500,000 Downloads In One Year and 1,200 Reviews Later: What I Did (or Think I Did) to Continue to Grow as a Podcaster

Steve Sarumi
Oct 29 · 11 min read
The Dashboard to Simplecast, which I started using in August of 2018

I’ve been podcasting for over nine years now, and I wanted to write something up in regards to my journey making podcasts. I don’t think I am an expert by any means, but if I could help a single person from this post, I feel that has some worth to me!

I started off podcasting because I loved to listen to podcasts. While I don’t think what I actually podcast about is relevant, Pokémon news, I do think, which I’m sure has been said countless times, that having a specialized topic helps. I wanted a podcast dedicated to folks talking about Pokémon and the shows that existed at the time were not consistent and/or completely inactive, so I started my own.

I made choices for how to conduct my podcast based on what I like as a podcast listener. My goal is for this to be like a guide for new podcaster or even podcasters that may think they can do more, but not sure where or what to focus on. I’m going to break this down into some of my thoughts on podcasting and you can take from it what you will!

Platform

I started podcasting in 2010 and uploading my show to .Mac. Eventually after .Mac changed into MobileMe (which is now iCloud), I moved all my episodes to a GoDaddy server and redirected the RSS feed from there. There were about 4 years of podcasting when I never knew how many people were listening to the show. The main reasons that I kept going was receiving emails saying that the podcast made peoples’ days brighter and seeing an increase in traffic to the website where I published the podcast episodes.

I eventually moved the podcast to Soundcloud to get stats, have a built-in player, and to take advantage of their search engine. This was before IAB and sites like Anchor or Pinecast really took off, I would not recommend Soundcloud for podcasts now. Around the summer of 2018, after Spotify started accepting all podcasts, I moved off Soundcloud to Simplecast. One of the exciting things that came from all this is that my Simplecast numbers are much higher than my Soundcloud numbers were two years ago. Soundcloud today still lacks IAB compliance, so I’m sure Soundcloud was reporting on lot of duplicate listens, so yay growth year over year.

Apple Podcasts and iTunes makes up the majority of my listener base

That being said, I’ve been really happy with Simplecast! I have no issues with them and no plans to move in the future to a new platform. Currently, Apple represents 68% of my audience, Castbox 5%, Pocket Casts 4%, Spotify 4%, Overcast 3%, Google Podcasts 2%, Stitcher 2%, and then the rest. As of the end of 2018, Spotify represented 19% of the podcast market. I’d guess my adoption rate with Spotify is low because my show has been around well before Spotify got into podcasting?

Advertising

I’ve experimented with ads on reddit, I’ve done some ads on Facebook, and I actually am currently running an ad for the podcast on Overcast. In retrospect, I don’t think any of these ads were worth it. Looking at Overcast, even if it gets double the subscribers it has now (18 currently, estimating 36 at the end) that’s comes to about $3 per 1 new person listening to the podcast.

For all the money I have tried to put into advertising, nothing really seems to be “worth it” to me. I’d probably tell anyone to use that money to upgrade their equipment instead of paying for these kinds of ads currently.

Featured on iTunes

My show was featured a couple times on iTunes! Apple has collections and curates categories based on similar shows. Currently, I can see collections based on Parenting, Cooking, Book Lovers, but there was at the time a collection called Press Start + Gaming, which my show was featured under. Long story short, while this may have gotten me a couple listeners, there was never a huge spike in traffic when that collection launched. Apple did email me about my show being featured, but that email came about 2 months after I already discovered the collection myself in iTunes. I believe there was a post on this subreddit about someone else’s podcast being featured and how they didn’t see a dramatic impact in new listens either, but as of writing this I cannot find that post.

I have no advice here to be featured because I didn’t DO anything to be featured. I guess I’d just say that being featured didn’t make my show an overnight hit.

