podcast planning

Podcast Analytics: How to Measure and Use Podcast Metrics to Make Your Show Successful

by | Feb 21, 2020

Why You Should Care About Podcast Analytics


Why do you care about podcast analytics and data? You care because you want your podcast to be successful. You want evidence that your show is reaching and being enjoyed by an audience. You want confirmation that it is worth your time and investment. But how do you know those things are true? 

Identifying and using the right podcast analytics will help you determine the success of your podcast. 

Podcasts are big investments of time, money, or both. While starting a podcast may be easy, making one that is worth listening to is much harder. 

According to The Infinite Dial, podcasting has reached a milestone, with the majority of Americans now saying they have listened to a podcast at least once. This is possible because the podcast landscape continues to grow. Factors like more quality shows being produced, more ad revenue entering the space, more companies committing to podcasting, and more hardware options making it easier to listen are fueling this development. 

While we are still a ways off from market saturation, it is becoming harder to make a successful podcast.  

It’s not difficult to do a podcast… but it’s hard getting people to listen.

Marc Maron, Host of WTF 

So what does a good podcast look like? How many downloads do successful podcasts have? How do you track podcast analytics and use them to your advantage? In order to measure success, we need to have a clear definition of success. 

How to Measure Podcast Success

tracking analytics

If you reach out to me and my team about starting a podcast, we begin the conversation with these three questions:

  1. What is your goal? 
  2. Who is your target audience?
  3. Why a podcast? 

There is no hard and fast science when it comes to what “success” looks like for each podcaster. It will vary depending on the answers to the above three questions. 

For example, one of our clients is the William J. Perry Project (WJPP), an organization founded by former Secretary of Defense, William Perry, dedicated to raising awareness around the threat of nuclear disaster. 

Their goal is to inform and educate people about the threat of nuclear issues and what we can do about it. The target audience is broad because we want to reach as many people as we can, but we have tailored it with several specific touches to strongly appeal to younger generations. 

They chose the podcasting medium because of the power of story and the reach of the medium. Success for WJPP is to reach, inspire, and mobilize as many people as possible.

On the other hand, a former client of ours runs an in-person training workshop. The in-person course has a limited number of seats and is only held a few times a year. 

Goals for that project included improving relationships with other professionals in the industry, establishing the client as a leader in the space, and generating leads for the workshop. 

Goals journal

As you can see, success looks very different for each podcast. One is focused on maximizing reach and driving change on a national, if not international, scale. The other needs to grow their network and sell tickets to a geographically specific event. 

My point? Podcast analytics are the most helpful when viewed in context of your goals. 

Now, take a moment and ask yourself: 

  • What is your goal for your podcast? 
  • Who is your target audience? 
  • Why is podcasting a good medium to accomplish your goal and reach your target audience? 

Let’s look at how to determine if your podcast is successful now that you have answered those questions.

Podcast analytics

Which Podcast Analytics and Tracking Metrics Matter

I came across a lot of interesting and often confusing information in writing this article. People’s search phrases included everything from “podcast analytics iTunes,” “podcast analytics Spotify,” and “podcast analytics Google” to “podcast analytics consumption” and “how to measure podcast performance.” 

It’s easy to “get into the weeds” on the topic, so let’s keep it simple. 

What Are Podcast Analytics?

Podcast analytics are the metrics and other pieces of relevant information about your listening audience. They include things like unique episode downloads, total episode downloads, listening platforms, apps, and devices your audience is using to listen to your show, the geographic location of your listeners, total time listened to each episode, percentage of your audience who is subscribed, number of episode starts and complete streams, age, gender, and more. 

Simplecast podcast dashboard
via Simplecast

There are additional factors beyond just these hard podcast listener metrics. For example:

  • Podcast reviews and ratings, testimonials, social shares and recommendations, and other digital or in-person feedback and engagement can be factored in. 
  • If your podcast has a website, you can look at the number of site visitors, their behavior on your website, and the ways they found your website (paid, direct, organic, etc).
  • If you have a newsletter, you can pay attention to opt-ins and open rates on your podcast-related campaigns.
  • If you have sponsorships, you can look at ad revenue and conversions on the ads you run.
  • You can even take things like networking or speaking opportunities and evaluate how they impacted your podcast. 
Podcast Metrics

The list goes on. To look at this another way, let’s borrow from our friends in marketing and business.

