As podcasters, one of the nightmares that could happen is to find your newly published episode gone on iTunes or Google play or other distribution channels. This could happen when your switching podcast hosts without minding your RSS feeds, the backbone of your podcast. When not executed properly, you may end up losing most especially if you’re a DIY podcaster. Tom breaks down the how to’s of switching RSS feeds, giving the old way and the new. He discusses the nature of RSS feeds as well as the problems that might occur and introduces the 301 redirect as a solution.
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Switching Podcast RSS Feeds
I just want to address the elephant in the room that we’ve taken a bit of a hiatus and it was not really intentional. That happens sometimes, especially with a lot of travels and heavy business demands that we have. We’re now back and very excited to bring you some great content in the upcoming weeks and months for the foreseeable future. Now, it’s just me. Tracy and I host most of these episodes together, sometimes Tracy alone, sometimes Alexandra joins one of us. We’re going to continue to do that and change it up from time to time as to who is hosting and we have some great content lined up for you.
I want to start with an issue that has come up a lot with some of the people we work with in the podcast industry. It’s a subject that every podcaster should know about, but most podcasters or even if you’re a potential podcaster, it’s something that you don’t pay attention to until there is a problem and then it becomes something you pay a huge amount of attention to. That is your RSS feed for your podcast. I’m not going to get too terribly technical on all of you because that could produce a very boring episode but it is something you need to know about. I want to mention a couple of cautionary tales that we’ve had experience with.
Then I’m going to get into a couple of important things you should know, especially if you end up switching podcast host at some point over the course of your podcasting career. That’s when it becomes a very critical issue, but sometimes it can be even if you’re not switching podcast hosts. What exactly is an RSS feed? I know there are some of you, even if you’ve been podcasting for a while that may not understand or know that term. I just want to quickly address that. RSS feed is an acronym that stands for Really Simple Syndication. It was created in the early days of the internet. It was a way to distribute information in the form of blog posts initially.
If you had a blog on your website and you wanted to have a feed of your blogs be on another website, you would use an RSS feed which can populate the title, description or the first few sentences of a blog, and a thumbnail of the main image on a sidebar of another website. That’s just one way that RSS feeds are often still used today. They were intended for blogs so that anytime you published a new blog on your website, a reference to it or information about it would show up on another website. They’re also used today to do that same thing into apps, to have blogs visible there.
Once podcasting came to be, when MP3 files and audio files were being used to distribute audio information, somebody figured out how to distribute an MP3 file through an RSS feed. That was an interesting innovation in the history of podcasting, but I don’t want to go too much down the technical rabbit hole there. In any case, RSS feeds are the way all of your podcasts get distributed to iTunes, Google Podcast, Stitcher, TuneIn, iHeart, and all those wonderful places where your podcast is available or should be available for people to listen to.
It is the RSS feed that makes that happen. iTunes and Google Podcast, all those places, they don’t have your podcasts on their servers. It’s not how the system works and that’s for a good reason. Number one, they don’t want to store all your many megabytes and, for some of you, potentially gigabytes of podcast episodes on their servers. That would take an awful lot of storage space and be pretty expensive for them. All those different distribution channels are just directories. Think of them as middlemen. They have all the information about your podcast. They have every title of every episode, they have the cover art, they have the description of your show, and that’s it.
When somebody who listens on one of those platforms hit play or hits download or requests that episode, that request just goes through. I will use iTunes in this case, it goes through iTunes. Then iTunes has the list of all your podcasts and knows where on the internet to go and get the MP3 file and it gets it, streams it or downloads it from there. That’s the way the whole system works. The advantage for us as podcasters is that we just publish each new episode one time on our podcast hosting platform or whatever your preferred platform is and then it syndicates to the feed. Meaning it publishes to that feed and every different distribution channel, iTunes, Stitcher, checks your RSS feed on a daily basis, if not more than on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s a couple of times a day they would check it for any new content. When there’s a new episode there, it reads it in the RSS feed and it populates it in their system.
Your RSS feed is what you’re publishing to and then all the different places your show is registered on, it syndicates or pushes out to all those distribution channels at the same time. That’s very convenient. You don’t have to go to each different distribution platform every time you publish an episode and publish the episode in each place. If you put it all the places that podcast should be, you’d be having to publish each episode six or more different times on each one in order to make it available. That would be no fun for anybody. The system is set up the way it is for pretty good reasons. That RSS feed, as you can imagine, contains all the information that you need. It’s a long text file in reality but then again, that’s getting a little technical. I’m going to stay out of that.
