Imagine you’re scrolling through a sea of new podcasts episodes to choose from. What’s going to make you stop, click, and listen?
Chances are, the episode title will have a big influence. It’s one of the first things you see. So it’s important your titles help incentivise listeners to hit play.
A good title will let people know exactly what to expect from an episode at a glance. Ideally, you want it to reel potential listeners in as soon as they see it. But you want to avoid misleading, clickbait titles. Easier said than done. Fortunately there are some standard best practices you can employ to help you get it right.
Don’t Use Clickbait Titles
Giving your episodes sensationalist titles to hook people in is tempting. You want your titles to be compelling. But making unrealistic promises in them isn’t the way to go.
If you want to build up a loyal audience, you’re going to need to gain trust. And if there’s one thing clickbait is good at, it’s destroying trust. You actually have to deliver what your episode titles promise. If you don’t, listeners will immediately write you off as dishonest and won’t listen to your show again. They aren’t stupid.
You need your content to be interesting enough that you don’t need to mislead potential listeners to get them on board. It’s fine to pick the most exciting part of your podcast episode and use that for your title. But if you title your episode ‘My Most Embarrassing Moment Ever!’ and then only give one vague sentence on that topic, that’s clickbait. It’s better to use your titles to give a real idea of exactly what listeners can expect.
Keywords Are Your Best Friends
If someone’s looking for your kind of content, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to find it. Using relevant keywords in your podcast episode titles is a great way to do this.
Include key words and phrases that are likely to match up with a listeners search intent.
Put yourself in the shoes of your target listener. What will they be looking for before they stumble across your podcast? What kinds of words will they be scanning their screens for? This could be anything from ‘white privilege in America’ to ‘dating and relationships during COVID’. It all depends on your show. You want key phrases that match up with listeners' search intent.
Podcast apps like Apple Podcasts and Spotify show individual episodes when people search for stuff. So keywords like that are amazing for your SEO strategy. But on a more human level, they’ll also make your titles more readable too. People scrolling through their podcast app are usually looking for something to grab their attention. A vague title that doesn’t tell them what to expect isn’t going to do that. But if you’ve got keywords telling them exactly what content you’ll cover, they know at a glance whether your podcast is for them.
But Don’t Go Overboard with Keywords
Keywords are great. But there is such a thing as too many. If you’re trying to game the system, it can be tempting to stuff as many searchable terms into your podcast episode titles as possible. So your show could end up having long-winded episodes called ‘How to Craft Compelling Podcast Episode Titles with Keywords, Improving Your SEO Strategy and Growing Your Audience’.
But your titles still need to be easy to read for actual humans too. Long, rambling ones with lots of repetitive terms won’t be compelling for people scrolling past your show. So it’s best to use one, two, or three most relevant keywords in your title, and put the rest in the podcast description.
Make Your Titles Compelling
Your episode title might well be a new listener’s first impression of your show. Conveying the right tone is crucial to make sure this impression does your podcast justice. You should aim to match the tone of your podcast in your titles. If you’re making a comedy show, but your episode titles seem dry and academic, potential new listeners aren’t going to be convinced to give it a go.
There’s some simple ways you can make your title more compelling. Putting your audience first, and addressing them directly with words like ‘you’ and ‘yours’, will make it feel much more personal. ‘How to’ titles are also great because they get right to the point, and immediately signal to your listeners what they’ll gain from tuning in. That’s why the title ‘How to Craft Compelling Podcast Episode Titles’ is more enticing than ‘Compelling Podcast Episode Titles’.
Plan out your episode titles before you produce them!
Another option could be to have a list as your title. So ‘7 Proven Podcast Formats for Planning Your Show’ is a much better title than ‘Podcast Formats and Their Features’. Both titles clearly describe what to expect from the content. But the first one puts the audience at the forefront by addressing them directly, and points to an easy to digest format with a list (not every episode has to feature a list though, don’t go full BuzzFeed).
You should also plan out your episode titles before you produce them. Having a title already in mind will help make sure you’ve got a clear idea what you want to say and how you want to say it before you press record. Your content will then be more focused, and more helpful to your listeners. This makes life much easier than trying to stick a good title on a meandering, unfocused recording.
How Long Should Your Episode Titles Be?
Your episode titles should be as short as possible. People scrolling through their options likely have very little patience. If they can’t understand what your show is about in less than a second, they’ll move onto the next one. So you’ve got to make your titles quick and easy to read.
Aiming for maximum of 60 characters is a good rule of thumb.
Titles with too many characters may get ‘clipped’ when displayed on podcast listening apps. Where the cut-off point is depends on the specific app and device. In the image below, notice how the long title gets clipped while the short one doesn't.
There are, of course, several factors here, including title length, screen size and resolution, and a user’s font size settings. As a general rule, the longer your show title, the greater the chances of it being clipped. So with that in mind, aiming for a maximum of 60 characters makes sense.
You don’t want to waste any of those precious characters on unnecessary stuff. That means there’s no need to include any information that will be shown elsewhere, like your name or your podcast’s name. You don’t need to include episode numbers either if you don’t want to. Apps like Apple Podcasts will sort your show by episode number anyway.
If you have to use a longer episode title, make sure you front load it. Put all the most important keywords at the beginning of the title. That means even if it gets cut off halfway through, listeners still have enough information to decide whether the show’s for them.
Descriptive vs Creative Titles
All this advice so far has been about making your titles as informative for listeners as possible. But is that always the right way to go?
Most of the time, a clear and descriptive title will draw in more listeners than a vague and confusing one. But it does depend on what kind of show you’re making. If it’s an advice podcast, or an educational one, descriptive is better. You might have a brilliant pun or an inside joke to show off your creative flair. That’s great, but it’s usually best to stick that somewhere else like in the description. You don’t want to waste your precious title on something that might not make sense to new listeners.
But if you’re working on a comedy podcast, or perhaps a fictional one, the rules don’t always apply. These kinds of podcasts usually don’t get their listeners from organic searches anyway. They tend to rely more on word of mouth recommendations. So having attention-grabbing podcast episode titles might not be as important. In that case, feel free to do whatever you want with it – be as weird and wild as you can!
Check Your Analytics
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on how your titles are doing. Compare how many new listeners you get for different kinds of titles you use. Do you get the most when it starts with ‘how to’? Or do certain keywords gain a bigger audience?
You don’t need to obsess over the numbers. But taking a look at them once in a while to see how you’re doing never hurts. If you want more detailed information, check your average consumption data on iTunes Podcast Connect. This shows how much of each of your episodes listeners consume on average. You want to try and get as close to 100% consumption as you can. The aim is to gain new listeners with your titles, but also to make them want to stay once they’ve hit play.
For more on how you can plan out your content to help retain listeners for longer, check out our conversation with Colin Gray, founder of The Podcast Host. He provides a comprehensive rundown on the key areas you should focus on.
Be Willing to Experiment
Keep in mind there’s not a cookie-cutter formula that works for every single episode title. Feel free to use the same kinds of titles for certain episodes, like list formats or ‘how to’ ones. But there’s value in having some variety too. Ultimately, the only way you’ll discover what works best for your show is a willingness to experiment. If you adopt a standard naming convention for your episodes and don’t change it out of habit, you could be missing out on potential new listeners.
There you have it, your ultimate guide to creating the best podcast episode titles. Follow our advice and you’ll be gaining new listeners with your titles in no time. Good luck!