Getting Your Podcast Ready for iTunes

rss feed

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.


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-pileIt’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. 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


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


  1. 4.    Make sure your podcast conforms to exact RSS 2.0 specifications
  2. 5.    Include required iTunes RSS tags
  3. 6.    Include episode pointers.  You will need to provide an XML episode file
  4. 7.    Make sure you have tested your feed before submitting.  (Use, a simple, free service.  Just in put your feed URL and go.)


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


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


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

Tips for Creating a Popular Podcast

But uploading your podcast isn’t the entire picture either:  You need to make sure it’s one that stands out from its competitors.

Ask yourself:  “What makes me choose one particular podcast over another in the iTunes Directory?”

It’s important to realize that people select podcasts for a variety of reasons.  Some of these, you have no control over when it comes to increasing your download chances:  Some, you most definitely do. Following the tips in this section will help you understand what it is you need to augment, boost, aim for and promote.

Reasons for choosing a particular podcast over other in its field…

  • You are a fan of the presenter
  • It promises high entertainment value
  • It is unique in its slant, if not in its topic
  • It promises to help you solve a problem
  • It promises to teach you what you need to learn

These are all valid reasons, but iTunes podcast selection goes beyond this.  It’s important to understand the psychological and impulse factors that are also at play in podcast selection:

  • Habit – if you always listen to the “UFOs at 10 o’clock” series every Saturday morning while you are doing your ironing, chances are almost non-existent that you will suddenly choose something else.  You expect it, you look forward to it, and you choose it.  You don’t forget it’s going to be on – it’s part of your routine.
  • Past experience – was a particular series incredibly easy to access?  Did it stream smoothly?  Was it thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining?  Did it deliver?
  • Personal Connection — Did the title grab your emotions in some way and resonate with you?  Did the content make it feel as if the presenter was speaking just to you, or telling your story?  Did the topic feel tailored to your interests and lifestyle?
  • Attentiongrabbing – Did the title “hook” you in some way? (E.g.: Emotionally; arousing curiosity; align with a key interest or dilemma you’re having right now; promising to indulge your pet passion or hobby; was it simply sensationalist or titillating? Did it hook into a current scandal, disaster or “craze”?)
  • Alignment – Is it in sync with your age, beliefs, values, interests and goals?

For example, if you are in your twenties and not much into music, the man in this iTunes Podcast Directory featured photograph may mean absolutely nothing to you.


If you were young in the revolutionary nineteen-seventies, however, and were heavily into the rock bands of the day, you might actually experience whiplash, your attention arrested:  You would instantly “place” Lindsay Buckingham as a guitarist and songwriter with Fleetwood Mac, one of the top groups of its day.

You also need to apply a methodical process or system to deciding on your podcast topics.  This consists of paying attention to three elements:

  1. 1.    Topic
  2. 2.    Categories
  3. 3.    Tags

It doesn’t just depend on your expertise in your field:  When it comes to iTunes podcasts, it boils down to one simple question that should be at the core of your research and brainstorming:

  • “What are people searching for in the iTunes Podcast Directory?”

Your research will help you determine this without any guesswork.  If you know your audience inside out, you can zero in on hot categories relevant to your audience’s passions:  If you’re not yet quite sure, starting with broad research into popular trends and interests will be essential before you can narrow possible hot topics down.

How to Research and Come up with a Virally “Hot” Podcast

Investing time in research will help you produce podcasts with the potential to go viral – or at least end up in the “New & Noteworthy” front-page category; or in one of the other featured, front-page categories…

1.    Get an overview of your TV menu guide, if you really want to know what’s trending.  You’ll see hot topics and categories reflected in podcast categories and offerings.

For example, if there is a glut of property renovation and realty shows being served up on TV, you’ll find that “Home Improvement” is actually a featured, front-page category in the iTunes Directory.

9-home-improvement-category2.    Choose the perfect category.  In addition to the feature category, you should check out the categories in right-hand, vertical sidebar.

There are two places to search:

  • Podcast Quick Links
  • The “All Categories” menu

You can access a list of the latter by pressing the drop-down arrow.


Keep these categories in mind, when brainstorming your podcast:


  1. 3.    Include well-optimized tags.  We’ve already spoken about the importance of Meta-tags.  Search through competitor podcast to see what tags they are using for similar podcasts to yours.

Then invest in some keyword research and questions to find out what your target market actually uses as keywords, when searching the iTunes directory.

See if you can come up with a keyword that:

  1. Your competitors are not using in tags
  2. Your target listeners are using in searches

One last point:  Always remember that people listen first and foremost to podcasts for entertainment – whether or not they’ve chosen a serious, instructional podcast on “The Hidden Horrors of Plastic Water Bottles” or one that’s a fun time-waster while they exercise (“Fifty Whacky Facts about The Sixties You’ll Wish You Didn’t Know”).

Podcasts are a way of passing time for the majority of people who access the iTunes directory – while they are traveling to or from a destination, exercising, doing the laundry or waiting for little Tina at her hockey practice.

Keep yours fast-paced, well-organized, clear, fun and easy to listen to.

Do this, respect the technical upload requirements, and you’ll be light-years closer to making them want to come back for more!