Key Performance Indicators

A key performance indicator (KPI) is a measurable value used to determine how effectively you’re achieving an objective or goal. For example, we have weekly goals as a company for things like number of leads, number of active clients, and number of projects behind schedule. These indicators help us determine if we’re on track to meet our quarterly and annual goals.

So how can you apply this to measuring the performance of your podcast? 

One goal of my personal podcast is to create networking and collaboration opportunities. How do I know if I’m achieving my goals? 

Let’s look at some of the KPIs for my goal of networking and collaboration:

  • I have conducted interviews with many people I would otherwise never have an opportunity to talk to.
  • I have been invited to guest on other people’s podcasts and share my message.
  • I’ve received advance book copies of books and thousands of dollars in software that I use to improve what we do.
  • I was invited to guest on a Simplecast webinar to discuss this very topic.
Planning your podcast

Your goals, and the subsequent KPIs that help you achieve those goals, will help you determine what podcast analytics, metrics, and evidence you should use to track and measure success.

In my original example above, one of our client’s goals was to generate leads for their workshop. Within the first season, we confirmed several workshop ticket sales because of the podcast and other attendees expressed praise about the podcast. 

One important result of achieving my goal of guesting on other people’s podcasts is that it generates new business. Last year, we were able to close a five-figure contract directly related to a guest podcast interview I did. There is another great story of how the social media management tool MeetEdgar generated 1.25 million visitors, 100,000 email subscribers, and $329,000+ in monthly recurring revenue through guest podcast interviews.  

michelle garrett

“Anytime a client is featured on a podcast, that’s exposure. Visibility like that can lead to more opportunities for exposure – and additional earned media. Earned media boosts credibility, which is more important for brands than ever.

To be seen as a thought leader, you need to take advantage of opportunities to share what you know. So podcasts offer yet another way for brands and individuals to get their name out there and spread the word about their expertise. This can lead to driving prospects – and potentially sales – their way.”

-Michelle Garrett
Garrett Public Relations

Go back to the goals you wrote down for your podcast. Take a few minutes and write down what KPIs reveal if you are achieving those goals.

Podcast KPIs

How to Track Podcast Analytics

To recap, you’ve set your goals and defined your KPIs. So how do you view and track podcast analytics? 

Tracking podcast analytics properly is one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of the process. It looks different depending on variables like your podcast media host, the kinds of tools you’re using, and what your goals/KPIs are. 

First, let’s clarify something: podcast media hosts are not podcast analytics tools. The podcast community as a whole could do a much better job with the language we use to describe things. In my research for this article, I came across several front-page ranking articles that list a bunch of podcast media hosts as “podcast analytics tools.” That’s simply not true. 

A podcast media host is where your podcast audio files live. It’s where you upload the individual episode MP3s to be synced up with your website and distribution platforms like Apple, Google, and Spotify. Any trustworthy media host will have reliable analytics tools. However, podcast media hosts are not stand-alone podcast analytics tools.

Podcast media hosts are not podcast analytics tools

Choosing a Podcast Media Host: Which Media Host Is Right for You?

You need to have a reliable podcast media host for your show and plenty exist. You have several factors to consider when deciding on which media host to go with: 

  • Uptime – Are your podcast episodes always available? Is your podcast ever unavailable?
  • Reliable – Are you podcast episodes consistent for your listeners despite their location?
  • Speed – Do your podcast episodes load quickly for easy listening?
  • Openness – Are you able to transfer your podcast to another platform easily?
  • Ease of use – Are you comfortable using the platform? 
  • Features and analytics – Does your media host provide the technological options you need and reliable analytic tracking?

Regarding the analytics, every platform is slightly different and you’ll want to choose the one that best fits your needs. A few things to consider…

  1. What information will you be able to see? All-time and episode downloads, downloads within date ranges, unique downloads, total downloads, downloads over time and/or accumulative, and downloads by location? Top listening methods, top listening providers/networks, and top geographical locations? Popular time of day? Time spent listening/retention data?
  2. How can you interact with and use the data? Do you need to generate reports? Can you export information? If so, what file types or formats are they available in? Are the analytics dashboards easy to use and interactive? Can you see what you want and toggle between data quickly? 
  3. Are the analytics they report reliable? Are they IAB certified? This is especially important for reporting downloads to advertisers. 
  4. How does the media host handle your listeners’ information? Is the info staying private or is it being sold? 

