Podcasting with WordPress: The Do’s and Don’ts of Creating and Hosting Your Podcast Feed and Audio - S3 Media Vault - WordPress Plugin for Amazon S3 and CloudFront That Provides a S3 Audio Player and a S3 Video Player

Podcasting with WordPress: The Do’s and Don’ts of Creating and Hosting Your Podcast Feed and Audio

By Ravi Jayagopal | S3MediaVault

What you need to know about creating and hosting your own Podcast Feed using WordPress and web host.

  • What does it mean to host your podcast on WordPress?
  • Should you host your podcast feed on your own website?
  • How to create the Podcast RSS feed?
  • What about the audio files? Where should you host it?

That's what I discuss in this post, which you can also listen to, using the audio player above.

Podcasting with WordPress

This primarily means one thing: that you use a WordPress plugin like PowerPress to generate your podcast RSS feed. And you're going to host your own podcast RSS feed on your own website.

There are a few sidebars to this, and I'll explain those in a minute.

Own Your Platform (OYP)

If you have been following me for any amount of time, you probably know that I have always been a huge proponent of owning your platform. I call it OYP: Own Your Platform.

Own your website, own your audience, own your email list, don't depend on a third-party platform like Facebook or Instagram to reach your audience, because your access to your audience on those social platforms can be yanked away in a second, without a warning, and you may never get back access to them. You get the idea.

But hosting is one of those things where I make an exception to this rule of owning everything.

When it comes to your RSS feed, this is one of the few times when it's OK to trust a third-party platform - not very different from your web hosting company. I erase the "Own it all" line when it comes to your web hosting, podcast hosting, and media hosting. Notice a pattern there? It all has to do with... Hosting!

TL;DR: My recommendation is: Do not self-host your RSS feed.

There used to be a time when maybe there weren't many podcast hosts, maybe they were expensive (or you didn't see the value in paying $20/month), maybe they didn't have enough features or distribution, maybe you were worried about their terms of service, whether they would try to own your content, what if they hold your feed hostage and jack up the price, what if their quality of service goes down but they won't let you move your show, what if you lose all of your hard-built audience - or maybe you were just a control freak - like me - who wants full control of every technical aspect, maybe you were worried about saying something that gets you in trouble and you lose your feed or you get "canceled".

Some of those probably made sense at one point or the other in the nearly 17 years since podcasting was invented.

But not any more. Those days are long gone.

There are so many incredible podcast hosts out there, including really great free ones like Anchor.fm, which started off as a podcast hosting provider that I was not comfortable with recommending for a long time, at least initially when they first launched.

Because free services are always a tricky proposition. You never know if they can do enough to monetize their service in order to stay in business long enough, or if they get bought out by a different bigger company and then that company takes over the content or the talent and simply shuts them down.

You never know what's going to happen with a free service that does not charge anything. You know the saying: if you don't pay for the product, you are the product. That model works for some things, like social media. But generally, it's not something I would recommend using when it comes to any kind of important business assets or foundational services that keep your business running.

For e.g., you should never host your email list on a free email provider. Yes, there used to be such providers years ago: free web hosts and free email providers. And a lot of online business built on the "Free for users, will monetize attention". But most of them are not around any more.

A couple of years ago, Spotify acquired Anchor.fm, and I've since then subscribed to tens of great podcasts that use Anchor. I've also launched a couple of side-project shows on Anchor. And that is why, I have a lot more confidence in them now and am happy to recommend them, with a caveat.

Now, because Anchor is a free service, you will not get quick support or weekend support, or be able to talk to someone on the phone if you're in a crunch. So if you ever get to the point of where your podcast is really taking off and you need priority support, especially weekends, you can always switch to a paid hosting service that I use myself, like Libsyn or PodBean. There are a bunch of other really good ones as well.

(Note: Use my Libsyn affiliate coupon code subscribeme to get up to 2 months free with your new account)

So first, let me give you a few reasons why you should NOT self-host your podcast RSS feed:

1. You could create your own RSS feed using PowerPress, which is easily THE BEST plugin for creating a podcast RSS feed. But other poorly-maintained and poorly developed plugins you are using on your WordPress website could mess with your feed and break it, without you even knowing about it.

