Have you noticed? iTunes has been having problems lately.
It’s not JUST that it’s now supposed to be called “Apple Podcasts” – and we’re all strongly encouraged to make that change yesterday – even though Apple’s own systems still say “iTunes” in multiple places (even in some URLs).
There’s are many more iTunes problems going on.
This episode isn’t meant to be snarky – just informative. You need to know about issues relating to the Big-A so you can do what’s needed for YOUR podcast.
This episode I dig into the facts about recent issues and the best-practices I’ve learned (so far) regarding iTunes / Apple Podcasts
- [1:21] The is a multi-part episode within an episode. Don’t give up too soon
- [2:31] The switch from iTunes to Apple Podcasts: best-practices for podcasters
- [5:03] Show and episode titles: The ban-hammer is coming DOWN!
- [13:04] An example of the difficulty Apple’s naming policy causing
- [16:59] The iTunes/Apple Podcasts directory is not updating properly
- [21:50] Podcasts Connect exists and is very helpful to YOU
- [26:59] The glitchy nature of the iTunes apps: desktop and iOS
- [29:59] Why we indie podcasters owe a debt of gratitude to Apple
Our Podcast Consulting Services:
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Libsyn’s podcast: The Feed
My upcoming show: The Great American Roadshow
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Why iTunes is NOT a chart
The iTunes/Apple Podcast manipulation crisis (Article):
The Feed episode about the Overcasts Ad (1:15:00 – ish):
Check your iOS stats in depth on Podcasts Connect
Overview of how to use Podcasts Connect:
Apple’s own video about how to use Podcasts Connect:
Tunes partner resources
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Apple seems to have multiple personalities these days
OK, let’s dive into the problems iTunes is experiencing… with this first one.
Earlier in 2018 – around March-ish, Apple made a big tadoo about themselves switching from the name “iTunes” to the name “Apple Podcasts.
But it was a bit unclear as to what exactly each of those titles is referring to.
FOR EXAMPLE: We submit our shows to be a part of Apple Podcasts but people search for them and find them on the iTunes store/directory.
The very best I can make out – from asking around and researching is this:
- It appears the computer software and app/music/podcast store are called “iTunes”
- But the place you submit podcasts and the iOS app are called “Apple Podcasts”
For our purposes (podcasting)…
- All artwork should be switched out – to the new “Listen on Apple Podcasts” image provided by Apple. (You can find that image in the resources on this page)
- We should also start referring to iTunes – in any form – as “Apple Podcasts”
What happens if you DON’T switch out your artwork or CONTINUE to refer to Apple Podcasts as iTunes?
It seems clear that you’ll NEVER be featured on the main page of the Apple Store (is that iTunes – or Apple Podcasts?)
It may also be that your show will be negatively impacted in other ways – Apple isn’t saying.
The show title ban hammer has been coming down! [5:03]
Recently, Apple has been cracking down on what they consider to be spammy practices when it comes to naming podcasts.
It’s important because the title tag is one of the ONLY places the search algorithm of the iTunes/Apple Podcasts directory pulls from when returning search results.
So – in many of the cases they are banning, I fully agree.
They are trying to appropriately deal with those who are stuffing the show title field full of keywords that are irrelevant to their show. Some of these might be:
- Names of people who MIGHT be on their show
- Topics they MIGHT cover
- Excessive uses of keywords
I get what they are trying to do. But in my humble opinion, they are going WAY too far.
There are some VERY legit uses of words that are NOT the title, IN the title field.
I’ll give you an example.
Way back when, the folks at Libsyn – the largest podcast hosting platform in the world – decided to start a podcast.
They chose the name, “The Feed.”A very fitting and clever name, I think.
But it’s not a title that screams “THIS SHOW IS ABOUT PODCASTING!”
It could be mistaken for a show having to do with food, restaurants, or food critics. Actually – there IS a podcast of that nature using the same name.
There’s another using the same name that’s about eating habits of performance athletes.
And both of those shows launched AFTER Libsyn had already been in iTunes for a while.
