Welcome back to those of you who follow the blog via RSS feed. Some very odd things were happenin, but we should be back to good. Here’s what you missed in November.
Early this morning, our feedburner badge flipped to over 100. That means there are 102 people out there who have nothing better to do with their lives than sign up to get our pithy social commentary delivered to their news readers every … single … day. I’m guessing it’s the same 102 people who made Clerks II such a box office hit.
By the way, I’d appreciate it if one of you could unsubscribe, so that I can get down to number 101. 101 is maybe the most perfect number in the world:
- It is prime
- It contains a prime number of digits (3)
- It is a twin prime (along with 103), and of course, therefore also …
- It is a Chen Prime
- It is the binary expression of a prime number (101 in binary = 5 in decimal)
- If you add the digits together, the sum is prime (1 + 0 + 1 = 2)
- It is a numerical palindrome
- Chuck Norris can defeat 101 ninjas in simultaneous hand-to-hand combat
Yesterday was story time. Today is the technical study. I thought it might be cool to look at some of the things that helped propel The Bible Podcast forward, presented in no particular order, as a guide to anyone else who might think about launching a podcast.
This has got to be the single biggest factor in moving the site up through search engine rankings. The name of the site is the name of the podcast is the 3-word description of exactly what it’s all about. If you launch a podcast about how awesome bunny slippers are, and title it “The Mr. T Show”, and host it at www.crazy4u.net/mrtpodshow, people have no idea what it is you’re doing. There are packs of raving bunny slipper fans out there searching Google for a podcast that meets their needs, but all they can tell from your page hit is that you’re a confused, possible psychopathic teenage girl. This doesn’t work to your advantage.
Promote One Distribution Channels
Since the very beginning, The Bible Podcast committed to iTunes as its primary distribution channel. I started with the assumption that most of my listeners wouldn’t be podcast people – they would be people venturing out into the world looking for this specific sort of thing (in the same way that most Addison Road readers aren’t really blog people, they’re people who come to this one specific blog). I assumed that most of our listeners would find our blog either through a Google search, or by flipping open iTunes and using the podcast directory search function. The iTunes search results are weighted in favor of popularity (number of subscribers).
Armed with this knowledge, I push iTunes as the sole distribution channel for the podcast. If you look at the first page of the site, you’ll see what I mean. I stole this idea from Scribe Music Show (thanks, Trevor), and about 40% of the first-time visitors go directly to iTunes without ever having to visit the site itself. If they do click through to the website, they’ll see a link to iTunes prominently displayed, should they decide to subscribe. If they poke around the site a bit, they’ll find a “How do I listen?” page which, again, directs them to use iTunes to subscribe.
There are many, many good podcast aggregators out there, like Odeo.com, and the podcast is listen in most of these, but these sites are still, by and large, only used by the Nerd Herd. If you walk up to 100 people on the street and ask them about podcasting, they’ll beat you up and take your iPod away. This is LA, after all. But if you were to do it in someplace nice, like Boise, most people, if they knew anything at all about it, would say, “Oh yeah, that’s the button on my iTunes where I can listen to shows people do.”
By committing early to a distribution channel that would be most popular with my average listener, I made my popularity within iTunes artificially high. Instead of a few hundred subscribers scattered across dozens of distribution channels, I had a few hundred subscribers all listening through iTunes. Within the first 6 months, The Bible Podcast was in the top 4 results for the search term “Bible”, which in iTunes means getting banner placement on the search results page.
So, you’ve signed up for a fancy new hosting plan with Jim’s Big House of Web Hosting, and you’ve started to do the math. You realize pretty quickly that by the time you hit 100 daily subscribers, at 20 MB per podcast episode, you’re going to rip through your bandwidth in about 8 seconds. What do you do? Well, don’t host the files! OurMedia.org will host your audio and video files for free, and you can directly link them into your site. In other words, your listeners don’t have to click through to Our Media to listen, the files can be embedded directly into your site. There are two advantages to hosting your files off-site. The first is that you don’t have to pay for as much bandwidth. The second, you will pick up some drive-by traffic from people searching through the Our Media site looking for the things your podcast is about. I get about 20 hits a day from people who searched Our Media for the title of a specific book of the bible, and then following the links over to the podcast site.
