Using WordPress.com for a podcast

With help from my co-host Maria, I recently launched a podcast on movies and mental health. I was completely new to the podcasting world and had to learn virtually everything from scratch — and with podcasting, there is a lot to learn if you want to get off to a strong start. How do I record? What microphone do I use? How do we come up with content?

A big question I was initially intimidated by was how to manage the podcast feed. There are numerous options available, including SoundCloud, Blubrry, and Buzzsprout. I wanted a full-package solution that would make it easy not only to broadcast the podcast to iTunes and other channels, but also make listening online easy. I ended up going with WordPress.com, a less popular option, but one that I really liked.

If you’re in the same spot I was in, wondering how to manage your feed and make listening easy, it would be worth checking out WordPress.com. Here’s what I’ve found out about this podcast hosting option.

Positive: It’s easy

One big thing WordPress.com has going for it is its ease of use, not only for the podcast feed, but for the website. WordPress.com has podcasting features baked right into its core, and I was actually surprised how easy it was.

The process of enabling a podcast is simple. In the site settings, under the Writing tab, there’s a section for podcasting where you can enable podcasting support.

When you click the Set Up button, you’ll be taken to the podcast settings page, where you select a blog category for your podcasts and fill in some basic information about your podcast, like a description and some cover art. That’s really it on the WordPress side.

Once that’s done, the Podcasting section on the Writing tab will give you your feed link:

From there, once all the information is filled in and you have at least one episode posted, just copy that link and go through the submission process on iTunes and other podcast channels.

WordPress.com has great instructions on how to do all of this and I wasn’t confused once. Once enabled, making a podcast episode is as easy as uploading your MP3 to your site’s media library (super-simple), creating a blog post, and embedding the audio file in the blog post. If you can create a blog post, you can create a podcast episode.

Positive: Website integration

WordPress.com will manage your feed, but honestly, any good podcast host will do that. Where WordPress.com really shines is in integrating the podcast with your website. There are a lot of casual listeners who may not want to subscribe via iTunes or create a Spotify account, but would listen to an episode on your website. WordPress.com takes care of both — a podcast episode is also a blog post on your site, and all episodes are streamable online.

It’s possible to do this with other podcasting hosts. SoundCloud in particular has a nice little player you can embed in your website. What’s nice about WordPress.com is that there are no extra steps required. You add a podcast episode in the same step that you create the post on your website with the player. Here’s part of one of the resulting pages from our site, with the embedded player:

This also gives you the opportunity to provide partial or complete transcripts in a central place, to make your podcast accessible to hearing-impaired users as well as help your podcast to be more easily found in search engines. There are many potential listeners who will search for podcasts via Google or Bing, and having a way to reach them can help build your audience.

Positive: WordPress.com is a social network

In addition to getting listed in major search engines, WordPress.com itself is a social network where people actively seek out new content. For instance, on my podcast about movies and mental health, I’ll add hashtags to each post about the movie, director, and mental health issue we’re covering that episode. I frequently get random WordPress.com users that wander in based on those hashtags. The podcast is only a few weeks old at this point, but probably around half of our listeners found us that way.

WordPress.com also gives you a chance to engage with the community. You can follow hashtags or use the search feature to find blogs and other podcasts with similar interests. From there, join in on the conversation! Follow their blogs, comment on posts, and maybe even find a few small podcasts to be a guest on. As Zig Ziglar once said, if you go out looking for a friend, you’ll find they’re scarce; but if you set out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere. Engage with other people’s content and they’ll often return the favor.

This is also a great way to see what other podcasters and writers in your niche are doing. When searching for podcasts, it’s easy to look right to the big names with large companies backing them, but many of their tactics will be out of reach for amateur podcasters just getting started. The social aspect of WordPress.com helps you connect and stay in touch with others in the same boat as you, which can really help you figure out what to do when you’re first getting started.

Positive: It’s easy to make a great website

WordPress.com is a very popular platform for website creators because of its flexibility. I have a movie review site I run on the side with no podcasting whatsoever — it’s just text posts, and WordPress.com was a great choice for that. In fact, WordPress.com is a solution I often pitch to small businesses as a way to make and maintain their websites. Even if you choose to go with another podcast host, it may be worth looking at WordPress.com just for its website management capabilities.

