By Tee Morris, Chuck Tomasi

The amount of time you spend planning your podcast show notes is inversely proportional to the amount of time you spend during your show prep. If you forgot everything from your high school math class, let’s paraphrase: The more you prepare for your show, the less time you spend working on the show notes — and vice versa.

Examine the notes you used when you recorded your podcast. Did you talk about any websites? Find the URLs and make sure you spell them right. Test them. Make sure they are headed to the right place. The copy-and-paste technique is best for URLs, rather than relying on your typing skills, especially for lengthy URLs.

If you recorded and/or edited your show hours or days before you started this notation process, replaying the media file with pen and paper at the ready is a good idea. Look for need-to-know moments and jot them down as the show plays. After it finishes, use a search engine to find additional, relevant URLs you may want to provide to your listeners.

It’s all in the details

Now is a good time to figure out what level of detail you’re going to employ in your show notes. Several factors can influence your decision, and audience expectation and personal choice are among the more important.

Here’s a good rule: The deeper you dive in to a single topic on your podcast, the less detailed your notes need to be. That may sound counterintuitive, and please keep in mind this is only a general rule and not a law. For example, if your podcast episode features a 20-minute interview with Theoretical Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku on his book Physics of the Impossible and how applicable those ideas are to the Star Wars Universe, you likely won’t have much more than a link to buy the book and/or rent the movie.

Show note details serve two primary purposes:

  • To act as a table of contents for the episode
  • To allow listeners to skip ahead if they so choose

As the podcaster, you can decide how much or how little you embrace these purposes. Here are some approaches that other podcasters have adopted:

  • Add a time stamp on segment or topic changes. Some podcasters put the exact time stamp of when they change topics, which can be frequent depending on the show’s format and its host. Time stamps can be quite helpful to your listeners if you cover a wide range of topics in each episode and want to assist possible listeners in jumping around.
  • Write in complete sentences and paragraphs. Taking cues from the world of blogging, many podcasters, such as Michael J. Riggs’ Steamrollers Adventure Podcast, write show notes in prose, using complete sentences and paragraphs in place of bullet points and time stamps. This approach feels better to potential readers, giving them a flavor of the show without having to listen. However, we’ve also heard listeners complain that key elements are difficult to find in this format.
  • Create a simple one-line summary. Some podcasters, such as Manoush Zomorodi’s podcast Note to Self take a minimalist approach and post simple one-liners or maybe three sentences that quickly sums up what the show will cover. New podcasters shouldn’t follow this lead because it doesn’t do much for helping attract new listeners. Many shows that take a quick summary approach enjoy a wider distribution method. In this case, Note to Self is also broadcast over WNYC93.9FM.

Detailed show notes improve your search engine rankings, and they enable web surfers to determine the value of an episode before listening. For Tee Morris’s Destiny-themed podcast, Happy Hour from the Tower, he uses a detailed, time-stamped bullet approach to what he, Nick Kelly, and Brandon Kelly cover in their 30-minute talk show. Show downloads and subscriptions spiked whenever the guys talked about hot topics for the week (the launch of “Age of Triumph” and the announcement of Destiny 2’s release, for example) as these keywords appeared in show notes as well as blogpost tags. That’s how powerful show notes can be.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Some podcasters include a representative image or two in their show notes. Although random graphics serve only to increase your bandwidth consumption and clutter your page, well-selected images can add flavor and dimension to your show notes. In some cases, these are the same images used as album art in the episode files.

Before you add an image to your post, keep in mind these three considerations:

  • Is the image protected by copyright? Posting someone else’s creative work without first securing permission (which may include royalties and fees) is stealing, pure and simple, and can land even the most well-meaning podcaster in a heap of legal trouble.
  • Can you link directly to the image, or do you need to copy it to your server? Some sites, such as Amazon.com, allow you to link directly to images as they sit on the website. These sites have a huge technology infrastructure and can handle remote hosting images that appear on other sites. But many smaller and personal sites can’t handle the load a popular podcast can put on their systems if they allowed direct linking to their stored images. In these cases, copy the image to your own server before adding it to your page. If you’re going to do this, it’s good karma to provide an image courtesy of … link to the original site. Again, this assumes you’ve received the appropriate permissions to copy the file. When in doubt, don’t.
  • Does the image fit on your page? Images too small or too large aren’t doing your listeners any favors. Make sure the image you select is the right size. You can add width=”x” height=”x” declarations to your image tags to control the size or use your blog engine’s editing presets to resize the image (better to go larger-to-smaller than the opposite direction), but keep in mind that this might distort the image. Previewing your post with resized images is a must. If your HTML is a little rusty, check out Coding For Dummies, by Nikhil Abraham (Wiley), for additional help.