In the last part of our series looking at the pros and cons of history podcasting, we examined that beast known as iTunes. To some it represents all that’s wrong with the medium, to others it remains their go to for all things pod. That was a fun debate, but in this instalment I want to examine another issue facing would be podcasters – should you join the website craze? Perhaps craze is too strong of a term, but there’s certainly a lot of independent and in many cases small-time creators these days that are hooked up to their own domain and private space on the web.
The sheer amount of options, from Squarespace, to WordPress to Wix, all present their own benefits and challenges, but we’re not here to review the different service providers today. Instead, our mission is to examine the pros and cons of having a website, and to ask that key question, should you go for one, and if so, when would the best time to launch your website be. As always, I should note that I am far from a technology expert, and that these observations are very much the lessons I have learned over time. In addition, for the sake of transparency, I should note that When Diplomacy Fails uses Squarespace. With that out of the way then, let’s begin.
Websites are an absolute dream if they work properly. Imagine, all of your podcast’s information in one place. The alternative would be to have several different homes for your work, and several different links to hand to people. Websites centralise your podcast base and theoretically make everything more streamlined and accessible. At the same time, one may ask the very valid question – do I really need a website? What if my history podcast is only new, it’s only starting out, and I simply don’t have all these bells and whistles going on bar the actual show? What if a blog does me just fine, and if I pay a little bit more, I can even get a custom domain for it to look more professional (www.wdfpodcast.blogspot.ie was a mouthful, hence why we’re no longer using that platform).
Alternatively, you could be faced with the following situation: you have planned to launch for some time, you have a bit of monies saved up, and the budget to match. Why not go for the option and start off as you intend to finish, since you’ll probably end up going for a website in the end anyway? But would it really be justifiable to invest all that time and money into the site if you’re not going to make much of a mark on that space for a time? As you can see, there’s several points of contention when it comes to a website, and the answer is far from straightforward even for me, over two years after setting up our own site. Let’s clarify things a bit then by looking first at the pros and then the cons of having a website.
Once I got over the learning curve that Squarespace presented, a whole range of possibilities opened up. While originally I had asked a guy to help me out with the website, after a few YouTube tutorials I was as informed as I ever going to be. I set to work, and after about two hours, felt happy with what I had done. I had a base for all my older episodes, stored attractively in the drop down menus, and I had all the information I wanted to provide about myself and WDF made public. With this done, I started to publicise it, and give people wdfpodcast.com as my go to address.
There was a certain satisfaction knowing that I had this stable place where history friends could go and explore. There was also a sense of relief knowing that wdfpodcast.com was suspended there in cyberspace, and that I couldn’t ‘break’ it, so to speak. After some time, I began investing more time and money into the site, adding additional pieces to the archive and building up the shop as well. Then I made the somewhat sudden decision to move the blog to the website too, so that everything would be centralised, and so that history friends would hopefully have more of a reason to stop by.
Since moving the blog The Vassal State to the website, I have noticed a big uptick in traffic, which is great, but again, the main incentive and the major reason why having a website has been beneficial to me is the fact that it is a reliable, convenient link to give people who may be curious about what WDF does. It’s the site which is listed on all of our merchandise, where possible, and it’s the site I tell people to visit during the actual podcast episodes. ‘Come and mess around’, I tell people. To some extent, promoting the website has been a success, and traffic has reached a point where I can rely on a somewhat regular readership for the blog. There is also scope to improve the blog too, and to link it with other things I do and may do in the future, like YouTube for example.
As far as the question ‘should I get a website?’ goes, you have to ask yourself three major questions. First, am I going to be doing this – history podcasting – long term, or is this just a temporary hobby. In other words, how serious am I about history podcasting, and do I see myself doing it still in two, three, ten years? Second, why do I want a website? Is it for accessibility? For convenience? To put it another way, are you sure a blog page couldn’t serve the functions you’re looking for? Third: do you have the time and money to consistently tend to the site, to update and pay for any upgrades you may need as your podcast goes on?
This is why it’s important to ensure you have considered questions one and two: I’d be lying if I said that website maintenance and even writing weekly blogs takes no time. It takes a great deal of dedication and discipline to say ‘right, let’s go to the website and manually upload all of these old episodes.’ I’m not exactly the best role model for this – there’s a reason why a great portion of my archive remains blank. I just find it so tedious to keep updating it, and to insert all the necessary files, images and descriptions. To some folks these concerns aren’t that big a deal, and you may even be in a position where your podcasting partner or even *gasp* your podcasting employee can do such things for you. In these cases, I would recommend going for it, because if you do, you’ll never look back.
