How long should a podcast episode be in 2021? The question of episode length, in and of itself, is one that is fairly simple in nature. And you’d think, being so simple, that there would be a simple answer. However, I must, unfortunately burst that bubble on today’s post…
But let me backtrack just a tad. Now, obviously there is some data to contemplate when it comes to answering a question that suggests a quantifiable answer. So if you’re looking for a hard and fast, facts and figures type of answer to the aforementioned question, you’re in luck. Your reading of this post can stop in the next few seconds.
Because in 2019 (this was the most recent figure I could find) Dan Misener discovered that the average episode length in that year was 41 minutes and 31 seconds. This was two minutes less than the average he calculated the year before. If that downward trend is to be applied to the consequent years, the average length of a podcast episode in the year 2021 should be 37 minutes and 30 seconds, give or take. So if you’re looking for a particular timestamp, there it is.
*IMPORTANT! The above figure has not been vetted by any method, scientific or otherwise. It’s a calculated guess at best!
On the opposite side of the scale, there may be an entirely different view when it comes to discussions about episode length. There may be readers who are of the opinion that time is irrelevant and just an illusion, and so an evaluation of episode length in any way, shape, or form is therefore irrelevant. And you, too, may very well be right. But that’s not why we’re here today. There’s plenty of time (pardon the pun) to discuss the relativity of time and space…but today is not that day.
On today’s post, we’re looking for some sort of middle ground between the two above-mentioned extremes. And that middle ground involves a consideration of a number of factors, and a slight adjustment of the initial question…
The real question is: How Long Should Your Episodes Be?
And herein lies the rub. Each podcast is different; as unique as the hosts behind the mics. You might have the same topic of discussion or cover similar content as another podcast, but that doesn’t mean that your episodes will, or should, be the same length.
The perfect episode length is far less about hitting a certain number on the final timestamp and way more about discovering what works perfectly for you, and, perhaps most importantly, your audience.
But finding your perfect episode length may seem like a daunting task, something that will take lots of time, time you don’t have! But that’s why we’ve put together this article! We’re here to make that task easier, so we’ve come up with some strategies to help you determine the ideal episode length for your podcast.
So, without wasting any more of your time, let’s dive right in!
1. Weigh Up Your Topic
As we’ve mentioned, the “right” podcast length can vary from podcast to podcast, and even topic to topic. And that’s okay! So, rather than looking for a hard and fast number, our first strategy is to focus on the focus. Weigh up your topic and consider the point that you’re trying to share in each episode.
You might find that some topics will just take longer to get through because they need a little more important background information than others. On the other hand, those topics that you cover frequently, or those that your audience are more familiar with don’t need any additional information – you can go straight to the heart of what you’re wanting to share.
Once you’ve outlined the planned content for an episode, take a step back and take a critical length at what you’ve included. You may then decide, for instance, that a certain piece of background information, while perhaps interesting, may not be necessary, which may mean it should be removed altogether. Remember, you want to keep your episodes as value dense as possible. If a certain piece of content lessens the value, it needs to go!
Which is really a whole strategy on it’s own…
2. If In Doubt, Leave It Out
This strategy focuses more on the editing side of things than the recording process, but it can be applied liberally wherever it’s needed! Remember, your goal is to give your audience the best content for the duration of your episode. Rather give a shorter, value-packed episode, than trying to drag it to the 20, 30, or whatever minute-mark you initially had in your head.
We guarantee your audience would rather have a shorter, 15-minute episode full of actionable steps and incredible quotes, than 30 minutes of diluted content, where the value of all that good stuff has diminished because you tried to fill up the time with mediocre content.
How do you apply this strategy practically? As an example, if during your editing phases, you are questioning whether or not to keep certain parts in your episode, then 9 times out of 10, those bits probably don’t need to be there. It may be interesting, but if it is not necessary, then out it goes.
Related read: 8 Strategies For Faster Podcast Editing
3. Take Yourself Out of the Equation
When it comes to finding the perfect length for your show, you may find that you need to remove something from the equation…you! Ouch! But here me out. It’s your podcast, but your podcast isn’t about you. (Unless your podcast is actually all about you, then by all means, keep yourself in there!) Your podcast is really about giving your audience what they’re looking for, and meeting their needs with your content.