Equipment

I started off podcasting in 2010 with a Blue Yeti, then a couple years later upgraded to a Blue Yeti Pro. Over a two-year period, I jumped from microphone to microphone including AT2020+, Shure SM48, Sennheiser e835, Rode NT-USB, and the Samson Meteor Mic. Then about four years ago, after my podcast started to make money, I pulled the trigger on an Electro Voice RE20 and a Focusrite Scarlett. Just like how a new suit can make you feel confident, I did feel like podcasting from an RE20 gave me some weird confidence boost that I was maybe lacking in my early years of doing the show. I started off editing my podcast in Apple’s GarageBand, I now use Reaper.FM to edit my show. For what it’s worth, I use a program called Audio Hijack to record my end and local guests.

While I don’t personally recommend the Blue Yeti, I do recommend to people the ATR2100 for under $100 and if they want to go down the XLR route, I think the MXL BCD-1 is a great microphone (under $200). People’s opinions on microphones vary, but even with all the editing techniques and effects I’ve used and learned in Reaper.FM, I still think the time it takes to make the Blue Yeti sound good during post is not worth the investment of one.

Guests

I’ve had a variety of guests on the show and some worked and some didn’t. I will state that my podcast’s primary focus is covering news, so we don’t have guests on very often, but here’s what I discovered. YouTube guests, sorry to my YouTube friends, always seemed like a waste. I’ve had YouTubers on the show who had anywhere from 200,000 subscribers to 1,200,000 subscribers and we barely saw an increase in listeners for that show, even after seeing that guest tweet it out or mention it at the end of their latest video.

On the other hand, our best episodes with guests came from other podcasters. I had Dan Ryckert and Jeff Gerstmann from Giant Bomb (one of the most successful video games podcasts on the web) on their own episodes to give their input on video games and the industry as a whole, and my show saw double the amount of normal downloads for their respective episodes.

An outlier to the two examples above was that I had Austin Creed from WWE on my podcast and that episode did just as well as having the folks over from Giant Bomb on the show.

Video Game podcasts featured by Apple in the Leisure Category

I should probably answer how I got guests like Jeff Gerstmann or Austin Creed on my show. The simple answer is: I just asked. Austin Creed I just tweeted at, and Jeff Gerstmann I met at PAX West, and I asked if he’d love to share his thoughts about Pokémon Snap with me on the podcast.

I do know that guests can bring in new listeners, but from my experience, I’d take a smaller personality with their audience versed in podcasts already over a huge personality with no podcast following, like someone who may only do YouTube. Of course, these are all my experiences so far — yours may be different.

Editing

All my editing of the show has been self-taught. I’ve asked around, watched videos, and listened to my own podcasts several times on Apple’s freebie headphones, car speakers, studio headphones, studio speakers, and portable speakers just to make sure it’s something I would personally enjoy. On my personal time, I listen to Giant Bomb, The Vergecast, and Reply All, so if my show sounds just as good, I am satisfied. That’s not always possible with a guest or a phone call interview, but I try to make the core of the show sound as good as possible.

All my tracks have a ReaFir, ReaComp, and ReaGate on them, and I would encourage you to look into those three and what they do! I make sure that the intro/outro segment music doesn’t cause the listener to increase or decrease their volume while listening, which is a pet peeve of mine while listening to shows. I read somewhere that the average listener decided whether or not they will continue to listen to your podcast at the 18-minute mark, so I always made sure the first 18 minutes of my show was as strong as it could be. While writing that, I found I was probably wrong about the 18 minute stuff (19 percent abandoned the podcast at the 30–45 minute time), but I don’t think it’s going to change how I edit.

Overall, I aim to produce a 90-minute weekly show. Recording sessions usually take about 3 hours and we end up with about 2 hours of material. I trim out any segments that just didn’t seem interesting in retrospect and I cut off topic stuff that isn’t engaging enough. I would say on average it takes me about 2 hours to edit it.

