Are Your Episode Titles Accidentally Killing Your Growth?

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

Consider this scenario.

You’re the host of an interview show that features wide-ranging hour-long interviews with your guests.

The guests are fascinating and entertaining people and over the course of a typical interview, you jump from topic to topic, going down each new and interesting rabbit hole as it appears.

You’re thrilled with the conversations.

But when it comes time to publish each new episode, you face a dilemma.

How do you title it?

You talked about so many different things in the episode that it’s hard to pick just one to build your title around.

You have a couple of options:

  1. Title the episode with a list of all the topics you covered – A more accurate title… but one that is much less likely to entice people to listen.
  2. Choose the specific topic you think will get the most people to click on it – Which less accurately describes the contents of the episode, but will result in significantly higher downloads.

In the quest for more listeners, most hosts (and the production teams they employ) opt for option two.

But while a specific, hooky title will certainly attract more listeners, a dynamic has been created where many of those listeners will be disappointed—and perhaps even left with a bad taste in their mouth.

Because for many (especially first-time) listeners, the entire reason they clicked play on the episode was to hear the conversation (or monologue, or story) about the topic in the title.

So when it takes a full half of the hour-long episode to even get to that topic… and it’s then only discussed for ten minutes, it’s easy to understand why they feel jaded.

Because essentially, they’ve been clickbaited.

Not intentionally, of course.

But whether it was intentional or accidental, the result is the same: They’re not giving you a second chance.

Which is a serious problem for the growth of your show.

Because while earning the play might be the hardest part of growing a podcast, retaining new and existing listeners is an equally necessary component of growth.

So how do you title your episodes to both get new listeners to click play and deliver a positive listener experience that fulfills their expectations and keeps them coming back?

The answer is to start thinking about your title well before the episode has ever been recorded.

Avoiding Clickbait Starts At the Episode Conception Stage

At the root of podcasting’s clickbait problem is that many hosts go into interviews without a clear vision for where they want to take it.

This approach might lead to interesting, wide-ranging, enjoyable conversations for them as the host… but the resulting episodes are not especially interesting (or marketable) to an audience.

The answer then, is to start each episode with the end in mind.

You hear successful YouTubers talk about this all the time.

The starting point for many videos is often simply a hook-y, clickable title that they then figure out how to build out into a video.

On the flip side, they’ll often sit on a great video idea for months or even years all because they don’t know how to title it in a way that will be compelling enough to click on.

Here’s ​Ed from Film Booth​, one of the most highly-respected YouTube educators in the world:

“Usually, I come up with an idea, and then I’m like, ‘How the hell do I make this more interesting? I need to wrap it up in a more interesting way, a story of some kind.’ And then I will mainly focus on the packaging. So I don’t go any further until I come up with the packaging and the title… there’s no point wasting my time on a video until I have packaged it.

​Paddy Galloway​, the most highly sought-after YouTube consultant alive, takes a similar approach:

“If we can’t title and thumbnail an idea that can be clickable for our audience, it’s not an idea anymore. We scrap it.”

Of course, with an interview-based podcast, it’s impossible to know exactly where the conversation is going to go before you begin.

But a large part of your job as a host is to set the vision for each episode and guide the conversation to fulfill it.

The best possible listener experience is the one with the maximum Value Density related to what was promised in the title.

Achieving this boils down to:

  1. Defining the job of the episode well before the recording starts
  2. Guiding and constraining the scope of the episode (whether during the conversation or in post-production) to fulfill it.

The result is a more valuable episode that are also easier to title in a compelling way.

Which means more new listeners, and more returning listeners.

Which in short, is the whole recipe for growth.

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