How to Get a Podcast to the Top of iTunes in 8 Weeks — With No Audience or “Celebrity” Guests [Case Study]

podcast launchPodcast Week rolls on!

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Today I’m going to share the exact strategies and steps I took to get The Side Hustle Show to the top of the iTunes New and Noteworthy charts.

Why Should You Care?

Apple gives new podcasts an 8-week takeoff period in which they have an easy-to-capitalize-on opportunity to gain listeners. They call it “New and Noteworthy,” and it is aggressively positioned inside the iTunes interface.

When launching a new show, the New and Noteworthy section for your category is absolutely the most important place to be, and your best chance at reaching a massive audience of new listeners.

Apple positions this ABOVE even the “What’s Hot” podcasts, giving the new shows priority placement and valuable screen real estate. It’s an amazing opportunity for big-time exposure.

Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?

number 1 in business new and noteworthy with arrowCheck me out, enjoying my 15 minutes.

What About Android Users?

The whole world isn’t made up of Apple users! What about the rest of us?

What about them. They’ll still be there when your limited window of  iTunes time is up.

Focus.

Note: I did launch on Stitcher as well, which has an excellent Android app, but to my knowledge they don’t offer up such prime real estate to newbies so I opted not to spend any time promoting there.

Hold Back, and then Release

I purposely waited until I had 4 episodes recorded, edited, and published before submitting my podcast feed to iTunes. Why?

Because their ranking algorithm uses the number of downloads as a factor. If I only had two episodes available for download at launch, I’d have cut my download potential in half right out of the gate.

Now obviously there’s a sweet spot on how long you should hold back, depending on how often you plan on publishing and the size of your existing audience.

The more episodes you launch with, the fewer people you’ll have to reach to attain a certain volume of downloads.

Because of this, the smaller your existing audience, the more episodes you’ll want to have ready to go when you submit to iTunes.

Work the Network

Let’s address the audience question. I think Chris Ducker put together an excellent post on launching a podcast earlier this year. In fact, prior to reading that I didn’t realize there was any strategy to it all.

But my major issue with Chris’ post is he had a sizeable online following already (35,000 twitter followers), and launched with some pretty big-name online “celebrity” guests. In fact, his first 3 guests have more than 130,000 twitter followers combined.

My first 3 guests? About 860.

Disclaimer: I have a lot of love for ALL my guests for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their entrepreneurial wisdom. I’m merely using twitter followers here to make a point about “reach.” Probably not a perfect metric, but let’s just go with it for a minute.

When I launched, I literally had 11 people on my email list.

Eleven.

But the New and Noteworthy section is still ripe for the picking, even if you don’t have any audience to start with and aren’t launching with “big name” guests.

So what did I do? A couple things. Facebook for one, and then started working the phones. Well, working the emails would be more accurate.

Even without a large “tribe” of fans for your blog, you probably still have a decent number of Facebook friends. People who are willing to take a couple minutes out of their evening to download a few episodes of your podcast. Maybe even spread the word or leave a quick review.

I was thankful to have several friends share the news of the show with their friends. It was like going mini-viral.

Then I went through and emailed everyone I could think of who might either be interested in the show, or who I thought might be willing to spare a couple minutes to help me out.

Literally what I did was I went letter-by-letter through the entire alphabet in my gmail address bar to see what suggestions would pop up.

a. aa. ab. ac. ad. ae. af. And all the way through.

Tedious? Yes.

Effective? Yes.

podcast email help

I found most people were more than happy to help, and it was an excuse to reach out to long-lost friends as well. I probably sent 100 of these emails and I’m so thankful for everyone who took action and downloaded a couple episodes.

Both on Facebook and in the emails I was clear that they didn’t need to actually listen to the podcast, and that simply downloading it would be really helpful.

And it was.

It Doesn’t Take Much

I was surprised how few downloads it actually took to make waves in iTunes. If you can get a spike of 100 downloads in a day, I’m confident you’ll be on the first page of results.

It doesn’t take much.

And the great news is, once you’re up there, the exposure tends to keep you there as long as you keep publishing new episodes consistently. At least that was my experience.

podcast growth chart

I quickly developed an unhealthy addiction to checking this download chart.

Not Just Ratings, But “Rating Velocity”

One final observation I had is that the “rating velocity” — the speed at which ratings and reviews are submitted to iTunes — seems to play a big role in their ranking algorithm as well, perhaps even more than downloads.

itunes ratings

To capitalize on this, you might save all your outreach emails in your Drafts folder and unleash them all at once to try and maximize both the download and rating velocity.

