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Episode Info: s. The shorter, non-truncated titles were easier to read, the screen was less cluttered, and the titles actually stood out more! My subscriptions went from something like this: The Audacity to Podcast – how to launch and improve… Marketing Tips for Entrepreneurs: effective ways to… Overcoming Fear: Everything you need to succeed in… Everything about Everything: The podcast that covers… To now something like this: The Audacity to Podcast Marketing Tips for Entrepreneurs Overcoming Fear Everything about Everything The charts and feature lists in podcast apps are also a lot easier to read when titles and author tags are not truncated! These cleaner listings really do make a better user experience! 2. Voice-based interactions Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and more vocal interaction technologies are entering our world through smartphones, smartwatches, smart speakers, entertainment systems, apps, automobiles, and more. These interactions are supposed to feel natural and not robotic, and I think this is a big reason Apple wants to clean up their podcast catalog. A couple months ago, if you said, “Hey, Siri, subscribe to The Audacity to Podcast,” should would have responded, “Just to confirm, do you want to subscribe to the podcast ‘The Audacity to Podcast, how to launch and improve your podcast,’ by Daniel J. Lewis, podcasting industry expert and how to podcast teacher?” Imagine if my title or author tags were longer! But when the title and author tags are cleaned up, Siri’s response isn’t so overwhelming: “Just to confirm, do you want to subscribe to the podcast “The Audacity to Podcast” by Daniel J. Lewis?” Isn’t that nicer? And although this is probably not required on any voice assistant, can you imagine having to say the entire title correctly in order to subscribe to the podcast? “Alexa, subscribe to My Awesome Podcast.” “I found 200 podcasts by that name. Which one do you want?” “Alexa, subscribe to My Awesome Podcast – Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Business.” “I’m sorry, I can’t find a podcast by that name.” “Alexa, subscribe to My Awesome Podcast – Entrepreneurship, Marketing, SEO, and Bitcoin.” “I’m sorry, I can’t find a podcast by that name.” “Alexa, subscribe to My Awesome Podcast – Business, Relationships, and something about soda.” “I’m sorry, I can’t find a podcast by that name.” “Alexa, throw me out the podbay doors.” Cleaner tags make a much better spoken user experience! 3. Cracking down on spammers and cheaters At the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 2018, James Boggs, a manager in the Apple Podcasts team, said: We’re continually refreshing and managing our directory, automatically retiring shows which become technically unavailable or those that run afoul of our directory content guidelines, such as those with spammy content or shows seeking to manipulate our top charts. Don’t do that. Just please don’t do that. —James Boggs, WWDC 2018, session 501: “Introducing Podcast Analytics” Content creators are already familiar search engines tweaking their algorithms to demote or blacklist sites using unethical tricks in attempts to cheat their way to the top of search results. I think James Boggs made it clear that Apple is seeking to do the same thing with Apple Podcasts, probably with the hopes to expose and reward those with high-quality content and a truly engaged audience the podcasts earned legitimately. We can apply this to many other fields and quickly realize how annoying it is to be confronted by those who are trying way too hard to close the deal: used-car salespeople, politicians, and those overly zealous people at mall kiosks. How is Apple finding podcasts to reject? The first place Apple is looking is at newly submitted podcasts. For years, we’ve been familiar with rules for podcasts in Apple Podcasts, such as avoiding profanity in the text or cover art, a valid podcast RSS feed, and some more requirements and guidelines. If a podcast doesn’t meet these standards, it gets rejected before even entering the Apple Podcasts catalog. But, like my own show, many existing and even long-running podcasts are being rejected (unfortunately, it seems to be without notice, too). What I can tell for sure, based on data from tracking tools I’ve developed, is that Apple is keeping a close eye on the top 200 of all podcasts and probably featured sections (“New & Noteworthy,” “What’s Hot,” and such). I’ve been tracking several podcasts I thought would likely get rejected, some of them, including my own, have been going for months or even years. But in most cases, the very day they made it into the top 200 of all podcasts, they got rejected. I’ve seen this happen as quickly as three hours after breaking into the top 200. And you may think this means your podcast is “safe” from ranking in the top 200, but the top charts in Apple Podcasts are based on new subscriptions. And as testing and data consistently confirm, it really doesn’t take a lot of new subscribers in a day to push a podcast into the top 200. My own The Audacity to Podcast was sitting below the top 200 for months and then it must have been featured or mentioned somewhere else because it jumped overnight into the top 200—and I didn’t do a single thing! It’s even on a hiatus (this important episode being the exception)! For clarification, I’m not referring to the top 200 within any of the 67 genres or categories in Apple Podcasts. Instead, I’m referring to the top 200 of all podcasts in Apple Podcasts. While I’ve seen several podcasts get away with spammy tags in the top 200 of those other genres, I doubt it will be long before Apple expands their scope to police more areas. It also seems Apple is auditing podcasts that change their show-level information, such as the title, author tag, description, or cover art. Beyond that, there could be some other algorithms to help surface suspected podcasts, such as monitoring shows with heavy activity or recently published episodes. And I think what catches Apple’s attention might not be any kind of separator (like a colon, pipe, or dash), but the length of the title and author tags. That’s not to say something long will get kicked, but something long might be more likely to catch Apple’s attention, so simply omitting a separator is not adequate protection. I’ve seen podcasts kicked that were abusing only one tag, but not both. What happens if your podcast is rejected? Maybe you didn’t fix your podcast in time, or you want to know what the risk is. Here’s what