More plugins and customisations

In the last chapter we got up and running with the basic building blocks of our podcast’s website. Now let’s look at some of the other ways we can improve the site, to get the most out of WordPress.

Once you’re underway with your show, at some point you’re going to want to know how many people are listening. Because of the nature of the way the web works, and the way anyone can subscribe to RSS feeds and play the MP3 files attached, you can’t get an exact number of individual listeners. But analytics can help you gauge how many listeners you’ve brought on week by week, in comparison to previous weeks.

Seriously Simple Podcasting doesn’t track download figures out-of-the-box, so we’re going to need another plugin to do this. There are two options here, both provided by the developers behind the SSP plugin. You can use Seriously Simple Stats, which gives you a basic rundown of download numbers and the types of software they use to listen - which can be handy if you’re trying to figure out who’s listening via the website, and who’s subscribing to the feed - or you can integrate with a third-party service called Podtrac, which has a free basic plan to help you do the same. For now, let’s stick with the simplest option, but first, I want to address something that’s come up.

I’ve talked here about listeners on the website and listeners on the feed, so let’s break that down. A podcast is a series of audio or video programmes that you can subscribe to on a phone or an MP3 player. That notion of subscribing is what makes a podcast different from, say, a list of MP3 files on a web page. But many new podcasts won’t pick up subscribers from the getgo, as people won’t be sure whether they want to give over space on their devices to your show. In that case, they’ll listen to the show via a web browser, so it’s vitally important that you give future listeners the option to check out the show on the web, and then push them to subscribe.

Depending on your audience, you might find that you just don’t pick up that many listeners via subscription. That’s not a problem, it just means you might have to work a little harder at reminding people each time you have an episode out. Subscribing means people automatically get the show, but if they’re not subscribing, you need to direct them to each episode.

OK, so back to the numbers. Let’s install Seriously Simple Stats, and take a look around.

As well as tracking listeners, you might also want to track the number of people visiting your website. This is handy if you’re going to advertise, as it means you can see how many people have followed links from your ads to your podcast. You can even hook up heat mapping tools that show how many people click your Subscribe link or the Play button on each episode, but for now let’s just keep it simple.

If you have a Google account, you should sign up to Google Analytics. It’s free and pretty easy to setup. Here’s what you need to do.

So we’ve talked about tracking visitors, but how do we attract new ones? Well, we can start by having good search engine optimisation, or SEO. Now this is really a dark art and there are a lot of services online that will fill your site full of spam or distribute a bunch of links that will most likely negatively affect your site’s ranking in search engines. But SEO isn’t in itself evil, and there are a few simple things you can do to help make your podcast more searchable on the web. It won’t help you float to the top of iTunes rankings, but it may help make your podcast easier to find when searching via Google and other search engines.

In my experience, the best option is the simplest, and the one with the least amount of headaches. To that end, I recommend Yoast SEO. It’s a simple, free plugin that will allow you to customise the metadata for your website. It can also help hook you up with search engines so your site is listed quickly, and also makes it easy to supply nicely formatted images for when listeners share your podcast on Facebook and Twitter.

You still need to write good content, pick the write titles and encourage people to link to your site. The plugin won’t help your rankings on its own, but it will make it a lot easier to manage the stuff that search engines like to see. Let’s have a quick look through Yoast SEO.

OK, enough about numbers, let’s look at some other ways we can customise our site. Let’s say you have an episode of your podcast you’re particularly proud of, and you want to feature that on your homepage for a while. A good way to do this on a blog is to mark a post as “sticky”. That means it always floats to the top of any list, and depending on the theme, might be presented with a bit more flare. WordPress doesn’t by default allow you to make anything other than blog posts sticky, but by using the Sticky Custom Post Types plugin, you can mark episodes of your podcast as sticky, so they’re right on the homepage when new visitors find your show. It’s a little like taking a card from an un-shuffled deck, and placing it on the top. All the other cards are in sequence, but this one’s right on top for people to see.

If you’re equally proud of each new episode you put out, then you don’t need to do this for each episode. And if you do feature an episode for a limited time, just head back into the episode you’ve marked as sticky, and un-tick the box to put it back in the regular list, like putting the card back in the pack in the right sequence.

Finally, let’s look at comments. This can be a knotty subject for some, and it may be something you want to steer clear of entirely. Comments are on by default, but you can turn them off pretty easily by heading to the Discussion section of the Settings menu, and un-tick the “Allow people to post comments” box. You’ll also have to disable comments for any post you’ve already published, but you can do it in bulk by selecting them all, using the Bulk Editor and setting the Comments dropdown to “Do not allow”.

If you do want to enable comments, you can stick with the built-in comments form that WordPress provides, or you can integrate Disqus, which encourages people to associate their comments with a real name and a face, either through Facebook or Twitter. People can still choose to post anonymously, but you also get pretty good control over what comments are approved and which are discarded. It’s also a good option if you want to reduce spam, as they’ll take away some of the headaches associated with that. Let’s take a quick moment to sign up to Disqus and enable it for our site.

In earlier chapters, we talked about adding a blog to your podcast. This can be useful if you’ve got information you want to convey to listeners that doesn’t necessarily relate to a specific episode. Maybe you’ve got some news about your podcast, or you want to let people know that there’s going to be a change, a break, or something more exciting. Maybe you want to cover something more in-depth and you don’t want to clutter up your show notes, or you’re running your podcast as a companion piece to a larger site. In all of these cases, a blog is a useful thing to have.

Normally, the blog is the main component of a WordPress site, but in our case it takes a backseat to the podcast. So we need to tell WordPress where our blog content will live, and hook up the menu.

The menu that runs along the top of your site is how people will navigate between your podcast and other content like blog posts and pages. You can have a number of menus depending on the theme you install and the size of your site, but let’s start off with a simple header menu, which includes a link to the blog.

Most of the time you’ll probably want your most recent episodes to appear on the front page so that when visitors land, they can dive straight in. The good news is, that’s on by default, but if you wanted to change the behaviour or if you’re got a special theme that uses a fancy front page, you can use the Static Front Page option, which works like this:

Depending on the theme you choose, you can make all sorts of changes to the appearance of your site. You can swap colours, images, sometimes fonts. The Podiant theme which you’ll find in the Resources section of chapter 2, gives us a lot we can customise. Let’s take a look.

Now that we’ve got a nice looking site for visitors, in the next chapter we’ll look at setting up the RSS feed for podcast apps, and the iTunes store.

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