“How are we doing compared to other podcasts?” 

If you have a show, you might be asking that question. 

If you don’t yet have a show, you still might be asking that question. 

And here’s where I get to chime in with the oft-cited and rarely heeded idiom that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’… or in this case, ‘comparison is the thief of your podcast’s ROI’. 

To be blunt, asking how your podcast shapes up against another is useful only on a superficial and surface level. 

Very quickly, you’ll see comparing your podcast to the success of others is a moot metric, at best. 

And here’s why. 

Your podcast ROI will be a metric (or set of measurements) that you determine. 

Some will be numbers and data-backed. 

Others will be more soft measurements that will accrue overtime. 

But none will have much to do with how other shows are performing in the podsphere. 

I write a weekly newsletter and recently addressed the fact that when we talked about your podcast, it exists in a decentralized environment. (If you missed that one, you can read it here)

In essence, your listeners aren’t comparing your show before deciding to listen. 

They don’t have a frame of reference other than what you show them via your show title, show art, descriptions, guests and episode promotions. 

It’s not as if they are logging in and validating ‘how good and worthy you are’ based on your follower count (as is often the case with Instagram where a higher follower count is tacit validation of a ‘worthy follow’). 

Your listeners do not see or hear your show in the context of comparison. 

So neither should you. 

Your metrics for ROI and success should be set and measured against yourself and by yourself. 

Having said that, here are some useful ways to look at your podcast’s return. 

Hard data metrics for podcast ROI

I don’t want to get too into the weeds here, because we could go super deep and all data-nerd on this, but you can track the performance of your podcast with traditional digital metrics. 

→ Click throughs

Exactly what it sounds like. You can add a link in your show notes and measure how many people click on that link.

However, and this is a big however, the entirety of this measurement is contingent on your listener using the show notes.

And *guess what?! 

Despite so much focus on ‘nailing the show notes’, they are not likely to attract an engaged and current listener. 

*drops mic* 

Put it this way, if your listener has binged a few episodes of your show, they are much more likely to respond to a mid-roll ad, or a host read ad and actually type in a URL to a browser than they are to grab their phone, click on the expand show button, scroll through the show notes, find the one link they want, and then click. 

All this to say, Click Throughs get a lot of attention in the measurement space, and they can be misleading for this very reason. 

→ Affiliate purchases / Coupon codes 

A slightly more accurate measurement than a click through, but not without pitfalls. 

Adding an affiliate code, link or some sort of coupon code to your episode mid-rolls and/or show notes can give you a measurement and an ROI on your podcast. 

But let’s break this down a little bit, because I see a lot of podcasters focusing on this as a do-or-die metric and I think that’s a bit short sighted. 

Here’s the scenario: 

Show host is running a program or is promoting someone else’s product/service. 

They drop a mid-roll, host read ad into the show with a URL and a promo code for the event/service.
The ad also pushes to the show notes to get the link as well. 

If it’s for a timed event (like a ticket to a workshop or conference), the code needs to be used prior to that date or clearly it doesn’t matter. 

If it’s for an evergreen product, then the code is also evergreen which means your timeline to measure the success needs to be extremely long tail.

But, (again, a big but), here’s what we overlook when we use affiliate and coupon codes as a do-or-die measurement. 

  1. Not all listeners will be ready to buy that thing – and just because they don’t buy it now, doesn’t mean they won’t buy it down the line (I’ll get into this more in a minute)
  2. Research suggests the vast majority of listeners who do activate off an affiliate host-read ad, will forget to use the promo code. And when coupled with the fact that most will browse to the URL versus scroll through the show notes, you have a perfect storm for un-captured success metrics. 

So, are affiliate promos and coupon codes useful? Yes. 

Are they do-or-die for success metrics? Absolutely not. 

→ Ad plays and time spent listening

This measurement won’t apply to the vast majority of branded podcasts, but it’s useful to understand, nonetheless. 

(Branded podcasts tend not to have third party ads inserted into them, so ad plays are not a valid metric). 

Here’s how this works. 

Most reputable podcast hosting platforms will give you the option to monetize your show with third-party ads. There are a variety of technology solutions for this, ranging from an advertiser marketplace to dynamic insertion and AI matched ads. 

But for sake of explaining this metric, let’s just assume that your show has dynamically inserted third-party ads at the mid-way point and at the end of your podcast. 

Your podcast host and ad server will be measuring how many times those ads are played (this is where we need to trust the monetization robots and pixels to do their job). 

We learned two things from this data. 

  1. How much your podcast is worth on the advertising market and therefore, how much you can and should be charging sponsors to access your audience
  2. The number of listeners who make it to the last ad on your show, which is tantamount to the percentage of listeners who listened to your entire podcast

From this last measurement, we can determine the average amount of time each person spent listening to your show. 

The majority of podcasts have about an 80% listen through rate; which when placed up against other forms of content like YouTube, Instagram, streaming services, is an impressive metric. 

I’d suggest one of your measures of ROI on your show should be how long you are keeping your listeners engaged and listening. 

Erin Trafford is the co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Story Studio Network. She is an award-winning journalist and professional blogger and has been growing SSN since 2021. 

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