It contains all the information about your podcast. It contains the title, the description, and the cover art. It contains every different episode. It contains information on you, the author of your podcast. It contains your official email address for how people can contact you. When you’re logged into iTunes and you look on the left side and there’s information about the author and you get some contact information, or you have the official website address for the podcast, that’s all contained in the RSS feed. You may not realize it, but the RSS feed is the backbone of your podcast. It is an incredibly critical and essential element of your podcast. Those of you that may not have realized that, that’s not surprising and that’s okay.
The reality is you become very well aware of it when there’s a problem. We’ve had a few people recently have a problem with their RSS feed that we know. One of them is a podcaster who has been at the highest rankings in the business investing category on iTunes. I was checking on iTunes the ranking of this podcast, and it was the number two podcast on iTunes out of the top 200, which is what they list and every category on iTunes. It’s the number two podcast in business investing. It’s a podcast that’s been around for more than three years that published one episode a week typically, and it’s a very popular podcast. All of a sudden, overnight, that podcast was delisted from iTunes with no warning. You might think to yourself, how can that happen?
iTunes is the standard bearer for the podcast industry and whatever rules they set up about how you configure your podcast and all the rules about how long your description can be, whether it is an explicit podcast or not, all of that information are things that they defined. Maybe in the future, I know Google is making a real serious run at podcasts, and maybe they will dictate some of the conventions or the standards in this industry. For the entire history thus far and certainly for the immediate future, iTunes is establishing all those standards. They made a decision I believe sometime in 2017, that the cover art contained in your podcast or for your podcast, which is contained in your RSS feed, could only be a maximum of half a megabyte in file size.
There are other requirements like how many pixels it can be and that has changed over the years. It has increased as most screen sizes on smartphones have increased. That’s driven what the pixel sizes of that image but more importantly the file size. Half of a megabyte, that’s 500k, is the limitation and it wasn’t always that way. With the advent of iOS 11, there were a lot of changes that were made to the RSS feed standards so that podcasts would all be compatible with all these new devices that came out with iOS 11, the iPhone X or 10, being one of the most notable ones. All of us podcasters that have hosting platforms or podcast companies that have hosting platforms had to adjust our coding in how we create and distribute RSS feeds to be compatible with that.
About that same time, iTunes put in this requirement for a maximum file size of half a megabyte. Those of us who were hyper-aware of it, we made sure all of our podcast cover art has complied with that. This particular podcaster was hosting on a different platform than ours and their cover art was 660k or something like that. It’s still not a huge file but above the limit. iTunes never sent out any warnings and for some reason, his podcast host also never analyzed it and provided any feedback to him. One day without warning, about two weeks ago, this top-ranked podcast on iTunes was gone overnight, vanished from iTunes. That’s a very scary proposition and thought. I know that this is probably the nightmare scenario for most of you podcasters out there like, “I can’t afford to have something like that happen.”
You’d have a huge amount of listeners unable to get your podcast overnight. You’re right, it is a nightmare scenario. Unfortunately, in this particular case, iTunes never sent an email to the official email for the podcast to warn them, “Your RSS feed is out of compliance with our standards,” which is the language they would probably use. He was not able to troubleshoot and figure out what was wrong with it before it was taken down. Personally, I think that’s wrong and I think iTunes or Apple, as a company, seriously erred in their responsibility to properly communicate with the podcaster, but iTunes is the big kahuna. They’re the 600-pound gorilla if you want to think of it that way, in the industry and they’re going to do it the way they want to do it. There’s nothing any of us can do about it.You need to stay on top of any changes that are announced in the industry. Click To Tweet
You need to stay on top of any changes that are announced in the industry and even if you have a service that’s working on your behalf, you want to try to stay on top of industry news in the podcast industry. I would recommend Google Alerts as a good way to do that, that’s what I do. If you’re one of our clients who is working with us, it’s our job to stay on top of it for you and we should be making sure everything’s in compliance, especially if you’re hosting on our platform. I do expect that the other podcast hosts should be doing the same thing for you, but sometimes we see that doesn’t always happen. In any case, this has been very difficult for this customer to get back on iTunes. It has involved many emails back and forth with Apple customer service regarding their podcast department.