While I have already put some of the cons of the website process forward to you guys, it is worth reiterating them here. There is next to no point in setting up a website expecting it change everything about your podcast, or for your show to gain instant credibility. Don’t look at your website as the ‘next step’ towards podcasting success necessarily, but instead as a product which is required if your podcast reaches a certain level. One good way to measure it is to ask how much your podcast actually costs to run, and to be honest about it. Your listeners can hardly expect you to spend the man hours or the money on a site when you’re fresh off the podcasting press. Especially if the initial set up costs of your actual show are already considerable to begin with.
As a rule of law, since history podcasting is a hobby, you shouldn’t be spending more than you’re making, unless you want the website and the podcast and everything related to it to bankrupt you before you get off the ground. That said, this is coming from a guy who spent 1,500 bucks on podcast merchandise in the months before his wedding, so I’m not exactly in a position to say ‘restrain yourself.’ Just keep it as sensible as you can. You may be tempted to go all out as soon as you begin – you may be tempted to reward yourself with a website since your podcast is one year old.
Instead, remember the fundamentals of history podcasting, captured in an acronym I like to call PIP. What does PIP stand for you might be wondering, well P stands for product, which as a history podcaster should be your primary concern above all. I stands for income and whether your podcast is generating the money with which you can justify any of these expensive schemes. P is price, as in how much said schemes actually cost. Note that the first P is for product and not the second P. This is because whatever you do, your product is the most important asset you have.
Whether you have a website or not, people will find you and listen to you if your show is worth a damn. If it’s not, then putting a polished turd online will bring more notoriety to it, but not much else. Start at the basics – I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to actually have a good product before you start. There’s no point bothering with a website if you can’t get rid of those pesky background sounds, if you tend to breathe before every word (you know who you are!) or if your research isn’t up to a certain standard. Really, this is just a roundabout way of me saying not to put the cart before the horse.
The horse is your product – it powers everything your podcast stands for and should be the centre of everything you do as a podcaster. The cart is what the horse – your podcast – is dragging along. Sometimes this cart gets bogged down with stuff, needless and time-consuming stuff, and sometimes I do wish that I didn’t have to devote time to maintaining the site or to creating a new blog post on a Tuesday night. When you dedicate your time to history podcasting, especially at first, all of your most important time and energies should be spent on making your product better. Have you planned ahead, have you acquired a certain niche with your show, have you got that review on iTunes, have you introduced yourself to the various history podcast groups that do the rounds, are you on Twitter, Facebook etc. in a capacity which helps your history podcasting brand, do you want a brand at all?
These are all questions which lead into each other, and until you reach a certain stage – actually that one year birthday could potentially be a good example – website maintenance will just eat up your time and detract from your product, which would be going directly against PIP – and that’s bad! I don’t think I need to draw up a graph of this for you to get what I mean, even though I do enjoy graphs. The younger your podcast is, and the less familiar people are with it, the less reasons you have for launching a podcast. If making a website – which takes time a money – is done to bring eyes on your show and be convenient for your listeners, then what would a website do for a podder with very few listeners and a product in desperate need of improvement?
Websites are an invaluable base from which to grow your history podcast. Yet, they are not for everyone, and every history podcaster does not need to have one. If you are considering launching a website for your show, make sure you are doing for the right reasons. Don’t expect miracles, do expect for it to take a surprising length of time to sort out and update in the future, and make sure you keep the whole operation in perspective. Of course, if you do have a website, make sure you push it to the moon – don’t be quiet about something you’ve invested time and energy into; mention it in every episode, in your show notes and on your podcast description so that it shows up in iTunes and other podcatchers.
I would also recommend, if you feel you have the time, to find a way to bring people to your site on a regular basis. How can I do that? Well, try linking the latest episodes with your site – maybe tell them that maps, resources etc. are available on the site, and – again – provide links for it in the episode’s show notes. If you can invest the time necessary to maintain a website, then consider the next step – a regular blog. If you have the mental energies necessary to maintain a regular blog, and if you link to its posts in the visible places, then you could notice a resulting upturn in your website traffic and, crucially, your podcast listeners. Remember why you’re doing this – you want more eyes and attention on your podcast above all.
If you’re in the position now that a website will bring that, or even if you strongly suspect that it will, then go for it. If this description is the opposite of you right now, then don’t! Invest some time in your freely hosted blog instead, or dispense with such mediums altogether, and provide an email address instead. If people want to discuss your show, then they will. Technology doesn’t make such things happen, but it certainly helps it along. Remember the principles of PIP, and you’ll be fine.
Who am I? Well my name is Zack Twamley and I am a history podcaster, masters graduate and author, and has been responsible for When Diplomacy Fails Podcast for over five years. Thanks for reading, and be sure to share this article or comment below to let me know your thoughts! Zack.