Writing episode titles and notes
Episode notes (or “show notes”) give the listener more information or context around the topics you’ve discussed. They should be minimally formatted — mainly with text, links, bullet-points and the occasional image — and present on the web and in the listener’s podcast app of choice.
Your host will provides a “Description” box or similar for episode notes, and uses Markdown syntax to help keep them simple, so they display cleanly in all platforms, such as web browsers and podcast apps.
Episode notes should briefly describe the contents of the episode, or the main focus, and contain links to the things you’ve discussed. If you have sponsors, you should add the links they provide, which usually contain tracking info. If you have a guest, link to their social media profiles or blog.
A link contains two pieces of information: the address of the resource you’re linking to (the URL) and the text of the link (the bit the reader clicks with their mouse or taps with their finger). The text is often shown in blue and is underlined. The clickable text should be different from the URL, and should tell the reader roughly what is behind the link.
Some things to consider when creating links:
- All URLs begin with http: or https:. Some URLs may contain www., but you must always proceed that with http: or https:. If you’re in doubt, visit the URL in your web browser and copy it exactly from the address bar.
- Instagram and Twitter handles aren’t URLs. If you add “follow @mypodcast on Instagram”, you’re asking the listener to open another app, and manually type in your Instagram handle. Instead, consider “Follow @mypodcast on Instagram”. The same is true of Facebook page URLs, but whatever the platform, always make sure that if you click the link, you’re taken to the exact resource you want your listener to see.
- Don’t use phrases like “click here” or “more” for your link text. This means a fully-sighted person can’t gain context if they’re skimming through your episode notes, and a visually-impaired person using their phone’s accessibility features won’t be able to tell them what they’ll get if they “click here”. Also, people on mobiles don’t click, nor do those with motor impairments that don’t use mice or trackpads. If in doubt, use the title of the article or webpage you’re linking to.
- A web address on its own is not a link. A very common practise is to formulate text like this: “Apple announces the iPhone SE —
https://www.apple.com/uk/iphone-se/%E2%80%9C”, where the link should read “Apple announces the iPhone SE”.
When added correctly, links are good for SEO and great for your listeners, as they add value to your podcast.
Images and embedded media
Your episode notes will probably be shown similarly on your episode webpage and in podcast players. The more popular and well-made players tend to be more restrictive about what content can be added to episode notes, so will strip out images or embedded media like YouTube videos. It’s fine to include them as they work great in web browsers; just be aware that they might not show up (or might look strange) in different podcast apps.
How much to write
The detail level of your episode notes is a balance unique to you, and is based on what you think your listeners might like or expect, how much you want to optimise your episode web pages for search engines, and how much time you have. Some podcasters summaries the beats of the conversation, whereas others stick to a simple description of the topics discussed.
A winning formula
The simplest formula to start and remain consistent with is a short summary paragraph (of no more than a couple of sentences), followed by a list of relevant links. Here’s an example of a great intro from Evo Terra’s Podcast Pontifications:
Podcast directories are littered with abandoned shows. Shows someone thought would be a hit, but failed to thrive. For many, it wasn’t an audience growth problem. It was a problem of missing value.
The links listed are in chronological order, so listeners can explore more as they listen.
The episode title
The tile or your episode is one of the first things a listener will see, either when searching for your topic or following a link in a tweet.
Don’t include information in your title that can be shown elsewhere. For example, if your episode is part of a season and has a specific number, this will be shown in Apple Podcasts. If it isn’t part of a season, there’s no need to have an episode number in your title as it doesn’t give the listener any meaningful information. It can be worth showing it on your website, but it isn’t part of your title.
Similarly, the name of your podcast is not part of your title either, since that info is displayed elsewhere, and it only lengthens your title unnecessarily. When titles are too long, they’re often truncated, so if all of your episode titles start with the same text, a listener can’t differentiate one episode from another.
The only information you should add to your title is what is unique to that episode. For example: “Trolls: World Tour review”, as opposed to “The Film Review Show Episode #56: Trolls: World Tour”.
Just as with your podcast name, don’t keyword-stuff your title, or try and use all caps to make it stand out. Just stick to title or sentence case, and remove any punctuation you don’t need.
Make your title and notes compelling
Good episode titles and notes are more of an art than a science. It’s important to strike a balance between posing an enticing question and creating clickbait.
Your episode title and summary should introduce a gap that only your episode can fill: a question only you can answer or a viewpoint no-one else has expressed. However, you need to make sure that your content fills that gap (answers that question or offers that genuine viewpoint), as listeners who feel tricked aren’t likely to become subscribers.
Podcasts that are purely for entertainment have a harder job, as they’re not necessarily answering a specific question.
In all cases, imagine telling a busy person that you’ve posted a new podcast episode. To avoid them saying “so what?” and carrying on with unloading the dishwasher, think about what you have in your episode that will hook them, and compel them to listen.