So problem #1 is an iTunes problem
Tthey should not have allowed shows with duplicate names. Because they did, people like Rob and Elsie who co-host Libsyn’s “The Feed” – not to be confused with the other two “The Feed” podcasts – could really benefit from the use of a descriptor or subtitle in their show name to differentiate it from the others.
Something like – “The Feed: The Official Libsyn Podcast”
The Libsyn team actually did that for a while – until the ban-hammer started coming down. Now it’s just “The Feed” again.
Problem #2 is an iTunes problem, too
The folks at Apple are pretty good at programming, from what I hear. 😉
It seems that one or two of their software wizards could figure this thing out by tweaking the search algorithm to look at more than just the title – the subtitle maybe? Keyword tags maybe?
Then podcasters would be able to USE said tags to differentiate their shows from others that have similar or identical names AND get found more easily in search for their relevant keywords.
Yes, spamming would still happen. But the ban-hammer could be applied in THOSE ways in a more consistent, fruitful way.
In this section of the episode I cover a handful of things you can do to make a course correction for your show’s title – including how to revamp it altogether if you think you need to do that.
Keep listening! You can hear this section at [5:03]
Most podcasters look at iTunes as a chart that shows the most popular podcasts [16:59]
Not even close.
First of all, it’s not even SUPPOSED to function like a “most downloads overall” listing of podcasts. It’s a DIRECTORY, a place to FIND podcasts, not rank them.
But – there are one or two places that iTunes does list shows as “Top 100”-ish.
If you scroll down the page when you go to the “Podcasts” category, you’ll see it in the far right column. It even SAYS “Top Podcasts.”
For iTunes, it means the show with the most SUBSCRIPTIONS in the last 48-hour period.
GET THAT – subscriptions, NOT downloads. Not listens. Subscriptions.
All that really means is that somebody (the podcast owner?) figured out a way to get lots and lots of people to subscribe to their show in the last 48 hours.
Really, that’s ALL it means.
And it’s exactly why recently, somebody (or a handful of somebodies) was able to game the system. Here’s what happened…
It came to someone’s attention that many of the shows that have long been regulars on that top 100 list were no longer showing there. In their place were a bunch of “new” podcasts that nobody has ever heard of.
And interestingly enough – they were all published by the same group/organization/host.
Does anything about that seem strange to you?
It appears – we still don’t know for sure – that someone affiliate with those shows hired, contracted, asked “pretty please” a bunch of people from Fiverr or another site to do the following to their shows…
CLICK – subscribe.
CLICK – unsubscribe
CLICK – subscribe
CLICK – unsubscribe
CLICK… you get the idea?
It really was that easy.
Apple says they’ve fixed the problem and that kind of thing can’t happen anymore.
But it ain’t clear that’s really true. All we know is that he most commonly seen shows in the “Top Podcasts” list are back where they once were.
So… if iTunes (or is it Apple Podcasts” has these kinds of problems, what approach should you take to your podcast’s place in their directory?
The remainder of this episode I talk about what you can do to use the directory to the best of your ability. Check it out at timestamp [16:59].
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Apple’s new website – Podcasts Connect is VERY helpful [21:50]
Did you even know that Podcasts Connect was a thing?
It’s a website Apple has provided to give podcasters long-awaited insight into how their shows are doing in terms of downloads, listens, length of listens on an episodic level.
Yep. That’s all GREAT stuff.
But there are a few caveats (is that how you spell that word?)…
- It’s still in BETA – so there’s a possibility it could still be a bit glitch
- It ONLY provides data from devices using iOS 11 or iTunes 12.7 or later, and HomePod
That last point is significant. It means the stats you see in the Podcasts Connect dashboard will be a significant part of your audience, but not by any means all of them.
You won’t see stats for iOS listeners who have not upgraded to iOS 11 or better.
You won’t see stats on listens using a version of iTunes before 12.7.
Naturally, that is a select pond – but still a very BIG pond.
If you want to check out your show(s) in Podcasts Connect – You’ll need your Apple ID
- takes you to a site titled “iTunes Connect” – BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I thought this was supposed to be “Apple Podcasts!”
- Next to that misnamed “iTunes Connect” header, click to choose “Podcast Analytics”
- You’ll see oodles of juicy stats.
