The most important podcasting tool you’ll need is your podcast hosting platform. And in this post, I'll explain what they do, why they’re critical, and help you choose the best podcast host for you, depending on your personal podcasting goals.
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- What is a podcast hosting platform?
- Why you should trust us to help you choose the best podcast host
- The best podcast hosting platforms
- Other podcast hosting platforms
- Best Podcast Host Summary
What is a podcast hosting platform?
Have you ever wondered how a podcast episode actually gets from your computer out to your listeners?
The answer is your podcast hosting platform, which stores (“hosts”) your episode audio files online. So any time you publish a new episode, that data is added to an RSS feed and you’ll quickly see that episode appear in all major podcast directories, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.
What’s an RSS feed?
RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” All podcast listening apps - like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify - look at RSS feeds to automatically update all podcasts. And your hosting platform will create that RSS feed for you, so there’s no coding required.
In case “RSS feed” still sounds intimidating, it’s just a URL. Here’s my RSS feed for Wit & Wire’s podcast:
The best podcast hosts share these core features
All of the best podcast hosts let you manage your entire podcast operation in one place, including…
- Creating your RSS feed
- Managing your show’s description, title, and artwork any time you want to make updates
- Publishing new episodes, including the audio files, descriptions, and titles
- Creating embeddable players for your website
- Analyzing your listener data
Additional features you might want
There are also some nice-to-haves, which may be important to some of you podcasters, but not everyone. As I talk through our top picks, I'll point out which platforms excel at some of these optional features:
- Create a fully-functioning website
- Ability to use custom URLs for your website
- Advanced analytics
- Access to advertising opportunities
- Dynamic ad insertion
- Ability host multiple podcasts on one account
- Multiple users
Why you should trust us to help you choose the best podcast host
Between my own podcasts (like Everything is Teachable) and my clients, shows I’ve worked on have reached over 3,000,000+ downloads. And between my clients and students, I’ve personally tested more hosting platforms than I can count, so this research is based on real work with real podcasts.
I also redo my research annually because I’m invested in keeping these recommendations up to date.
I feel strongly about only recommending tools and resources I’ve used successfully, so these picks are based on real-life experience and a critical eye for detail and friendly UX.
So without further ado, here are Wit & Wire’s top picks for the best podcast hosting platform in 2021, including an overall summary at the end.
The best podcast hosting platforms
Let me get ahead of your question, "Which is the cheapest?"
All of our top picks are within about $2-5/mo of each other. (No premium prices on this list.) Not a huge difference.
So instead of comparing on price alone, I'm going to offer a few "things to consider" for each tool to help you decide which suits your personal style, goals, and tech proficiency.
Buzzsprout is a long-time favorite hosting platform for many podcasters.
Their platform is so user-friendly. You don't need any tech experience to publish new podcast episodes with Buzzsprout, and your episodes will look perfect in every app (Apple, Spotify, etc.)
Their analytics are very straightforward, but give you just enough great information to understand which episodes are resonating with your audience, and how those insights can inform future episodes.
Strengths and unique features
Always improving: I love most about Buzzsprout is that they're always innovating. They're constantly rolling out new features and improving their hosting services, such as their new transcript functionality and Magic Mastering, both released in 2020. And in an industry moving as rapidly as podcasting, choosing a hosting platform invested in innovation is crucial.
Great customer support: Buzzsprout is really a tool of the people. If you need help, their customer care will be right on it. They also have an incredible archive of Knowledge Base articles, blog posts, and even podcast episodes to help their podcasters publish easily and reliably.
No tech savvy needed: Buzzsprout's publishing tools are so easy to use. Even if you don't feel very tech-confident, you'll be able to get up and running quickly in Buzzsprout.
Affiliate marketplace: Buzzsprout has negotiated a few deals with a (small) group of companies so that anyone can promote their products and earn a small commission. There are only 5-10 partners in here last time I checked, so it's not terribly noteworthy just yet. But depending on their roadmap for the future, maybe this could become an advantage. (I wouldn't choose Buzzsprout because of this alone.)
