Think about the power of the written word. Carefully written documents are responsible for everything from lasting love to the end of wars, so it can definitely make a difference in marketing your podcast.
That’s why we loved SquadCaster Colleen Tracey of the EcoSassy podcast’s recent question:
“I’m curious about your thoughts on show notes. Is it better to leave a little mystery in the show notes so people listen, or is it better to make the show notes more useful and create a blog post around the episode?”
Show notes might feel like a necessary evil when it comes to getting your podcast out into the world, but they don’t have to be such a chore. Think of show notes as an opportunity to add a vital layer of content to your system — one that can easily make you stand out in the crowd.
But where to start? There’s no one “right” way to format show notes, but there is a format that will work best for your show’s unique needs. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of each of these methods, and then roll up your sleeves.
It’s time to get to writing.
Make sure your show notes tell a story — but don’t write a novel
If you have your own podcast, it’s fair to assume you love storytelling (or you’re really confident and love the sound of your own voice, in which case, mad respect).
But just like some people talk too much, it’s easy to write too much. You need to strike a balance between hitting all the key points in an engaging way, while not getting into the weeds of the conversation.
So, think like an author and answer these three questions before you get writing:
1. Who are your main characters and what do we need to know about them?
This is likely your guest, but maybe you have more than one, and maybe you have a co-host for certain episodes.
Make sure everyone is introduced, but keep the intros to the five W’s: who they are, what they do (or what they’re knowledgeable about), when they started doing this thing you’re interviewing them about, where they’re from (or where they learned about the podcast topic) and why they’re knowledgeable about this topic.
Not all five will be necessary for every intro, but the most important are typically who, what and why.
2. What do you want listeners (and show notes readers) to take away from this episode?
Every story has a message, so what’s yours? It doesn’t need to be lofty.
Some of my favorite podcasts are just funny women talking about what happened in their life that week, but they still serve a purpose — even if that purpose is simply bringing some comic relief to stressed-out listeners like me.
3. How can you keep your audience interested?
Like books, show notes can easily get too long. And we all have read plenty of Facebook posts that lost us somewhere in the middle (how do you think tl;dr was born?).
As a journalist, I know the benefits of writing concisely, and I’m here to beg you: don’t just copy and paste your transcript into your show notes. Only your most committed listeners will read it, and that’s no way to grow an audience.
Give the listeners (or, in this case, readers) what they want
This Buzzsprout article put it perfectly: “when a fan of your show visits your show notes page, they aren’t expecting a blog — they are expecting notes. Listeners often decide to read episode notes because they don’t have time to listen to a podcast. In this case, they probably don’t have time to read a blog, either.”
The secret ingredient to the perfect show notes is ~streamlined content~.
Focus on what’s most important so your show notes effectively summarize the key takeaways from your podcast episode, while still remaining engaging.
If you’re having writer’s block — or just crippling anxiety that your work isn’t good enough, like most writers — here’s a checklist from Mark Asquith of Captivate to make sure you’re on the right track.
Mark believes (and we agree) podcast show notes should always have:
- A short introduction to the episode and its content/guest
- Takeaways for the listener – a good best practice is 3-4 key points
- Resources and links for any topics discussed on the show
- Timestamps to help listeners navigate to specific parts of episode
- Links to where listeners can connect with you or your guest(s)
- Any additional content about sponsors, calls to action for sponsors
- Recommended next episodes to listen to – keep listeners in your podcast ecosystem!
Choose the right show notes format by deciding what style fits your podcast
The Marie Kondos of the world are onto something: organization is everything.
But just because your talents might not include keeping clothes off your floor doesn’t mean you can’t keep your show notes organized. The key is picking a strict format and sticking to it.
There are countless ways to approach show notes, but in the interest of time (and ensuring you don’t doze off) we’ll discuss three format options.
Let’s use the 2021 iHeartRadio Podcast of the Year award winner Office Ladies as an example.
This podcast has a simple (yet brilliant) premise: recapping and then dissecting episodes of “The Office” with two of the TV show’s biggest stars.
The laid back, conversational tone of the podcast is reflected in both the writing style and format of its show notes, which include just six or so sentences walking readers through the episode of “The Office” that Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer are going to be talking about, as well as the fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes (as well as tangents) they dive into. If they have a guest, which happens occasionally, they briefly summarize what their job was on “The Office” and what they discuss about that particular episode.
The Tim Ferriss Show is an example of a podcast that really hones in on introducing its guest and answering the five W’s in its show notes.
If your show has a different guest on every episode, and if the emphasis is on the host getting to know the guest’s background and personal journey, this format could be for you. Tim hits the key points on his guest’s resume without overloading us with information, and he specifically lists why these points are relevant to readers by circling back to topics related to the show’s overall theme.
To top it all off, he includes a link (though it’s not visible in the screenshot) to a website where readers can learn even more about a topic that was discussed on this episode.
3. The elaborator
No Accident is a niche safety industry podcast that offers insightful advice from industry professionals. That’s why the show uses a detail-oriented approach to its show notes, which feature not only a brief episode summary but an “episode notes” section including a longer description of the episode, a guest introduction, key takeaways (“Safe Takes”), resources that were mentioned in the episode and a top quotes section. If your podcast is specifically geared toward helping people learn specific lessons or gain knowledge that will be directly applicable to their everyday work, consider this elaborate yet focused approach that keeps listeners in the know.
“Some people just can’t find the time to do full blog-post style show notes every week. So, an alternative is to keep ’em shorter and forget about the search engine benefits,” he says in this article. “Just focus on giving value to your existing subscribers. In this case, just do the 50-word intro paragraph or bullet points, and then some resource links and related descriptions.”
When in doubt, refer back to your template or checklist
Congrats! You’ve chosen a format. Practice makes perfect, so now you have to keep refining it until writing show notes for your podcast becomes second nature.
Like many respected podcasters, Mark believes that making a template for yourself to reuse every time you sit down to write show notes is the simplest and most effective way to stay organized and hit all the points on his previously mentioned checklist. He also recommends considering a completely separate blog post that expands on several topics touched upon in both the show notes and podcast episode so you can further engage with your audience — but again, only if you have time (or you can outsource it).
There you have it, everything you need to know to write engaging, purpose-driven show notes for your podcast.