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Should You Be Publishing Your Podcast on YouTube?

Our YouTube channel on the left, our website on the right.

Conventional podcast publishing involves three things: some MP3 files, connected to each other in an RSS feed, listed in the Apple Podcasts (formerly known as iTunes) directory. This is both podcasting’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. Being a decentralized medium based on a set of standards, there is no one entity that has absolute influence (nor can school networks block all podcast hosts.) On the other hand, we miss out on some great features that centralized systems bring with them. Most of these features have to do with discoverability, but audience feedback and analytics are also much easier.

The Nexus has existed as a small-time podcast network for five years. For the first two years, the only way you could find our shows was by stumbling across our website. Then we added our shows to the Apple Podcasts directory, and saw our download numbers jump significantly. The decision to publish on Apple Podcasts really is a no-brainer, since you retain ownership of your files and feed, and almost every podcast listening app out there uses the Apple Podcasts directory to populate their own.

It never occurred to me that publishing on YouTube was a thing until I saw that Dear Hank & John was cross-posting their episodes. They only did that for the first few, but it got the gears in my mind spinning. YouTube has traditionally been dominated by short video content, but beneath the surface you can spot things that may make it feasible for long audio podcasts: the list of videos with the most views is consistently filled with songs, and you can be sure that most of the time people just play them and listen to the music while doing something else; the launch of YouTube Red brought with it a switch in emphasis from number of views to watch time, as well as the possibility of downloading content to mobile devices and playing it in the background.

So in July 2016 I decided to start publishing our shows on YouTube in addition to on our website. Once I figured out a script for converting MP3 files to MP4s (YouTube doesn’t allow you to just upload audio files) it didn’t take much extra time to publish each episode on YouTube.

To figure out if publishing on YouTube has actually made a difference for The Nexus, I took a look at our download numbers. Feel free to peruse the whole spreadsheet, but I will go over the most interesting points here.

First, note that all of our sharing efforts have been towards the MP3 episodes. Anytime we post on social media (or I force my students to listen to an episode,) we link to the episode on our own website. This means that our YouTube views are skewed towards people who simply stumbled across the episodes through YouTube’s various suggestion features.

Second, we operate at an extremely small scale (typically 20–30 MP3 downloads per episode) so I cannot speak to how these numbers scale up. I do notice that in the case of Dear Hank & John, their MP3 downloads are about 66 times higher than their YouTube views.

Third, note that even within our network, the MP3-to-YouTube ratio varies wildly from show to show. Control Structure, for example, is a computer science news show by developers for developers. It has very niche appeal, and the crowd it attracts is more inclined to use open systems, so it is not a surprise that the MP3 downloads are 9.5 times higher than YouTube views. Second Opinion, on the other hand, is a review show that covers everything from popular movies to the latest electronics. On average its MP3 downloads are only 1.8 times higher than its YouTube views. Looking at its individual episodes reveals the most interesting bit of information: the ones that perform best on YouTube are the ones dealing with specific pieces of technology (either devices or apps.) In particular, our review of Project Fi has 15 times more views on YouTube than MP3 downloads. Another key difference is that the episode titles on Second Opinion very clearly convey what the topic of the episode is going to be; Control Structure episode titles are usually a goofy phrase that someone said in the recording, so they are much less searchable.

So, has publishing on YouTube been worth it? On average across our network, the MP3 downloads have been twice as high as the YouTube views. It has not made nearly the difference that Apple Podcasts did, but our listenership did grow by 50% as a result of publishing on YouTube. It is difficult to know how many people who discovered us through YouTube went on to become regular listeners.

Listenership aside, YouTube has had several benefits for us. These mostly have to do with the way YouTube is structured and the unique features it offers:

  1. It has encouraged me to think about the extra information we publish alongside the episodes in new ways. Indexing is a problem for audio and video formats, but YouTube has a lot of tools for creators to connect content together and add context for search algorithms. I have taken some of those lessons back to the MP3 side, incorporating things like timestamps into the show notes.
  2. Using YouTube’s tools has also been good practice for future projects that will be native to YouTube.
  3. Podcasting normally relies on ads read by the hosts, but at our small scale nobody would want to advertise on our shows. YouTube provides a platform that scales down, so we can make some money (even if it is a pittance.)
  4. Some aspects of publishing on YouTube would be far too time-consuming for podcasts, such as providing proper captioning. Thankfully, those are not necessary. If you have enough fans, you may be able to rely on them to contribute captioning.
  5. We have gotten far more audience feedback as comments on the YouTube channel than through any other channel. Despite the fact that at the end of every episode we encourage listeners to contact us on Twitter or via email, there isn’t anything as easy as posting a comment on the very page you are listening on.
  6. YouTube can give you so much data on analytics, it really drives home how limited we are on the MP3 side. Once an MP3 file is downloaded, I have no idea what is done with it. YouTube can tell me how long people listened, their demographics, how people found each episode, what device they were using, etc.

I believe that posting full podcast episodes on YouTube can be very beneficial for creators. The biggest challenge is incorporating it into your publishing workflow. Feel free to use the script I created, or if you want my assistance posting your show, feel free to hire me!