It’s great to see numbers that tell us how our show is doing in this complicated podcast ecosystem. But many of these numbers are misleading, to say the least. Take podcast downloads for example. A closer examination would reveal that it doesn’t really mean what most of us think it means. And that goes for almost every single metric out there. In this episode, Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard break down some of these podcast metrics, with a focus on what podcast download numbers really mean. They also share some proven tips to boost your podcast downloads and get your audience to really play your episodes from start to finish. Plus, get to learn about two new strategies that Tracy and Tom are introducing to help podcasters optimize their metrics across the board. Tune in for great tips and insights!
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Optimizing Podcast Metrics: A Guide To Analyzing And Boosting Podcast Downloads
I’m with my co-host and the CTO of Podetize, which is why I brought him on here because we are going to talk tech, Tom Hazzard. Tom, you are an expert in our analytics and podcast analytics in general. That’s what we’re going to talk about in this episode. We’re going to talk about stats. I want to talk about stats, not in the boring way where we are drawing on about stats. I want people to understand how the metrics can help them make some decisions that can boost their show. They can use the analytics to make some choices on guest, topics, and other things that they can do that can help boost their downloads and boost their listeners eventually.
That’s right. Thank you. This is not an episode where we’re going to dissect every bit of analytics and help you understand them or give you our opinion on them. We’ve talked about those things in past episodes and our opinion on a lot of things about downloads or podcast stats. There is a lot left to be desired, quite honestly, with podcast stats. I wish it wasn’t that way.
I didn’t invent the ecosystem. I have to deal with what the ecosystem makes available to us. There’s only so much data, but there’s still a lot of very useful data there. There are a lot of ways to use it to your advantage to be able to understand where your podcast is and how you might want to pivot or course-correct to get where you want to go. Having said that, when we look at analytics, we want to look at overall trends. Generally, are things increasing and going north? Are they getting better? Are you getting more or less? Have you plateaued? In one sense, that is very important to understand.
I also want to step in here and say there’s a little bit of difference if you’re under 25 episodes than if you’re over 25 episodes. It can be a really slow burn under 25 episodes. That is not your fault. It is the podcast ecosystem in and of Itself’s fault. Many people fail to get past ten episodes that the listeners get burned quickly. They’re hesitant to listen or subscribe to a show that they don’t know the host of or they don’t know what it’s going to be about. They’re hesitant to give it the benefit of the doubt and start listening to it until it hits over 25 episodes. They know that they could be wasting their time.
I agree with that statement. That is very true. You have to be very cognizant of and have a different perspective when you have a new show versus you have a more mature show. However, I do want to share with all of you that’s reading this episode that we have something we’re going to share with you a little later in this episode. It is about some incredible new value that we’re offering to promote every podcaster’s show that’s hosted on Podetize at a certain level of hosting.
There are ways that you’re going to get a lot more value and get more exposure to podcast listeners, not just the ones that are already subscribed to your show. Hang on for that later in the episode. This discussion of metrics and podcast metrics is going to help set the table for that and why this new program is going to be so valuable.
Here’s the thing that I want to say to everyone. When you look at the metrics, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking at them at the Podetize website or any hosting platform website, downloads and listeners are not correlated. A download is very different than the number of listeners. There is no place for you to understand the number of true subscribers that you have anywhere. We do have some new stats from Spotify that they call followers, but we also see some of what I’m going to call funky math going on at Spotify. Let’s take a look at what that means.
Followers and listeners should be correlated. Keep in mind. You do this. You subscribe to a show, but then, you don’t listen to the show. How often do you do that? You put a show from your Netflix into your favorites list but you haven’t watched it yet. This happens all the time. Subscribers are not listeners either, and I want you to be really clear about that.
This is the best thing that we’re going to illustrate about podcast metrics. We’re going to show a contrast here between what Spotify reports and how they report it and everybody else. Every other podcast-listening app that is not Spotify works differently than Spotify. All the terms don’t mean the same thing everywhere.
Let’s start with the overall podcast ecosystem. Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, iHeart, and all the other apps that you go and submit your RSS feed to and not Spotify work the traditional way the podcast ecosystem was originally set up to work. You never know who your subscribers are unless they reach out to you, identify themselves, and say, “I’m subscribed to you.”