Making Money

I started this podcast in the summer of 2010. I didn’t launch a Patreon for my podcast until December of 2015. I currently do not run ads on my show, although we have very few times in the past here and there. With the amount of listens, I am told I should run ads, but I haven’t found a company(s) that has been willing to form a relationship at this time with me. As a listener, I think that a podcast pushing a Patreon can be just as annoying as the website domain, food delivery, or mattress ads that appear on podcasts. I have actually seen the most success with Patreon by bringing it up once every 4 episodes at the beginning of the month. Start of the month, I’ll spend a little time explaining what the Patreon offers and then the rest of the podcasts for the month, we just don’t really run ads for the Patreon itself. If a listener is dedicated to explore the show notes, they’ll find links there or on the podcast’s website. Mileage may vary with this tactic, but I think Patreon rants every episode can get old very quickly.

Growing

My show started off as a couple of friends talking weekly about a topic we loved. It wasn’t really until I sought out people that were as passionate as I was about creating something that felt like it wasn’t a waste of time for a listener. I make sure that it’s out every Monday afternoon for people. I always think about the “new listener” and that the episode I am putting out could be the first one they listen to. As stated earlier, if we start off the podcast off-topic and in retrospect, when I am re-listening to it, it comes across boring or dull, it gets cut. At one point, the endings to our show seemed drawn out, so I worked hard to make an ending that felt worth it to a listener and not the same repetitive social puke that most podcasts blurt out at the end. I don’t think my show is perfect, but I am proud of the product I put out, and I think that’s where the growth comes in. I know that not everyone who listens now will be listening in 4 years, so when those people fall off, I still want an engaging product for any of those new people to feel comfortable jumping on.

Stats from Simplecast representing downloads between January 1st, 2019 to October 28th, 2019

Trial and Error

What I didn’t talk about until now is the other podcasts I’ve started in the last 9 years that fell flat. I started a board gaming podcast, which I handed off to my friends and they still run today. I was passionate about board games, but I realized in myself that I just didn’t have time to play and talk about board games weekly. When I left, that show was getting about 1,200 unique downloads a week, but just like how it feels like “generalized video game podcasts” dominate in Apple podcasts, the amount of “generalized board game podcasts” do as well in the Leisure category. Speaking of specialized topics, I took what I learned with Pokémon and applied it to another video game called Monster Hunter. I did that show for about 2 years and it just went on hiatus because of life. While that show was getting around 2,000 unique downloads a week, the video game of Monster Hunter doesn’t have the audience size as other popular video games, plus the actual trickle of news and content is lacking compared to other constantly updated games.

The Carve was another podcast that I hosted and produced weekly, currently on hiatus

I don’t think either of these podcasts as failures. I’m sure plenty of podcasters would love to see 1,000+ unique listens a week. The thing I learned from both these shows is why my main show is so successful, because even after nine years, I have never gotten sick about the topics and the news I report on each week. I don’t regret for a second branching out and working with new co-hosts on new topics because it pointed out a lot of strengths and weaknesses that I had as a podcaster.

Conclusion

As it turns out, I didn’t really lay out any perfect tactic I did to grow my show that you probably haven’t heard before. With a lot of content creation, consistency, passion, and luck do factor in here. With my show, I think because there was a very long period of the lack of “Pokémon podcasts” in the world, my show filled a void that was missing. Now, if you were to look, you’d find dozen of shows similar to mine, some small and still going, lots of shows that started off and then fell off with inactive feeds still sitting there.

As a fan of podcasts, I know exactly what I like and don’t like in podcasts. I have a pretty low tolerance of dealing with bad audio. I can’t handle shows that are inconsistent when posting. If the post-production is lacking or overkill, it takes me out of the show and I focus on that instead of the content being presented. These things that draw me to podcasts are what I’ve used to create my own podcasts, and I think that foundation has helped me create a couple successful shows that people can enjoy weekly.

TLDR: Nothing in this post will make your podcast a success overnight.

If you are interested in my podcast, It’s Super Effective, you can find it here on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher Radio, or just on my website! If you have any feedback about this, you can always reach out to me directly on my personal Twitter!

Steve Sarumi

Written by

Full-time Podcaster and Twitch Partner. Babysitting adults on the internet for a living. Nintendo Brand Ambassador, powered by G Fuel, and living off Soylent.

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