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Measuring Podcast Performance – More Than Just Podcast Analytics

Tara Parachuk | February 1, 2022

man sitting at desk looking pensively at his laptop screen with a mic and pop filter to his right

Everyone knows podcast popularity has skyrocketed over the last handful of years. There are swathes of articles out there encouraging brands to create their own podcast to provide a doorway of authenticity, to be present in a growing medium, and to offer passive listening and learning experiences with your brand. 

But what about  the key component of how to actually measure the success of a podcast?  It’s often not until you’re full-swing into podcast planning mode—or maybe even recording—that you realize you’ve overlooked exactly how you’re going to determine whether your podcast is successful or not. 

In this article

  1. Collecting Podcast Episode Data
  2. Who Has Access?
  3. Plays = Listens but Downloads ≠ Listeners
  4. Get Creative in How You Measure Your Podcast
  5. Qualitative Measurements Used to Report on Podcast Success
  6. Implement These Measures to Collect Podcast Analytics and Qualitative Data on Your Own Podcast
  7. Making a Game Plan with Your Team

Fear not! We’ve learned how to measure our podcasts in the best way—through hands-on trial and error of multiple methods. 

What we’ve learned about measuring podcast performance over the years through releasing the Mission Audition, Voice Over Experts, Sound Stories, and Vox Talk podcasts:

  1. Collecting the data comes with its own set of challenges
  2. You need to get creative in how to measure podcast performance
  3. Your team needs a solid understanding of what they hope to learn from the podcast stats

Collecting Podcast Episode Data

The first thing we learned when attempting to collect podcast episode data was that, with or without a podcast hosting platform, you’ll be rounding up the stats from every podcast distributor yourself—something we’ve elected to do, surprisingly enough. Podcast providers typically offer different stats from one to the next, and oftentimes those more unique stats are not able to be pulled into your podcast hosting platform (as is the case with Stitcher).

Who Has Access?

Each platform—Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Podcasts, etc.— has its differences in the way it reports stats and the way it lets you access them. For instance, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts will allow you to set up multiple logins so different members of your team can login to do the reporting, whereas Spotify and Amazon Podcasts do not. 

The takeaway here is that when you’re setting up your accounts, be sure to use a centralized login that can be safely passed around the team or give access to someone who will be available to gather the stats as needed.

Plays = Listens but Downloads ≠ Listeners

With Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Podcasts, and some others, you’ll find that numeric episode play data is reported as “Listens” while Apple Podcasts reports numbers of “Plays” instead. They both mean the same thing, but it means you need to be mindful of the shift in vernacular from one platform to the next.

When you begin using a podcast hosting platform to report on your podcast performance, you’ll find that the listener statistics are confined to downloads or the listeners who did so through the podcast embed code provided by the platform. This is another reason to still take the time to log into each distributor to get a fuller picture of your podcast’s metrics. 

Get Creative in How You Measure Your Podcast

Observing analytics and taking note of metrics is just the tip of the iceberg when evaluating podcast performance. The data has to speak to you—you must make inferences from the data that paint a picture of how listeners are interacting with the podcast, which is exactly what Brian Peter has done with Buffer Podcast The Science of Social Media:

“As many podcasters know, podcast providers don’t really give you a ton of data. But, I think they’ve come a long way.

“In terms of quantitative measures, we do base our success on, of course, download numbers. But now in Apple Podcasts, you can actually look at the stats of how many unique listeners listened to each episode and the percentage of the episode they listened to.

“For us, if people are listening to the entire episode, that’s a good barometer of how interesting our content is. So, if people are only listening to 42% of the show, that’s a pretty good indicator of ‘okay, they downloaded the episode because they were interested in the topic, but what we were saying on the topic isn’t necessarily what they wanted to hear.’ If people are listening to 89% of an episode, that’s a good indication that we engaged them correctly. Right now, the Buffer podcast is hovering right around a 90% listen rate, which is great, but of course we always want to do better.”