I’ve observed. New podcasts: fix and resubmit If you are submitting a new podcast to Apple through Podcasts Connect and it gets rejected, the best thing to do is clean up your tags, get a new feed URL (even if by simply changing one character or using a service like Podcast Mirror), and then submit that new feed URL. Because this has the possibility of requiring you to change your feed URL, I recommend submitting to Apple before submitting anywhere else. That way, you’ll know you have an acceptable feed and won’t have to mess with maintaining multiple URLs or switching other destinations. Apple may notify you of the rejection, or you may have to log in to Podcasts Connect to check on the status of your submission in order to know that your podcast was rejected. Existing podcasts: fix and contact Apple If your show was already in the Apple Podcasts catalog and it got rejected, make the changes in your podcast feed and then contact Apple through Podcasts Connect. Ensure your changes are visible in your feed and tell Apple that you already corrected the issue. Then ask for your podcast to be reinstated with its ratings, rankings, and reviews intact. The more information you can provide Apple, and the less back-and-forth you initiate, the quicker you can get your podcast restored. I haven’t heard from any podcasters who were notified by Apple that their podcasts were kicked out. You could check for yourself on a regular basis if you’re walking that ethical line, or you’ll soon be able to use a special tool I’m creating to be notified if there’s a problem. Or, simply don’t do bad things and then you probably won’t have to worry about it! Will the rejection affect existing subscribers? This was a big concern of mine and I shared a bunch of in-depth details inside Podcasters’ Society. But I’m pleased and relieved to confirm that no, your existing subscribers will not be affected. This is thanks to the decentralized nature of podcasting. With only a few exceptions (Spotify, Google Play Music, iHeartRadio, and maybe some others), podcast apps will subscribe people directly to a podcast’s RSS feed. This is even the case with Apple Podcasts. I did have a concern over how Apple Podcasts behaves with their mirror URLs (such as https://pcr.apple.com/id[ID_NUMBER]), but through testing, I’ve confirmed that even if the mirror URL is broken (as happens when Apple removes a podcast from their catalog), your subscribers are still connected directly to your RSS feed. Thus, even if your podcast is removed from Apple Podcasts (or other podcast apps, with only those few exceptions), your subscribers can continue to access your RSS feed and download your new and past episodes. There is a warning with this. If you submitted the mirror URL Apple gave you (https://pcr.apple.com/id[ID_NUMBER]) to any other apps or directories, a rejection from Apple will disconnect you from your audience. But this is only if you submitted that mirror URL to other places or linked to it, which I and other podcasting experts have advised against and I doubt many (if any) podcasters have done anyway. We also urge you to subscribe to your own podcast(s) in Apple Podcasts or iTunes and in your preferred podcast app if you use something other than Apple’s apps. This will not only confirm for you that your podcast is still available to subscribers, but it also lets you see that your latest episode downloads even when it’s not yet visible in Apple’s catalog. Your podcast in other apps There are many other popular podcast apps (such as Overcast) using the iTunes Search API. This allows those other apps to not have to maintain their own podcast catalog with creator submissions, but to instead search the most popular catalog to which most podcasters have already submitted their shows. When your podcast is rejected from Apple Podcasts, it also gets removed from the iTunes Search API. This makes your podcast not findable in those other apps, and thus makes it much harder for people to subscribe to your podcast in those same apps. (Any good podcast app will still allow manual subscriptions by pasting a podcast RSS feed URL, but that’s a cumbersome process.) Like Apple Podcasts and iTunes, no longer being findable affects potential new subscribers but not your current audience. What you need to do NOW Yes, I think you should make some changes immediately. 1. Don’t wait Please don’t wait for Apple’s “ban-hammer” to come down on your podcast! You may think your podcast is safe because it’s never “at risk” for being a top-200 podcast. You may think it’s safe because you removed separator characters from the <title> or <itunes:author> tags. But it really could be any moment that your podcast catches Apple’s auditing attention and gets kicked out of Apple Podcasts and iTunes. 2. Clean up your show title Make your podcast title tag contain only the title. If you host a fan podcast, go ahead and include one title of the object of your fandom, but still keep it as clean as possible. For example, don’t make it something like, “ONCE – Unofficial Once Upon a Time fan podcast with theories, reviews, interviews, and your feedback,” make it simple, “ONCE – Unofficial Once Upon a Time podcast.” 3. Clean up your author tag Who creates, owns, and hosts your podcast? That’s what should be in the author tag. There should be only names in there: no titles, no taglines, no keywords. It’s okay to have multiple names of regular cohosts, but don’t include the names of guests, mentors, or inspirations. 4. Improve your episode titles Like show-level titles, your episode titles need to be clean and not stuffed with keywords. But episode titles are easier to work with because they can be far more specific and descriptive than a show title can be. So please don’t title your episodes with only bland numbers or dates. Be descriptive and compelling, especially for topics people might be searching for. And don’t try to stuff your episode titles, either! Remove extraneous text that belongs in other places, like the show-level title or repetitive (and thus probably useless) text. 5. Make episodes to cover your keywords Lastly, if you don’t already have episodes about those topics you wanted to stuff in your other podcast tags, start making those episodes now! Like my previous tip, ensure these titles are clear, concise, and compelling. Following these best practices will help ensure podcast apps don’t kick out your show. And these principles help you build a stronger brand, and help make a better experience for your audience! .........
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