Saturday, 17 January 2009

How to Add or Update Your Podcast Image in the iTunes Store

An updated version of this article is now available at my new site here.

One question I've been asked a number of times is "How do I change the image for my podcast that is displayed in the iTunes store?", or, "I don't have an image displayed for my podcast at the iTunes store, how do I add one?".

Well, the answer to this is all down to some special information that must be included in the RSS feed of your podcast.

The iTunes store gets all of the information about your podcast (e.g. name, episode info & logo image) from your RSS feed.

iTunes expects to see a number of iTunes-specific 'fields' of information in your RSS feed.

Without getting in to too much technical detail, your RSS feed is very much like a web page. If ever you've looked at the code that goes to make up a web page, you will see lots of 'tags', such as : <html>, <p>, <li> which all have special meaning to your browser to build up the structure of your page.

Your RSS feed is written in a very similar 'markup' language, but rather than being aimed at creating pages for web browsers, it is aimed at software applications that extract information from RSS feeds.

So, if you take a look at the code which goes to make up your podcast RSS feed, you will see some tags buried in there that tell the iTunes store (or any other RSS reader software) where it can find the logo image for your podcast.

The specific tag which tells iTunes where to find the image is the '<itunes:image>' tag.

Unless this tag is present, and it is pointing to the URL of your podcast logo image, then it won't be able to find your logo, and therefore can't show it in the iTunes store.

Here is an example to show you how this works. It is an extract from an RSS file, highlighting the <itunes:image> tag. The URL (i.e. the web location) of the image that will be used is : http://example.com/podcasts/everything/AllAboutEverything.jpg

Here is the extract from the RSS file:

<itunes:owner>
<itunes:name>John Doe</itunes:name>
<itunes:email>john.doe@example.com</itunes:email>
</itunes:owner>
<itunes:image href="http://example.com/podcasts/everything/AllAboutEverything.jpg" />
<itunes:category text="Technology">
<itunes:category text="Gadgets"/>
</itunes:category>
<itunes:category text="TV & Film"/>

You see that the <itunes:image> tag has the web address of the image to be used embedded in it :

<itunes:image href="http://example.com/podcasts/everything/AllAboutEverything.jpg" />

If your RSS feed is going to be able to tell iTunes where to find your logo, it must have an entry like this.

The question you may be asking is : "well, how do I get this tag into my RSS feed?".

The answer is that the service that creates your RSS feed must add this information in.

Personally, I use Feedburner to generate my final RSS feed, which has a setting that allows me to specify my logo URL specifically for iTunes. Here is a screen shot of the Feedburner configuration page for those who use Feedburner (click on it to zoom in):



Note that your image must already exist somewhere, so that you can tell Feedburner where it can find the image. You must have uploaded your image to somewhere (e.g. Google Photos) and have the URL of that image.

It is worth checking that your image is correctly configured by looking at the raw RSS feed using a browser , or you can look at the 'XML Source' if you are using Feedburner (click image below to zoom in). You need to check the information in the <itunes:image> tag :



If you want to look at the raw RSS feed, simply enter it in to the address bar of your browser, and you will hopefully see the RSS feed code, and will be able to check if your <itunes:image> tag is correct.

If you aren't using Feedburner, your podcast hosting provider will almost certainly be generating your RSS feed, which should include the correct tag to tell iTunes where your logo image is. If you aren't sure, check your raw RSS feed by typing the address of your RSS feed in to a browser and taking a look for it. Use the browser 'Edit > Search' feature to look for '<itunes:image'.

If you change your image at some stage and wish the new image to appear in the iTunes store, there are a couple of caveats :

  • You must change the name of your image file so that iTunes relaizes that there has been a change and will get your new image. You can't use the same image URL.
  • When you change the image, it may take a few days before it appears correctly in iTunes. So, if you make a change, check your raw RSS feed to make sure that the <itunes:image> tag now correctly points to your new image address, and then, be patient!
One final caveat to be aware of is that your image must be at least 600 x 600 pixels in size, and must be in jpg or png format. If you are using the incorrect format, that may be another reason why you are having issues.

Hopefully, this article has given you a few pointers to show you how to add or update the logo image for your podcast on the iTunes store.

If you need any more technical information about this subject, it is well worth checking Apple's own document on this subject at : http://www.apple.com/itunes/whatson/podcasts/specs.html

Friday, 16 January 2009

Inline MP3 Players In Show Notes

One area that's often missed by podcasters is the value of putting an inline (or "embedded") MP3 player on your show notes or blog site.

What do I mean by an inline MP3 player? Well, its a little player button that allows someone who has found your show notes, to take a listen to your show.

I suspect many of us assume that most of our listeners are just regular subscribers listening on their iPod. But, what about those folks who are maybe at work and want to listen via the web? They can click along to your blog or show notes page and listen whilst they work (or rather they can't if you don't provide a player).

Also, what about the folks who find your podcast via a search engine and fancy having a preview of your show?

