When I wrote and produced fundraising content at the North Texas NPR affiliate, one key messaging point was that listener support helped the station produce radio with less advertising - leaving more time for interviews and shows each hour. The more content/fewer commercials component of podcasts have a similar appeal, and you don't have to follow an hourly clock.
So, what should you do with all of that time flexibility?
There is no "perfect" length for a podcast episode, but, some guidelines can help determine what's best for your show.
In the book Content Chemistry, Andy Crestodina points out that:
1. The Top 10 business podcasts average 42 minutes.
2. Stitcher research says the typical listener stays connected for 22 minutes.
3. Ted talks are 18 minutes for a reason - Attention rates drop after 20 minutes.
Consider what successful podcasts are doing
One of the most shocking things I heard someone say about their podcast episode length was that you can't go in-depth on a topic in under 30 minutes.
Really? What if your listener thinks you've said enough about something after 18 minutes, and they feel like you dragged it out for another 22?
When I launched Comic Book Noob a few years ago, people said they wanted a simple comic book show that shared simple insights and recommendations. One person told me they would listen to other shows discuss comics, but they would get so into the weeds the content felt overwhelming or confusing.
Our episodes are under 30 minutes - some are under 20 minutes.
Insider tip: People are okay with that length.
Here are some other examples of short podcasts to check out.
Consider your audience
When determining your show length, think about optimizing your audience's time by developing a format that you can consistently follow. Examples:
Put yourself in your listener's shoes and ask:
If it helps, ask your friends or people you know who listen to podcasts about their content preferences. What keeps them engaged? When do they tune out?
More importantly - What makes them subscribe, unsubscribe or stop listening?
With Apple crossing over 2 million podcasts recently and popularity continuing to grow, many content decisions can be driven by the opinions of people who listen to them.
I'm a creative who likes to come up with an idea and immediately start working on it. In 2011, I decided to launch my first podcast, and I wasted no time recording, editing and uploading my first episode. However, as Timothy Failure says - mistakes were made. These mistakes were worthy of some face-paIms, but I learned from them. Plus, they helped me develop strategies to share with new podcasters.
Here are some lessons I learned while producing my first podcast:
Give yourself time to tweak your concept before launch
The Critic Show was the name of my first podcast. The idea was to theme it around guests and listeners discussing all things entertainment. We're all critics, and we share opinions about the things we hear and watch.
Ideally, I wanted celebrity guests on the show. However, this was going to be a brand new podcast, and guests weren't going to know who I am. I figured I would be lucky to book a guest every few months. Nonetheless, I started recording the episodes.
As the first seven shows were produced:
So, I did something painful but necessary. I deleted the first six episodes from my feed.
Later, I heard a podcast expert suggest recording and editing your first shows without uploading them. That way, you can make the necessary tweaks before sharing your content with the public.
He said episodes 7-10 would likely sound a lot different from episodes 1 -6.
I was living proof he was right.
Optimize your frequency
The release dates for The Critic Show was the 15th and the last day of the month. On the one hand, it was a perfect fit for me. It generally took two weeks to find, book and record guest interviews. However, it wasn't an ideal set of dates for potential subscribers.
Later, I attended a podcast session at Social Media Marketing World that emphasized the importance of optimized frequency. The speaker strongly recommended that podcasts upload weekly episodes, but an every other week system worked as well.
The key is to upload shows on the same day. That way, listeners can make your show part of their subscription routines.
The idea of trying to get a show out every week terrified me. However, I would later develop a successful plan for weekly podcast uploads.
Don't create an intro that sounds like it lasts forever
Calling my first show opening "too long" is an understatement. It might be easier to say, "Yikes!" and move on. The original intro for The Critic Show went like this:
These days, I try to keep my intros under 30-60 seconds. The only reason they would last that long is I'm still using some creativity to explain the concept of the show. After all, you never know which episode will be someone's first to hear. However, it's not uncommon for me to make a tighter version of the intro after the show has been out for several weeks.
Still, nothing has been as long as that first Critic Show open. From an audio standpoint, it was giving In A Gadda Da Vida a run for its money.
Make sure you create a sustainable concept that meets your goals
I tell new podcasters to make sure they develop a concept that produces a consistent amount of episodes each year. In other words, don't create a podcast that might run out of topics.
Also, if you can create a podcast with a specific target audience, you're more likely to generate strong subscription numbers. For example, a podcast solely focused on a television series generates a very specific listener base.
Even though The Critic Show established a good format, two problems remained:
When the podcast started its second year, it was renamed Beyond the Screens. This definitely fit the description, but now my feed had two sets of the same show with different names.
So, get that title right the first time!
I started podcasting in 2011. Today, podcasts are a lot more mainstream, and that comes with better access to advice. So, it's easier not to make some of these mistakes.
However, I would finally recommend that you maintain a willingness to learn new things. If you can avoid not learning lessons the hard way, that's even better.
I get it. When you get into podcasting, you're likely going to learn some things the hard way. I know I did. When I launched my first podcast in 2011, my mistakes included:
However, it's 2020, and podcasting is going more mainstream every day. With that, it's a lot easier to find good podcasting advice from reputable professionals. When I started, I found some random guy in Australia who produced a podcast about podcasting. Now you can find great experts like Cliff Ravenscraft, Daniel J. Lewis and Chris Brogan to help guide you.
While I think it's important to continue learning, there are some things I've heard podcasters say that made me instantly facepalm.
I asked them, "Is this what you're listeners want you to talk about?"
They answered, "It's what WE want to talk about."
Well, that's a fair answer if you don't care about your listeners. I know podcasters who aren't worried about downloads. They like talking and uploading it to the internet.
However, these podcasters wondered why their audience hadn't grown. One answer is universally simple -
If you promote an episode topic, then talk about it. If you veer off the subject too much, listeners are likely to bail.
Plus, listeners like to feel like their part of your conversation. In this case, if two people talking about their school lives together, the listener may feel like their eavesdropping on two people talking about something they were not present to experience with them.
I think the better option for Soundcloud is to showcase episode clips or previews with links and mentions to your podcast website.
Just because you can talk without limits, it doesn't mean you should. Remember, you're not only a podcast producer, but you're a consumer of content. Put yourself in the listener's shoes and try to measure when something is dragging on for too long or veering off course for an extended time.
In response, I've had people tell me, "Oh, but our listeners say they love our really long episodes, and they want more."
Really? How many of them told you that? Two percent?
Even if it's 80 percent, don't listen to them. Respect their time, and keep your shows at a reasonable length. I can promise you that your listeners will appreciate it.
You probably won't get a lot of emails saying, "Could you please talk about things for another hour?" Instead, if your episodes are too long, most people won't say anything.
Instead, they'll unsubscribe.
Not to mention, if you think 30 minutes isn't enough, you haven't listened to Mike Rowe's podcast.
As they said in Beverly Hills Cop - don't fall for the banana in the tailpipe.
As Daniel Lewis says - Don't fall for the podcasting myth of monthly downloads.
In 2020, podcasts are bigger and more popular than ever. That means there area lot more resources available for building a good show. Take advantage of it, and don't forget to keep learning along the way.
Talking about conceptual creativity, engaging content and pop culture.