Podcast metrics 101: Crunch the numbers to improve your show

Headphones with a cord that turns into an arrow going up

So you’ve started a podcast. You’ve published a few episodes, and maybe gotten a nice listener email, or a few new Twitter followers who say they came because of the show. That seems good, right? 

And it is good, but how good? Is your audience growing week over week, or are you just picking up a few listeners here and there at random? Are they coming from a consistent source, or all over the internet? And are you hearing compliments because your show is genuinely great, or because the people who don’t like it don’t care enough to tell you what you’re doing wrong?

Questions like these are why it’s important to keep track of podcast metrics. That’s data about who’s listening, where they’re coming from, and how long they’re tuning into each episode. Having hard data on your listeners’ habits can give you a sense of what’s working and what’s not; it can help you fine tune your strategies for the show’s content as well as your advertising, and help you set realistic goals for yourself and the show going forward. 

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The metrics to pay attention to

We live in a data-saturated world, and once you start looking for information on key metrics, it can feel overwhelming. Podcast hosting platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify will share a good amount of listener data with you, but you need to figure out how to sort through and interpret what you’re seeing. Here are the five measurements for podcast analytics we think are especially worth paying attention to if you’re interested in learning how to measure podcast performance.

  • Consumption rate: This refers to how long podcast listeners actually make it through your episode. Are they hanging on to every last word, or dropping off midway through? You definitely want people to be engaged for most of the show, so if your average consumption rate is anything less than 80%, you might consider shortening your episode length, or breaking it up into segments that will help listeners feel like things are moving along. 
  • Unique listeners: This is the number that potential advertisers will ask about: it basically just measures the number of listeners that you get per podcast episode you put out. It’s a different metric than downloads, since a single person can download multiple episodes of a show, and it’s also distinct from play count, since you can listen to a single episode over and over again. Boosting uniques is crucial to convincing advertisers that you have a strong, growing audience — but to do that, you’ll need to either invest in marketing, or make the kind of show that generates tons of word-of-mouth buzz. 
  • Top performing episodes: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Do your download numbers jump every time you do an interview episode with a special guest, or include a particular topic in your discussion? Keeping track of what audiences respond to helps keep you in touch with what they want to hear more of, so you can push your content towards topics you know will be popular and resonant. 
  • Downloads by time of day: Knowing when people are checking their podcast apps can help you figure out when to publish new episodes, as threading that needle correctly will put your show at the top of their feed the moment they check. Of course there are industry-wide best practices on this subject, but you can fine tune that advice to fit your particular audience as well. For instance, a podcast for new moms might do better at 6 AM than one that’s targeted at teen wolves looking for howling tips. 
  • Ratings/reviews: Okay, okay, so the best advice on the internet is to never read the comments section. But in this case, you kind of have to, so just remember to take everything you see — positive and negative — with a grain of salt. It’s worth paying attention to how many ratings and reviews you’re getting, since more ratings gives your show an air of credibility. Plus, you can get helpful tips from reviews — if you see an issue being cited over and over again, it might be time to pay attention.  

If you’re podcasting specifically in order to sell something, here are two more metrics that’ll be important to you:

  • New leads for your business: Listeners are great, but if it’s sales you're after, it’s important to understand how well you’re able to convert people clicking play into people clicking buy. To do that, use UTM links, which have code that can help you track how customers ended up on your page using custom parameters. For instance, you might track the medium, like whether they landed there via social media or your show notes, or if they were attracted by a specific campaign like a sale or a call for new memberships. If you want to boost your conversion numbers, consider spending more time on calls to action in the podcast: not just talking about the product, but actively encouraging listeners to make a purchase. 
  • Return on investment: This is maybe the biggest deal of them all. Put simply, you’ll want to calculate how much you’re investing in the show versus how much you’re earning from it. If making the podcast is part of a job you can include staff time in your calculations — but even if you can’t easily put a dollar value on your time, don’t forget to factor it in when you consider whether what you’re making is worth the effort it takes to get it done. 

The most important thing to remember is that podcast success is not one-size-fits-all. The goals for a podcast launching on a major network will be different than for an indie passion project, and each of those shows will be working towards different things two or three years down the road than in their first few months. 

So start just by establishing a baseline of where you are, and then consider where you want to be. If that number or goal feels unattainable, consider how to break it down into a series of steps that will help you get there. A million subscriptions in your first year might not be realistic, but what about doubling your podcast audience year-over-year until it is? Then use the tools at your disposal — knowledge about where listeners are coming from, what they like, and what makes them tune out — to get you to where you want to go. 

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