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How to define podcast success (and the one metric every podcaster should track)

by | Feb 16, 2023

As a podcaster, it’s important to have ways to measure the success of your content so you can determine whether or not you’re meeting your goals. And while the conversation typically centers mostly around audience size and download numbers, there are many ways to define podcasting success.

For example, one of our clients wanted their message to reach and inform many people. They were able to achieve tens of thousands of downloads after a few months of launching. We view this as a success.

A different client had the goal of training new employees and supporting the sales team with their very niche podcast. They only received around one hundred downloads per episode but they too viewed it as a success because the show did exactly what they needed it to do.

Success depends a lot on your company’s goals. Even so, there is one metric every marketer should track.

In this blog, I’ll explain why listen time is one of the most powerful and universal stats a podcaster can track. I’ll also break down how to access your listener retention data and share other valuable ways to measure the success of your content so you can better achieve your podcasting goals.

Listening to a podcast

The importance of listen time as a metric of success and the role of download numbers

One of the reasons why podcasting is such a powerful medium is its high levels of listener engagement compared to other media. According to the 2022 MIDAS Survey, 68% of people listen to a podcast episode all the way through. That’s an incredibly high rate of engagement.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Nearly 70% of your audience will listen to your podcast all the way through (I see even higher numbers when it’s an excellent show). How can that help improve your relationship with them? How does that number compare to your other marketing initiatives?

Let’s compare this to YouTube completion rates. Completion rates on YouTube are around 62%, but only for content less than one minute long. As content length increases, completion rates drastically decrease, and content longer than 20 minutes has an average completion rate of just 26%.

The point is podcasts are powerful partly because of their high engagement levels, so if you only look at download data by itself, you’ll miss an important aspect of your podcast’s performance.

There is value in paying attention to your download numbers, though, and the metric shouldn’t be ignored altogether. Tracking download numbers can help you get a ballpark awareness of individual episode performance and a general idea of the reach of your show. But, these numbers shouldn’t be relied on in isolation because they aren’t always accurate and don’t tell you much about listener behavior.

Listen time stands out as one of the most valuable analytics for everyone because it measures listener behavior and engagement, which is incredibly valuable intel as a podcaster.

Listen time shows how people engage with your content in real-time, which can help you better understand what interests them and how they interact with it. Tracking listener engagement metrics can also help you:

  • Measure ROI. Listen time can help you determine how much money or engagement you earn with your content.
  • Fine-tune your content. Knowing the average listen time for each episode allows you to see how long people are listening, which in turn helps you understand when you’re losing their attention or if there are specific topics that capture their interest.
  • Land brand deals. Retention rates are a key metric for advertisers. Being able to show advertisers that you have highly engaged listeners makes them feel confident buying ad space on your show.
  • Create episodes that are an optimal length. Understanding when people start and stop listening can help you determine the best times for releasing new episodes and the best length for each one.

Now let’s look at how you can find these stats so you can leverage them to optimize your content.

Podcast stats

How to get access to listen time data

There are a variety of ways to get listen time analytics. Some podcast media host offer the information and most of the major podcast directories have it as well, though everyone defines it differently.

But before diving into your stats on directories, take a look at your podcast host’s analytics to see which platforms your listeners use most so you can know which directories to keep an eye on.

For example, if most of your listeners use Apple Podcasts, you’ll get a pretty good idea of your listen time by consulting that platform’s stats. However, it’s important to know that the stats of one platform won’t necessarily reflect the same listener behavior on another.

All you have to do to access this information is have your podcast listed in the directory. From there, you’ll be able to log into the platform’s dashboard and access your stats.

Apple Podcasts: Engaged listeners

To check listen time on Apple Podcasts, log into your Apple Podcasts Connect account and go to the Performance tab. From there, you’ll be able to see a lot of valuable information about listener behavior that your podcast host can’t give you.