Keep in mind, your podcast media host should be the central and most reliable place to collect all of your data. If you set up and submit your RSS feed properly, your media host will track all of your podcast analytics wherever people are listening (with only a few exceptions). 

What I Use:

Simplecast logo

Simplecast – I use Simplecast for all of my internal podcasts (I have three) and for some of our clients. I like the ease of uploading episodes, the usability and flexibility of the dashboard, and the insights offered on their dashboard. My favorite thing? Probably the team. I’ve had the opportunity to interview Simplecast’s CEO, Brad Smith on my podcast and I’ve talked to multiple other awesome people on their team as well. They are smart, forward-thinking people and have the logistical and technical savvy to get things done.

Megaphone fm logo

Megaphone – Megaphone is the second media host our team uses for select clients of ours. My favorite thing about them is the precision of their dynamic ads. Traditionally speaking, most podcasters had to hard edit ads right into their episodes. This made it difficult to target or update ads. Dynamic ads within Megaphone allow you to set up unique campaigns based on the entire podcast series, individual episodes, specific date ranges, and the listeners’ geographical location. It helps my clients deliver evergreen episodes and ads to the right people at the right time. Megaphone also has very robust user role options. If you’re working with bigger teams who need different levels of access to the media host, this might be the platform for you.  

How to Track Podcast Analytics on Apple Podcasts (iTunes), Spotify, and Stitcher

You may need to track your podcast data on the different distribution platforms as well. My team reports on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher for most of our clients. Each platform offers certain unique insights that we find valuable. 

Simplecast top listening methods

Tip: The individual distribution platforms are only a piece of the puzzle. Look at your media host and see what percentage of your audience can be attributed to that platform. Weigh them accordingly in your reports. For example, if 60% of your audience listens to your show through Apple Podcasts and only 5% on Stitcher, the Apple data will be more important than the Stitcher findings. Or, if you have a total of 1,000 listeners and Apple Podcasts accounts for 60% of your listenership and 80% of those people are subscribed, you have approximately 480 subscribers via Apple and possibly more on other platforms [(1,000 x 60%) x 80%].

Apple Podcasts (iTunes): Your Apple Podcast analytics can be found on your iTunes Connect Portal. Under the Podcasts Connect option, you’re able to see information like: 

  • Number of subscribers and non-subscribers
  • Top countries or regions by device
  • Total time listened
  • Time per device
  • Average Consumption
Spotify age demographics

Spotify: Spotify has been really stepping up their podcast game and are able to provide unique insights about your audience that many other platforms can’t. You can view your podcast analytics on Spotify on your Spotify for Podcasters account. Here, you’ll be able to see data like: 

  • Number of starts
  • Number of streams
  • Number of listeners
  • Number of followers
  • Details on each episode
  • Gender of your listeners
  • Age ranges of your listeners

Stitcher: Stitcher is the other platform we’ll reference as needed. To view your podcast analytics on Stitcher, go to your Partner Portal on Stitcher where you’ll be able to see stats like:

  • Average listening time
  • Average completion rate
  • Listens/downloads ratio
  • Number favorites
  • Day of the week listening

Additional Podcast Analytics Tools

While the most compelling analytics do come from the dashboards of podcast media hosts, there are additional analytics tools designed specifically for podcasts. I think in this area, less is more, but here are a few worth mentioning.

Podcast ratings

Chartable: This is a great way to see all of your reviews (from all countries) in one place. It’s also a great place to see your rankings on the Apple Podcast charts. 

Podtrac: We don’t use this but it remains another popular podcast analytics tool. 

Podnews: Podnews isn’t technically a podcast analytics tool but it is a great way to get a general summary of your show, to see all of the places your podcast is available, and more. 

Additional Tools to Support Your Podcast

Here are several tools that are not necessarily podcast specific but still provide relevant analytics that can help determine KPIs as well. 

Google Trends screen shot

Website Analytics: Tracking users and their behavior around your podcast website is super helpful. We typically use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and for a privacy-friendly option, Fathom

Email Service Provider: Email lists are an excellent way to stay in touch with your listeners and provide value to them outside of your show. It’s also another perspective to see how they are interacting with you and your brand. We use ConvertKit and OptinMonster. Tons more exist. 

