iTunes is undoubtedly the most popular distribution channel for any podcast. After all, its very namesake is derived from the iPod. Setting your podcast up on iTunes will open your show up to a much larger pool of subscribers than you might find otherwise.
That said, iTunes doesn’t actually host or distribute your podcast. You still have to manage the RSS feed and hosting of your audio/video files yourself. The only thing Apple does is occasionally check your podcast’s feed for updates and adds them to your podcast’s listing in iTunes. After that, you’re pretty much on your own.
In order to take your podcast from a simple media file to iTunes, you’ll need to make sure a few things are in place. Here are some tips to help you set your podcast up in iTunes.
Create Your Feed
The very nature of podcasting is rooted in how updates are made available to your audience. Sure, you can make updates on your blog and link off to the file, but that alone doesn’t give subscribers what they need to automatically receive the latest episodes.
Creating your podcast’s feed can be done in a number of ways. You could go all out and hand-code the XML file yourself, which is preferred by advanced users as it gives you the highest level of control over what your audience sees when they pull the feed into their preferred aggregator. Apple provides an example feed in its Podcasting FAQ.
My personal favorite method for creating and maintaining this feed is a WordPress plug-in called podPress. podPress allows you to separate your blog from your podcast and customize how each update appears in a given feed. For example, it handles iTunes differently than the primary podcast feed, giving you the ability to take advantage of some of the features of iTunes that may not be present in other aggregators. You’ll need to have your own WordPress site in order to use this plug-in.
Podcast Generator is a web-based open source solution to creating and updating your podcast feed in as few steps as possible. You can set multiple podcasts up in a single installation, take advantage of Web or FTP upload capabilities, Web mp3 streaming player, and it works with virtually every type of media file type currently out there.
There are also a number of online feed-hosting services that can host your podcast feed for you, giving you additional tracking tools that can help you learn more about your audience. The downside of these services is that you never know when they might disappear. It does, however, allow you to essentially podcast absolutely free when used in conjunction with free file hosting services.
Submit to iTunes
Like pretty much anything that goes through Apple, podcasts have to go through a review process before they are approved for inclusion in the iTunes Music Store. This means you will need to submit your podcast for review. Once approved, it will appear alongside thousands of others in the music store, ready to be discovered and subscribed to by anyone.
Your podcast may be denied in the event of technical issues during review, password requirements, explicit language in the title, description, or cover art, disagreeable subject matter including child pornography and racism, and any use of Apple’s branding or property names that Apple deems misrepresentational.
Submitting your podcast is pretty easy. Just head over to the Podcast Submission Page which opens iTunes, allowing you to enter your podcast feed URL, effectively submitting it to Apple for review. You can also access this page directly through iTunes by opening the iTunes Store, clicking Podcast on the top menu, and choosing Submit a Podcast on the right-hand sidebar.
Whether you’re going through a scripted feed generator or rolling your own, there are some specific options and tags that set iTunes apart from other aggregators. While this may sound like a pain, some of these options can be quite useful to you.
For example, iTunes allows you to set your podcast (or any specific episode) up with an Explicit tag, enabling you to label episodes that might not be appropriate for a younger audience.
You can also tag video podcasts as being Closed Captioned or not. This makes your podcast easier to find for the deaf or hearing impaired, should you decide to add captioning to your video.
Let’s say you are done with your podcast, and you’ve published your last episode. You can add yes to the Complete tag to indicate that the series is finished.
Through the use of a tag, you can even changed your feed URL with iTunes, making it easier to switch from one server or hosting service to another without any break in your podcast.
There are a number of other features iTunes looks for in an RSS feed that can be beneficial to the podcaster. Apple provides a complete list on its podcasting FAQ.
Whether you personally use iTunes or not, being listed within the iTunes Music Store is the best way to make your show more discoverable. Millions of users around the world take advantage of iTunes search to find new content to enjoy. While it does add a level of complexity to your XML file, and perhaps an extra step or two to your publishing process, the results can be well worth the effort. In the world of podcasting, there’s iTunes — and everybody else.
Make yourself familiar with services such as FeedBurner and the many tools available for podcasters to assist in the management of your feed. These tools can cut the amount of time you spend managing your podcast, and give you more time to spend actually recording it.
Podcasting is one of the great equalizers of media. It enables everyday people to take part in a media creation process that was once reserved only for multi-million dollar studios and publishing houses. You have the ability to produce your own show, and make it available to a worldwide audience with the click of a button. In some cases, these relatively inexpensive productions have gone on to outperform even some of the most popular cable television shows.