The Case For Mirror URLs

A few months ago I wrote a brief article on using Apple’s Mirror URL when submitting your feed to the big directories.

I shared this advice in a podcasts professionals group and a few shouted down the idea. The crux of their issue with the suggestion was simple: If Apple servers go offline or if Apple elects to remove/hide your show from iTunes, your feed will no longer work and you will need to invest hours of work and likely days of down time to restore your podcast on all the platforms which are looking to your Mirror URL to find and deliver your content.

I shared this advice in a podcasts professionals group and a few shouted down the idea. The crux of their issue with the suggestion was simple: If Apple servers go offline or if Apple elects to remove/hide your show from iTunes, your feed will no longer work and you will need to invest hours of work and likely days of down time to restore your podcast on all the platforms which are looking to your Mirror URL to find and deliver your content.

At best this concern is based in well-meaning paranoia. At worst it is fear mongering and conspiracy apologia .

Apple Mirror URL, Blubrry Mirror, Feedburner, doesn’t matter, the usefulness of mirrors are clear — though apparently not self-evident, which is why I’m writing this article.

What is a Mirror URL?

A Mirror URL is a relay of sorts. You type in mirrorservice.com/mypodcast and you get sent to mypodcast.com/rssfeed.

A big benefit to using them is that if you find yourself needing to change podocast hosts, or to just change the storage location of your audio files, you only have to log into mirrorservice.com (this is a pretend example, that’s not a real website) and update the address the mirror points to — since everything else points to the mirror, it’s a one click change to change your feed address everywhere.

Changing Feeds Without a Mirror URL

1. Libsyn to Simplecast (as an example)

Let’s imagine you host with Libsyn and you want to move to Simplecast. You can create your new Simplecast account, import the files from your Libsyn account with Simplecast’s importer tool and *like magic* your episode mp3 files (and all the episode information) is on Simplecast.

Now you have to log into Libsyn and utilize their feed redirect feature to inform Libsyn that if anyone requests libsyn.com/yourfeed that they should be sent immediately to simplecast.com/yourfeed.

Now you need to wait, for an indeterminate amount of time, to ensure that all the primary directories, and all the scraping directories, accurately reflect the new feed. Which you will be able to easily confirm once you publish an episode on Simplecast that is not on Libsyn. If it shows up, that platform has your new feed. This takes Spotify about a week and involved me actively communicating with their podcast support.

Once you’ve confirmed the change has been made, you can delete your Libsyn account.

There is nothing wrong with this method. It works.

2. Self-Hosted WordPress to Simplecast (as an example)

Maybe you host your audio files on your own web server using a free plugin like Blubrry Powerpress. Your audio files live on your hosting provider and you’ve decided to move them over to Simplecast.

First you import the yoursite.com/category/feed rss feed into Simplecast, same as before. Easy peasy. Then you have to tell all the podcast directories about the change, same as before. So what do you do?

You don’t have a redirect option when you self-host (although Powerpress does) that is as straight forward as what you have if you host on a platform like Libsyn. Instead, you have to create at least one 301 redirect (although you should create one for each individual podcast episode, but this isn’t an SEO blog so I’m not going to get into the reasons for doing that) by editing your .htaccess file (or creating it if you don’t have one), or by using a deprecated iTunes redirect tag in your old feed, or by installing a 301 redirect plugin in WordPress.

So let’s pump the brakes here. You might not know how to do this stuff. This may be way outside of your skill set. You’re a lawyer, or a nurse, or a Starbucks barista with a podcast, technical stuff isn’t your bag and you have no idea what you’re doing. Or, maybe you are comfortable, or industrious, or clever, and maybe you get this done without an issue.

There is nothing wrong with this method. It works.

3. You have lost access to your current hosting provider.

I have been podcasting for 10-years. I have owned a production studio for 4 of those 10-years. One in Florida (now retired) and one in Maine (The Portland Pod), and in that time I have seen this scenario no less than 30 times. That is 3 times a year just to podcasts I know and am familiar with, which cannot possibly comprise more than .001% of all podcasts out there.

Somebody bails. Your co-host bails. The person you paid to setup the podcast at the outset bails. You have a fight with a production partner and they bail. Whoever bails, it doesn’t matter, what matters is they they know the login to Simplecast and you do not. You weren’t part of that setup process.

Sure, 100%, you should have been and you’re a damn fool for having not been but that’s not useful or practical now because this is the scenario you’re in and you cannot change the past. This is the podcast equivalent of that Craigslist web designer you hired disappearing into the night and never training you on how to access or edit your website. It’s a critical and regular problem — it happens all the time.

What do you do?

If you have a Mirror URL you just create a new Simplecast account, migrate the existing show by name, and then update the mirror. Done. Crisis averted.