No app will share with you how many subscribers you have. They regard that as their proprietary information. That’s their user. They downloaded their app. There are privacy concerns and other reasons why they don’t share that, but mostly, they don’t share it because they don’t want anyone to know how many they have as a company. They don’t share it with us, the podcaster.
I had a customer who’s been hosting on Podetize for a couple of years but uses another producer. They happen to know us. This person says, “I’m trying to find out how many subscribers I have. I’m looking at your metrics and it’s not telling me. I know you and Tracy to be excellent people and have a great platform so you must know how many that I have. Can’t you please share that with me?” I had to educate this person and tell them, “Thanks. I appreciate the compliment. We do know what we’re doing. Unfortunately, what you’re looking for is not available. It’s not just us. It’s not available in the ecosystem.” You don’t know how many you have.
The way the regular system works is you publish an episode and it goes into your RSS feed. Anybody subscribed to Apple Podcasts and all those other apps will automatically get those episodes downloaded to their listening device or their account even on multiple devices. If you have an iPad and you’re subscribed there, an iPhone and you’re subscribed there, or even Apple Watch and/or your MacBook laptop with Apple Podcasts on it, it will download it to all of them. Does that mean anybody listens to it? No, it doesn’t.
Apple does have playthrough statistics. They’re one of the only platforms that is working on bringing that into our platform, which is exciting. Most platforms don’t have that information. All you know is how many downloads you’ve had. Certainly, from all the other apps, they don’t track playthroughs. All you know is how many downloads. You don’t know how many people listened. That’s the reality of it.
The way you can estimate how many subscribers you might have is usually in the first twelve-ish hours. Certainly, the first day after you publish an episode, you can look at that download number. It’s probably a little overestimate, but an estimate of how many subscribers you may have in the whole ecosystem. It’s still an educated guess, but not a certainty.
That’s probably unsettling to a lot of your podcasters. I don’t know how many people have listened. Unfortunately, that’s true. It is a trend, though, or an indicator. Keep in mind. Probably about 40% of all the downloads that are recording your analytics are streamed. When they’re streamed, it means somebody probably isn’t subscribed yet and they’ve pushed play. It streams to the device. It is still a download in parts as they’re listening. About 60% of roughly all podcasts are still downloaded.
I want to define that. It means that I put it on my phone and it downloaded all the way to my device.
Probably in the middle of the night or early morning before you even woke up.
It’s an automatic thing. I have the setting set in my app to do that on my favorite shows that I’ve subscribed to. It doesn’t happen if I didn’t subscribe to you. Keep in mind that those downloads that are downloading, it doesn’t mean I listened to them. It downloaded to my device and I have not yet listened to it. That is important for you to know that sometimes, that happens on multiple devices. That’s one of the reasons why those download numbers might be overstated. I might download it to my tablet and my phone.
On Podetize, if those downloads come and all those devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi, we detect that they’re coming from the same IP address and we don’t double them up or triple them up. There are some things you can do to not inflate the numbers.
There are podcast hosts that count all of them unscrupulously. There are other hosts that are forced to adjust their numbers by a specific percentage to compensate for that. That’s what IAB requires.
For what they think are errant listens, which is also inaccurate because, for example, let’s take our household. We’ve got at least three people with different devices listening to podcasts. We listen to some of the same podcasts. The IP address is the same. We’re probably underreported in this household for how many downloads there are.
That would assume we probably had the same listening app which luckily, we don’t.
That’s right. We don’t. I listen on Apple Podcasts and you listen on Google Podcasts. That’s more accurate for us.
If our daughter who has an iPhone would download through Apple Podcast, the same podcast, then it would detect it and downgrade it to only 1 download instead of 2 even though there were likely 2 people. You can see where the numbers start to get messy in terms of adjustments. We’ve done the best that we could by saying it’s more likely for people to be subscribed to the same one in a less-like situation than it is for it to be multiple devices for the same person.