Broken feeds will cause you to not just lose potential long-term listeners and subscribers, but it can also get you kicked out Apple Podcasts if you don't fix it quickly, this starting a chain reaction of getting kicked out of other platforms too that mirror the Apple Podcasts directory.

And it can also get your show kicked out of other platforms that maintain their own podcast directories.

You could use something like PodcastMirror.com to create a stable cache of your RSS feed - just like FeedBurner. But guess what? There's a reason why that kind of feed caching service exists (hint: unreliable web hosting and unstable WordPress environment due to too many - or low-quality - plugins).

2. Moving a show from one podcast host to another is no longer an issue - EVERY podcast host allow redirection today (and most allow you to DIY).

So redirecting a feed is easy, and you won't lose any of your current subscribers, or "followers", like Apple wants us to say since a few weeks ago.

3. Podcast hosting is no longer just about the feed itself. High-availability media hosting is also critical.

4. The ability to integrate with multiple distribution platforms is also key.

5. "I want full control over my feed so I'm going to self-host it" or "I don't want anyone to able to cancel me" is not really a good reason any more for self-hosting, because you can always move your feed if things go wrong at your current host.

6. Anchor.fm is REALLY good if you want to test the waters of creating your own show, for free. And then if it picks up, you can move to a dedicated podcast host.

7. Conceiving, creating, editing, publishing, promoting, monetizing a podcast... a LOT of work. And if you also have a job or business, and a family, all that is more work. Do you really also want to add "hosting" to your job title?

So at this point in technology it just does not make sense to try to host your own RSS feed especially if you are not a complete and total geek and programmer and coder because there are a lot of things that go into that.

Self-Hosting Your Podcast Feed using WordPress

But let's say you do want to create a podcast RSS feed for whatever reason. Here's how you do it.

PowerPress - from the Blubrry podcast hosting company - is a fantastic open source podcast RSS feed management WordPress plugin , and easily the best podcasting plugin for WordPress. The community and team behind PowerPress is amazing, and they have really kept up with the podcasting industry and they're always on the cutting edge of what's happening in the podcasting industry and all that good stuff.

However, just remember that when you create your own podcast RSS feed it means now you need a place to host your audio files.

The first instinct for most people is to use their own web host and try to host it themselves. Or they look for free Solutions like trying to host it on Google Drive, Dropbox, Archive.org etc.

None of those are a good good idea for the following reasons...

* Most regular web hosts, even though they might promise you unlimited bandwidth and unlimited hosting, will have somewhere deep in their terms of service that you are not allowed to use their hosting services for delivering media, like video or audio.

Here's an excerpt from an article on hostagor.com:

"While HostGator does provide unlimited bandwidth and disk space on our shared hosting accounts, it is still not a good idea to host your own videos, as it could inflict a great amount of stress to the shared server by having a 100MB (or larger) video being viewed by hundreds of people at the same time.

Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transferred to and from your hosting account in one month. Each time someone downloads a 10 kB file from your website, they use 10 kB of bandwidth from your account. The same theory applies for videos hosted on your site.

Too many requests on the server for a single large file could potentially exceed the limits of the server where your site is hosted and cause resource issues on the server as a whole. This could result in your site being temporarily being suspended until the issue could be resolved, as we can not allow one site to affect the other sites sharing the same server."

So here's the key phrase to note: "video being viewed by hundreds of people at the same time".

It's the exact same deal with audio, and even though the file sizes of your podcast mp3 files are probably smaller than that of a 1080p HD video, it's in fact way worse, because when you release a new video on your website, the video is not going to be watched by hundreds of people at the same time. The viewing will be kind of staggered over time.

Sure, you could send an email to your members alerting them about the video - but still, not every one is going to open the email at the same time, not everyone will read it at the same time, not everyone will click on the link, come to your website and watch the video all at the same time. So the video views will be staggered over days, if not weeks.

But with audio, especially with podcast audio, it's worse, because if you have a hundred podcast subscribers, then most podcast apps will usually ping your RSS feed once every so many hours, and with so many different podcast apps and directories out there, you could be getting hundreds and hundreds of requests to your RSS feed, which will have the latest podcast episode, and they'll all download the latest episode within hours of your publishing it.

And that can put a great strain on your standard web host.

Also, remember that just because a file is hosted in one location, doesn't mean that everyone around the world will get to download it quickly.