You may have noticed I’m saying WordPress.com a lot rather than just WordPress. WordPress is web software that can be installed anywhere. For that, you’d need to get your own hosting and domain name, and set up database. Many, many websites use WordPress, and it’s one of the most trusted content management systems available. WordPress.com is a hosted WordPress solution, which means they’ll take care of the database setup, security updates, and all the other stuff you’d probably need a web developer for if you were trying to run WordPress on your own. It lets you get right to the content.

Both WordPress and WordPress.com are flexible enough to be a good solution for both seasoned web developers and people who haven’t written a line of code and don’t want to learn. I myself am a web developer, and I have several other sites that I’ve coded by hand, writing every line of code myself. WordPress.com allows me to focus on my writing and syndication. It just makes things easier.

Positive: WordPress.com makes it easy to take your data elsewhere

Site owners who create their sites using tools like Squarespace or Wix are often not-so-pleasantly surprised to find out that if they want to move to another platform, there’s no easy way to take their content with them. WordPress and WordPress.com make it easy to export your content, including all posts and pages, and move it to another WordPress installation somewhere else, or even a different content management system. In short, you own your data, and WordPress.com respects that.

Now, you might be asking, if WordPress.com is so great, why would I want to move somewhere else? Well…

Negative: WordPress plugins and custom themes are premium features

One great thing about WordPress is the wide array of plugins available for just about anything you would want to do. As I mentioned, WordPress.com is a hosted solution that takes care of some of the more technical things for you. Unfortunately, one of the features they lock down is plugin installation. This is available to users with a business plan (which, frankly, costs too much to be worth it to a brand new podcast), but users of lesser plans will be stuck with the few plugins that come pre-installed.

Additionally, WordPress.com does not allow you to upload your own theme unless you’re a business plan user. There are plenty of free themes and some premium ones that are pretty good and available to WordPress.com users (I’m using a free one for both my podcast site and my movie review site), but this is a limitation to be aware of. Honestly, though, if you’re in a place where you can create your own custom theme, you’d probably want control of everything else as well and would want to run your own installation of WordPress. If you’re using WordPress.com, it could be that you will outgrow the platform and need more control of your site. Thanks to the portability of your data that I mentioned above, this is not a huge deal.

Negative: Analytics suck

There’s one more negative to mention, and it’s a big one. Most podcast hosts will be able to tell you at a glance how many plays you’re getting, what your most popular episodes are, and how many people are listening to the whole thing versus leaving pretty quickly. WordPress.com will not tell you any of that. It has some simplified analytics tracking for telling you who’s coming to your site and from where, but cannot tell you anything about podcast plays on your site or elsewhere.

I asked WordPress.com support about this. They confirmed there’s no way to do this with WordPress.com, aside from third-party plugins, which, as I said above, can’t be installed without a business plan. There didn’t seem to be any indication that this was being worked on either.

So where does that leave podcasters? There are some third-party solutions, but that defies the one-source-for-everything appeal of WordPress.com. Most podcast channels like iTunes and Spotify will give you basic analytics for their channel. So you’ll be able to get each channel’s analytics data, but you wouldn’t have a holistic view of everything. This may not be a big deal to start, but can be a real pain when you start getting some listeners and go after advertisers. They’ll want to know how many listens you’re getting a month. It’ll be up to you to aggregate the information from all sources.

The third-party solutions I mentioned are things like PodTrac. Basically, you give your feed to PodTrac, and PodTrac gives you a new feed that runs through their system that you then give to podcast channels. In fact, many podcasters using other podcast hosts use these third-party tools because some of them are great. But it is an extra step that can be a little daunting for someone just getting started.

So is it worth it?

Overall, I would say yes, I’m happy with my decision. I make websites for a living, so having a great website was very important to me, and I’m finding that a lot of our listeners are listening on our website, meaning we probably would not have them as listeners if we didn’t have that option. Additionally, having one platform to work with for both my podcast feed and my website greatly simplifies things. I’ve yet to implement the third-party analytics tools, and I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed to find out about that limitation, but WordPress.com’s other strengths make up for this. Is it the best podcast host? It is for some people, and it might be for you. Look at your needs before making the decision, but I’ve been happy with the service.