Let’s talk about a couple of indicators that are helpful. I can tell you from looking at all the shows on our platform and also all the analytics in Apple, for most shows on our platform, Apple is at least half of their plays. Some of them are well over 90%. Some as high as 95% of plays are coming from Apple. I see that as a very good thing because Apple’s a little more transparent about playthrough in some of these things.
When you have access to your show in the backend of Apple, you can see, “On average, listeners are listening overall to 92% playthrough of all my episodes.” They give you a percentage on all episodes of the whole show. You can look at it per episode if you want to. You have to log into Apple to look at it, which is unfortunate. That is something we’re working on. You get a good indication. If most of your plays are from Apple and most people are listening to the vast majority of an episode, then your download numbers are much more believable than those that represent actual plays. That’s an indicator.
When you think about this, it’s unlikely that you can’t extrapolate from that. If I’ve got at least 50% of my downloads happening over on Apple and I’ve got a 90% playthrough rate, I can extrapolate that that should be fairly accurate across the rest of the apps and the other things that are out there.
If I have 10,000 downloads a month, probably about 9,000 of them are real listens. It is one way you could extrapolate that information.
It’s not a download if they didn’t listen. I don’t want to consider it that from my standpoint because if they didn’t listen, they didn’t consume the content. You’re looking at that as saying, “9,000 listens. That’s pretty darn good.” Divide that by the number of episodes that you do. That should be about the rate of your average listens per episode.
I’m not worried about the 10% that hasn’t listened yet. Probably most podcast listeners like me, I’m going to binge a whole bunch of them when I’m driving to Colorado for two days and at times in my life, ones I haven’t listened to. It’s not because someone may not have listened to it this month that it means it’s not downloaded to their device and they won’t listen to it at some later time.
That’s the wonderful thing about podcast downloads. You’re on an airplane. You’re not paying for the Wi-Fi to stream. You can listen to it offline while you’re flying. It probably gets listened to eventually. I don’t worry about it. I don’t qualify my downloads. Certainly, when advertisers are paying to advertise on your podcast, you’re getting paid for the actual downloads.
No one knows who has really listened or not. That’s the way the industry is. They compensate for that and the rate that they pay in reality, so that’s okay. We talked about the podcast ecosystem as a large and downloads and how that works. You don’t know how many subscribers you have. The download numbers may be somewhat inflated by how many people have listened at any given time. That’s the hard truth.
Let’s talk about Spotify. I’m going to flip this on you. We got a license with Spotify and have integrated their analytics into our platform. There are lots of metrics. There are two key ones we put into there on how many Spotify streams that you get. Remember, Spotify doesn’t download anything. You’ve got to be online with a connection. You can follow a show which means, “I’m following it.” That’s similar to subscribing. You can follow a show so you get notified of every new episode.
It doesn’t download to your device. Spotify wants to stream ads. When you click to play, it’s going to stream it to your phone at that time. It’s not downloading ahead of time. It can stream ads at the beginning or pause in the middle if it’s a long show and stream some more ads. They can’t do that when you download things.
I’m going to burst everybody’s bubble, and this is industry-wide here. They report streams and they don’t report playthrough. I have a show that I was looking at before recording this. About 7% of the total downloads of the episode, which we still call downloads but on Spotify are streams, are coming from Spotify. It is about 7%. However, Spotify calls it a stream if someone has listened to 60 seconds of your episode.
Anything north of it is the same, whether they listen to 60 seconds or 60 minutes and 59 seconds. It’s the same in their numbers. They don’t give you a different number of people who listened to a longer period of time or any percentage of the episode. Why? Spotify only cares if you listen to the first 60 seconds because they run most of their ads right at the beginning.
This is an ad play for them. All they care is to report the ads that were played. They do not care about your show if your show is a vehicle for advertising. That’s what this reporting number is. This is why they don’t give you the playthrough because they don’t want you to know that it never got played.
I hear a lot of new podcasters saying, “I want to be on Spotify. I need to be on Spotify. I prefer Spotify.” You’ll be on Spotify. When you launch a podcast on Podetize, we put you on Spotify for you. Since they are good at marketing themselves as a big-time player in podcasting, they think Spotify is going to be where most of their plays come from. I can tell you from experience that usually, a single-digit percentage of their total plays or downloads are coming from Spotify, not a larger number, at least in our observation of all the shows that we support.