Unique transcription features: No matter which hosting platform you use, you can get a transcript for your podcast and share it. But Buzzsprout recently took it one step further: if you give Buzzsprout your transcript, you can now actually see the words in-app (like Apple) when you're listening, like closed captioning. This is a huge step forward for accessibility, and I expect other hosts to follow up on this in 2021.
Buzzsprout’s pricing is based on monthly upload hours. For example, if you have a weekly 30-minute show, that’s 4 weeks * 30 minutes = 2 hours of uploads per month.
Most podcasters can probably use the cheapest $12/mo tier, but some may need the $18/mo option for a weekly 60-minute show.
Special Offer for Buzzsprout
Get a $20 Amazon Gift Card when you get started with Buzzsprout. Try it out for free first, and you'll get your gift card when you choose a paid plan.
Things to Consider
Only one podcast per plan: With Buzzsprout, you can only have one podcast per plan. So if you know you’re publishing 2+ shows, or even if you’d like to release private content to members, you’ll need to pay extra.
Analytics are there, but not quite as in-depth: Buzzsprout offers all the analytics most podcasters will want to understand their podcast's performance. But Captivate, Simplecast, and Podbean offer more in-depth options for those of us who love data. For example, Buzzsprout doesn't allow you to compare episodes against each other over time as flexibly.
Read the fine print on transcription features: Buzzsprout won't actually transcribe your podcast for free. (They do have the option to pay $0.25/min, which is an excellent rate.) But if you're looking to create your own transcripts for free, check out my favorite AI tool called Otter. The AI transcripts won't be 100% perfect, but I think for most podcasters, they'll get the job done, and you can always make manual tweaks yourself.
Wit & Wire's Overall Review for Buzzsprout
Consistent feature releases, great customer service, and a super user-friendly platform make Buzzsprout one of my all-time favorite podcast hosting platforms for podcasters.
They don't allow for multiple podcasts, but their analytics are strong and they offer a lot of cutting-edge features. If you have a single podcast and want the best user-friendly solution, Buzzsprout is a great choice.
Captivate.fm is gaining popularity as a newer hosting platform. They claim that they're the first "growth-oriented" podcasting hosting platform, and they do have a few noteworthy features that set them apart from the pack:
Beautiful Websites: Out of all the hosting platforms on this list, I think Captivate's websites might be the best. (This is relevant only if you're building a podcast standalone website; some of you are likely adding your podcast to an existing website. More on that in a second.)
Syncs with WordPress: Any of the hosting platforms on this list offer beautiful embeddable players that work on both Squarespace and WordPress. But if you're looking for a host that automatically syncs with your WordPress site, then Captivate has a plugin that does just that.
I haven't played around with the feature too much, but I think you can actually upload your new episodes within WordPress, if you prefer working out of only one tool. So changes in WordPress are reflected in Captivate, and vice versa.
In-Depth Podcast Analytics, including Per Episode: Captivate offers robust podcast analytics that I believe are best-in-class. They have in-depth single episode analytics, which is where some other hosts fall short, so they get full marks for analytics in my book. They're also great about estimating your average downloads per episode within the first 30 days, which is the metric sponsors will care most about.
Create Unlimited Podcasts: If you're a fiend like me and have 2+ podcasts, Captivate lets you create as many as you'd like under one payment plan. This can specifically be useful if you have a public podcast and a separate feed for private (bonus) episodes, too.
Email capture: Within your embeddable players, you can capture someone's email address. They're the only hosting platform on this list who does that. I think it's handy, but don't forget you can put email capture on your own website, too. So it's nice, but not a must-have.
Captivate charges based on your audience size. So the more downloads you have per month, the more you'll pay.
I think this is a huge consideration, because the larger you grow, the more you'll end up paying. But 12,000 downloads/mo is a fairly generous starting point, so for most podcasters, you'll be perfectly suited for the $19/mo plan. ($17/mo if you pay annually)
Special Offer for Captivate
Try Captivate free for 7 days with all features fully unlocked.
Things to consider
Newer hosting platform: Captivate has only been around for a few years. I see this as an advantage because they were able to see the existing tools and improve upon them, right from the start. It also means that they're constantly growing. So I don't think this is a negative, but it's worth mentioning.
