How to find your ideal podcast episode length

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Is there an ideal podcast length?

Since 2015, I’ve shipped 1000s of episodes and earned millions of downloads via my two podcasts. When I first started out I recorded long, epic conversations with my guests and then I cut my podcast episodes in half.

Why?

The data told me too.

For this process to work you need to put your ego to the side because what you find out might hurt.

Over the years I’ve learned that I love my work much more than others. So from an objective point-of-view, I should let the data tell me what is working.

How to find your listener data

I use Libsyn for podcast hosting and distribution.

Libsyn will tell you all sorts of interesting data like:

  • Downloads per day
  • Downloads per episode
  • Downloads per destination (Libsyn or Player.FM)
  • Downloads per country (138 listeners in Ghana — my favorite west African country!)
  • Downloads per user agent (Apple or Spotify)

But this data won’t tell you what you need to determine your best podcast episode length.

For that, you need to log into Podcasts Connect and use your Apple ID to login.

This will bring you to a screen that shows your podcasts. Here are mine (I just launched a third “archive” show because Apple only allows you to have 300 episodes per feed and I don’t want to lose the content from my main show).

Click on “podcast analytics” to get the data you need.

Note: The only drawback to Podcasts Connect is that it only reports Apple statistics. It’s not a deal breaker. Apple is the largest provider of podcast listens, so I think it is safe to generalize what you are seeing here.

How to analyze your listener data

Below is a screenshot of the analytics of my main show, The Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast.

You’ll see that my shows range from 30–46 minutes. Average consumption ranges from 43–65%. The time per device column does the math for me so my audience is listening between 15–25 minutes per show.

Here I’m only showing the data for the shows released at the beginning of 2021.

Let’s hold those numbers in our minds and look at my second podcast for some more info.

The School Leadership Series is different. It’s Monday-Friday and always less than 5 minutes. Does that matter?

Each show here is either 3 or 4 minutes in length. Consumption ranges from 76–95%. The time per device is between 2–4 minutes. Although we don’t see it in this span of shows, it is not uncommon to see an above 100% listen rate, like below:

How to respond to the data

So I have some choices to make.

If my priority was to increase the consumption rate, then my analysis tells me two things:

  • Create a show around 20 minutes, or
  • Find the shows with the highest listen rates and create more shows on those topics

From my creator’s perspective, I’d find it hard to have the kind of in-depth conversation I want to have with my guest so creating a 15–25 minute show would be quite a stretch.

My second podcast tells me that the shorter the show the better (in terms of consumption rate).

This data also tells me some episodes are much better than others. For example, “Reflection Questions for 2021,” shows that my audience will listen more than once because they see it as massively valuable. Check out that episode for yourself. Listen here on Apple or Spotify (subscribe if you enjoyed it).

My goal for this post was to be transparent about how my podcasts perform. Represented here was data from two shows with 1000s of episodes and millions of downloads. I hope you can learn from a behind-the-scenes peek at one platform’s performance.

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