These are non-Spotify sponsored shows. There’s a very big difference if Spotify is paying for the show and sponsors them because they’re promoting them. Those are very different. Those people are typically never syndicated anywhere but Spotify.
They’d be exclusive to Spotify. That’s an entirely different thing. Most independent podcasters whom we support are not going to have that kind of an arrangement. With the streams, it’s almost the opposite. They’re giving you, “You got all these streams.” You don’t know how many of them people listen to for more than 60 seconds. That’s unfortunate. Spotify does not give any playthrough information. That’s disappointing and disheartening with some of the Spotify info that you get.
Having said that, Spotify does provide followers. How many followers, meaning in their world, how many subscribers? “I go into Spotify and follow you.” That’s great, but does that mean I’ve listened to every episode? The key difference is it doesn’t. In fact, it doesn’t get downloaded to your device. If you follow a show and you get a notification, “Here’s a new episode of this show,” on the bright side, it doesn’t get downloaded to your device and gives you a false indicator that it’s been listened to. That’s the good thing.
The bad thing is the follower count is in the entire history of the show. You can have somebody who followed it two years ago and isn’t ever listening to it or paying attention to it. I’ll give you an example. I have a show on our platform for a period of time that had 27,000 total downloads and/or streams including Spotify. 7% from Spotify comes down to about 1,800 or 1,900 of those plays that came from Spotify.
When I look at the Spotify followers, the show has 8,600 Spotify followers in its entire 6-year history. A lot of those 8,600 followers are not listening to every episode. Otherwise, the Spotify percentage of plays over that time would be much higher. Probably about 3 or 4 four times the number of plays would be on Spotify if all of those followers were still listening to that show.
I know this is going to be providing more information to our customers, providing the Spotify followers with the numbers and their stream numbers. It’s useful information because they are indicators. We want to see overall growth over time. You have to take them all with a grain of salt. They’re general indicators and not necessarily a hard and fast number that always means the same thing.
That is where I want to point this and where I want to take this. Since we’ve got an understanding of how it works out there, when we’re looking at how are we going to optimize those podcast metrics and understand those podcast metrics so that we can analyze and figure out what to do to boost our downloads, our real followers, and our real listeners, what can we do about that?
That’s where understanding how this works and how a lot of these numbers are not 1-to-1 correlated with a listener is critically important for you to understand that’s what’s going to happen here. While I agree with Tom that we want to see that overall trend going up, it does go up and down over time because you get dips between listeners and between episodes. You’re getting those dips of what’s happening.
You want to look at wider periods of time, weeks at a time, months at a time, or at least a month at a time. If you look at this daily, you’re going to blow your brains out, honestly.
We always joke that you don’t get on the scale every day because it’s demoralizing and it doesn’t work. You don’t want to do that. You want to see that you gained followers over a month. You gained weight. You gained followers over a month. You gained listeners and downloads over a month. You want to look at it from a larger period of time.
If you do want to go a little micro, when you see a growth that’s higher than it’s been, understand why. That’s when we can dial into the per-episode basis, take a look at your per-episode numbers, and see where the spikes are going on. What I do is I look at it and say, “How are all my topic-based shows trending? How are all my guest shows trending?” I have both. When I have both, I want to look at both and see how they’re doing.
When you only have one kind, you’re going to see a spike with a certain guest. You want to understand what they did. Did they share it on social? Did they put it in a newsletter? Call them up and ask them. Say, “Thank you so much for sharing my show. I really appreciate it. You did something. Could you let me know what you did to promote the podcast so I can encourage others to do the same thing?” They’ll tell you. They’ll share it with you. They’re very generous about that. I haven’t met a guest who wasn’t willing to tell me what they did to help me boost my show.Downloads and listeners are not correlated. And subscribers are not listeners, either. Click To Tweet
I can always offer them something like, “Come back in 6 months. Come back in 1 year. Let me offer you something. Come back next time you have your book to promote. I’m happy to have you on the show. Why? It is because you do a good job of sharing me.” Those are things that we want to analyze and we want to look and understand. Did they share it on social? Where did they share it? Maybe that got a better impact. Maybe all your guests are sharing it equally, but you have some guests that are sharing it on LinkedIn and it’s going better than it is going over on Instagram.