Wit & Wire's Overall Review for Captivate
Captivate differentiates themselves by being "growth-oriented," and I think a lot of their marketing tools - particularly the websites - are interesting. But I recommend them so highly not for bells and whistles, but because their core tools - like publishing and analyzing your episode performance - are superb.
Especially if you have 2+ podcasts, or want to offer bonus episodes, Captivate is one of my absolute favorites. As long as you're aware of their tiered pricing, they're the most value-packed choice on my list, with the best overall customization and analytics (at this price).
Simplecast does a great job creating a simple, easy-to-use platform that any podcaster can use, even if you don't feel very "tech-savvy." With a clear focus on easy UX and podcast analytics, Simplecast provides every single tool you’d need to start, publish, promote, and analyze your show.
They’re one of the best podcasting hosting platforms out there for podcasters of all sizes, and I use them for both Wit & Wire and Everything is Teachable.
Strengths and unique features
Modern UX that anyone can use: Simplecast's dashboard is easy to navigate, simple to use, and very user-friendly. If you don't consider yourself "tech-savvy," I think Simplecast is one of your best options (along with Buzzsprout; more on that shortly.)
Excellent Customer Support: I've had only helpful, wonderful experiences with the Simplecast support team. They're responsive and solution-oriented, and it's easy to reach out to them anytime through live chat or email support.
Beautiful Embeddable Players: They have beautiful embeddable podcast players, which work on both Squarespace and WordPress, like this one:
Best-in-Class Podcast Analytics: In my eyes, what really sets Simplecast apart is their focus on analytics. Simplecast provides so many options and tools to understand your listener data in-depth, from comparing recent episode performance to estimating your listener counts over time.
Sleek Native Podcast Websites: For some podcasters, it may be noteworthy that their native website builder is much better than most hosting platforms. For very little extra work, you can create a full website for your podcast using Simplecast, and it's a little more robust than other hosting platform options because you can create custom pages. You can also use your own custom domain. Here's a sample site I built, if curious.
Compare Podcast Episodes Over Time: This is one of my favorite analytics tools that Simplecast provides, which not many others can do. You can compare your recent 5 episodes against each other, like seeing how they each performed within their first seven days. On their premium plans, you can compare any episodes against each other - up to five at once - over any time frame. It's very snazzy.
Multiple Podcasts Per Plan: This was actually the feature that sold me on switching from Buzzsprout to Simplecast a few years ago. I manage multiple podcasts, and with Simplecast, I can have more than one podcast per plan. This is wildly unique compared to other hosts, who may charge you per podcast. If you only plan to have one podcast, this may not be an important distinction for you, but for some of you, this could be a critical feature.
The plan that most podcasters will need is the $15/mo plan ($13.50/mo paid annually). And for the price, it's an excellent value.
Special Offer for Simplecast
I’m a preferred partner for Simplecast, so you can get 50% off your first two months. Use the code ONSIMPLECAST at checkout.
Things to consider
Although you can use Simplecast for $15/mo - a competitive, fair price - there are some features you’ll find from other hosts that Simplecast keeps gated on their higher plans.
Advanced Embeddable Players: You can embed the standard player on your website on the Basic plan. But if you want a mini player, show player, or color customization, you’ll need the Essential plan ($35/mo).
Here's an example of the show player in dark mode:
And the mini player:
Advanced Analytics: Perhaps more critically, this data-driven platform gates some of their coolest data capabilities to the Essential plan and higher. Things like episode comparisons, downloadable charts, unique listener reports, and web player reports are not included on the Basic plan. (Of course you’ll still have access to essential download data.)
So if you’re a data nerd like me, know that in order to unlock Simplecast’s full potential, you’ll need to pay more.
That said, it might be worth it because their data capabilities are without question the best in the business.
No Native Monetization Tools: Some hosting platforms (coming up) offer built in monetization tools, like ad marketplaces. Simplecast doesn't have any of those.
A quick note on podcast monetizing:
Just because a hosting platform doesn't have an ad marketplace doesn't mean you can't monetize your podcast.
In my experience with both clients and students, unless you have a large podcast (5,000+ downloads/episode), your best monetization opportunities are going to come from personal connections or non-sponsorship opportunities. And you can incorporate those into your episodes no matter which host you choose.
(Check out my course, Podcast to Paycheck, for more information.)
