How to listen to a podcast: Featured episodes highlight which episodes new listeners should start with

Make a great first impression: a welcoming first experience with your podcast helps turn curious visitors into new listeners

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So, where do we begin? For all podcast listeners, this is the question they ask themselves anytime they encounter a new show. After your name, art, and description catch their attention, the all-important next step is here: it’s time to start listening.

And that’s where the questions start to swirl: do I start at the beginning? Do I start with the most recent episode? There’s how many episodes to choose from? Which is the best? Which episode is the most popular? Ahhhh!

There is a better way to curb listener analysis paralysis and eliminate decision fatigue at this all-important moment when someone has decided to listen to your show for the first time. By highlighting a gateway episode, a podcaster can point a new listener to the very best starting point. That first tap of the play button all but guarantees a great first introduction to your show—because you chose it. 

In case you’re wondering why we call them gateway episodes: the episodes you pick opens up your podcast to a new listener, and in turn, to the world. Usher this new listener in with purpose and prepare them for a transformative moment, the moment they began listening to your show.

What makes a great gateway episode?

A gateway episode—also known as a featured episode, a “start here” episode, or a highlighted episode—provides a way for a podcaster to showcase a chosen episode, much like a pinned post on Facebook or Twitter. We recommend that you use them to feature and highlight the best episodes for people who are new to your show. 

So, how do you pick a good gateway episode?

  • The hook is immediate. Pick an episode that jumps right into the meat of your show. A long preamble, introduction, or an overwhelming number of pre-roll ads means that vital, precious seconds in which a listener is deciding, “Is this show right for me?” are ticking away. 
  • It works as a stand-alone piece. Remember, this is an introduction to your show for someone who has never heard you before. It’s best to choose an episode that doesn’t reference other episodes or rely heavily on inside jokes.
  • This is something a listener “can’t miss” from your show. Think one story, conversation, or interview that, hands-down, is the best. If this is the only thing of your show they hear, that’s a-okay. (Though… we definitely want them to hear more, which is why…)
  • A listener should leave hungry for more like it. Ideally, a gateway episode will inspire a first-time listener to become a repeat listener, and hopefully, a follower and fan of your show.

How do I select a gateway episode?

You know your episodes better than anyone, so the first step is to look back at everything you’ve created so far and see what is most representative of your podcast’s voice, tone, and topics, keeping an ear on which work well as enticing, singular pieces. If your back catalog allows, narrow down your past episodes to a list of 5-8 episodes, then you can start to figure out if what you think is representative of your shows is also something your listeners have enjoyed, too.

Two ways to identify what is resonant with your audience:

Ask your listeners. Your current listeners know a lot about what they love to hear from your show. First off, they were once new to your show. They also are familiar with what you’ve made from a listener-first perspective. And chances are, if they’ve recommended your show to a friend before, they’ve talked about a specific episode (maybe that’s even how it came up: “I was listening to an episode of a podcast about… and you should listen too!”). You might also find that your listeners have slightly different gateway episodes than you have on your list—take this opportunity to ask them why they think it’s a good entry point for your show.

Take a look at your listening data. Whether you’re looking at your podcast hosting provider analytics, listening data provided by podcast listening platforms or podcast apps, or your website traffic, you can begin to see what episodes have struck a chord with your audience. Are the episodes on your list also episodes that have had solid listenership? This kind of cross-referencing helps you finalize a list of 1-3 good gateway episodes.

There are a few natural starting points for podcasts that are easy to select as your gateway episodes:

  • Is your show serialized? Start from the beginning of the narrative.
  • Got a trailer? That’s a gateway episode, too!
  • Not sure? Consider the first episode of season one.

And yes, your gateway episodes can change. As you make more episodes and learn more about your listeners, both through direct interactions and listening data, you’ll have a better sense of where a new listener should begin with your show.

Where can you put a gateway episode into action?

Now that you’ve identified a gateway episode or two, it’s time to put them to work to help you gain new listeners.

  • Showcase a gateway episode on your podcast website. There are few places on your site where this could live, and we think your homepage is great! With a Podsite, your gateway episodes are featured alongside information about the show and the hosts right on the homepage, and they also pop up on an individual episode page as a continued listening suggestion. Instructions for adding your gateway episodes to your Podsite or embedding on your current website are included below.
  • Pin your gateway episode(s) to the top of your social media accounts. That way, anyone who arrives at your account won’t miss it, and this makes it easy for your social media followers to share these episodes.
  • Add it to your press kit. When pitching your podcast to the press, help them understand you and your show with a representative episode. Even if they don’t have time to listen right away, they’ll have a good place to start when they do.
  • Help a long-time listener introduce your show to a new listener. A message to your email newsletter subscribers means that forwarding the message along to a friend is just a click away. You can also use this message as an opportunity to ask which episodes they like the most.

How do I set a gateway episode for my show?

Now that you’ve done all the brain-powery work to select gateway episodes of your podcast, it’s time to set them up in your feed. By noting your gateway episodes in your podcast’s RSS feed, these episodes work in many places across the web to help new listeners enjoy your show for the first time.

  • Podsite users: Set your featured/gateway episodes from your Podsite dashboard. Your gateway episodes will then appear within your Podsite, your RadioPublic landing page for your show, and within the RadioPublic apps.
  • Libsyn users: Set your featured/gateway episodes from within your Libsyn dashboard. The episodes will appear on your RadioPublic landing page for your show and within the RadioPublic apps.
  • If you already have a website: feature your gateway episodes using our free embed player—it works for any podcast, with any hosting provider.
  • Anyone can add the featured/gateway episodes to their feed by adding specific RadioPublic tags to their feed. If you work at a podcast hosting company and would like to provide these tags to your customers, please get in touch:

Want to put your gateway episodes on display immediately? Add yours to your RadioPublic account right now.

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