We’ve all encountered a number of promises from various marketing sources offering some hacks that could get your podcast top the Apple charts. But these promises tend to not live up to what they say, and so you need to pay extra close attention to this: know the difference between subscribers and listeners. Many claim that they could boost your podcast all the way to the top by gaining you a number of subscribers. However, this does not work in the long run. Subscribers do not guarantee listeners. They could well subscribe to your show without even listening. Learn more as to how you can truly gain high ranking in the Apple Top Podcast Charts, reassessing whether you have valuable listeners—those that eventually take action—or merely subscribers.

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Apple Top Podcast Charts

We’ve got a very current topic to talk about regarding iTunes and/or Apple. It’s all Apple at the end of the day, their top podcast charts on iTunes. A lot of people think that the top podcast charts are hackable, they’re manipulatable. There have been a lot of people, I don’t know if you’ve been getting it on LinkedIn, but I get them all the time of people saying, “I can promise you a top position in the top charts on Apple.” I get it all the time. I get it through LinkedIn, I get it through Facebook, people soliciting me and I get it through direct email or whether it’s on LinkedIn. It’s usually somebody from India or some other foreign country where labor is low and they guarantee you, you can hire them and they’ll get you on top of the charts. In one email, I’ve gotten it from a US company. I’m not going to out the company because I’m not necessarily trying to trash anybody. What they’re doing may be legitimate, but they’re charging a lot of money. I’m talking thousands and thousands of dollars a month to do a marketing campaign, PR blitz, all sorts of things to get the word out about your podcast and drive more listeners to it, which is ultimately what is going to get your ranking higher in the charts on Apple.

Let’s be clear here. No one believes that the Apple top podcast chart is related to listeners. They believe that it’s related to subscribers. I’m telling you that’s what they believe whether they’re bot farms or Fiverr, people clicking for you, fake subscriber accounts that are being set up, that are then subscribing to you. They believe that it’s based on subscribers and not listeners in the long run and we don’t see that on our end. Subscribers and listeners would be the same thing. We mean subscribers listens or plays. I may have mentioned this in a past episode. It bears a little repeating if I did because this is more focused on the subject. From our experience, because we follow the top charts, we have a lot of podcasters who are on the top charts and have been there for years and continue to be. I talked about Passive Real Estate Investing with Marco Santarelli in an episode and a cautionary tale about why his podcast was delisted from iTunes. It started because of his cover that was out of spec with their new standards. He’s been at the top of business investing within the top ten for at least more than a year, if not two years. It’s been quite a long time.

After his podcast got relisted, he got right back up there. There have been some announcements about how Apple has reset or recalibrated their top charts. I don’t know if it’s from an algorithmic standpoint, it may be. I don’t know how else they would reset it. There are so many companies that are claiming they can get you in there. There are those out there in the podcast world that think that Apple’s charts are hackable. I don’t think they’re hackable in the literal sense that some hacker is going into iTunes system and manipulating rankings to push someone up. I would think of it more as a life hack. It’s a process hack maybe saying that, “If you do this and if you do this, that’s what Apple’s chart algorithm is looking for and your podcast will get higher.”

Goals are not about being achievable; they are about being useful. Share on X

I’m sure that there’s been a lot of intended manipulation going on. These companies that are soliciting you to pay lots of money, I don’t think they’re not doing anything to get you on the charts. I think they are doing things to get you on the charts. The question is, are they doing something that is bringing real listeners to your show? Valuable listeners who are going to listen to your episodes, take action, become subscribers, become a part of your community. That’s questionable at a minimum. Certainly, it’s debatable as to whether any of these services are bringing legitimate customers or are they using click farms in Asia and paying people to subscribe and they end up downloading all your episodes and never listening to them? If you have a huge number of listeners in other countries, maybe you do have listeners in that country.

I know in one of our first podcast we had a large listening audience in Brazil of all places, in our 3D Printing podcast. I know that it was legitimate because they communicated with us. They emailed in questions and they went to meetups. We learned a lot about these listeners in those other countries. If you have a spike of downloads from another country, especially India or Singapore or the Philippines or whatever, maybe you have reason to question if those listeners are legitimate. We’re not here to provide you with any proof of that or trying to peel back the curtain on something specific. All we’re saying is we also have experience with many podcasters who we know are not doing anything to manipulate the top charts and yet they are on the top charts. They may fluctuate from number two to number five, the number eight and back and forth. The ones that are putting out consistent episodes and quality content are getting legitimate listeners.