Note: for tips on how to hook a listener into sticking around, check out our piece on Planning Your Podcast Show Format.

Qualitative Measurements Used to Report on Podcast Success

Qualitative measures are the gateway to truly improving the quality of your podcast moving forward. If you care to grow your listenership and increase the percentage of episodes listened to as mentioned above, you can use qualitative feedback as a way to fill the gaps between the data points. Brian and the Buffer team found a way to not only tap into that feedback, but also took every comment to heart and created a full-blown improvement cycle that makes each episode better than the last:

“I think one of the things we learned really early on is to get as much qualitative feedback as you possibly can on the podcast, rather than just relying on quantitative measures like downloads, etc.

“We wanted a way to get some actual feedback from podcast listeners. But early on we didn’t really have a mechanism to do that. You can have a survey or newsletter that can generate feedback, but we wanted a quicker way to get feedback. So, we started #BufferPodcast.

“At the end of every show we give a CTA like, ‘Hey if you enjoyed this episode, or you have any questions, or you want to reach out, (or whatever), tag us on social media with the hashtag [#BufferPodcast] and we’ll respond to you!’

“That’s been really awesome for us. We’ve gotten hundreds of responses. And we actually respond to all of them. It was a great way for us to get the qualitative measures that we were missing through Apple Podcasts and Libsyn.

“What that qualitative information has helped us do is get very quick feedback loops going with the podcast. The trouble with just relying on quantitative data for podcasting is that [typically] you have to wait a week in between each learning.

“So, let’s say you release an episode every Monday. Well, you’re not going to know your full weekly podcast download numbers until the following Sunday. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to make improvements on the next episode. The Buffer podcast hashtag has allowed us to get much quicker, more direct feedback about the podcast that we can then use to improve the very next episode.”

See the success of the hashtag for yourself:

#BufferPodcast on Twitter

Consider making a feedback hashtag for your podcast as well. Keep it short and simple to avoid misuse and encourage its use in every single episode.

Implement These Measures to Collect Podcast Analytics and Qualitative Data on Your Own Podcast

All feedback is good feedback. Buffer’s success with its hashtag is pretty impressive! But Brian also pointed out the value in creating surveys and sending them through your email lists or including them in your newsletters. Though the ideal scenario is to, of course, accomplish the rapid fire feedback cycle as Buffer has, setting yourself up to receive this kind of qualitative information will prove itself useful as you venture into episode improvements.

Measuring podcast performance goes hand in hand with thinking creatively about promoting your podcast, too. Check out another interview excerpt with Brian on how Buffer promotes its podcast.

Have any questions on podcast measurement? Reach out to Brian using the hashtag, or visit this podcasting community to see what they’re saying about measuring podcast performance.

Making a Game Plan with Your Team

In our own journey, we learned that without understanding what everyone was hoping to learn from the data, we were unsure of what data to collect (listens versus downloads versus listeners), at what intervals (weekly episodes versus monthly performance), and even at which level (individual episodes or overall podcast).

For us, we just wanted to see at a bird’s eye view of how each show was performing month over month. Especially for the shows with more evergreen content like Mission Audition, episodes continue to garner engagement well beyond their air date. Taking a note from Brian’s suggestions above, we take cues from the content performing well and use those topics in other places like right here on the blog! 

For shows like Vox Talk that are more news-centric and aired weekly, you could argue that monitoring performance for each episode separately would be a useful way to test engagement strategies, topic interest, and other qualitative findings. But in terms of measuring podcast show growth, we opted to measure month over month to monitor the number of listeners (not listens, not downloads.) 

Having up-front working sessions with your team to communicate what everyone thinks is worth measuring and why, what is sustainable, and what will help you reflect on your podcast in the most relevant ways for you, is the biggest takeaway of all. 
Need some help improving your show’s staying power? Up the ante by using professional voice talent for your intro, segues, or closing! Not all that great at editing your podcast audio? Hire a freelance podcast audio editor to take that on for you! 

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