Setting up your RSS feed, metadata and images

Now that your feed’s ready, let’s look at the options for uploading your audio, and tracking downloads.

In the first chapter, we talked about hosting audio alongside your website, but I want to quickly talk about hosting it elsewhere, so you know what to do if you hit your storage limit.

As well as selling books, Kindles and pretty much everything else under the sun, Amazon is now one of the world’s biggest hosting providers. With Amazon Web Services, we can host any number of files, limited only by how fast we can produce them. I host the audio for some of my podcasts with Amazon’s S3 storage option, which gives me super-cheap storage that very rarely fails. I can also use Amazon CloudFront to distribute my audio through something called a Content Delivery Network, which makes copies of my files available in a variety of countries around the world, meaning listeners get the fastest download times possible. What’s great about Amazon’s hosting options is that you only ever pay for what you use. Storing files with S3 is almost free, but the more people download a file, the more you pay.

Libsyn is a product designed just for podcast hosting. Lots of people use it because it comes with stats, and you can drive your entire podcast feed through Libsyn. If you’re happy driving your podcast through WordPress though, Libsyn probably isn’t worth the money as it’s pretty expensive, and lots of the other services it provides you can get for free with WordPress. One of the benefits that does justify the price if you’re hosting outside of WordPress, is the ability to push content to a variety of places, including Soundcloud.

Soundcloud is of course a very popular way for people to host audio, as it gives you a player that you can embed into lots of websites. It also provides an RSS feed for you, so if you wanted, you could run your site with a basic WordPress installation and then just create new standard blog posts for each episode, and embed the player within the post. You need a Pro account in order to run a podcast through Soundcloud, and you can check soundcloud.com/pro for pricing in your area.

So, why bring these up if I recommend WordPress? Well, partly I think it’s useful to have an idea of the landscape, but also to make this point: Libsyn and Soundcloud are great options, but if you really get the podcasting bug and want to start another show, you’ll have to pay those prices again, for each new show. Most of us aren’t serial podcasters so that’s fine, but it’s a consideration. Also, running your podcast through WordPress gives you flexibility and total ownership over the content. Even if you host your audio with Amazon, you can choose what to do with those files, and unlike, say, Soundcloud, Amazon won’t care if there’s a snatch of copyright-protected music in one of your shows, because they’re not analysing your audio.

The downside of using Amazon is that it’s actually not that simple a process to get your files onto the service. It’s not designed like the WordPress interface, to be a simple drag-and-drop affair. The service is really meant for developers who move files around using code rather than a mouse. If you’re a Windows user however, you could try S3 Browser, which gives you a simpler drag-and-drop interface. For the Mac, I like Transmit - which is the FTP software I use on a day-to-day basi´┐╝s - because it bundles support for Amazon S3 into it. That’s not free though, so you could try Cyberduck, which is available form the Mac App Store.

One final option, which is actually overlooked by a lot of podcasters, is the Internet Archive, at archive.org. You can sign up for an account, upload your podcast and put the address back into your WordPress post. It’s completely free, too. So why not just use that?

Well, it’s really up to you. The service can be slow for listeners to download from, and if you want to make a change to an audio file once it’s been uploaded - rare, but it can happen - you have to delete the file and re-upload it with the same name, or upload it under a new name and update your podcast. Also, you’re again giving ultimate control of your content over to someone else, who may at some point decide to turn off the service. That’s extremely unlikely, so really it comes down to personal preference. Amazon hosting costs so little, and as your podcast grows, your audience may thank you for giving them quick access to your audio, but free is free.

If you’re still sticking with your bundled hosting, that’s absolutely fine, so let’s look at uploading audio directly to your web space, vs linking to it from a third-party service.

Now that you’ve got a place to host your audio files, let’s look more closely at how we can track the numbers of people downloading our show, and then upload our first episode. In an earlier chapter I showed you how to setup Google Analytics and install Seriously Simple Stats. That’s not a bad start, but it’s worth looking at why we need a separate stats package in the first place, and why we can’t just stick with Google Analytics.

Most analytics products nowadays use something called JavaScript. That’s a type of coding language that runs in your web browser. On the web, most coding happens behind the scenes, so you never know what language a website is written in. WordPress is written in a language called PHP, but if you view the website in a browser, you’ll never see any PHP code, because that code runs on the computer hosting the site. That’s called “server-side code”.

Your browser runs code, too. That code is called JavaScript, and because it runs in the browser and not on the server, it’s called “client-side code”. The problem with client-side code like JavaScript is that it only works in a web browser, so if you’re using it to track how many people click the Play button on your website that’s fine, but it won’t tell you how many people downloaded the file and listened to it via an MP3 player, or from iTunes.

Google Analytics can track certain things like clicks, but it’s not reliable and won’t show you what happens outside of the web browser. So we need something server-side that can run each time one of our MP3 files is downloaded.

No matter whether you host your audio within WordPress, with Amazon or with archive.org, you can use services like Blubrry and Podtrac to monitor the number of downloads, where in the world they come from, what type of device they’re using, and sometimes a little bit more. Blubrry and Podtrac are both available for free, and work in the same way. Let’s look at Podtrac, which is the slightly simpler version of the two.

You can use Podtrac easily by installing the Podtrac plugin, made by the developers behind Seriously Simple Podcasting. Just install the plugin, connect it up and before long, you’ll start to see download numbers from within Podtrac.

It’s useful to be able to tell the difference between listeners who’ve come from the website, and those that are subscribed to the feed. Here’s a couple of options, using some of the stats I’ve gathered via Blubrry.

Now we’ve got a place to upload our audio and a way of tracking how many people download it, in the next chapter we’ll look at uploading our first episode, and submitting it to iTunes.

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