The good news is that providing inline players is very easy (and free). Whilst you are generating your show notes, I strongly suggest that you make it part of your routine to put in some code at the end of each post to include an inline player.

Some podcast service providers will provide an inline player as part of their service - it may already be available as part of your package. But, if you use a separate web site for your show notes, or maybe you use a blog service, then you should seriously think about including a player.

There are 2 basic types of player :

  • A single episode player. This is usually placed at the end of each set of show notes that accompanies each episode

  • A multi-player episode player. This is usually a player that listens on the RSS feed of your podcast and allows access to every episode that is currently published on your podcast MP3 feed.
In this article, I'll focus on single episode players. I'll do a later article on multi-episode players.

The beauty of single episode players is that they appear no matter where someone may stumble upon you show. You never know where your feed may get published or aggregated these days. A player means that if some finds your show notes, they can take a listen.

OK, down to business. The first thing I must mention up front is that this only works if your podcast episodes are published in MP3 format. Any other format just will not work - sorry. To be honest, I would only advise publishing in MP3 format generally anyhow, to maximize the number of people in your audience who will be able to listen to your shows.


The first player I'd like to mention is the PodcastPickle single-episode player. It is available from the podcast pickle site, and is incredibly easy to configure and use.

If you go along to the PodcastPickle site (http://podcastpickle.com/app/player/get_code.php?style=1), you can simply type the URL of the MP3 file for your podcast episode in to the form that is presented on their site :




I personally prefer the compact player, but you can decide for yourself. So, all I do is enter the URL of the MP3 for the show I am publishing and select the compact player. Note that you probably don't want to select the 'Instantly Load Media' as this will start the player as soon as your web page loads, which can be very annoying.

Also, note that the background image of the player has to be set to a suitable value (#FFFFFF is white, #000000 is black):




Once you have entered the request information, you will be presented with a box where you can copy the code that you need to put in to your show notes post:




The best way to copy the code is to highlight everything in the box, and then either select 'Edit > Copy' from your browser menu bar. Or, alternatively (on a PC), hit Ctrl-c to copy the selected text in to your clipboard.

Next, you need to open your show notes page (or post) and make sure you are editing in html mode. Then paste the code at the end of your post. In your browser, select 'Edit > Paste', or just hit Ctrl-v if you are using a PC.

If you now save your show notes post and take a look at it, you will hopefully see a small player like this one :


By clicking the play button, you should be able to listen to podcast that your post in talking about.


An alternative to the Podcast Pickle player is the Podbean single episode player. To use this player, you have to be a member of Podbean, but it's free to join, and they give you some (limited) free podcast hosting if you fancy a play with podcasting.

The main draw back of this player is that it is available with only a black or white background.

The process to create a single episode player is very similar to the PodcastPickle player. First of all, select your style of player :



Next, give it a title and the URL of the MP3 file you wish to appear in the player. Note, you probaby don't want to select the 'Autostart: yes' option, as it may get very annoying for visitors to your site:


Finally, select the generated code for your player. When I was trying this out, it was quite difficult, as the box containing the code was very small. If you click in the box, and hit Ctrl-a, you will make sure you select all of the code:


As before, copy the code in to your clipboard and paste it at the end of yoru show-notes post.

You should end up with a player like this:







Powered by Podbean.com

If you use Wordpress for your show notes, there is also a great single episode player that you must check out at : http://www.1pixelout.net/code/audio-player-wordpress-plugin/

This player is a Wordpress widget that you can easily embed in your posts. I won't go over the subject in detail, but there are some great instructions at : http://www.1pixelout.net/code/audio-player-wordpress-plugin/

Well, that's about it for now. The only caveat I wil give you about using inline players is not to include too many players on a page. If you include too many, it may slow the loading time of your players. This is particularly applicable if you are using a blog for your show notes, and your home page shows your latest 20 posts. If you have 20 players on there, you may start to run in to issues.

Still, with a bit of experimentation, I'm sure you can figure out what works best for you.

Getting Feedburner to Update Immediately

Following on from the last article, which talked about getting iTunes to update from your RSS feed straight away, here is a useful tip to get Feedburner to ping (i.e. read) your feed immediately.

Hopefully, if you are using an RSS feed from your blog or podcast hosting service, you will be using Feedburner to actually 'burn' your raw RSS feed and publish your Feedburner feed address to your podcast subscribers.

There are a whole host of good reasons why you might want to do this, but the best reason I have seen is for flexibility.

At some stage, you may well want to move the hosting of your podcast. If you have been publishing the RSS feed provided by your hosting provider, and you want to move your podcast, you have to (try to) get all of your subscribers to move to your new feed. That is no small feat, and is bound to lose you a few listeners in the move.

However, if your listeners are all subscribed to your Feedburner feed, then you can simply update your Feedburner settings to point at the new hosting space, and your subscribers never even know that you have moved your hosting provider!

