Are You Addicted To Podcast Stats?

I have a confession.

I’m addicted to my podcast's stats. I check them more often than I need to, and spend more time than necessary compiling and reviewing, trying to find trends, patterns or anything interesting that my be hiding inside the numbers.

I get very wordy on Sundays, so if you're looking for the TL;DR version of this, I understand.  Hit the high points and just read the bold and italicized parts, drop a comment at the end, and have a nice day!

In this series, I take you head-on into the world of podcast stats.

Many podcast hosts fall victim to the desire to check their stats over and over through a month, week or even a day, and obsess over the number of downloads their show is receiving. They love the "hit of accomplishment" they receive when they see the numbers climb. What lasting impact does that have on their business? Watching download numbers is fun, but don't let it turn into an unhealthy obsession. More importantly, don’t waste your time looking at stats unless you know what you're after. There are many more important figures to than the number of downloads a given episode has, and I give you an overview of how those can guide your business decisions in this article.

The world lives on data, especially the business world. Podcast hosts are no exception, especially those that consider their podcast to be marketing activity. Before we dive into the types of metrics that are important, let's take a second and talk about why these metrics are important. Stats are feedback from the audience to you, the podcast host. Stats let you know where you audience is, what they love, and how effective you are at forming a relationship with them. Stats aren't about how popular your show is, or how much people ‘like’ what you're doing.  The raw numbers are meaningless.  The decisions they empower us to make, however, are not.   Here are 6 types of stats that can empower your decision-making.


Listens / downloads are an indicator for audience growth.

Many podcast hosts put this metric at the top of their list. Every time someone requests our episode, the number goes up. We can pull this from out media host, like Libsyn or Blubrry quickly and painlessly. But what does this number actually tell us? Listens or downloads is a great metric to look at if we are interested in tracking audience growth. Week after week, we all want want this number to go up and up. It is important to note that it does not necessarily represent the number of listeners our shows have, because people may listen to the same episode across multiple devices. Or they may install a new podcast app on their phone and automatically download episodes they've already listened to when they subscribe to a show again. Because of this, the actual number of listeners our shows have is a little lower, but the overall trend should be accurate.

The value with this metric is in the trend lines. For a given episode, you should see a spike on the day you release a new episode, and behavior that tails off over the next month. For the show as a whole, you should see a series of repeating spikes (on release days) with gradual growth over time. This number can be a great measure of how effective a new promotion strategy is, or can indicate that a show getting more attention than the host may realize.  To discover unknown attentions sources, hosts need to dig into other metrics to understand where that traffic is coming from. For that type of insight, you'll need to pair your listens number with other stats.

What about subscriptions? Podcast feed subscriptions are difficult to track because the big player, iTunes, doesn't share that metric. Most media hosts can't track subscriptions due to the nature of feeds and distribution. Listeners have multiple choices on how they can listen to a show, none of which ‘talk’ to one another. I’m sure someone is working on a solution to this problem, but it my gut tells me it is a hard problem to solve, and a long way off. Besides, subscriptions aren't as important as what the subscribers are doing, which is why we look to other metrics for additional insight.


Website visits are a leading indicator for success.

I’m sure there are podcast hosts that run their shows just for the fun of it, and I'm also sure that they're not reading this article. If the goal is to convert a listener into a customer, then a podcast is going to have a website, and the host will be directing listeners to that site to receive additional content. As a result, the host needs to pay attention to website metrics, especially in relation to episode releases. Some key metrics to look at include:

  • Traffic volume on release days (Is the audio CTA effective?)
  • Traffic destinations on release days (are they visiting the episode pages, or the homepage?)
  • Time on pages (are they reading show notes?)
  • Pages per visit (are they looking for more content?)
  • Traffic sources (are they referring from somewhere, or just typing a url into their address bar?)

As a podcast accumulates episodes and begins to grow an audience, demographic information - age, location, education and income levels can become important, especially if the host is trying to connect with a particular avatar. Demographics can also point out opportunities that may be missed. If more baby boomers love a show than the host realizes, they may want to create content that appeals directly to them.


Website comments are still relevant.

Comments are a contentious topic, and I do my fair share of flip-flopping on the value of website comments. For me, they are an outdated way of communicating with an audience, and are not as mobile-friendly as they need to be. Too many listeners have the option of reaching on over social media, email, voice or even text messages - all of which are easier than creating an account to drop a comment in a thread most people will never even see. 

Comments as a metric do represent, however, engaged listeners - which are incredibly valuable to any podcast host. These are the people that are so engaged in an episode that they take the time to reach out on the show's website and let the host know. Most shows won't get comments on every episode, so when if do get some, respond! You should also examine your work from an objective standpoint. What made it stand out from the rest of your work? If you can, repeat that and scale it to grow your audience engagement. For me, comments are a flag that I am creating content that is connecting with people on a level that motivates action, and a sign that I am starting to build relationships with your listeners. They can be an indication that it is time to focus on community-building.


Social media is not just about likes.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and on and on.  They all used to be such wonderful platforms to stay in touch with people.  Marketers ruin everything, and social media is no exception. Social is great for podcast hosts - we can expand our audiences, start conversations with listeners and build your brand. More importantly, we can tie our social media activities to our business objectives. If we are looking for email opt-ins, then the actions that users take are important metrics. I'm not going to turn this into a “which social network is good for your show” post (let me know if you want one of those, though). Similar to comments, social media is a great measure of the quality of your content. If listeners are sharing and conversing about your latest episode, take note of that and replicate, and scale.


Reviews are critical for show placement.

iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker and many other podcast directories heavily leverage ratings, reviews and listens when determining where to feature your show in their top lists, and these numbers are critical if you’re trying to expand your audience. Every podcast host that is listed on iTunes is featured in a “New & Noteworthy” section for eight weeks, getting special placement in a pool of other new podcasts. Once that eight weeks is over, however, you’re the little fish in the big pond, and it is common to see listener counts drop and growth stagnate. Using a tool like Simple Podcast Player (link) can keep driving reviews, and so can solid CTA’s in your episodes and on your show notes pages. Like comments, reviews are an indication that you're compelling listeners to take action, which is an indication you're building engagement.


The power is in the list.

The ______ is in the list. Power, money, whatever is important, it is in your email list. A quality email list should be worth around $12, per name, per year. This is the reason that building a solid email list is often times the heart of any podcast monetization strategy. Important metrics to track are opt-ins (sign ups or subscriptions), opt-outs, opens and click throughs. You may see a trend related to your episode release schedule, but don't worry too much if the graphs don't match up perfectly. Email opt-ins are a big sign that your listeners trust your message, and value the content that you're giving them.


What is your metric?

You may not agree with everything I just shared, which is good - stats are only as good as the people that interpret them.  We all have our own lens through which we observe the world, and we all have different tactics and priorities.  What are your most important metrics?  What stats are you checking over and over?  What are you addicted to, and what insight does it add to your business?

Chris McNeill

Chris McNeill has as many opinions as ideas, and loves making lists. He was an entrepreneur long before he could spell the word. Chris is an avid connector of people, and organizer of everything. As a reader and sci fi fanatic that can't wait for the next Fallout game. Chris resides in Austin, where pets outnumber he and his wife. Austin isn't as great as you've heard. Dallas is better, you should go there.

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