As we enter a new decade in the podcasting industry, and as the industry continues to boom, we’re looking at what updates and developments are taking place within the industry and what these could mean for your show. The focus of this post is podcast length, specifically how long should your podcast be in 2020. With so many podcasts entering the field week after week, competition within your niche may be intensifying. While this shouldn’t cause alarm per se, it should cause you to analyze all aspects of your show, ensuring that it is constantly striving to be the best that it can be. One of the aspects that may need an overhaul is the length of your episodes. The most popular question in this regard is, “Should my podcast be longer or shorter?” That sounds like a simple question requiring a simple answer. However, it’s a little more complicated than that…
Each podcast is different; 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. Getting to that sweet spot of time length that works best for your podcast is actually a case of understanding your topic, your audience, and your content, rather than hitting a certain number on the clock.
And while finding your sweet spot will require some time initially, it’s definitely a worthy investment if it means the difference between gaining listeners or losing them! So, in order to help you find a definitive answer to this question, we’ve come up with some strategies to help you determine the ideal episode length for your podcast.
1. Understand Your Topic
The “right” podcast length can vary from topic to topic, so Strategy #1 is to always keep in mind the point that you’re trying to share in each episode. Some topics might take longer to get through because they need a little more background information than others. Whereas another topic may be more familiar to your audience and so there’s no need to lay a foundation, enabling you to get through the content quickly. Knowing your niche can also help in this regard. Looking at other shows similar to yours and the general length of their episodes can help you set a baseline of the episode length audiences similar to yours are engaging with and what they typically respond to. This then gives you a practical working time frame to gauge your episodes against. In terms of the relation between your topic and your episode length, a good rule of thumb is to keep your podcast just short enough so you don’t bore your audience but long enough to get all the information to them.
Related read: 7 Tips For Creating Great Podcast Content
2. Understand Your Audience
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. One of the first steps to starting a successful podcast is determining who your audience is – their interests, their needs, their demographics, etc. – and all of this information will help you determine how long your podcast should be as these aspects, as well as any other insider info you can acquire, tell you what your audience is after when it comes to podcast consumption. For example, if they’re listening to podcasts to learn something new or grow in a certain area, they would most likely be more willing to listen to longer, content-heavy episodes. If they’re looking for something to entertain or lift their mood, perhaps short, more-to-the-point episodes will best meet their needs.
3. Understand Your Audience’s Listening Habits
This is another really important strategy when it comes to determining your ideal podcast length. Understanding how or where your audience listens to podcasts can be very helpful as it gives an indication of the average time they have available to listen to your show. 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 commute. FUN FACT: Statistics show the average length of a one-way commute in America is 27.1 minutes, which gives you a solid figure, and a number of options to consider when deciding on your ultimate average episode length. On the other hand, if your audience typically listens at night, just before going to sleep, then your episodes could be substantially longer, depending on your content, as your listeners may be more inclined to listen in installments each night.
Related read: 10 Things You Can Learn From Surveying Your Podcast Audience
4. Understand Your Capacity
Our penultimate strategy for determining your podcast length comes down to you as the host and your understanding of your own capacity. Now, this is not a measure of your capabilities and skills as a person, rather, it is an understanding of when and for how long, you are at your best. You may have a huge amount of energy, but for about 30 minutes at a time. It would follow then, that you should aim to keep your episodes within that zone. Going over that time may cause your energy levels to plummet like a stone, leaving you feeling and sounding flat. This won’t go unnoticed by your audience and may cause them to switch off if it sounds like you’ve lost interest in the topic – if it sounds like you are no longer committed to the episode, then they may wonder why they should be. 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 give your audience your very best.
5. Create A Cheat Sheet
From the four strategies above, it should be clear that the perfect podcast length has very little to do with minutes and seconds, and everything to do with understanding yourself and your audience, and understanding how your show can meet your audience’s needs. This means that the length of an episode is relative to the amount of valuable content, rather than time itself. Finding the right length for your show, therefore, actually comes down to your content creation process, as well as your editing process. That is why our fifth strategy is to create a cheat sheet that you can use as a guide when it comes to planning and editing your episode. Having these tips and tricks on hand will make it that much easier to create episodes that are packed with valuable content, and leave your listeners wanting more, and not looking at the clock. To give your cheat sheet a head start, we’ve included our top five tips to follow to ensure each episode is the perfect length.
#1 If in doubt, leave it out
Sometimes it’s as simple as that. 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.
Bonus Tip: While we’re on the topic of leaving things out, filler words like “ah”, or the infamous “um” should definitely be edited out, without any doubt! You’ll be surprised at how much time is saved editing these out as well as any “dead” air that happens to creep into recordings.
#2 Keep your audience in mind. Always.
Keeping your audience front and center in your mind as you’re creating your content as well as while you’re editing your episode is another great way to ensure that your episodes contain content that is all value and no waste. As you’re editing your audio, think about the needs of your audience. Ask yourself, “Do they need to hear this?” If the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, then the audio stays. If it’s a “No,” then it’s best to leave it on the virtual cutting room floor.
#3 Take yourself out of the equation.
Obviously it’s your show, and so you play a pivotal role in each episode, but in order to find that sought-after “perfect length,” you need to take yourself out of the equation during the editing process. What this means is carefully scrutinizing your audio for parts where you’re just talking for the sake of talking. These parts may sound great, but if they are not adding value to your audience, then they need to go!
#4 Be careful of being self-indulgent.
This sounds a little harsh, I realize that, but if you’re not vigilant, it can be very easy for your episodes to become all about you. During recording, you may become lost in your own thoughts, go off on a tangent, or simply just want to show that you’ve really researched a topic, but the result is that your episode becomes an exhibition of your talents, rather than something of value to the audience.
#5 Keep to the point.
This sounds straightforward enough, but it can actually be quite the challenge. In a natural conversation, it’s really easy to get off-topic, and while a podcast is often likened to a personal conversation between the host and their listeners, it’s also more structured than that. 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. (Refer back to Tip #2.)
What should be clear from all of the above is that there is no “one size fits all” rule in terms of the length of your podcast, and so figuring out what’s best for your show and your audience will be an equation unique to your podcast, and in some cases, unique to each episode. But these strategies should go a long way into finding the right fit for you. Remember, that elusive “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. If you keep this in mind, while applying these strategies, you’ll find that you’re creating episodes that are so packed with value that no time is wasted, and your audience will keep coming back time and time again.