Search Engine Optimization and Topic Research Tools: You can save yourself serious effort long-term by doing some basic research upfront around your topics and existing content. We use several tools to help decide on better topics, write stronger articles, and improve existing ones, including SEMrush, Mangools, and Moz, Answer the Public, Google Trends, and the Keyword Tool. 

Web Monitoring: Many automated, AI, and machine learning tools exist to help you keep track of when you are being talked about on the web. For example, Google Alerts notified us that our client’s podcast was named one of 15 must-listen podcasts about the real estate industry by Business Insider.

How to Use the Podcast Stats and Findings

Defining the goals for your podcast and tracking the KPIs using the relevant podcast analytics is only part of the equation. The final piece is knowing how to use your findings to make a better show. Do this well and your audience will thank you for it (and grow in the process). There is no one right way to do this. The important thing is that you’re thinking about it and trying to be intentional with it. 

What should your podcast cost

We use podcast analytics in 2 different ways: 

  1. For planning.
  2. For improving and reviewing performance.

Podcast Analytics for Planning

The way most people create content is they get an idea, turn it into an article, episode or video, and then wonder why it’s not getting any reads, listens, or views. Or worse yet, you spend a ton of time and resources pushing your podcast on social media, in your newsletter, and word of mouth trying to gain some interest. I would like to suggest a different approach.

Research Before You Create

This is a concept I’ve taken from people like Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers, Aaron Orendorff of iconiContent, and Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media. Creating content is time-consuming. 

For example, in Andy’s article on Zero Waste Marketing, he says:

We also know from research that the average post takes 3+ hours to create. Do the math and you’ll find that hundreds of millions of hours are wasted each day doing content marketing. It all adds up to 7.7 lifetimes that are wasted every day writing posts that get no results.  

– Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media
Infographic from Orbit Media
via Orbit Media

There is a better way to create content: answer the questions and address the concerns you’ve been hearing all day.

Understand Who You’re Talking to and What They Care About

Corey Quinn, CMO of Scorpion, explained it to me this way in a recent interview I had with him: 

When companies focus on a niche they can serve customers on a deeper level. Scorpion does serious work to understand who their target customers are.

  1. Identify their primary objections. Create copy and collateral that answers their questions and objections before they have even called you.
  2. Know their demographic details like age, city, education, etc.
  3. Know their psychographic details like the motivation behind their buying decision and why they want to make a change.
  4. Study your competition in that niche to inform your marketing and help you stand out.
  5. Go straight to your clients and ask them what motivated their decisions, how they found you, and why they decided to work with you.
  6. Visit chat rooms, comment sections, and research reviews on the internet to look at what your customers are saying, the language they’re using and the struggles they are facing. This idea from Joanna Wiebe reaps great results.

In the same way, podcasts can benefit from focusing on a niche topic instead of trying to be everything to everyone.

In my interview with Aaron Orendorff, he recommended looking at what is trending on Google Trends and BuzzSumo for insights into what articles get shared. Then, create content from the backbone of those popular articles.

Joanna Wiebe broke it down like this in our interview – listening to your customers and prospects is part of the research process, which will make or break you. This is how you write content and copy that makes people care, because you are able to get into their heads.

By talking to your listeners at conferences, hanging out in the same online groups, and researching topics with SEO tools, you can create content that people are already searching for and that they are already interested in.

It can be as simple as reviewing your own podcast analytics. We helped one of our first clients create a podcast on eCommerce and Software as a Service (SaaS) before they were acquired. We covered a variety of subjects in that topic and saw certain themes emerge through our observations. From there, we focused more podcast and written content to address the audiences’ interests which improved our numbers all around. 

Podcasts and Search

The other thing worth noting is the growing developments in podcast and search engine optimization (SEO). For a long time, this wasn’t a thing. Podcasting was audio and traditional SEO didn’t affect it. Yes, you have show notes and metadata on the files but it wasn’t a major factor in search. However, this is changing. 

Google has already been analyzing and logging the audio in YouTube videos and suggesting specific sections of those videos as the answers to specific search queries. For example, when I search the question, “How to frame a window,” the top search result is a YouTube video titled “How to Frame a Window and Door Opening” and it suggests I should watch a 107-second segment starting at 2 minutes and 38 seconds. Google has decided that part of that video is the best answer on the web for my question.