And while that may be your goal, in practice, when you’re behind the mic, sharing your content, or listening to your guest share their stories, it can be super easy to respond with stories of your own. And sometimes these enhance or validate the content, but other times, it’s just you sharing a story about you, which perhaps doesn’t need to be on the episode.
You can aim to be mindful of this during the recording process and try to weigh up whether your anecdote or sidenote is a necessary addition. But if you get caught up in the moment when you’re recording, you should then make these choices on the editing floor and cut out those parts that don’t add real value to your audience.
4. Stick to the Script
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to write out every episode word-for-word if that isn’t your style, we’re just pointing out that the perfect podcast length is usually formed during the planning stages. Whether you’re writing out your script or adding points to your outline, aim to only include those stories, explanations, or explorations that are necessary to the topic.
In a conversation, which is technically what’s happening every time you hit record, whether you’re flying solo or have a guest in studio, it’s really easy to get off-topic. That’s why you need to stick to the script. If your episode has a particular heading and focus, then you need to do your very best to stick to that, as that is what your audience has tuned in for and what they are expecting.
Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule – there are times when a deviation from the topic turns out to be great – but you must ensure that the new path you are taking increases the value of your content from your audience’s point of view.
Related read: Top Tips For Scripting Your Podcast
5. Analyze Your Audience’s Listening Habits
Understanding how or where your audience listens to podcasts can be very helpful when it comes to figuring out the length of your episodes. Your audience and their listening habits offer a fountain of useful data you can analyze as you’re figuring out what that final time marker should be.
This may sound like difficult information to acquire, but actually, most hosting sites can provide you with this type of data, but you could also do a good, ol’-fashioned survey to get the data specific to your audience. If the data, for instance, indicates that your audience listens to your show during their commute, you could, perhaps, consider tailoring your episode length to coincide with the length of the average daily commute.
FUN FACT: Statistics show that in 2019, the average length of a one-way commute in the United States was 27.6 minutes, which means 30 minutes might be your magic number! But you’re not limited to that! You could have 60 minutes worth of valuable content to share, which means that your listeners can pick up the rest of the episode on their way home!
Related read: 10 Things You Can Learn From Surveying Your Podcast Audience
6. Ask Your Audience
Another data point to add to your episode length equation is your audience. They’re the ones listening to you, so it follows they might have some solid input when it comes to how long they wish to listen for!
Going back to your audience is really something you should do whenever you’re in the process of making any kind of decision regarding your podcast. This is simply because an audience is the life source of a podcast. Your episode length is just another aspect of your show that should also be specifically designed to match the needs of your audience.
So if you want to find out what episode length would best meet their needs, ask them! Make an appeal somewhere in your podcast episodes, run a poll on your insta stories, or ask them to comment on a post to let you know what ballpark of episode length they’re after. You should then be able to get a figure for the average length your episodes should ideally be.
7. Understand Your Capacity
Our last strategy for finding that perfect episode length for you is, fittingly, all about you. In order to find the length that’s right for you, and by extension, your audience, you need to have a good understanding of your own capacity.
Now, this is not a measure of your capabilities and skills as a podcast host, not at all! Rather, it is an understanding of when and for how long you are at your best. You may have a huge amount of energy, zest, and vocal animation, but for about 30 minutes at a time. It would follow then, that you should aim to keep your episodes within that zone so your audience gets you at your best throughout the episode.
If trying to consistently hit that 60 minute mark leaves you feeling drained, and makes each recording session feel like a slow crawl to the finish line, there’s a high chance that’s exactly how your audience will start to feel as the episode ticks away. Which is certainly what no podcast host wants!
That’s why it is a great strategy to know yourself as a podcaster and figure out exactly what your capacity is so that you can find that zone where you function at your optimum and can consistently give your audience your very best.
Related read: 10 Podcasting Skills To Master To Take Your Podcast To The Next Level
So what can we glean from the above? It should be clear that there really is no “perfect length” for podcast episodes, only what is perfect for your show. This is not a “one size fits all” situation.
Your niche, your audience, and you yourself all have an impact on what the perfect episode length should be. And this unique equation may even be an episode by episode calculation in some cases.But applying these strategies will have you honing in on that sweet spot in no time at all!
The best take-away we can leave you with on the subject is that the “perfect podcast length” has more to do with the amount of valuable content in each episode than it does with the actual length of your show.