How the Most Popular Podcasts on iTunes Add ID3 Tags

Adelaide, Australia - September 27, 2012: Close-up view of the iTunes icon on an iPad

You know you need to add ID3 tags to your podcast MP3 file before you publish.

But how do you properly add ID3 tags? Which tags should you add and which ones can you ignore?

In this article, we examine the 10 most popular podcasts in iTunes and deconstruct how they add ID3 tags. And then we provide a simple guide to help you add ID3 tags to your podcast just like the leading podcasts.

What Are ID3 Tags?

ID3 tags are a way of storing information about your MP3 file. It’s a standard that’s used by hardware and software developers around the world.

When you listen to a podcast in applications such iTunes or Stitcher, you can see information such as the title, podcast name, host name, image of the podcast etc. This information is all stored within the MP3 file using ID3 tags.

Why Are ID3 Tags Important?

If you don’t use ID3 tags, then your podcast will probably look something like this:

As you can see, there are a number of issues with this podcast.

There’s no cover art to help it stand out from other podcasts. The title of each episode is just the filename and the description is missing from all but one of the episodes.

When you don’t add ID3 tags, it makes your podcast look unprofessional. And it makes it very difficult for your audience to listen to (or want to listen to) your content.

Which ID3 Tags Should You Add?

There are some obvious tags that every podcast should have e.g. title, description etc.

But after that, things start to get a little fuzzy. And you’ll hear all kinds of advice.

So we decided to examine the ID3 tags of the top 10 podcasts on iTunes right now.

And you may be surprised by what we discovered.

Our iTunes Experiment

We downloaded the latest episode in iTunes for each of the following podcasts:

1-This-American-Life

Podcast #1 – This American Life

2-Freakonomics Radio

Podcast #2 – Freakonomics Radio

3-Radiolab

Podcast #3 -Radiolab from WNYC

4-Serial

Podcast #4 – Serial

5-Dan Carlin's Hardcore History

Podcast #5 – Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

6-Undisclosed

Podcast #6 – Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed

7-TED Radio Hour

Podcast #7 – TED Radio Hour

8-Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Podcast #8 – Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

9-Fresh Air

Podcast #9 – Fresh Air

10-The Moth Podcast

Podcast #10 -The Moth Podcast

Categorizing the ID3 Tags

Generally, we can group the ID3 tags into 4 categories or types:

  • ID3 v2 Basic
  • Extended
  • Podcast
  • ID3 v1

ID3 v1 was the original standard for storing information within an MP3 file. But it had several limitations and was eventually replaced with ID3 v2.

Most applications these days support ID3 v2 standards, so you don’t really need to worry about adding ID3 v1 tags unless you want your podcast to be compatible with some older pieces of software and hardware.

The ‘extended’ and ‘podcast’ categories (as the names may imply) are just ways to store additional information about your MP3 file which can’t be stored directly in the ID3 v2 basic tags.

So for this experiment, we’ll focus on the first 3 categories:

  • ID3 v2 Basic
  • Extended
  • Podcast

Note: we didn’t look at all ID3 tags (there are a lot of them). We focused on the tags that are most commonly used in iTunes and ID3 editing software. If you want to ‘geek out’, you can see all ID3 tags here.

The Results

For each of the iTunes top 10 podcasts, we looked to see which ID3 tags they were using in each of the 3 categories.

Here are the results:

ID3 v2 Tags

Key Takeways:

  • There are only 6 tags in ID3 v2 category used by all the podcasts.
  • Always add ‘title’, ‘artist’, ‘album’, ‘year’, ‘genre’ and ‘cover art’ image.

Extended Tags

Key Takeways:

  • The extended tags are pretty much ignored by the leading podcasts.
  • There’s no harm in adding these, but it won’t reap many benefits.

Podcast Tags

Key Takeways:

  • The podcast tags are used by all the leading podcasts – you should too.
  • The ‘identifier’ tag is usually assigned by iTunes so you don’t need to that.
  • Focus on the other 2 tags — ‘feed’ and ‘description’

ID3 v1 Tags

Do you remember, we decided to ignore the ID3 v1 tags for this experiment?

