There are many options for publishing audio sermons (or a podcast) on the Web. But there’s also the best way.
The information in this episode is designated for those running their websites on the self-hosted WordPress platform. If you’re not on WordPress, listen to Get your website started with WordPress.
Don’t disappoint your visitors
Why is there no search bar on your website? Was that intentional?
As a matter of fact, it’s very intentional. A disappointed visitor to your website will not be a visitor for long. A fruitless search will leave them disappointed. It’s better to highlight what your site does have.
Instead of a search bar, I categorize the content on my website and allow visitors to browse. Chances are, they’ll find other interesting content and forget what they were looking for in the first place.
The same is true for publishing audio sermons. If you fail to do it the right way, you might leave your visitors disappointed.
Important elements of an audio feed
Audio sermons can be rather large files. It’s recommended you have a media host to store them online. You could always save them on your website’s server (upload through FTP), but that’s not recommended.
Two great services for media hosting:
Blubrry might be the better choice if you’re looking for convenience. Using their PowerPress plugin for WordPress, you can upload your audio files from the WordPress Dashboard.
If you use a sermon-ready theme or the Sermon Browser plugin, you will need a media host. SermonAudio.com hosts them for you.
If you decide to go with my recommendation, you will need a media host. It’ll cost you approximately $20 a month.
RSS feeds are what make subscriptions possible. Using a site’s RSS, people can subscribe to blogs, podcasts, and even have the content emailed to them. In WordPress, these feeds are generated for you.
Your website will have an overall feed which includes all content on your site. Your site will also have separate feeds for each category.
If you make them readily available to visitors, they can subscribe to everything, just the blog, or just the audio sermons feed. You could even break it down further with additional categories.
You absolutely need a dedicated feed for audio only. People who subscribe in iTunes or a podcatching app only want audio.
At the same time, you may still want your sermons to be in the overall feed. If so, most common options (below) will not work.
You’ve published sermons wrong if…
A potential visitor of your church visits your website. He clicks the Sermons link. He sees a long page of available sermons.
There are no play buttons. Just links. He finds a sermon he wants to hear. He clicks the link. It either automatically downloads the audio file or plays it in a new window (depending on what browser he’s using).
The problem: The visitor has no control.
In worse cases, visitors are required to download something like Adobe Flash Player or RealPlayer before listening to a sermon.
The problem: You’re making the visitor work too hard if they can even listen at all (some players are not available on all devices).
Let’s assume a visitor jumps through the hoops you’ve set and listens. He’s interested in hearing your pastor(s) preach. In fact, he wants to hear every sermon you publish on your site.
The problem: The only way for him to know there’s a new sermon so he can listen is by visiting your website again.
Why is that a problem? Well, he might not do that. Before long, he has forgotten you. You have to make things as easy as possible for visitors.
Other options for publishing sermons
If you are on WordPress, there are several church-based themes which have a “podcast” or audio sermons section built into them.
There are several sermon-ready themes:
- WP for Church has four themes.
- Mint Themes has four themes (Moses, Ezekiel, Malachi, Micah).
- Church Themes has four themes.
The problem: These themes generally have a separate RSS feed for sermons. That means people can subscribe to the sermons feed, but those sermons will not be in the website’s overall feed.
Another option is the Sermon Browser plugin for WordPress. Find it in the plugins directory within your Dashboard and install.
The problem: Again, the sermons feed is not a part of the website’s overall feed. It can also be a buggy plugin with little support.
Last but not least, you could upload your sermons to SermonAudio.com. For $30 a month, they’ll host your audio files and give you an embeddable player to put on your own website.
The problem: Once again, your sermons will not be a part of your site’s feed. You’ll also have limited control over the sermons feed, player, etc.
The best way to publish sermons
I strongly recommend you use the Blubrry PowerPress Podcasting plugin for WordPress. It’s a plugin that will do it all for you.
It automatically provides an HTML5 audio player (works on all devices), an iTunes-ready RSS feed, and it’s easy to upload/publish new audio.
First, install and configure PowerPress:
- Search and install PowerPress from the WordPress Dashboard.
- Make sure you activate it.
- Go to PowerPress –> Settings –> Basic Settings.
- Deselect everything but Media URL, Media File Size, iTunes Subtitle, and iTunes Summary.
- Save changes.
- Go to PowerPress –> Settings –> Media Appearance.
- Choose where to display your audio player when a sermon is posted (Below page content, Above page content, or Disable which means you’ll manually add the player each time).
- Make sure the Display Player, Display Play in new Window Link, Display Download Link, Include file size and duration, and Display Player Embed Link boxes are all checked.
- Save changes.
- Go to PowerPress –> Settings.
- Scroll to the bottom and check the Category Podcasting box under Advanced Settings.
- Save changes.
- Go to Posts –> Categories and create a separate category for your audio sermons.
- Under your sermons category, click Adding Podcasting.
- Fill out every form you can under the Feed Settings and iTunes Settings tabs.
Skip where you are asked for your Feedburner and iTunes URLs. When you’re asked to upload your album artwork and RSS image, be sure to follow the size recommendations (especially the iTunes image).
Upload your sermons (one at a time):
- Go to Posts –> Add New.
- Title the post which will be the episode/sermon title.
- Write up any notes in the main edit screen.
- Choose your audio sermon category (whatever you named it).
- You’ll now see a Podcast Episode box toward the bottom.
- If you’re using Blubrry as your media host, upload your audio file.
- If you’re using another media host, upload the audio file there and copy/paste the link into the Media URL form.
- Click the Verify button.
- If it doesn’t automatically fill in Duration, manually type it.
- Fill out the iTunes subtitle and summary.
Overwhelmed? You’ll find with practice, there’s nothing to it.
The only thing left to do (once you have some sermons published) is provide visitors with a link to the RSS feed and submit that same link to iTunes. The RSS link can be found under PowerPress –> Category Podcasting –> [your category] –> Feed Settings.
If you have any questions, ask them in the comment section beneath this post and I’ll be happy to answer them.
Update: Arlen Nagata provides a great video tutorial of PowerPress…