Wit & Wire's Overall Review for Simplecast
Simplecast is one of my favorite podcast hosting platform for most podcasters, thanks to their friendly tools, helpful customer support, multi-podcast features, and advanced analytics.
The only con I see is the fact that they gate some of their best features to the $35/mo plan, and if any of those are crucial for you, you can find a more affordable option on this list.
Other podcast hosting platforms
Here are some other runner-up options, plus a few hosting platforms I don't typically recommend. (This is the controversial section of this post, y'all.)
Podbean is an affordable yet powerful podcast hosting platform. Where Podbean is truly unique from all other picks on this list are their monetization options. This is a nuanced difference because you can have ads and earn money on any hosting platform. So let's explore what this means.
Strengths and unique features
Ad Marketplace: List your podcast in the Podbean advertising marketplace for free to get matched with potential advertisers. They'll reach out to you directly if they see a fit, and Podbean takes a small cut of the profit. (Remember, this is most helpful for podcasts with 5,000/downloads or more per episode. So if sponsorship is a primary goal for you, then I think Podbean is an excellent choice. But if it's a "nice to have," I wouldn't choose Podbean for the Ad Marketplace alone.
Affordable Dynamic Ad Insertion: This is another great feature for podcasters who know they're prioritizing ads or sponsorship. With PodAds (on Podbean's "Unlimited Plus" plan and up), you can dynamically change your ads overtime so there aren't old ads running in 2 years. I won't get too deep into Dynamic Ad Insertion, but I can say confidently that Podbean has the most affordable DAI tool out there.
Recording and editing tools: For podcasters who want the simplicity of recording from your phone or doing the absolute simplest form of editing, Podbean does offer built-in tools. I think this is a strength for a small group of podcasters, and worth noting. But for most podcasters, I recommend using a separate editing tool and recording from a microphone, not your phone. (That's just my personal quality preference.)
Livestream your podcast: Here's another interesting niche tool worth mentioning. With Podbean, you can use those built-in recording tools to livestream your podcast. (Audio-only.) I think this is something maybe 5% of podcasters might be interested in.
Straightforward native website options: You can have a complete podcast website using Podbean's templates alone. On the pros, you don't have to do any extra work. On the cons, they really aren't customizable beyond colors, so if you already have a separate website or sell any of your own products or services, I don't think this will be the right fit. (And by the way, I think Simplecast and Captivate offer better native website builders, if this is a critical feature for you.)
Podbean's plans come with unlimited bandwidth and unlimited downloads. That means that you're only paying for the features you need, no matter how large you grow or how often you release episodes.
Special Offer for Podbean
Get your first month free when you start using Podbean.
Things to Consider
Customer Support: Although I have experience with Podbean, I haven’t used it nearly as much as a few of the other platforms on this list. So although I know it’s a popular choice, I’ve also heard that their support team isn’t always as responsive as some of the other picks on this list. If you’re tech-savvy, this may not be an issue. But if you know you’d like to lean on support for help, I’d recommend Buzzsprout or Simplecast.
You can't link back to your own website: This is a huge dealbreaker for me, but not for everyone. If you pull up any podcast in Apple, you'll see that each episode links to an "Episode Webpage." With my other top picks, you can change that link to go to your own website or show notes. Not the case with Podbean, though. (It only goes to a Podbean-hosted page.) This is an important feature to me as a marketer, so it's why Podbean doesn't make the cut in Tier 1 picks.
UX is slightly dated: Compared to platforms like Simplecast, I find Podbean's tools to be ever so slightly harder to use if you don't feel "tech-savvy." That said, I'm splitting hairs here. I still think that with a quick tutorial, anyone could easily use Podbean to publish your podcast.
Pay more for multiple podcasts: If you know you host or manage multiple shows you'll need Podbean's Business Plan ($99/mo), or multiple individual accounts.
Wit & Wire's Overall Review for Podbean
Podbean checks all the boxes in terms of my must-haves: user-friendly, core analytics, affordable. They also get brownie points for the Ads Marketplace and PodAds functionality, so I think they're the best choice for podcasters serious about sponsorship and ads.
But if you manage multiple shows like me, I'd have to pay for multiple plans (or their $99/mo business plan). And if you aren't using Podbean's website, then I have some problems with their inability to let you change your episode pages to route to your own website.
