(Step two is call me.)
There are several ways to measure whether a podcast is a success. Are the podcasters having fun? Then sure, it’s a successful show by that important metric. Does the show get a lot of listeners? If tens of thousands—or hundreds of thousands!—of folks listen to your show each week, then yeah, it’s a good podcast.
When you sit where I sit—or, more accurately, tread where I tread—another useful to measure the success of a podcast is to look at its ability to make money. (Remember, I head up ad sales for The Mid Roll, the premiere podcast advertising network.)
There’s gold in them there podcasts, and that’s part of the reason for podcasting’s recent renaissance. More people want to create podcasts than ever before, and the fact that folks are clearly making real money doing it certainly helps. The Mid Roll (like my prior podcast selling entity, Podlexing) is good enough at selling podcasts that many established podcasters reach out to us, asking if we’ll sell their podcast, too.
Here’s what I listen for.
How it sounds
It’s bizarre how often podcasters neglect to focus on audio. You don’t need top-dollar microphones to sound good, but your laptop’s built-in mic won’t cut it. Get close to your mic. Turn off fans. Use a pop filter. Watch your levels.
And if you’re using Skype or some other means of recording with remote participants, make sure everyone records his or her own end. Mix them together from those clean recordings. Fix the lag and Skype pauses.
Listening to lousy audio is painful. Advertisers don’t want to be on shows that sound like crap. And listeners drop out if the audio is unpleasant to hear. That’s bad.
Good audio is important, people.
Respect for the listener
I fell into podcast advertising, mostly thanks to Unprofessional. Early on, I took on any show that wanted me to sell their ads, so long as I didn’t find the content of the show morally reprehensible. But my selection criteria has since evolved.
I don’t agree with recent assertions that a podcast should max out at an hour long. Unprofessional never runs longer than an hour because Dave and I wanted to make a shorter podcast. I wanted it to be 30 minutes. We’re longer than that—the average length is probably 40-something minutes—but I like that we don’t go longer.
But that’s what’s right for our show.
If you have two hours of material, your show should go for two hours. If you don’t, it shouldn’t. But podcasts needn’t be the same length of time every single episode—there’s no airtime to fill. Because your show was two hours long one week doesn’t mean that you need to make it two hours every week. Make it as long as it needs to be, and never longer.
Your show, of course, may not be weekly. It doesn’t need to be. What it should be, however, is regular.
A show that comes out on Thursday, and then again three weeks later, and then two weeks later, and then not for a month, is a show that’s not treating its listeners well. Even though many listeners “DVR” their podcasts, you should have a predictable schedule for new episodes. It’s nicer. To grow your audience, make your show’s release predictable.
On the topic of editing: I understand the appeal of not editing for content. Live talk radio doesn’t edit for content, and a lot of podcasts operate as “live to tape” talk radio.
But talk radio hosts generally don’t have Skype lag. And they care, passionately, about avoiding dead air. And they have tight time limits, and often ad breaks to pause, think, and regroup. You don’t need to edit your show for content if you avoid all the other possible gotchas. But if you suffer lag or audio drops, or you need a moment to gather your thoughts—do the listeners a favor and make a cut.
Respect for the advertiser
This only applies to shows that already have ads. If your show has ads, you need to want your show to have those ads. If you view them as a necessary evil, chore, or worse, your ad reads suffer—and those so do your advertisers and listeners alike.
John Gruber’s podcast ads on The Talk Show sell for top dollar. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a hugely popular show with a hugely popular host, sure. But what really makes his show’s ads work is the fact that John is clearly not watching the clock as he records the sponsor breaks. John speaks for as long as it takes to convey the sponsor’s message. He doesn’t just hit on the advertisers bullet points; he ad-libs in genuine, honest, and thoughtful ways.
When podcasters treat the ad as something to get through as quickly as possible, the read unsurprisingly suffers. The best hosts with the best shows aim to make the entirety of their podcasts enjoyable to listen to, and so they give their ad reads the same care and attention that they afford the rest of their shows.
Make a great podcast
You don’t need the production know-how of satellite radio to make a great podcast. You need hosts who respect their listeners and advertisers, and make a show that is a pleasure to listen to—not a frustration.
If your podcast already does all that and reaches a good-sized audience, please do hit me up. I’d love to make you some money.