Some people will still tell you to add these tags. So for fun, we analyzed these too:

Key Takeways:

  • The ID3 v1 tags are ignored by most of the leading podcasts – you should too.
  • There’s no harm in adding these, but it won’t reap many benefits.

Experiment Conclusion

There are a lot of ID3 tags that you could add to your podcast files.

But based on the iTunes top 10 podcasts, only 8 tags matter for your podcast:

  1. Title (ID3 v2)
  2. Artist (ID3 v2)
  3. Album (ID3 v2)
  4. Year (ID3 v2)
  5. Genre (ID3 v2)
  6. Cover Art (ID3 v2)
  7. Feed (Podcast)
  8. Description (Podcast)

How to Add the ID3 Tags to Your MP3 File

There are several tools that you can use to add the ID3 tags. We’ll focus on 3.

1. iTunes

To add ID3 tags to your MP3 file in iTunes:

1. From the ‘File’ menu choose ‘Add to Library’

2. Find the file that you just added in your iTunes Library

3. Right-click on the file and choose ‘Get Info’

4. Click on the ‘Options’ tab and change ‘media kind’ to ‘Podcast’:

5. Click on the ‘Details’ tab and add the title, author (host), podcast name, release date, genre and year:

6. Click on the ‘Artwork’ tab and upload your cover art:

7. Click on the ‘Description’ tab and add your episode description:

8. Click on the ‘Sorting’ tab and add the title, podcast and author (host):

9. Your MP3 file is now ready to be uploaded to Libsyn or Soundcloud.

2. ID3 Editor

ID3 Editor is an inexpensive piece of software that works on both Windows and Mac.

To add ID3 tags to your MP3 file in ID3 Editor:

1. From the ‘File’ menu choose ‘Open’ and select your MP3 file.

2. Under the ‘ID3 v3 Standard’ tab, add the title, artist, album, year and genre. Also make sure that the ‘Enable v2 Tags’ box is checked:

3. Leave all the fields in the ‘Extended’ and ‘ID3 v1’ tabs blank:

4. Under the ‘Podcast’ tab, add the feed location and episode description:

5. Click the ‘Picture’ button and upload the cover art image for your podcast:

6. Click the ‘Update’ button and your MP3 file is now ready to be uploaded to Libsyn or Soundcloud.

Note: you can speed up this process by saving a ‘profile’ in ID3 Editor. In other words, enter the tags that apply to all episodes e.g. podcast name, host name etc. and save those in a profile (File > Save Tag Data).

Now every time you’re ready to add tags to a new MP3 file, you can start by loading the profile data (File > Load Tag Data). This will help to speed up the process every time you add tags to an MP3 file.

3. Prestopod

Prestopod is a web app you use in your browser – there’s no software to install.

It takes about 5 minutes to setup i.e. you enter non-episode specific settings e.g. podcast name, cover art image etc.

To add ID3 tags to your MP3 file in Prestopod:

1. Click the ‘Add New Episode’ button

2. Enter the episode number, title, description, guest name and publishing date and click ‘Update’.

3. Click the ‘Publish’ button and then click the ‘Choose File’ button to select your MP3 file.

4. Click the ‘Publish’ button again on this screen and you’re done.

Prestopod will upload your MP3 file and apply all the correct ID3 tags (including the cover art image).

But Prestopod doesn’t stop there. It will also do the following when you click ‘publish’:

  • Upload your file to the staging area on Libsyn
  • Create a WordPress show notes page based on your template
  • Schedule the WordPress page to go-live the same time as the MP3
  • Send a notification email to you or your assistant to check & finalize publishing.

Conclusion

Understanding ID3 tags can be confusing – especially if you’re just getting started.

And you’ll hear all kinds of advice about what to do and what not to do with ID3 tags.