I should mention that the Our Media servers have been pretty bloaty since the very beginning, and if an episode hasn’t been downloaded in a while, it seems to take forever for the server to actually find it. I eventually switched back over to hosting the audio files myself, instead of using Our Media. Still, I think they were an important part of getting up off the ground.
So, those are some of the early choices that I made with the podcast, that I think contributed to it getting up off the ground. I don’t think they were the biggest factor in the podcast’s success, though. The inescapable truth is that “Content is King”. People come because they want the content. They want to hear the bible read by someone with a clear speaking voice, recorded with good equipment. Everything else is just lipstick, pointing people in the right direction.
I’m curious – anybody else out there in The Roadhouse running a podcast, or thinking of starting one? I’d love to hear your experiences.
In September of 2005, I started a little side project called The Bible Podcast. The idea is pretty simple. I flip on a microphone, and record myself reading a chapter a day from the bible. Then, I upload it to a website where people can download it and listen. Then, sometimes, other people record themselves reading chapters, and I upload them. The website is www.thebiblepodcast.org, if you want to check it out.
Today, this little side project passed a major milestone. It passed 1,000 daily subscribers – people who set iTunes to go fetch the podcasts every single day. In fact, it pretty much blew right through that number, from 800 or so on Monday, to 900 on Tuesday, and today, I logged on to see this:
I’m a numbers guy. I love seeing the numbers creep higher and higher, and to break them down in as many ways as possible. Things like:
get me all fancy up with my bad self. I go to the site and refresh the statistics every few hours to see how much bandwidth people are burning through. In December, the server spit out 300 gigs of data. In January, it’s been burning at a rate of about 30 gigs per day. Matthew 11, which was just posted yesterday, has been downloaded 1500 times.
I know that these kinds of numbers are hardly a blip on the radar for the big dogs in the new media, but in the little world of podcasts about the bible, it’s a pretty big deal.
Gretchen has a theory about the rapid acceleration of subscribers. She thinks everybody got an iPod for Christmas, and then they made a New Year’s resolution to read the bible more. So, they go poking around in iTunes for a way to get their daily bread in tastee little no-hassle packages, like a Twinkee. I think Gretchen is pretty smart.
So, I’m a numbers guy, but I love reading emails from people who listen. There’s a Catholic priest who lives in the northern most tip of Japan, who sat around listening to the Gospel of John with a family who had just lost their young wife and mother. They just put it on repeat and listened over and over again.
There are students in South America who get together to listen to the podcast, and read along with the text, in order to improve their English. Thing about how scary that is, for just a second. You might be walking through Brazil someday and bump into some kid who speaks English with a Mike Lee accent.
There’s a guy who is fairly agnostic about God, but was curious about the bible, so he subscribed to see what all the fuss was about. His email was hilarious. He just wanted to let me know that he enjoyed it, and concluded by saying, “Please don’t send me any tracts or religious crap.” I was tempted to forward him every Chick tract in one ginormous email, but I restrained myself.
There are the people who want to argue about the translation that I’m using (New English Translation, pretty good, in my humble opinion), or they take issue with the fact that I let Catholics into the club (sheesh), or they are upset that I’m reading the Bible “Out of Order” (I’m guessing they think the thing was handed down out of Heaven in a neatly stacked set of galleys, ready for publishing). I get an equal number of emails from people who love the bumper music, and can’t stand the bumper music. I smile a little bit, because I think there are people who just love to pick a fight, and they like it even more if they can call it “contending for the faith once delivered”. Mostly, I just hit “delete” on those. Life’s too short.
A few have just floored me. There are people in countries that block access to sites having anything to do with the bible, but they are able to subscribe to a podcast feed. They listen. Two people have approached me about expanding the podcast into other languages that will reach areas where it is dangerous to distribute bibles. One wants to do a version in Farsi, the language spoken in parts of Iran and Afghanistan. Another wants to do a version in Mandarin Chinese. We’re still working through the logistics, but I’m hopeful that this will come together.
So, the Story of God advances. 500 years ago, they burned the bones of those who suggested that the Bible could be read and understood by the common people in their own language. Today, a 12-year-old kid in Taiwan can log on to iTunes, and download it.