You’ll be able to track information like:

  • How many people are listening to your podcast episodes
  • How many new followers you get each month
  • Whether listeners skip over your episode intro or your mid-roll
  • Overall performance over time
  • How many listeners you have in each country and city
  • Time per device
  • Average consumption and more

Spotify: Starts and streams

As long as you have your podcast listed on Spotify, you can log into Spotify for Podcasters and access info on the performance of your episodes. Under Episode Performance, you’ll see a graph with an audience retention breakdown that shows Average Listen Time and Average Episode Completion.

Spotify also shows you Starts and Streams. A start is anyone who clicks on the episode and a stream is anyone who listens for at least 60 seconds.

Stitcher: Average listen time and average completion rate

Stitcher is another directory my team will reference for listen time stats. Just go to your Partner Portal, and you’ll be able to see Average Listening Time and Average Completion Rate as well as other valuable data points like listen/downloads ratio and days of the week listening.

Simplecast: Retention and play through analytics

If you host your podcast with Simplecast, you have access to analytics like the Play Through metric which splits your content into four sections and gives you a Completion Ratio for each one.

Seeing percentages for each “quartile” of your episode is a helpful, at-a-glance way to see which parts performed the best. Simplecast also gives you Average Listen Time for the episode overall.

Blubrry: Impactful Plays

Blubrry offers the Impactful Plays metric which tells you how many fully downloaded episodes were played at least 75% of the way through. This platform will also tell you the average listen time for partially played episodes.

CoHost: Consumption Rate

CoHost is another hosting platform that specializes in measuring the impact of branded podcasts and validating ROI. One of those metrics is Show Consumption Rate.

CoHost Analytics

Other ways to gather data on the success of your podcast

Podcast host information

One of the most significant pieces of data you can get from your podcast host is the number of listeners and downloads. Remember, this stat is not totally accurate, and it might not be the most relevant to podcasters with hyper-niche content who have a very small but highly engaged listener base.

Every podcast hosting platform does analytics a little differently, but here are some other common metrics you might have access to via your host:

  • Where listeners are located
  • Which devices your podcasts use to listen to your content
  • Total show listens broken down by time periods
  • Age and gender breakdowns of listeners

Note: Unlike analytics from specific directories, stats around retention gleaned from your podcast host will reflect the show’s performance as a whole.

YouTube metrics

If you create video episodes for YouTube, tracking views and subscribers and other YouTube analytics can be helpful.

Like with downloads, you don’t want to focus too much on views as a sole metric of success. The most valuable stats on YouTube for podcasters are:

  • Average View Duration
  • Audience Retention
  • Card Clicks
  • Rewatches

YouTube also lets you get feedback from listeners in the comments section–a feature few podcast platforms have. This kind of feedback on individual episodes can be really helpful for getting a read on listeners’ likes and dislikes.

Direct feedback from listeners

Outside of YouTube comments, there are other ways of getting direct feedback that can help you gauge how your content is landing with listeners. Here are a few:

  • Positive ratings and reviews
  • Positive feedback on social media
  • Donations on Patreon
  • Emails from listeners

Website analytics

If you have a podcast website with all your episodes, you can track analytics to measure engagement—specifically, Time Spent on Page.

You can use the analytics built into your web host or a tool like Google Analytics to see how long visitors stay on your page and compare the traffic from before and after your podcast launch. If your episodes each have their own page, you can see which pages draw in the most traffic to see what content resonates most with people.

You can also track how much traffic specific URLs mentioned in the podcast are getting (URLs could be ad-sponsored links or internally promoted links).

Email sign-ups and open rates

Monitoring email sign-ups can be another excellent metric of podcast success. If people sign up for your newsletter (and open it, click on the links, etc.), they find value in your content.

Podcast notes

In summary

Defining success in terms of your podcast goals and tracking the relevant corresponding metrics can help you measure progress and make adjustments to help you reach your goals.

Regardless of your specific goals, tracking listen time is a significantly valuable data point because generating high levels of engagement is fundamental to any podcast goal—whether it’s brand awareness, monetization, lead generation, etc.

So, download numbers are just one piece of the puzzle when looking at the success of your podcast. But as with any podcast analytic, resist the urge to focus too much on any one data point and direct most of your energy toward making content that will draw people in and keep them listening.