Those things could be happening. There’s a hint that maybe I want to find my new guest from LinkedIn. Try to find more that are similar to that person once you discover that it’s working. Those are some things that you want to do. You can do the same thing with your topics. Are those topics trending? If I have a health and wellness podcast, are all the wellness episodes doing better? Are the mindset episodes doing better than the health topics, the supplement topics, or whatever it is that you do? You can group them together and start to understand whether they have a different trend line.
You can download these into an Excel spreadsheet, a numbered spreadsheet, or whatever you guys use out there. You can sort and search them and take a look at them. You can understand what’s working, what’s not, and who’s at the top of the guest list, and then go check them out. Don’t check out every single one. Check out the top 5 or top 10. Check them out and see what patterns you can determine. Those are going to help you decide how to do more of it. Do one thing at a time. This is our big thing, the design experiment.
Only change one thing. Otherwise, you don’t know which of the 2 or 3 things you changed worked.
If you’re going to promote more on LinkedIn and that’s something that you’re going to strive to do because you saw that working with that guest and you are going to do that internally, do it for a month. See if it’s having an impact, then do the next thing. You have time here. This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Take your time to make effective changes that are worth continuing.
Although it is a marathon, you’ve got to keep moving. You can’t stand still. You’ll only get real information if you continue to publish on a regular basis. Our recommendation is a minimum of once a week. Otherwise, it’s going to take you even longer to get data and try and assess the trends. It’s very difficult to do it when you don’t publish consistently. That’s the number one thing I would do. If you’re trying to assess this over time and figure out what’s working and what’s not, you have to publish regularly. That’s number one.
The real question to ask yourself and the question to ask other podcasters and other people that you admire isn’t, “How do I increase my downloads?” When you ask that question, they’re going to tell you, “Record more episodes because that’s the only way to increase downloads.”
It doesn’t mean you have more listeners. It means if you’re publishing more episodes for those same listeners, your downloads will go up. There is truth to that. There is a numbers game that can be played here, but it doesn’t mean you have a larger audience.
It can diminish the audience you have because you’ve given them too much content that they can’t listen to and consume. You’re listening goes down. We have seen diminishing returns on playthroughs happen from publishing too many episodes.
Although it’s been a few years since we published our show that did multiple episodes a week, we had one longer episode and several shorter episodes a week. They all did get plays. They give you short ones and more touchpoints. If you’re providing different kinds of value in those episodes, it can be very helpful. If you’re monetizing with ads, it can still work in those episodes. More episodes don’t always produce diminishing returns, but they can. That’s fair. With one a week, I don’t think you have to worry about it. Listeners are looking for people who are going to show up for them weekly.
That’s why you can do some smaller tests or design experiments. Add a second one. Add a bonus episode. Add a little bit and see what happens. See if your listening increases. If your playthrough doesn’t go down, then do it again and add a second one. Add another one in the next week. Thinking about the way that you’re going to it, our goal isn’t to increase downloads. Our goal is to increase listeners who listen to our show because then, they’re likely to buy what we have to sell.
I’m sure at this point in the episode, we have a lot of readers and probably even a lot of our own customers who are feeling disheartened about all this scary honesty we’re providing them about downloads, Spotify streams, and all this good stuff. I hope you don’t feel that way, but in case you do, I’m about to pick you up. We at Podetize feel your pain. We’re podcasters, too. We want more real listeners and more downloads. We have been working very hard to come up with ways to provide you with real value and get you exposure to more podcast listeners and even more people outside the podcast ecosystem.
We have been testing or executing for quite some time two new programs. One is called PodClips. The other one is PodSharer. I’m going to explain that. PodClips is pretty easy. For anybody hosted on Podetize at our monetized level, we’re relabeling. By the time this episode comes out, it’s going to be our promote level of podcasting. We’re going to change that. In our highest level of hosting, you can provide an episode that’s one of your latest episodes and we will take five clips. You can choose the clips, too. In fact, for do-it-yourself podcasters, you have to choose the clips. Those are fifteen-second clips.