There’s also a function inside where you can “refresh” your show feed in the iTune – Apple Podcasts Directory. It essentially forces the directory to re-pull info from your feed
It’s NOT immediate. It can take up to 72 hours (or more).
A big problem with iTunes software is that it’s glitchy [26:59]
Apple is without a doubt one of the largest, most successful tech companies ever to exist. The creation of the iPhone was truly a revolution in communication, personal productivity, and accessibility to information for the average person.
So why can’t they get their own software right?
I have long used the iTunes desktop software for PC (no, I’m not an Apple fan-boy – but neither am I an all-thing-Apple hater.).
BUT – honestly, it’s the glitchiest thing I’ve ever seen.
Yes, I realize it’s created for PC by iOS designers. But still… it should at least work on a basic level – and have some resemblance to speed in the way it operates.
It simply doesn’t.
I could overlook these glitchy issues if that was the only one.
But what about their own app? Shouldn’t that work well?
The so-called “Podcast app” native on iOS devices works, fairly smoothly overall, except for a few very important things.
In July of 2017 (over a year ago as of this publication) Apple announced a load of new tags content producers like us could, and should use when publishing our content on their platforms.
If you’re interested – I published an episode of this podcast summarizing the changes.
The changes included ways to add episode level tags for…
- episode numbers
- type of episode (serial, trailer, or bonus)
- iTunes title (that could/should be different from your normal title)
- iTunes description (shorter than it used to be)
Upon releasing these new tags, most of the media hosting companies jumped on board and provided those fields in an easy-to-comply format within their platforms. So far, so good.
Apple strongly urged podcasters to begin using the new tags.
As of now (11/2018) those much-anticipated tags are not being displayed in the app.
TRANSLATION: iTunes/Apple Podcasts has yet another problem – and Apple isn’t fixing it.
Over a year later.
But wait, there are still more iTunes problems!
Both iTunes and Apple Podcasts (the app on iOS devices) appear to pull content from the listing of podcasts available in the iTunes store. That means both should contain the exact same content and should update at the same time.
I recently had a client launch his podcast – a great show that’s going to make significant contributions to his industry.
This is not the kind of guy who does things half-hearted. Nor does he short-cut things.
- Everything was in order.
- Artwork was in place.
- His iTunes listing had been approved days before launch.
- 3 full episodes had been loaded LIVE into his media host account
- ALL SYSTEMS GO!
Launch day came – and his show appeared as planned.
But no content appeared. Not even one episode.
After multiple emails to the Apple team, he finally received a cryptic reply that said, “We can now confirm that all published episodes of your podcast are appearing in our directory.”
No assurance it wouldn’t happen again.
No advice about how to avoid it in the future.
I tell you all of that to tell you this… in the audio of this episode I talk about what you can do to operate your show successfully IN SPITE OF these kinds of glitches on Apple’s own software.
I’d appreciate you listening. This section begins at [26:59]
In spite of all the problems, Podcasters owe iTunes big time [29:59]
For fear of this sounding like a complaint-fest – let me turn a corner as I wrap up this post.
We Indie podcasters are not where we are in the podcasting space by accident.
We got here because big, powerful companies like Apple made it possible In fact, Apple is the main contributor to our success.
Let me splain…
When Apple first started promoting podcasts in their store/directory – they could have (and some think should have) focused on the big-name brands and producers. It seems to make more financial sense initially.
But Apple didn’t do that.
Instead, Indie podcasters got the same opportunity to produce great content and be featured equally – right alongside the big names, public radio studios, and celebrities.
For that – WE OWE APPLE A DEBT OF GRATITUDE
BUT – having said that, I should also say this about all the issues with Apple Podcasts and iTunes I’ve highlighted in this episode…
- Both iTunes and Apple Podcasts belong to Apple. That means THEY get to decide how to handle things, how things work, and IF they work (sadly)
- They have the discretion to boot shows out of their directory – for any reason, really
- And THEY get to decide how their search algorithms work, even if the decisions they make seem counterproductive or silly
So we podcasters need to get used to that and do our best to operate within their terms of service and lack of attention to detail (when it rears its ugly head).