The reason I don’t buy this is the subscribers. You have to get so many subscribers in weeks in order to enter on the charts and the number of reviews because many of our podcasters do not have tons of reviews. Some do, some have hundreds and some don’t have a lot. I’ve seen some very recent podcasts that don’t have a ton of reviews end up in the top of the charts. The reviews, we are always skeptical about those that say, “It’s a combination of this, this and this,” because we have some podcast in our system that deviates from that algorithm from those theories. I do think it is likely that how many five-star ratings you have as a percentage of your total ratings or maybe how many reviews you have of your show do play a role in the algorithm. It would be silly if they didn’t play a role, but by and large what we see show after show, by looking at the data of downloads, is the downloads is still the most specific thing that effects it. Here’s the thing, there are podcasts that are at the top charts we see consistently, that have a consistent number of downloads episode after episode, month after month. Even after this reset that’s been mentioned.

Apple Top Podcast Charts: The podcasts that are putting out consistent episodes and quality content are those getting legitimate listeners.


Here’s what we know and this is from long, hard evidence and working with many people that are in the top charts is that I don’t believe people that are touting and I’ve heard people say it at speaking events, I’ve heard it from other people who were customers of ours that were at other speaking events where somebody from another podcast hosting company is saying, “Here’s what it takes to get in the top charts. Here’s what Apple is looking for.” It definitely is heavy on the. If you’re not getting new subscribers on a weekly basis, you’re not going to be at the top of the charts and I don’t believe it. The reason is we have many podcasters who are in the top charts whose episode downloads from one episode to the next are consistent.

One particular customer is getting 10,000 to 15,000 downloads of each episode within the first two weeks of that episode going out there and in the first week it’s closer to 10,000, and it usually gets about 5,000 over the course of the next week and that’s pretty consistent. If they were getting new subscribers every week, we would see those download numbers consistently going up week after week, which is what happened with our show early on. That’s what we saw. We had a 40% month over month growth in overall podcast listens, so we knew our subscriber base was increasing by that. We leveled off at about 100,000 a month and so even when we fluctuated in the number of episodes though, we leveled off at that and so we realized that our subscriber base head level off at that stage for us and that’s what it started to show for us. We’ve seen that happen with shows and it did not change their ranking.

This is not just our own shows. We give a good example from one of our shows that’s legitimate. We have those historical downloads and we see that, but we’re seeing it with many other podcasters and we know they’re not paying anything. They’re not paying anyone to hack to get up on the charts. There is no substitute for creating great content on a regular basis. Being consistent with that and multicasting it, putting it everywhere, putting it out as a blog, putting it out maybe as a video on YouTube, spreading the word on social media, participating in all different groups in your niche to get the word out there. There’s absolutely something to be said for real marketing organic or paid if you want to, to get the word out about your show and to gain more listeners.

Real and valuable listeners do not subscribe based on you happening to hit the top list. Share on X

There’s nothing wrong with that and that’s legitimate. There are maybe some companies that are marketing companies wanting you to pay them to market your podcast to get more listeners and you can do that if you want to. I know there are some companies that do pay to do that. It’s not hacking the system. It’s not hiring a company with click farms to get fake downloads. It’s legitimate spreading the word, spreading awareness, making sure that our listeners know about your show because if you do that, there are more people that are probably going to want to listen, that will continue to subscribe over time. Everyone that we’re involved with who’s on the top charts has not paid any money for marketing of any kind.

In this particular case, this AppleInsider article that spurred this discussion for us, they’re stating that there was this reset where all the shows got all jumbled around and shows that had no business being in the top ranking got in the top ranking. About a week or so later, it all got reset and its timing is suspect to what we saw happen with Passive Real Estate Investing with Marco Santarelli’s show. We saw this reset happened because many of those top shows are older shows that had older cover art, got delisted. It took us a while on his behalf to petition, send emails, get somebody because there isn’t a high-level staff anymore on the Apple podcast. Like iTunes the way they used to be.

