting is still beyond our reach. At the time of writing, YouTube is entering the podcast game. The way YouTube facilitates comments is very close to ideal, and making this accessible to podcasters may well be a game-changer.
But for now, we’ll have to work out ways to get our listeners to engage with us. The show notes are currently the best way to direct our listeners’ attention to our own home turf. Get some good-looking, relevant and concise show notes which display nicely across all podcast apps and you’ll find more interest in your show. Check out an example of a show with great podcast show notes. And when you’re ready, contact Saw and Sine about producing your podcast today.