Even though we immediately help this customer, we changed their cover art and put it back up in their feed on this other platform and it’s completely within compliance, getting listed back on iTunes can be a very complicated process. It doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d like it to. That’s a very unfortunate part. I’ll tell you as I record this episode, communications with Apple and this client have been going well and their show should be back up on iTunes soon. It’s been easily eleven or twelve plus days of being down off iTunes and that can be very detrimental. What we don’t know yet, you’ll have to stay tuned for this news to a future point in time. We don’t know if all of his subscribers are going to be restored once that podcast is relisted. We certainly hope so but in reality, we don’t know.
That’s a mini case study that we’ve seen happen with an RSS feed. Most of the problems we’ve seen people have with RSS feeds tend to be with the images that are contained in their either cover art for their whole show or images people are using as a featured image in every episode. I’ll just quickly address this one too, you may not realize it, but every episode can have its own featured image. If you do that, that image gets contained and distributed within your RSS feed as well. You don’t have to have a unique feature image for every episode. If you don’t upload one, iTunes and Google and all those places just use your main podcast cover art as the featured image.
When you search on podcasts and it shows you episodes, there’s an icon usually to the left of every listing. That’s either your featured image or it’s your cover art. If you put a different image for every episode in your RSS feed, that can very quickly make the entire file size of your RSS feed large as well. Think of it, a different image for every episode is going to add more fractions of megabytes and eventually megabytes. There is also another limitation in the RSS standards out there in the podcast world for a maximum file size of your RSS feed itself. You may not realize this as you embark on a podcast. For 100 plus episodes, you’re recording, you’re distributing, everything’s fine and then all of a sudden one day, the next one you publish, it doesn’t show up on iTunes or anywhere else and you’re wondering why.
It can be because you reached the maximum file size for your RSS feed. The distribution channels don’t give you feedback or warning that that’s going to happen. Just all of a sudden, one day it won’t work and you have to figure out why. There are diagnostic tools that can be used and services that can help figure that out but it’s no fun. This is one of the advantages of working with a company who is producing and distributing your episodes on your behalf. It’s their job to take care of these things and help troubleshoot them if there ever do come to be a problem. Why is this important? I’m sure most of you, even if you’re using a service, you may not realize you have an RSS feed. You may not have known the term, it may not be important to you and I understand that. I don’t necessarily expect everyone to realize they have an RSS feed or that that’s the mechanism for distributing your podcasts.
Here’s where it becomes important. A lot of people start hosting their podcasts either on their own website, if you have a WordPress website, using a plug-in called PowerPress. That’s pretty popular and it’s been very popular in recent years, especially if you have your own WordPress website and you don’t want to pay for a separate media host or podcast host as they’re often called because usually there’s a cost for that. There’s a past episode that we did called Best and Worst Podcast Websites and we talked a lot about different software or platforms you can use to build your website. Within that episode we talked about PowerPress. I’m not going to rehash that here. If you didn’t hear that, you might go back to that episode.
While PowerPress is a fine plugin and there are a lot of things we like about it, there are also some potential pitfalls of using it. We don’t recommend using it to distribute your own podcast from your own website because there are just too many technical problems that we’ve seen come up with real-world situations. Customers that we’ve worked with where a problem with their website negatively impacted their podcast in terms of being distributed properly out there to the world. The root of the problem was the fact that they were hosting it from their own website.When it’s a free service, you should be wary of where their interests lie. Click To Tweet
Here’s a good example of the next thing I want to talk about. At some point, you may switch podcast hosts or media hosts for a feature or benefit that you’d like to have that your current hosting company or situation is not capable of or maybe for more reliability. We’ve seen people use some of these podcast hosting companies that are offering free podcast hosting and when it’s free, my real experience and feeling is you get what you pay for. You are at the mercy of this company that’s hosting your podcast and they’re not being paid or incentivized to look after your best interests. Usually, when it’s a free service, there’s some reason they’re hosting it that’s more in their interest than it is in yours. You don’t discover this until you have a problem.
There may be a number of reasons why you end up switching podcast hosts and there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing that. This can be done very well without losing any of your subscribers or even your statistics, depending on what podcast hosting platform you’re moving to. When we do this on our podcast hosting platform, which is Podetize.com, when we migrate someone from another service, we do it for them. They don’t have to worry about any of it. We move all their episodes. We transfer all their statistics into our system. You maintain and you know how many historic downloads you’ve had in every episode. We also make sure that when we switch you, you don’t lose any subscribers.