We do understand they’ve drastically reduced the number of full-time employees on iTunes because iTunes in terms of podcasts is not something Apple really makes much money on if any. They invented the podcast and the space, the iPod, that has created this wonderful industry we’re all in, but it’s not a big money-maker for them and they have, we understand, reduced a lot of staff. That had an effect on how it got reset. There might have been something where they delisted a bunch of shows. A lot of shows had these problems, they got them fixed and they got themselves reinstated to their position again. It wasn’t about somebody coming in and hacking the system and making and putting shows that didn’t belong to the top. I don’t think that that’s what happened. It’s timing to what we saw with a few shows that had issues at that time, coincide with that timing as well. I can’t say that somebody found a hack in. I don’t believe that.

Apple Top Podcast Charts: If your goal in starting to podcast is to get on New and Noteworthy, then you better get a new goal because it’s not achievable.


I’ll tell you on the screenshots that are shared on that AppleInsider article, Marco Santarelli’s podcast, whatever date they screenshot it, they screenshot the iTunes top listings in his category. They did it before the reset supposedly and Marco Santarelli shows there at number thirteen. Then in the screenshot, they took right after the reset, his show isn’t there. However, at the time of this recording, I think this recording as we’re doing this is only about a week later, not even a week later from when this AppleInsider article came out. I went and checked on iTunes and Marco Santarelli is in that category at number eight again, where he’s been between number two to number eight or ten or fifteen. He’s been consistently in that space. He’s just providing good content and has loyal listeners who want to hear what he has to say. He’s not getting new subscribers upon subscribers every week. He’s pretty consistent in his downloads whatever reset that did to the algorithm, the point is we’re seeing consistent results with what we’ve seen in the last year or two.

Compare that to New and Noteworthy on Apple. That has been abandoned by Apple and iTunes. I checked it again before this particular recording of this episode. We still are seeing the same shows on New and Noteworthy. One of them is a customer of ours, has been there for two years and isn’t even publishing any new episodes now. It’s neither New nor Noteworthy in all reality. She has no idea why she’s there. She never paid anything. In New and Noteworthy, certainly we know New and Noteworthy is not what it was five years ago when we started podcasting, when every new podcast was on that chart and there were 1,500 or 2,000 podcasts listed there. If anybody is selling you on the notion that if you work with them that can get you on New and Noteworthy. I caution you against believing that because personally, I do not believe it’s even possible anymore. Certainly, at this point in time and partly because of Apple’s reduction of staff for iTunes, New and Noteworthy was not just algorithmically driven. It was also an editorial choice by staff at Apple. It’s like the New York Times bestseller list. It was always a staff choice. It was always somebody with blocking and keeping, they were keeping the list in their editorial idea of what it should be.

At least they were able to make the list what they felt it should be having maybe very little, if anything to do with how popular the show was, New And Noteworthy. That I definitely would not put any faith in. If your goal in starting to podcast is to get on New and Noteworthy, I would suggest you get a new goal because that one is not going to be achievable. It’s not even about it not being achievable, it’s not useful. I don’t think it’s very helpful. There are a lot of better ways for you to use your money. If you want to put money into your show, use your money to drive traffic to your website. Use your money to drive your email list. Use your money to drive your subscribers that way so that they belong to you. Remember, doing this podcast should be an authority builder. That’s what Feed Your Brand is all about. That’s what we’re trying to empower you with here is all the tools you need to empower your brand and make it an authority in the marketplace and in your niche and area and this top chart is one tiny little aspect of what authority is built around and it is not the first thing I would put my money in.

As time goes on and Google podcasts gain market share, among other things, the iTunes charts become less and less relevant or less of a cache if you get on there. We’re going to see iTunes market share of podcast listeners decreasing. That may happen, but also may be the market share of listeners on other platforms increasing as new listeners come in. Most people that I talked to want to listen on Spotify. That’s their favorite thing.

I also do think that we are working into a world of more relevant content being served up to us. All of the Google podcasts, especially as serving up things that are more relevant. If you like this show, then you’ll like this and it is not about what’s on a top list. That’s not how true binge listeners, true subscribers, subscribe to the podcast. If you want the real valuable listeners, they’re not going to subscribe based on you happen to hit this top list. It’s probably more outreach through social media or people sharing about this one, they listened to all sorts of other real organic things. That’s that little update based on an article we read. You can reach us anywhere on social media, @FeedYourBrand. Thanks so much. This has been Tracy and Tom on the Feed Your Brand podcast.

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