Right up there with the meaning of life or the sound of one hand clapping is this: What podcast success metrics are important to track? The answer may be a lot more simple than you think.
You want your show to be successful. I want my podcast to be successful. And of course, I want all of my clients’ podcasts to be successful. But how we define success metrics for podcasts is a big and sticky question.
A lot of the advice on tracking podcast success metrics is centered around some obvious and easy things to count, like total number of downloads over time, or the average number of downloads each episode has after the course of 30 days. Some are slightly more fuzzy things like the ratio of your free subscribers to premium subscribers, or the percentage of your downloads that result in sales of products or services. Or might be simply about maximizing ad revenue per episode.
All of those make sense for some podcasts.
And all of them make no sense for almost every other podcast.
Therein lies the problem.
Your Podcast Success Metric Is Not My Podcast Success Metric
It’s fine to use the same metrics as every other podcaster… as long as you’re podcasting for the same reasons as every other podcaster. So long as the business goals and objectives of your podcast line up with the same business objectives and goals of every other podcast, you can track shared goals.
But your goals and objectives are not the same as every other podcaster.
Tracking Outputs Vs Tracking Podcast Outcomes
Tracking things like the average number of downloads per episode is tracking outputs, not outcomes. It’s great that you know the ratio between subscribers to your show and people who pay for your service or maybe sign up for your Patreon content.
I’m good with all of that. But understand that you’re tracking an output.
Some outputs are often easily manipulated. Want to change the total number of downloads of your show next month? Change the number of episodes you put out. Others remain outside of your ability to influence. What are you supposed to do if people aren’t signing up to the free trial of your paid newsletter? Ask harder?
But we need to track outputs. And in some cases, we need to benchmark our outputs against the outputs seen by other podcasters. But only to a point. Because it’s much more important to understand what outcomes you’re looking for with your podcast. How you define a successful outcome for your own podcast is complicated enough. Crowdsourcing (or worse, outsourcing) that decision to various Facebook groups, Reddit forums, or Discord servers increases that complexity infinitely. No, not just because of the low signal-to-noise ratio. The bigger challenge is that almost everyone with an opinion has different goals and objectives than you do for your show.
Don’t Stone Me, But Not Every Podcast Should Be Big
There’s a deeper problem with using generally accepted podcast success metrics tracking. They all point to the same assumed growth trajectory. Put more simply: Most podcast success metrics assume you want to make a really big podcast. And while I think most podcasters love the idea of their show getting huge, I think the reality of running a really big show will quickly clash against that romantic notion.
I grew up in a very tiny town. The newspaper for the town went to press every Thursday. Yes, once a week. And though it circulated to a small number of homes, I’m sure the household penetration rate was nearly 100%. But only in that town. Because there’s no point in getting that newspaper if you live 30 miles away, let alone 300 or 3,000 miles away. The size of that paper is limited by the geography of the town.
“Podcasts aren’t limited by geography!”, you’re screaming out there. I get it. But stick with me.
Some of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten in have 14 seats. Fourteen. Sure, staying open 24/7 or opening up new locations all over town might increase the number of patrons they can service. But at what price to the overall dining experience? And at what cost to the ideals of the people who opened up the restaurant in the first place?
Some of the best solo practitioners made the conscious decision to leave the world of Big Firms behind them to deliver a more personalized or high-touch level of service. All of them are limited by the same number of hours in the day that you and I have, which limits the number of clients they can service. Growth means adding partners, leasing bigger spaces, and other decisions the solo practitioner may not want to deal with.
But all of those — the newspaper, the 14-seat restaurant, the solo practice — can be quite successful without getting big. Each can provide successful business outcomes for the people who own and operate those ventures. Those people can make a good living without having their business grow huge. Perhaps best of all, these people do not have to obsess over things like inventory turn, capacity, revenue per subscriber, or any number of output-based metrics that are key to the success of larger businesses in their vertical.
The Never-Fail Success Metric
What matters is something much more simple, and I posit to you that it’s a success metric worthy of considering for your own podcast. It’s the success metric that almost all intentionally-small businesses rely on:
“Can I stay in business?”
That’s it. Simple, right?
“Do I have enough ad revenue to keep my small-town newspaper printing weekly?”
“Am I getting enough orders to keep my 14-seat restaurant open?”
“Am I servicing enough clients with my solo practice (or from my professional podcast consultancy) so that I can continue to pay myself, my contractors, my staff, my business expenses, with a little leftover for a rainy day?”
It’s a simple, easy business metric disguised as a simple binary question with a simple yes or no answer.
However, it does assume that you actually want to be in business in the first place. For a lot of podcasters, they really don’t want to be in the business of podcasting. And that’s OK. the vast majority of podcasts today are made by hobbyists because it’s fun.
But that doesn’t invalidate my simple metric. It just requires a slight modification:
“Can I keep having fun?”
“Is making my podcast still fun, exciting, and enjoyable?”
“Am I getting my emotional needs met when I drop a new episode?”
“Do I get the satisfaction necessary by the effort so that I want to keep doing this?”
So whether your podcast is business-based or just for fun, this success metric doesn’t have to change. Can you afford — either financially or emotionally — to keep doing it?
Breaking Even vs Making A Profit
I feel the need to return to the question of business for a moment. Because staying in business is very different from covering your costs.
The publisher of that newspaper isn’t trying to break even. The price of a meal at a small restaurant will be much greater than the cost of the ingredients. Solo practitioners in a home-office don’t work for free even though they don’t have to pay for office space.
That’s why, for most, covering your costs is a bad podcast success metric. That’s not how you keep going. You have to stay in business. Or it’s about feeling the investment required to make your show is smaller — significantly smaller — than the emotional return you receive.
That’s really the podcast success metric that matters.
You Have A Choice To Make
Option A: Right now, start a new email. No, not a Tweet. Not a Facebook update. Not a comment. I want you to send an email to one podcaster you know who may or may not be listening to this program. You’re sending them your personal recommendation that they listen to Podcast Pontifications.
Option B: Supporting the show by going to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra.
You pick which option you like. I’m easy either way.
Since you got this far (and going against what I just said), how about mashing that 👏 button a few dozen times to let me know you dig the written-word version of my thoughts on these podcasting topics? I’d sure appreciate it!
This article started life as a podcast episode. The 301st episode of my four-times-a-week short-form podcast called, oddly enough, Podcast Pontifications. It’s a podcast for working podcasters that’s focused on trends in our growing industry and ideas on ways to make podcasting not just easier, but better. Yes, you should listen. Here’s an easy way: 👇
Evo Terra (hey, that’s me!) has been podcasting since 2004, is the author of Podcasting For Dummies and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and is the CEO and founder of Simpler Media Productions, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.