This is the tricky part in any of you that are doing a podcast on your own. You’re what we would call a DIY or do-it-yourself podcaster, and you’re going to switch hosts. You need to know how to do this, how to switch RSS feeds or switch media hosts. Your RSS feed that we talked about earlier is a URL of information, an actual web address. If you know your RSS feed and you copy and paste it into a browser window and hit enter, it will display a very long string of text. It will fill the browser and more. You’ll have to scroll all the way down to see it all, depending on how many episodes you have because there’s text information for every episode. You can see all the information contained in your RSS feed. That RSS feed is a web address that is coming from the website or the server that all your stuff’s hosted on. That domain name is usually from that company that you’re hosting with or if you’re using PowerPress, it’s from your own website.
That’s the address that iTunes and all those different places use to get your shows. When you switch hosts, that RSS feed will change from an address at the old location to an address at the new location. This is where it can go wrong if you don’t do it properly or if you don’t have someone doing it for you who knows what they’re doing. This is the caution and warning and what you need to watch out for. There’s a right way and there are many wrong ways to do this. If you do it the wrong way, you can have trouble and you can lose subscribers or have your show temporarily delisted from the different distribution channels. That would be a very bad thing. It can be done very well and be completely seamless. The way that it gets done properly in modern times is one of two ways.
I’m going to first talk about the old school way and then what’s happened with changes in standards in the industry and the new school way. Both work, but one’s a little more involved than the other. The old school way is when you have a new media host and everything’s copied over and essentially your podcast for a period of time will exist on both platforms, the old host and the new host. By the way, your podcast hosting company, if you’re using one, should cooperate fully with helping you do this. We pledged to do the same on Podetize.com. Even if you decide to leave us, which has never happened thus far in the history of our hosting company but I’m sure it will, it’s inevitable. Somebody will decide they want to move to another host and we completely assist and cooperate with doing that because we want you to succeed. We don’t want you to lose any listeners or have any issues with your show.
When you switch, you maintain the old host for a period of overlapping about a month from when you start on the new host. What you do, you have your new RSS feed and you’re going to publish episodes to both platforms. If you’re publishing a new one the following coming Monday, you’re going to put it up on both platforms for that period of time and this is so you make sure whether a service is pulling from the old or the new, they’re going to get the information they need. Then you are going to go to each different platform. If you did this yourself, if you’re a do-it-yourselfer and you went in and registered your show on each of those different platforms, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music, TuneIn, iHeart, Spotify, you’re going to go to each of them.
You likely have an account for each of those or if you don’t, some of them just have a submission form, you’re going to submit it, but then they have a customer service contact email. You’re going to email each of those platforms or you’re going to log into your account for each platform and you’re going to update the RSS feed and that is you enter in that new URL and resubmit it to them or change it with your listing on their platform. Then they will start pulling your feed from the new location and not the old. There is a way with every platform to tell what RSS feeds they’re pulling from. That’s the old school way. You’d have to go and do it with all those different platforms. As iTunes and as Apple has progressed in this podcast industry that’s now about fifteen years old or maybe fourteen, something like that, they have made this a little easier.There is a right way as well as wrong ways to do something. Click To Tweet
There is another thing you need to do that allows this new process to work better and that is your old host, you get them to create a 301 redirect from your old feed to your new feed. Basically, if you have any experience in website stuff, if you’ve ever done any one of your own websites, you’ve probably experienced a 301 redirect. When you’ve moved a page on your website from one older name to a new name or maybe you changed websites altogether and have a different URL. You want people who go to the old web address to make sure they get to the new web address. There are a few ways you can accomplish that. One of the ways is what they call 301 redirect. All that is it’s a piece of information on your website that says anybody who was going to this old URL, instead of going there, we need the internet to send them to this new URL, to this new address.
It’s basically a forwarding address. Think of it like forwarding your mail when you move physical addresses. I’m getting old school in this episode because snail mail, I think we all still use it, but it has become much less important in our lives and it’s been a long time since I’ve moved and had to fill one of those change of address forms out and submit it to the post office, but it’s very similar to that in principle. You’re going to have a 301 redirect for any pages that you move or that ceased to exist and you don’t want people to get a 404 file not found error. You can use a redirect to send them to another page so that they don’t get an error like that. They go somewhere different.