If you don’t have a Mirror URL?

You create a new simplecast account, migrate the show by name, and have duplicate entries on all listing services that will eventually be removed but that could exist there for months and you now have to rely on social to reach your audience to tell them what’s going on, you have to inconvenience them, and you lose subscribers.

Life goes on. You live.

So why would anyone advise you not to use a Mirror URL?

Well in the case of my Facebook detractors, who were specifically denouncing my suggestion that you use the Apple Mirror URL, it came down to one thing:

Apple doesn’t care about you, they can change their TOS on a whim and kill your podcast, break your mirror URL, and you’d be doomed. DOOOOOMED.

Okay, so, first of all, let’s state the obvious:

  1. If Apple, likely 50% or more of your audience, deletes your podcast, you’ve got big problems regardless of how your feed is setup.
  2. You’re just going to have to do all the same things you would have had to do if you were self-hosted, you’re not going to die.
  3. You’ve created a show that Apple won’t list, which is, itself, hugely problematic.
  4. If your podcast is removed by iTunes, as John Lee Dumas has written, you can work with Apple to get it restored (although it sucks). Again, you’re not looking at the end of life — or even of your podcast.

Now let’s talk about how unlikely it is for Apple to tank your podcast because they:

  • Hate you: 0% chance
  • Want you to cry yourself to sleep for fun: 0% chance
  • Just feel like being dicks: 0% chance
  • Have identified a breach of their TOS: 100%

That last one is actually good because:

  1. It can be remedied through communication with Apple
  2. You need to know if you’re improperly formatting your podcast
  3. You should be taken down if your podcast is, I don’t know, pro-Nazi or something else terrible?

So if you’re not a blatantly terrible podcast about terrible things and you’re not in breach of Apple’s TOS, and a removed podcast can be remedied easily and quickly with a few emails and a couple of manageable changes… why should you not use the Apple Mirror URL?

Because they’re the establishment. Because they’re big brother. Because you don’t trust them. Because you don’t like them. Because they’re listening app sucks. Because their platform promotes New and Noteworthy podcasts in a way that will never benefit your podcast specifically.

Those are the only reasons left that I can think of. And sure, they’re valid reasons, have them if you wish, it’s a free country. But consider this:

If you believe Apple is just going to tank your show because they feel like it, and you don’t like their huge market share, and you’ve got something against mac fanboys, and you think Apple is a bloated corporation that doesn’t care about podcasters or the medium of podcasting, why are you listing there in the first place?

If Apple is Darth Vader and you’re a blaster-toting rebel from Alderaan, what are you doing running ads on the Death Star Public Access Channel?

I have a broad spectrum of specialized experience and my take away from that has been learning the value of practicality.

From the age of 16 to the age of 35 I worked in IT. I filled every role from Service Desk Analyst and SysAdmin to Network and Infrastructure Engineer. During those same years I side-gigged, regularly, as a freelance web designer and developer. That means I’m not just a 10-year veteran of podcasting (which isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, *that* long) I’m also a 19-year veteran of being the guy who had to provide non-technical people with non-technical explanations of highly technical concerns.

In other words: I’ve come to understand, deeply, that people feel about technology the same way they tend to feel about math. Namely, they feel out of their depth when they have to engage with it and they would rather not engage with it for fear of screwing it up. This is true of Baby Boomers and Millennials alike.

And the risk of screwing it up is real. It’s real from a technical standpoint and it’s real from an it’s-really-stressful-and-my-palms-are-sweating standpoint.

I’m a practical person. I’m practical in my politics, I’m practical in my philosophies, and I’m practical in my advice. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand the value of more complicated, better controlled solutions, it just means I know most people don’t want or understand those more involved solutions. People like simple, they crave it and, if they are not particularly competent in the underlying subject matter, they need it. And you don’t get to say that people who just want to talk into a microphone and never worry about the technical details both “deserve what they get” and “shouldn’t be podcasting in the first place.” Who do you think you are? There are no gate keepers here, this is the internet.

If you’re a tech savvy podcaster, or if you’re hungry to understand every aspect of your production — including the technology — then there are other ways to handle feed redirects; arguably better ways which give you more control, and I give you my blessing to pursue them. But, if that’s you, know that you aren’t most podcasters. Most podcasters are the talent and the vision while someone else is the logistical brain behind the operation. Telling new podcasters to utilize Mirror URLs makes their lives easier in the interim and in the future.

I’m in the business of making success easier for podcasters, and that includes simplifying as much as possible to free them from complication and giving them the peace of mind necessary for them to focus entirely on their production.

I support the use of Mirror URLs, and I suggest you use them. I use Apple’s. You can use whichever you choose, if you choose to use one at all. Do what works best for you.

As always, I hope this was helpful.