A full test: how do show notes display in podcast apps?
May 6, 2019 · By James Cridland · 3.4 minutes to read
Show notes are an important part of a podcast. In some cases, show notes link to more information about things mentioned within the podcasts. They often contain credits for material used: mandatory credits, sometimes, if using Creative Commons licences. They can contain advertiser links. They regularly contain links for supporting a podcast financially, like Patreon links. They’re a vital part of podcasting.
But: how do show notes display in different apps? And if you want to use show notes properly, what should you avoid?
We used this episode of Podnews to produce a special version of our podcast for this test. Thanks to the generosity of our readers, we were able to test 19 elements (below), in over 40 different apps.
While no app got a perfect score, the best apps for displaying shownotes were PocketCasts, Overcast and Castro, who each passed the highest number of our individual tests.
71% of all apps displayed our test show notes in full, without truncating them. Only 60% of podcast apps supported web address links in show notes, which was disappointing, especially for podcasts who rely on donations for revenue.
Only 14% displayed the iTunes Summary field somewhere; and only 12% showed an episode number, echoing our research earlier this year. We didn’t take this opportunity to measure support for chapter points, but last we checked, we concluded that it wasn’t worth the time.
There are many different podcast apps, of course: but according to Libsyn, only eight podcast apps are popular enough to be responsible for more than 1% of all podcast downloads. We plugged in Libsyn’s most recent numbers into our list, so we could work out what most people see.
From this list, the worst-performing podcast app was Spotify, whic passed less than 50% of our tests, and the only app responsible for over 1% of all downloads that didn’t display links correctly. Of higher profile apps, TuneIn also does a poor job of displaying shownotes. Within 24 hours of publishing this list, however, Luminary added support for show notes to their app.
(Podcast Addict displays no formatting unless you subscribe to a podcast, and caches the initial, format-less, episode unless you manually refresh the feed. We’ve updated this article after being told about this from the developer.)
You can also see our test results in full.
- Links work best naked. A naked link like https://podnews.net works for 98% of listeners. But if you try a link like this, 14% of listeners won’t be able to use it.
- Embedded images will be discarded by most podcast apps, so make sure you don’t need to rely on them.
- Don’t try to style or format your text: your attempts will fail. The only exception is an unordered list, like this one, which will show to 86% of all listeners.
- For accented characters we would recommend using standard unicode in your RSS feeds, rather than any form of HTML entities. Just write an é; don’t write
- iTunes summaries, a really useful sentence or two about what this episode is all about, are supported by a disappointing amount of apps; but those apps that do support it means 78% of all listeners will see them.
We’d also recommend not to let this list hold you back. Do whatever you like in show notes: some of the best podcast apps will display them just fine. Just make sure they degrade gracefully in the apps where they don’t.
- An embedded image (800px wide jpeg)
- Accents (in unicode, like
- Accents (in HTML entity, like
- Accents (in a numeric code, like
- Paragraphs (
- italics (using
- bold (using
- An unordered list (
- An ordered list (
- A blockquote
- A naked HTML link
- An “a href” HTML link
- A raw email address (clickable)
- Small text
- A donation link using rel="payment"
- A separate itunes:summary
- A visible episode number
- Displays in full (not truncated)
We’re not suggesting, by the way, that the above is a full list of things we’d like to see in podcast apps. Accented characters are mandatory, we’d think, but being able to display an image probably isn’t. This list represents what is possible to display, rather than a suggestion of any standard.
Spotify is responsible for at least 10% of all podcast downloads. Is it too much to ask that show notes within Spotify look halfway acceptable? Perhaps larger podcast publishers might make changes - and if so, we look forward to reporting on them in our daily newsletter
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