It’s the same thing with your podcast RSS feed. A 301 redirect is very important. Maybe you have a track player on a blog post on your website for a particular episode. That track player points to the episode within your RSS feed. If you move the feed and you didn’t have a redirect, when somebody clicks on that track player, they would hear nothing. There would be no file there, but if you have a redirect and it’s pointing to the file on the new feed, they will still get that podcast easily. Redirects are very important. You definitely get a redirect so that anybody who, for whatever reason, from whatever service, it doesn’t matter, has the address or the feed for the old hosts, they’re still going to get your stuff. Then during the time that that redirect is active, then you re-register your show in all the platforms.
Here’s the neat part. Here’s what Apple and iTunes changed within just the last six months to a year at most. The better services or the premier services, which I would call still iTunes and maybe Google Play, those are the primary ones that do this. Their algorithms, their systems are smart enough to know when you’ve redirected your feed. Meaning when somebody is requesting an episode from the old host but when iTunes goes to get the file, it’s being redirected and they’re pulling it from the new host, they can tell. Their computer systems and algorithms know it. They have now made it automatic that you don’t even need to re-register your new RSS feed with iTunes when you change hosts. All you have to do is redirect your old feed to the new feed, but keep the old feed and new feed active for a couple of weeks.The best practice is to redirect your old feed to the new feed. Click To Tweet
In their case, it usually takes place within a week or so but we recommend leaving it up for at least a couple of weeks. Then they will automatically say, “This feed is being redirected.” As long as your feed has all the same proper information that was registered with them in the first place for you being the author and the email address being the same, if nothing else in the feed has changed but the feed URL, they say, “This podcaster is now hosting from this other location, we’re going to go ahead and change the official RSS feed for this show to the new one.” They do it for you and you don’t have to worry about it, it’s done. The best practice is to redirect your old feed to the new feed, leave the old feed active for about a month overlap, just to be sure, and then those services will change it automatically.
Not all of the services out there, not all of the podcast distribution platforms are doing this automatic redirect. Stitcher qualifies for this, TuneIn, Spotify, iHeart, and you may have to check with each one, you may still have to go in and update your RSS feed to the new one to each of those platforms. That’s another reason to leave the old host active for about a month. I know that I’ve got a little more DIY and a little more technical than we usually do on this podcast but this is an important issue. I hope I’ve communicated to you why that is.
The danger is your show all of a sudden, is gone overnight on one of these platforms and it may still be up on the other platforms both. The first case I told you about earlier about the one that was delisted from iTunes because of the cover art is too large a file size, that only ended up being a problem on iTunes. On the other platforms, they haven’t adopted that same strict restriction of the cover art image file size and so the podcast remains to be available on those other platforms. It was just iTunes, but iTunes has the lion’s share of listeners of podcasts. It’s a pretty scary prospect for getting delisted. I don’t always like to get technical, but this is an important issue that too many podcasters are not aware of.
You need to be aware of it, do a little homework or get some advice if you’re not already working with a service or a company that’s a professional in the industry that is going to handle these things on your behalf. Just be aware of it and maybe get some Google Alerts and stay on top of it. It’s mostly an issue if you’re going to switch hosts, that’s where it becomes a big deal. As I’ve shown with a couple of examples here, there can be other issues that cause problems with your RSS feed. I’m just trying to provide you some helpful information and hopefully keep you from having one of these nightmare scenarios and having it wreak havoc in your schedule without notice that you have to jump through hoops and try to fix things.Sometimes, there are so many wrenches that get thrown in the works. Click To Tweet
That’s the last thing any of us, I’m sure, want to be dealing with as podcasters. All we want to do is to record, put our podcasts out there to the world so that our audiences can benefit from them and enjoy them on a regular basis. That’s all we want. Unfortunately, sometimes there are some wrenches that get thrown in the works and it isn’t always as smooth as you want it to be. I hope this has been useful to you and I hope I haven’t put you to sleep. I can do that, I have to admit, especially when I started talking about something a little more technical.
I promise we’re going to be back with some great episodes and some great guests here coming up. We’ve got a great lineup for you for the foreseeable future. Tracy, Alexandra, and I are all excited to be with you going forward and we look forward to hearing from you as well. If you have any questions about this or any other episode or questions about other things that you’d like to hear about, please reach out to us anywhere in social media, especially on Facebook at Feed Your Brand. Thanks much, everybody. It’s great to be back with you. We’ll talk to you next time. This has been Tom on Feed Your Brand.