We have a system of promoting those as ads in a whole series of hundreds of different mobile apps on smartphones. They are not podcast-listening apps, but other mobile apps that are free. People are served an ad after a while because it’s free. It plays your fifteen-second clip and shows your podcast cover art. When they click, it goes to the link you want it to go to. We always recommend that’s your podcast webpage or website, but it can go anywhere you want it to.
That is a way to raise awareness. Our podcasters, who we’ve been already doing this with, are getting tens of thousands of plays of those and then clicks going to their website. We can’t guarantee any of them are going to listen, but it’s something we can do to get you exposure. There’s no additional cost other than hosting on Podetize at that monetized level. That’s number one.
You don’t have to pay to advertise on the app. Somebody else is paying for it. We are tapping into it and providing your content in conjunction with that. As we move forward, we’re going to be dialing that in tighter. We believe we can increase the conversion by making it tighter. If you’re a health and wellness show, you’re going to be on health and wellness apps. It’s a little broad, but we’re narrowing it down and increasing that. That’s what we’re going to be doing in 2024.
I’ll tell you this. What other podcast hosting platform out there is promoting your show to other people out there in the world? None. This is a value. The next one, PodSharer, is an even better value. Here’s why, with PodSharer, when you opt-in, your show is matched up to 5 or 4 other shows every month if a matching category, general subject matter, or things that are relevant to other shows that would have a similar audience to where we think, “That type of audience listens to my show, too.” We determine that ourselves. You don’t get to choose that. We’re matching up shows.
We confirm it because we don’t trust the AI. We’re always confirming everything.
What we do then is every show chooses an episode, a recent one, and a five-minute clip or excerpt, if you will, of that episode. What we do is publish the excerpt of your show as a bonus episode on 1 of those other 4 shows each week of the month. That’s why there are five shows. You don’t need to put your own bonus episode on your own show, only on the four others.
It’s a rotation. Every week, each show has only one bonus episode posted to it. It goes up on Saturday night. It comes down the next Saturday and a new one goes up. No show has ever more than one bonus episode at a time that publishes on Saturday. If your episode is published on Monday, it’s only at the top of the lineup for two days and then your episode goes above it. Every subscriber to your show gets it.It's not a Sprint. It's a marathon. Take your time to make effective changes that are worth continuing. Click To Tweet
It’s the same thing when you’re on somebody else’s show. Your excerpt episode is on someone else’s show for that weekend. All of their subscribers get your excerpt with a little context. I would say, “I’ve got another show you might be interested in. Here’s an excerpt. Enjoy. If you like it, look in the description. You have all the information for how to listen to that show.” It’s cooperative and collaborative.
What we’re doing is every podcast is giving a little exposure to another show for a week but you’re getting the same value. We only put 1 new show in a pod of 5. Others are more mature shows so it helps give new shows a boost from the get-go. Also, seasoned shows with a lot of listeners are still getting exposure to more listeners. It’s a win-win-win for everybody.
This is free. We’re not charging for this, but you have to be hosting on Podetize at the monetized level to opt in and participate. We’re very excited about it because this is the first thing we’ve ever come up with in our decade of doing this that gets a new or existing show exposure to podcast listeners of other shows without paying for advertising and putting ads on them. That’s not what this is about. It’s more cooperative and collaborative, but very win-win.
That’s the exciting news. With that, we will be looking and you can look at your analytics month over month and see the growth. We’ll also be reporting your clips and how many plays they got on the other shows. You’ll have visibility to that. Hopefully, that grow everybody’s numbers. Everybody helps each other promote their shows and get more exposure.
I’m excited about a lot of these changes. There’s also some fundamental underlying cool technology that we put into this that we’re not going to go into here. We already have a techie-enough show here talking about analytics. I’m not going into that, but there will be some demos as we go forward as we have more case studies to demonstrate what’s going on. People who are willing to show their numbers and show how they’ve done on that side of it, we’ll be sharing those out as well. Follow us anywhere on social media @Podetize. Don’t forget to go to Podetize.com and get all the details on this show and all of our episodes where we talk about the things that really matter to growing your show in podcasting.
Thanks for tuning in, everybody. We’ll see you next time.
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