That is why even with a cloud-hosting solution like Amazon S3, you still need to add what is called a content delivery network - aka CDN, like Amazon CloudFront, to your delivery system, so that no matter where your audience is in the world, all of them will get to download the file at about the same speed.

Now normal web hosts don't come with a CDN. So you'll have to add a CDN service to it, like CloudFlare or CloudFront. And all of that comes at a fee. In fact, it can get pretty expensive pretty fast as your show grows.

Here's a section from Hostgator.com's website, titled "Why Videos Should Never Be Uploaded to WordPress" (Source: hostgator.com/help/article/why-videos-should-never-be-uploaded-to-wordpress)

The article refers to video, but in reality, you can substitute the word video with audio, and all of the following would still hold true.

"When using a shared server, most users assume that only the server takes a beating however, that is not the case. Most of the time, the video and your viewers can suffer as the video lags or even refuses to play due to the lack of file uniformity or video quality.

Slow Loading Video or Unexpected Pauses When Streaming

If a video file is being served from a shared server, visitors may experience a lag or unexpected pauses when trying to view the video. This is because the site is hosted on a shared server and while HostGator does not limit bandwidth on shared hosting accounts, it is a resource that is still being shared among all of the users on that same server. This issue can be compounded if there are other hosting accounts serving video files or if a site visitor has a slow internet connection as well.

 And they go on to recommend YouTube and Vimeo for video hosting.

<sidebar> If you have premium video and audio, then YouTube and Vimeo are not suitable for many reasons. YouTube videos cannot be made secure. Not even if you make a video unlisted.</sidebar>

Back to audio hosting:

* Most regular cloud media-hosting services weren't made for podcasting.

* Cloud storage services like Google and Dropbox know that there's potential for such abuse - so they have download limitations on their services.

* If a Google drive file gets accessed too many times within a short period of time, after a certain point, many people who use the services have reported that they see a message that says "Sorry, you can't view or download this file at this time. Too many users have viewed or downloaded this file recently. Please try accessing the file again later. If the file you are trying to access is particularly large or is shared with many people, it may take up to 24 hours to be able to view or download the file. If you still can't access a file after 24 hours, contact your domain administrator."

They also apparently have a 1.2 GB daily download limit.

Google support said the following in another thread:

"The only daily download limits have to do with hosting and playback of video content. Since YouTube is the intended product/service for hosting the playback of videos by the public, there are daily maximum limits for Google Drive video playbacks that are determined based upon how busy the servers are. In general large video playbacks by many people/many times each day will trigger a block on that video. The stats are kept for 24hrs, and after 24hrs from the time of each playback that particular playback is removed from the tracking." (support.google.com/drive/thread/2186401?hl=en)

Dropbox also has a similar download limit of 20 GB of bandwidth and 100,000 downloads per day for Basic accounts. It is higher for paid accounts. That limit is for your entire Dropbox account, across all files. So if you have 100 episodes, and other video and audio and pdf, then all of them are included in that limit.

So just because you can store a mp3 online somewhere doesn't mean that the files will be optimized for podcasting.

[Use mp3 for podcasting - not wav]

There's an all important, critical feature required for podcasting, called "Byte-range Request".

Byte-range Request

Per KeyCDN.com, "Byte-range requests occur when a client asks the server for only a portion of the requested file. The purpose of this is essentially to conserve bandwidth usage by avoiding the need to download a complete file when all that is required is a small section."

To give you a quick background, normally when a regular file is requested by a web browser, like Chrome or Firefox, the file is usually downloaded as a progressive download. Which means, the file is progressively downloaded, in its entirety, to the website visitor's browser, in the browser's cache folder. And then it is served to the user. This happens with regular video, audio and PDF and any other files that you access online.

And in the past even YouTube used to serve videos as progressive downloads, which means the entire video is downloaded to the viewer's browser, even if they had just clicked play on it just once and then paused it right away.