I saw my ranking spike both on high-download days and on high-rating days, so both are important, and iTunes adjusts the rankings several times throughout the day. One risk of batching everything close together like this is that a quick spike may come at an inopportune time to capture enough eyeballs to keep you in that high position.

You’d hate to have used all your favors and then crash out of sight.

By the way, if you’re reading this and haven’t left a 5-star rating yet, would you mind helping me out?

Why Bother?

A well-orchestrated launch can mean thousands of new people being exposed to your ideas and your brand. The most rewarding thing for me has been getting emails from new listeners saying they’re liking the show so far and to keep up the good work.

Were you one of them? Let me know!

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23 thoughts on “How to Get a Podcast to the Top of iTunes in 8 Weeks — With No Audience or “Celebrity” Guests [Case Study]

  1. Hey Nick. Nice job. I did the exact same thing with my e-mail list, one at a time. How funny.

    And I was stoked that your New & Noteworthy screenshot included my podcast! Small world, huh?

    Keep up the great work, my friend.

  2. Thanks for the above blog post. My podcast has had a steady stream of hits over the past 5 weeks but not enough to get into the iTunes top 100. I followed your advice about emailing/ messaging friends to encourage them all to subscribe on Itunes and it totally paid off – we’ve gone from zero presence on the chart to 17 in the Top UK Podcasts and 8 on the Comedy Charts! “It Doesn’t Take Much.” Ne’er a truer word said!

  3. Outstanding post. I really like the way you outlined specifically what you did and emphasized the need for lots of activity at one time.

    I found the part about going viral especially helpful. Thanks for great insights.

  4. Thank you for posting this article, Nick. This is especially relevant to me since my podcast went live very recently. I appreciate you sharing that, YES!, it is possible to get to the top of the list.

    • Thanks Amy — keep me posted on the podcast launch! I think the game has changed a bit and it will probably take more than a 1x per week show to really do well in the New and Noteworthy, but still a huge opportunity for exposure. Especially with the in-car initiatives Apple is taking along with including their podcast app natively in the next iOS.

      • Nick, those are some great insights — thanks.

        I suspected maybe some things would have changed between now and your original post date. It’s great to know that some of the changes seem like they’ll be amazing, even if things did get more competitive in the meanwhile too.

        That’s really an interesting tidbit about the in-car initiatives. What a smart move for them to make. Back when I used to commute to work (that was a long time ago!) I sure would have loved to have my pick of podcasts to listen to.

        That’s also interesting about the podcast ap being natively included in the next iOS. Wow, I imagine those changes will create some fantastic opportunities for podcasters.

        Thanks for the follow-up.

  5. Nick,

    I know you published this article a while ago, but it really worked like a charm for me and my new show. I cannot thank you enough. My friend and I launched our show 4 days ago and I followed your advice to the T. I had already gotten back on Facebook after a long hiatus, and built my old profile back up with about 300 friends (that took a few weeks of course), and then built a page for our show on FB and a home page and Twitter account as well. Then we launched and I pushed it like crazy to all of my friends.

    Well it worked, right now, after just 4 days up, we are ‘New & Noteworthy’ and our downloads are sky-rocketing and that’s with no celebrity guests (although I have access to them for later!)

    Thank you so much!

    Best,
    Scott
    astonishinglegends.com

  6. Hi Nick,
    Thanks for sharing. These are some awesome strategies for getting your podcast ranked higher in iTunes. I’m going to implement some of them on my Web Marketing Show podcast.

  7. Ugh! I had tried to do most of this with my launch, but we had chosen a cheeky pic to go on our album cover, then, found out that it did not qualify for the News and Noteworthy section. We believed, and tested, that sex sells, BUT anything with a risqué picture will not be put in new and noteworthy. Just gonna have to keep killing it with good guests and content I guess.

    I’m really enjoying the your podcast. I look at my podcast as a side hustle even though I already work for myself. Tons of great content with all your variety of guests Nick.

    Have a great time on your trip!

    • Oh wow, that’s good to know. Thanks Nick and bummer about the N&N.

      Anything you’d like to hear on an upcoming show? Actually have a pretty interesting one about podcasting as a side hustle in the queue :)

      • Podcasting as a side would be great. Monitization! The other topic I am interested in, and I’m not sure it would fit, but maybe someone doing podcasting would have the good answer to, is creating a great opt-in and giveaway. List building, as you know, is key.

        Thanks for the response.

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