Screen shot of Google search results

Podcasting isn’t quite there; I haven’t seen Google return suggested clips of podcast episodes yet. However, when I search the phrase “podcast analytics for advertisers,” Google returns four ads and then several podcast episodes that answer the question. You’re able to listen to the episodes (which Google thinks are good answers to your question) with a single click. 

Screen shot of Google search results

Again, depending on the style and format of your show, it could be very beneficial long term to address topics and answer questions your audience is already searching for.

Podcast Analytics for Improving 

Tracking analytics with goals in mind can help you reflect and improve your existing podcast as well.

Podcast analytics can help you improve existing shows almost in real-time. For example, consider the information we can gather by reviewing the time spent listening or similar consumption-specific metrics.

Show Introduction Improvements – One show we produced had a slightly longer than normal introduction. At the time, we thought it was important to frame each episode and we wanted to save time by reusing roughly 70% of the intro in each episode. However, we found there was a significant amount of listeners skipping the introduction after the first two episodes. Thus, we are scrapping the long intro for shorter, original, host-read intros on each episode.

Writing show notes

Save Time and Money With Show Notes – On two other shows we produced, there was a bit of a struggle in writing the show notes. You typically need a well-written, longer, keyword-rich article to even think about ranking in organic search. It’s not realistic for most people to put 3 to 10 hours into each episode’s show notes. Second, the medium-length show notes don’t really help either. They often aren’t long enough to compete with the best articles and they are too long to be handled efficiently. We ended up creating a new, shorter, and more effective show notes format through researching the analytics of the podcast website and repurposing content from other places. 

You can find many other ideas for using analytics to improve your existing show, but those are good places to start. Read your reviews. Talk to your listeners. Look for trends in your data. Get creative about how you use podcast analytics to make an amazing show for your listeners. 

A Warning: The Darkside of Podcast Analytics

It’s important to remember podcast analytics are a tool to help you better serve your audience. They are one tool to help you create better content. Not to mention, they are one piece of a larger puzzle. It’s unlikely that you will have a truly successful podcast by focusing on analytics alone. Good podcasts require intentionality, technical expertise, and a human appeal.  

Podcast Listener

In his article Podcast Audience Strategy: What Your Downloads Can’t Tell You, Tom Webster of Edison Research says it well.

…look beyond the download counts and top charts, and instead focus on the health and sustainability of an audience. Disruptions happen every day, in every industry. Podcasting will have any number of meteors striking it over the next several years. And the key to surviving those meteors is a diverse, thriving population of humans, not downloads.

Tom Webster, Edison Research

Podcast stats can be really exciting. Especially if you have a popular show with lots of downloads or you’re making money off your podcast. But you can’t let it become more important than the people you serve. 

Head of Growth and Community at Churn Buster, Kristin LaFrance, put it this way in her January 2020 Churn Buster Retention Bites article:

Data doesn’t build a successful brand. The people do. There’s so much we can’t put into a number – love, brand affinity, word of mouth, the feeling your customer gets when she opens the box. We can’t quantify these things in the same way, and yet we hold every business idea up to the metrics before moving forward.

Kristin LaFrance, Churn Buster

Listeners are more important than your data. Podcast analytics are one tool in your toolbox. When we prioritize the data, bad things happen. 

Justin Jackson, co-founder of Transistor.fm, is one voice who has been cautioning the community of the pitfalls of data. Here is one example he posted on Twitter of the worst dynamically inserted ad ever. 

This idea is expanded on in Jay Acunzo’s interview with Justin on his podcast, The State of Podcasting Technology (And a Looming Issue to Fight). In the conversation, they draw comparisons to things like display ads on the web and how they ruin life for content creators and marketers alike.  

To Recap

Podcast analytics are important and can and should be used to improve your future and existing shows. However, they require an understanding of your goals, the KPIs that can help determine if you’re reaching those goals, and then knowing how to apply those findings to improve your show. 

Finally, many platforms, services, and tools exist to help you achieve these goals, but none of it matters if you aren’t focused on your listeners.

Analytics matter, but your listeners matter more. 

I recently did a webinar on this topic for Simplecast. Feel free to watch How to Identify and Use Podcast Analytics That Matter here or click play on the video below.

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