And here's a support thread on Apple.com, where this person asks:

"I'm trying to get my podcast to feed through Itunes but I keep getting the message that my host needs to enable byte-range requests. How can this be since I'm able to have other podcast directories list my feed with no problem" (discussions.apple.com/thread/4119538)

And here's the reply: 

"Because of the number of complaints there have been of iPhones not being able to play some podcasts, Apple now require the server you host your media files on to have 'byte-range support' enabled - basically this means coping with requests for only part of a file at a time, which is required for the iPhone. You should confirm with your hosting service that they support this: if they don't (or don't know what it is) you should find another hosting service. Note that this applies to the server which hosts the episode files, not the feed - they don't have to be on the same server, though often they are, but it's not an issue with the feed at all."

And they also went on to say:

"Apple are demanding this facility because of the iPhone situation and rejecting podcasts where the media server doesn't comply.

I'm afraid the only way to find out whether a particular service can handle this is to ask them. Free hosting is always dubious in any event as they have to make a profit somehow, often by adding adverts to a site, and sometimes by forcing media files into their own page with a player, which won't work for iTunes."

So here's the summary:

* Do not create or store your own feed on your own servers

* Do not store your audio files on Google Drive, or Dropbox, or Webarchive.org or on your webhost or on Amazon S3.

* If you're testing the waters of podcasting, start with Anchor.fm. And at a later point, when you decide to get serious with your podcast, you can move it to Libsyn.com or PodBean.com. My podcast SubscribeMe.fm is right now hosted on Libsyn. And if you do sign up with Libsyn, use coupon code "subscribeme" and get up to 2 months free.

* If you have a WordPress membership site and have premium audio, video and PDF, do not use your own web host even for those. Instead, put those premium files on Amazon S3, and use a WordPress plugin like S3MediaVault.com to securely embed and deliver them in the members' area on your WordPress website.

* And if you want to create a Premium Podcast, or a Private Podcast, where the RSS feed is available only to paid members, then I highly recommend the exact opposite of everything I've said about public podcasts:

And that is... Use your own WordPress website, use PowerPress to create and host your own podcast feed, use a membership plugin like DigitalAccessPass.com (DAP) to protect your Episodes, which are basically WordPress Posts. So DAP can protect your entire WordPress category called "podcast", and you can use a shopping cart like SmartPayCart.com to accept one-time or recurring payments.

And as far as I know, DAP is one of the few, if not the only, membership plugin that can create a Personalized and Secure RSS Feed, where each of your members will get their own unique podcast feed, with their own special encrypted key at the end of the feed URL. And DAP can also track it if they share that podcast feed link with other unauthorized members and can automatically turn off their access to the feed. And then host your premium podcast's media files on Amazon S3.

Compared to a public podcast where you can potentially have tens of thousands of subscribers and apps and directories and bots all hitting your feed all within a short time frame, that too for free, that's not going to be an issue with a premium podcast where people are actually paying you to access the feed.

Realistically and practically, you are probably not going to have tens of thousands of paid subscribers to your paid podcast. You won't have any public directories and bots hitting your feed and media files. So there's going to be a exponentially smaller amount of stress on your server. Plus you're getting paid for the podcast, So your AWS bill will be affordable and reasonable compared to your revenue.

And if it ever gets really big for your server to handle, you can always consider programs like Glow.fm (recently acquired by Libsyn or Patreon. But those come with their own limitations and disadvantages, like for eg., all of the payments of your subscribers are going directly to those services first, and then they pay you your cut after taking their cut first.

And all of your subscribers' payment profiles will be in their payment processing system. So you will be stuck with their service, because you not be able to move them to a different system, because payment profiles are not movable. And that means, if you ever wish to move platforms, you'll have to ask all of your subscribers to cancel their subscriptions over there, and come over here (to your new platform) and sign up again.

And trust me when I say this: after doing this for 24 years now, if you ask someone to cancel and re-sign up, you'll lose a huge chunk of your revenue, because not everyone will rush to move to your new system. So literally overnight, you could lose a big chunk of your revenue.

This is exactly what my presentation was at Podcast Movement back in 2018. And if you go to PremiumPodcasting.com, I have a full online course about how to create your own premium podcast. And even just watching the free presentation video at the website, will throw light on a lot of things. So check it out.


About the Author

Ravi Jayagopal is a Business Coach, 8-time Author, Speaker, Podcaster, Entrepreneur, Digital Marketer, WordPress Developer and also an Amateur Ventriloquist :-). Read more about him at https://SubscribeMe.fm/ravi-jayagopal

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