I'd choose Podbean only if ads are your single most important factor, or maybe pricing.
Transistor used to be my absolute favorite, and they're still a great pick.
In particular, they're ahead of all other hosts when it comes to private podcasts, which are becoming increasingly popular. Whether you're a company running an internal-only podcast or an entrepreneur offering bonus episodes to paid subscribers, Transistor's private podcasts could help you deliver that content.
I also appreciate the fact that you can host unlimited podcasts under one account.
However, there are a few reasons why I'd put them slightly below my other choices:
Limited analytics: Within Transistor, there are important analytics, like your total number of listeners. But if you want to dive deeper into specific episodes, you aren't able to customize or play with any dashboards.
Can't customize your "Episode Webpage:" This is a feature only the truly nerdy (like me) might care about. But when you see your podcast in Apple, there's always a link for each episode to "View Webpage." By default, this will go to a page created by your hosting platform, and 99% of podcasters I know keep it that way.
But as a marketer, I know the value of always driving people to my own website. So I always customize the URL to point to my show notes on my WordPress site. And since I can't do that in Transistor, it was a deal-breaker for me.
Libsyn might be the most well-known podcast hosting platform out there. And if you're already using Libsyn and it's working for you, I say, "stick to it."
However, I think the appeal at Libsyn is that at first glance, it seems to be the cheapest, at $5/mo. But with confusing audio storage-based pricing, if you're releasing weekly 30-minute episodes (or more than 2 total hours of content per month), you'll need the $15/mo plan.
So now that the pricing field has been leveled, when I compare Libsyn against my top picks, the outdated experience just doesn't measure up.
The analytics aren't nearly as in-depth. The platform itself is less intuitive and much harder to use. It gets the job done and you'll see a lot of long-time podcasters recommend Libsyn because even 2-3 years ago, it was by far the best in class. But in 2021, it's no longer one of the most powerful tools out there. (And it's not the cheapest, either.)
However…if you want your podcast to have your own branding and your own domain, Anchor isn’t going to be the right choice for you. I don’t typically recommend it for podcasters who want to grow an existing website, brand, or business, because it’s really intended to be a standalone site.
Two other drawbacks:
- The analytics aren't as useful, so it's harder to understand your podcast's performance.
- You can't change your podcast name. (They make you start a new show.)
Also, if you're thinking about using Anchor because of their claims that "anyone can earn sponsorship money," I'd also encourage you to look at the math. Here's their support article, which explains that if you have 2,000 downloads per episode and you factor in Anchor's 30% cut, you'll only earn $28. (Not great, y'all.)
That said, sometimes you just can’t beat $0. So if $9/mo for Podbean (my cheapest rec) is too much, then I understand if Anchor is where you start.
Best Podcast Host Summary
Whew, this post might be the longest on my entire site. I hope the in-depth comparisons have been useful, but I wanted to leave you with my overall recommendations:
- Best affordable, universal pick: Buzzsprout ($12/mo) gives you all the key features and strong analytics for a very reasonable price. My other favorites aren't too much higher - nothing is over $19/mo - but I know every dollar counts.
- If you run 2+ podcasts: Captivate and Simplecast both give you unlimited shows. (Buzzsprout only gives you one.) Unless you have a huge show, Captivate will be the more affordable option to unlock more powerful features.
- If you want to offer bonus (private) content: Captivate and Simplecast both let you mark specific episodes as "private." Additionally, because they let you have multiple podcasts, you could also create a fully separate "members only" podcast.
- If you want a standalone podcast website: Captivate has the most robust website builder. (But as a quick note, you can build a really nice podcast website automatically with any host for $5/mo using Podpage.)
- If you want a WordPress plugin: Captivate lets you sync your episodes to your WordPress site. All of my favorite hosts have easy-to-ues embeddable players that work on WordPress or Squarespace, but this is one level more automated.
Ultimately, it'll come down to your personal preference. The worst choice you could make is letting decision paralysis keep you from starting at all, so let me end by reassuring you that you can always change your hosting platform later. (It's way easier than you'd think.)
So do your research, try one or two, and start podcasting. You've got this!
Disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links.