If you pull up iTunes’ Top Podcast Episodes you’ll see the some of the most popular podcasts on the web today. There are some big players at the top of the charts, the New York Times and NPR among them.

(via iTunes)

Of course not all podcasters have big media resources, but there are common features among these top shows that all producers can include. Here are a few lessons learned:

Branding Matters

Without exception, each of the episodes on this list have a custom branded introduction that typically includes the show’s title, host(s), and a music piece. Not all listeners to these episodes are familiar with the show as a whole, and this introduction provides greater context and added value for the producer.

A custom branded introduction adds credibility for the producer, and often serves as a transition from opening ads or a short teaser. A branded introduction with music is essential for promoting a business or brand outside of each particular episode.

Use Multiple Personalities

Attempting to carry a whole show alone can be a burden. The shows on this list range anywhere from 24 minutes to 164 minutes. It’s extremely difficult for the host to remain engaging for more than a few minutes at a time.

It’s also more difficult for the listener to maintain attention during a long monologue. Using co-hosts or an interview format, like most of these top episodes, provides relief for both the broadcasters and the listeners. Adding multiple voices also adds unique perspectives and engaging personalities to the show.

Quality Counts

Every episode on this list is recorded with professional microphones in a studio environment with no background noise. If the sound quality is shaky or the volume is off, listeners will tune out or turn off completely.

Pod Save America (via YouTube)

A mic for each person in the show is essential, and professional microphones are not as expensive as one might assume. Ben Shapiro uses a tie clip mic, while Pod Save America hosts use desktop mics.

The Ben Shapiro Show (via YouTube)

Get Someone Else to Pay for Production

Every show on this list has an ad for at least one sponsor during the episode. No matter who you are or what you do, if your show reaches an audience somewhere, somehow, there’s a brand who would like to share that audience with you. Partnering with that brand and creating a sponsorship can pay for your podcast production, and beyond.

If you’re selling products or services and using a podcast to promote sales in some way, getting your podcast production paid for would be a huge win. Then each episode you produce becomes a free marketing tool. Create a quality show and distribute it properly and you’ll gain a following other brands and businesses want to reach.

Just Add Video

All eight podcast producers on this list create a video version of their podcast. This is a no brainer. If you’re already doing the hard work of creating quality content, distributing it to both audio and video channels is a logical step.

Podcast videos can be used as both YouTube content and valuable social media engagement. Podcasts can be edited into quick sound bites or posted as long form video. It will already sound great, just make sure it looks great as well.

Click here to learn more about podcast production.