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Getting Your Podcast Ready for iTunes

Thousands of people create podcasts for iTunes.  Not every podcast becomes a top seller.  There’s a reason for this, and it can be attributed to two factors:

  • Process
  • Content

The heartbreaking fact is that many people work hard to produce top-notch, unique content… but that alone won’t guarantee a top spot – or anywhere close to it.

You need to be aware of Apple’s process for its iTunes store. Understanding what happens to your podcast when you load it is as vital as understanding how to make sure it uploads compatibly and smoothly.

Let’s take a quick look at the process, and then we will look into how to research a top subject so that your podcast fills a viable spot in the market.  We’ll also include our best tips in creating a podcast with the potential for viral popularity.

Step 1.  Mastering the iTunes Submission Process

First, let’s clear up one of the biggest misconceptions about podcasts and iTunes:  Apple will not host your podcast – you still need to have a third-party RSS feed and server; and your server is where you need to host your podcast.  Your target audience will be able to listen to your podcast via several media: Computer, iPod, Apple TV, iPhone or iPad.

Nor can you sell your podcast in the iTunes store: Podcasts are always free.  (You can, however, include mention of advertisers or products.)

Apple merely allows your podcast to be included in its searchable database, the iTunes Directory.

1-itunes-directory for podcast

The submission process includes vital basics:

  • Understanding the submissions Queue and review process
  • Understanding the differences between the iTunes client, store and app
  • Making sure you’ve tested your feed
  • Understanding how to include viable metadata
  • Knowing how to perform functions such as adding episodes, linking to your podcast and changing your feed URL

Step 2. The Review Process

Every podcast submitted first has to be reviewed by iTunes staff members to ensure it meets technical and content guidelines.  Your best bet in making sure your podcast passes with flying colors is to put yourself in your iTunes staff reviewer’s shoes.

2-slush-pile for podcastIt’s rather like being an old fashioned editor: You look at the “slush pile” – a big, fat pile of manuscripts.  The top editor doesn’t touch this:  A lowly under-editor wades through, immediately discarding all those manuscripts obviously written by illiterate people who haven’t taken the time to learn on factor about producing a readable manuscript.

In the iTunes review world, this first elimination group might easily include you, if you haven’t bothered to learn the basics.

Technical errors and omissions will quickly lead to podcast rejection by the review staff.  To avoid this, let’s go over technical requirements:

1.    You can submit podcasts that are purely audio or audio with video (vodcasts) – but you do have to ensure you are using one of the correct streaming file formats.

  • .mp3
  • .mp4
  • .m4v
  • .m4a

3-file-formats

2.    Make sure your cover art is exactly 1400 X 1400 pixels in size (.JPG or .PNG file format only)

3.    Post your RSS file, cover art and episodes on a server with:

  • A publicly accessible URL
  • Byte-range support (and make sure this is enabled)

Byte-range support allows you to only send a fragment of your media file, rather than the whole thing, so that it can be streamed.  “Streaming” means Apple doesn’t upload the next bit of your podcast until the present file byte that people are listening to is almost finished.

There are many instructions on the net like this detailed answer for testing to see whether or not byte-range streaming is enabled on your server.

4-byte-range-test

4.    Make sure your podcast conforms to exact RSS 2.0 specifications

5.    Include required iTunes RSS tags

6.    Include episode pointers.  You will need to provide an XML episode file

7.    Make sure you have tested your feed before submitting.  (Use Feedvalidator.org, a simple, free service.  Just in put your feed URL and go.)

5-feed-validator

8.    Include strong, targeted meta-data.  Apple has clear instructions on what it wants these tags to include.

6-metadata

Pay attention to your iTunes RSS tags too. Again, Apple provides complete instructions for creating RSS Meta-tags in its Making a Podcast primer.

7-rss-metatags

Only when you have taken care of all these technical requirements should you submit your RSS feed URL to iTunes

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