We hope that this article provides solid information based on our research of the top 10 iTunes podcasts. And the data we’ve used to backup our recommendations should help you to apply your ID3 tags with confidence.

We hope that you found this article helpful. If you did, then please share it.

Omer Khan

I'm the founder of Prestopod a software product that helps you plan, organize & publish your podcast. And I'm also the host of The SaaS Podcast

19 Comments

  1. Steve Atwal on June 2, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    Great article about what works for ID3 tags in podcast episodes! Thanks Omer 🙂

  2. John Lee Dumas on June 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Rockin article bro!

  3. Allen Voivod on June 3, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Nice article, Omer, I really like the idea of this!

    There’s something that doesn’t quite work for me, though. #1 and #4 come from the same network (WBEZ). #2 and #3 are also from the same network (WNYC). And #7, 8, and 9 are also from the same network (NPR). What’s more, these are all public radio stations. So the 10 podcast sample is really 6 at best, and 4 at worst. I’d love to see samples from other podcast networks represented…

    Interestingly, though, there are variations even within the podcasts from the same network. Serial uses the “Comments” and “Encoded by” field, while This American Life does not, even though both are WBEZ productions.

  4. Hani on June 3, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Awesome analysis. very valuable information. ID3 tags are so critical and can be confusing for people getting started with podcast.

  5. Evan Hanson on June 4, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Well done and presented in a easily understood flow.

  6. Erica on March 16, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    Terrific article and very helpful. Your analysis shows what the leading podcasts use, but what do the leading podcasting apps search? It would be really nice to understand that. Anyway, thanks for the great article!

    • omerkhan on March 23, 2016 at 6:45 am

      Great question Erica. As far as I understand, no one has a clear answer on that. I believe they look at a number of ‘signals’ just like Google does to rank web pages.

  7. christian on March 21, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    Awesome, thanks to you after one googling I know how to deal with this stuff. Thank you!

    • omerkhan on March 23, 2016 at 6:44 am

      You’re welcome Christian! Glad to hear you found it useful.

  8. felix on July 26, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Very well explained

  9. Richard Low on August 22, 2016 at 5:23 am

    Great article, especially when it’s 1am on the night before I’m releasing my first podcast episode and I’m too frazzled to make any intelligent decisions. You’re a lifesaver.

    • Omer on August 22, 2016 at 7:08 am

      Hey Richard – glad to hear the article helped. Good luck with your podcast launch!

  10. Mark Grote on December 31, 2016 at 12:16 am

    Thanks Omer. This is great! One question. We used to able to select “podcast” under Genre drop down. Is that not needed anymore or did it move?

    • Omer on December 31, 2016 at 12:29 am

      Hi Mark – that’s not needed. You should select the actual genre from that dropdown e.g. Business.

  11. […] publishing, set your ID3 tags. These tags contain information and metadata about your podcast episode. Using a free tool […]

  12. Lakshmi on January 25, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    Hi Omar,
    If you have old podcast episodes that haven’t been tagged properly, is it worth revising and uploading new mp3 files? And can this be done without losing the listens/downloads you already have earned for original episodes?

    • Omer Khan on January 26, 2018 at 6:53 am

      Yes, it’s probably a good idea to clean those up too. You shouldn’t lose downloads if you overwrite existing files. For example, if you’re using Libsyn, you find the old episode and click the “Replace File” button.

  13. Bob Campbell on April 24, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    Omer, this is a great help in seeing how to get a podcast together. Thank you.
    I have one question. (I hope this is not asking too much free advice.) How does one arrive at the URL values for Podcast Identifier and Podcast Feed, as shown in the ID3 Editor? Say I’m planning on being hosted at Soundcloud. I can’t find this described anywhere.

    • Omer Khan on April 25, 2018 at 5:31 pm

      Bob

      The ‘Podcast Identifier’ field is optional but is usually a link to the MP3 file.

      The ‘Podcast Feed’ field is the URL to the RSS feed that you submitted to iTunes. For SoundCloud, you’ll find this under Settings > Content > RSS Feed.

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