But, when you use Feedburner, you rely on it to 'ping' your raw RSS feed (from your hosting provider or blog) on a regular basis.

If you have just published a new episode, and want it to appear immediately on your Feedburner feed, you need to tell Feedburner to look at your feed immediately. Generally, without a ping, Feedburner will take a look at your feed every hour or so.

So if you want Feedburner to ping your feed, go to :

http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/ping

You will see a page like this :


All you need to do, is to enter your Feedburner feed address, and hit the 'Ping FeedBurner' button. As an example, my podcast feed address is :

http://feeds.feedburner.com/RunningFromTheReaper/

So, I just enter that URL in to the box provided and hit the button. If the ping is successful, you will get a nice friendly message that everything went OK. There is a limit on how often you can do this, so you may have to wait a while before you can ping again, so only do it when you are ready for your feed to be pinged.

I guess the other burning question you may have (following on from the last article) is : "Which do I ping first, Feedburner or iTunes?". The answer is : Feedburner.

Ping Feedburner first, so that is has read your raw RSS feed (from your blog or hosting provider), then ping iTunes, which will look at your newly updated Feedburner feed.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Getting iTunes to Update Immediately

There are a couple of instances when you would really like iTunes to go straight out and make your newly updated RSS feed available to your audience.

The first is probably when you are first starting podcasting and are so excited that you just can't wait to get your new shows up and available on iTunes.

The second is when you have recently posted a new show, suddenly realized there is something wrong with the show, and want to pull and/or replace it.

iTunes provides a nice little feature to allow you to force it to 'ping' your RSS feed so that it is serving up your current feed to listeners.

Generally, the iTunes robots will probably only crawl your RSS feed every few hours, so it may take a number of hours for change on your feed to be reflected on iTunes.

But, by using the ping feature, you can speed up that process by forcing iTunes to take a look at your updated RSS feed almost immediately.

The way that you get iTunes to come and take a look at your feed is to type a special URL in to your browser. The URL is formatted like this :

https://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/pingPodcast?feedURL=http://FEEDURL

So, for instance, my podcast feed URL is :

http://feeds.feedburner.com/RunningFromTheReaper


I would type the following URL in to a browser to force iTunes to ping my feed :

https://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/pingPodcast?feedURL=http://feeds.feedburner.com/RunningFromTheReaper

And, provided I've typed it correctly (and my podcast is listed on iTunes of course!), I get output like this :



So, next time you need to get iTunes to take a look at your podcast feed quickly, give this a try.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Single Click iTunes Subscription Links

Most podcasts tend to have a blog associated with their show, or at least have some form of show notes feature provided by their hosting service.

The show notes for a podcast will often be the first time that a new, potential listener has contact with your podcast after maybe finding your show via a search engine.

From my experience over the past couple of years with podcasting, it is evident that the vast majority of your listeners will be using an iPod device, in conjunction with the iTunes application to download podcasts.

So, it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for new listeners to subscribe quickly and easily to your podcast.

You can post links on your show notes/blog page to send listeners to the relevant page on the iTunes store, so that they can subscribe to your show there, but there is a quicker way to get them subscribed to your show with iTunes.

After all, when they get to the iTunes store, they may well get distracted by all of the eye-candy on the site and forget they had gone there to subscribe to your show!

The quickest way to get them to subscribe is to provide a link on your site that fires up the iTunes application and subscribes the new listener right there and then.

One thing to understand is that iTunes is just an RSS feed catcher like any other RSS application. It uses your podcast RSS feed to find and download new shows.

So, the way to get iTunes to fire up and subscribe is to provide a modified version of your regular RSS show feed link.

For instance, my podcast RSS feed is :

http://feeds.feedburner.com/RunningFromTheReaper.

If I put that link on my site, when a user with iTunes clicks on that link, then nothing will happen.

However, if I modify the link to begin with 'itpc' instead of 'http', then if the new listener has iTunes installed on their PC, it will fire up and subscribe them using iTunes to the show!

Therefore, my modified subscription link becomes :

itpc://feeds.feedburner.com/RunningFromTheReaper.

So, now all you need to do is provide a bit of html such as :

<a href="itpc://feeds.feedburner.com/RunningFromTheReaper"> Subscribe with iTunes</a>

on your site and listeners will be able to subscribe with iTunes in a single click.

What's This Blog All About Then...?

Hello, it's Nigel from RunningPodcasts.org here.

The number of podcasts appearing over at RunningPodcasts.org has grown significantly over the past 12 months, as more and more runners start to create their own audio podcasts.

So, I thought it might be a good ideas to create a blog with tips for new (and maybe some established) podcasters to help them set up and publicize their podcasts.

I get quite a few emails about various aspects of setting up a podcast and the various components that go along with a podcast (e.g. RSS feeds, blogs, show notes etc.) Hopefully, I will be able to explain a few of the concepts and answer the common questions I get asked.

If you have anything to add to the posts I put up, please feel free to contribute via the comments section of each post.

Nigel.