I feel like I should open this article with the public service announcement that it is “for information purposes only”.
Podcasters are generally stats geeks, and if that's you, then you'll hopefully find this answers a few questions about having a show on the famous “front page of iTunes”.
This isn't an article about how it's essential to get on the front page yourself, or how it needs to be part of your podcast launch strategy.
Unarguably, having your podcast featured anywhere is a good thing. However, nothing is more important than creating a great show for the people who are already listening.
But of course, you already know that, so on with the main topic…
Our newest podcast Hostile Worlds, was featured in the front page of New & Noteworthy, in the US store of the Apple Podcasts and iTunes apps recently.
What is the Hostile Worlds Podcast?
It's a highly-produced audio drama-documentary hybrid about science and space.
Colin and I decided we wanted to make a show like this because
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- It's a topic we both love, and we thought it would be a lot of fun
- It would be a good showcase for our production services
How Was it Featured?
It’s important to stress that there’s no way to guarantee getting featured by Apple. You need to show Apple you’ll be publishing content that they reckon is feature-worthy. It’s also important to stress that said episode is not yet published.
Apple will consider featuring a podcast on their front page if it’s something topical or noteworthy. For example, if a show is going to have a famous guest on their show. This person must be widely famous – “someone your mum has heard of” – and not just “niche famous”. This might be an author or musician with a new book or album. Apple sells these products so they like to help market them.
A famous guest could also be a sports’ star ahead of a big final, or an actor around the time of a movie premier.
It doesn’t need to be due to a guest though. It might be because your episode will focus on a major event or news story. That was the case with Hostile Worlds, and the Cassini Mission to Saturn.
Why Was it Featured?
This was a brand new show, which launched in the second half of August.
Being new (or less than 8 weeks old) has little to do with it though, and that isn't a necessary criteria at all. Again, check out our article on Apple's podcast rankings for more on this.
The reason we submitted the show to Apple, was due to the content of our first few episodes.
We were covering some of the history of the Cassini mission to Saturn.
As we launched, Cassini was about to become one of the biggest news stories in the world. On the 15th September, it would plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, bringing down the curtain on 20 years of exploration in the Outer Solar System.
We thought that this was certainly “noteworthy”, and it seems that Apple agreed!
You’ll find the Apple submission form at thepodcasthost.com/appleform
Download Number Factors
Before we dive into the data, I want to stress that nobody can ever provide you with a one-size-fits-all indication of download numbers.
Other podcasts featured in exactly the same way as Hostile Worlds was, may have experienced completely different results.
So what can cause different shows to perform in different ways?
- Pre-existing Audience – a well-known celebrity launching a podcast will have a massive head start against someone launching their first show with no audience whatsoever.
- Topic – some of the more niche topics have engaged and fanatical audiences, but their numbers are “small” compared to broader topics.
- Number of Episodes – A series with 100 episodes will naturally accumulate more total downloads than a series with one single episode.
- External Factors – during the period we were featured, Apple were updating iOS/The Podcast App, Libsyn overhauled their stats delivery, and hurricanes were wreaking havoc throughout North and South America. There's always something going on somewhere that will affect podcast download numbers – either directly or indirectly.
Before the Front Page
The podcast seems to have first appeared on the front page of New & Noteworthy in the US store on the 5th September.
At this point we had two “episodes” on our feed, one was a trailer for the series, and the other was episode one.
We'd published the trailer on August 21st and episode one on August 28th, so the show had existed for two weeks at this point.
In this period we had an average of 71 downloads per day.
We'd published the trailer on our website, across our social media channels, and on five of our other podcasts as our main method of promotion.
On the Front of the Front Page
On the 5th September there was a sudden spike jumping from 26 total downloads the day before (our lowest ever day) to 241.
The next two days it climbed to 748 then 796. We released episode two on the 8th which pretty much doubled the recent total downloads to 1,447.
The next four days went 844, 860, 1020, and 921.
Then came our (to-date) best ever day for total downloads on the 13th September. I can't find any one particular reason for this, but it reached 1,928!
A Tweet From Apple
The day after our best download day, we hit 1,127.
Then, the next day was the 15th – the day of Cassini's grand finale.
Forget Saturn though, the big news was happening over a billion miles away, back on Earth.
Apple Podcasts tweeted the show out to their 482,000 followers.
On top of that, they posted it on their Facebook page with over 7000 followers.
On that day, we hit 874 total downloads. Then the next three days went 748, 704, and 721.
Still on the Front Page (if you scroll along a bit)
On the 19th, the store updated and we were moved over to the right of the display.
This meant that we were no longer one of the first shows people saw when they opened the app – they'd now need to scroll along to see us.
Naturally, this meant a drop in daily downloads. We went down to 309 on the 19th, then had an average total downloads of 208 over the next five days.
We released episode three on the 25th and the store was updated shortly after, removing us from N&N altogether.
That day we had 1,406, then it fell to 705, and 321.
1 Download = 1 Listener?
It's unrealistic to say that every download gained from the front page period would've been a full listen-through.
Many of these would be listeners briefly hitting play to check the first few seconds of the show out.
If they liked what they heard, they'd maybe then download or subscribe, which would further inflate the numbers.
Converting Downloads to Subscribers
It's obvious that being bang in the middle of the front page of the biggest podcast directory in the world will increase your numbers.
The easy part is sitting looking at the spikes in your stats. The hard part is trying to turn all these curious listens into actual subscribers.
Our call to action at the end of the trailer and episode one was simply to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts.
At the time of writing, episode one has 6,978 downloads, episode two 6,161, and episode three 2,295.
So 37% of listeners followed the podcast from episode two to episode three.
That gives us a much more accurate picture of how many people are subscribed to the show at this stage.
Top Podcasts Feature
One other factor that helps us to see that we gained a few subscribers from being featured was the show's inclusion in the Top Podcasts feature in the Science & Medicine category.
It looks like it reached as high as number three in this category, though generally seemed to float around the nine and ten marks.
Again, we have more in-depth info on how all these rankings work in this article. In short though, these charts, according to Rob Walch at Libsyn, are all “100% about the total number of new subscribers in the past 7 days, with a weighted average for the last 24, 48, and 72 hours”.
This was undoubtedly a pleasing experience for us. We'd put a tonne of work into Hostile Worlds and it was great that we had the opportunity to reach all these extra listeners.
As I keep stressing though, this was a bonus for us, and not a necessary part of launching the show. If we hadn't been featured, we'd have been every bit as enthusiastic about it as before.
The plan for Hostile Worlds remains simply to keep making episodes that the show's listeners will enjoy. And if it gets featured anywhere else in the future, then great.
Running a podcast is a long game, and can be a slow burn in terms of growth.
Getting in front of lots of potential listeners at once will bring you a big spike in downloads, but you still need to try and turn them into subscribers.
And the best way to do that is to cater to those who are already subscribed, and eagerly awaiting your next episode.
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