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What Is the Ideal Podcast Length? Factors to Consider

Wondering how to decide your ideal podcast episode length? Read on to know more.

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Launching a new podcast involves a lot of decision-making — the name of your show, the episode content, graphic design cover images – the list goes on. But one of the most challenging questions to answer about your new podcast usually surrounds your episode length.

How long should a podcast episode be?

Well, here's the thing: everyone's answer to this question will be different. What works for one podcast may not gel with another. So, when deciding what your podcast length should be, there are a few factors to consider. 

What's the Average Length of a Podcast?

As more podcasts come onto the market and the data pool becomes wider, analyzing the average podcast length ends up changing year-on-year. According to the podcast titans, Buzzsprout, the average podcast length is 38 minutes. 

However, Pacific Content also dove into the data behind 10 million podcast episodes and saw that the average was 43 minutes and 24 seconds.

 

So is it 38 minutes or 43 minutes? Well, the general consensus is that most podcasts average between 20 - 40 minutes in length

However, it would help if you took these stats with a massive cup of skepticism. Why? Because podcast length can depend on a wealth of factors (format, niche, and overall information delivery). Some top-performing podcasts range from just a few minutes ( think 600 Second Saga) to a couple of hours (Dan Carlin's Hardcore History regular 5+ hour marathons). 

So, how do you decide what is best for your podcast and the audience tuning in?

Should ALL Your Episodes Be the Same Length?

Before diving into the podcast length points you need to consider, let's talk about ALL your podcast episodes. Consistency is essential if you're striving for success in podcasting. A general rule of thumb is to keep your episodes similar in length. It helps keep listeners on board because there is that element of familiarity. If there is a lot of disparity between your episodes, for example, one is 30 minutes longer than previous episodes, it might not sit well with your regular listeners. 

But don't confine yourself to setting your episode length in stone. Variation is going to be something you will have to contend with sooner or later. So instead, we're saying that if you keep a majority of your episodes within a similar timeframe, you'll likely have a dedicated audience that sticks. 


Can a Podcast Be Too Short?

First-time podcasters may be wondering whether a podcast can be too short. The simple answer is no; it can't be too short - in theory.

One of the beautiful things about podcasts is that there is no ideal time a podcast has to reach. But, the main point to consider is that shorter podcasts leave you less time to deliver complex information or entertain at a deeply engaging level. However, short and snappy podcasts work well if you have a lot of valuable tips to touch on. Or if your show predominantly covers breaking news stories. 

A rule of thumb in article writing is to break down concepts into the simplest form possible- and the same could be said for podcasts. 

Define Your Content's Purpose

What do you want to achieve by publishing a podcast? Why are you creating a podcast in the first place? Knowing the "why" behind your show can help when choosing the right episode length. 

For example, if you're a podcast that explains the latest trends in AI, you might want to think about keeping episodes relatively short and punchy. Complex topics can often benefit from shorter episodes as it helps with retaining your audience's attention. On the flip side, longer episodes tend to make more sense if you're interviewing guests. 


How's Your Storytelling?

Most of us know at least one raconteur. You know, that special person, that skillfully and amusingly seamlessly tells anecdotes and stories. But, sadly, 99.9% don't fit into that. 

Your show needs to uphold that fragile balance between keeping listeners entertained and engaged from start to finish. You need to consider:

  • How information-saturated is your podcast,
  • Are you a good storyteller that can capture the attention,
  • Can you deliver the main points of your narrative in an entertaining way

Storytelling is the difference between disseminating facts and making a point. For those raconteurs in our lives, we know that a good storyteller can bring anyone along for the ride! Luckily, just like with almost anything, storytelling is a skill that can be learned and refined– and podcasts can help us work that muscle.

So, if you don't feel like you are great at storytelling, start small. Aim to create a 15-minute podcast that touches on all the points you need to without getting too deep into the weeds or opting in for flowery storytelling - yet. Once you start working on that particular linguistic muscle, you may feel more confident in taking your podcast into a longer format direction. 


Who Is Your Audience?

Audience demographics are the characteristics of listeners like age, gender, cultural backgrounds, group affiliations, and educational level. A podcast host must consider all these characteristics when adapting their show to an audience. 

Having a niche podcast often results in niche audience demographics. With a broad podcast, the topic can result in a wider audience pool. If that's the case, you may have more freedom to choose the best length. However, when you have a particular audience, it's worth thinking about their lifestyle and what kind of length works for them. 

For example, if your podcast topic speaks to people who are often busy, such as senior C-suite execs, you might consider making the length of your podcast 20 minutes or less. 

On the other hand, your podcast topic could be reaching long-form listeners, such as taxi drivers or at-home graphic designers. So, 1 hour or more could be a more suitable length.

Your audience should always be front of mind when making most of your decisions with your podcast, and podcast length is no exception. So research your potential audience's demographics, preferences, lifestyle choices, etc., and use your findings to guide the length of your podcast.


What is Your Podcast Topic?

A good podcast should cater to your target audience's specific needs; that goes for your podcast topic. The most crucial factor for deciding podcast length is the actual content of your podcast. 

Does the subject matter you need to cover a lot in a few hours? Or does it take 30 minutes or less? For example, if you have an educational podcast, you might want to consider having your episodes hit that 2-3 hours mark. This can work well, especially if they are well-segmented and extremely thorough. 

If your podcast topic airs on the side of entertainment or bite-size facts, it will take much less time to get through your points. As a result, episodes could nicely fit into 45 minutes or less in length. 

As the host, you will most likely know your topic best. Think about how much time it takes to talk about your topic and whether it's digestible in that timeframe.


What's Your Subject Matter?

Hosts are often the captains of their podcast ship. Regardless of the topic, hosts are the subject matter expert (or at the very least, your guests are).

This allows for intuition to come into play. As the host, you usually have a gut instinct when a topic has been discussed enough and you've communicated all you needed. 

But what if you've said everything you wanted to say, but it's falling short of your usual episode length? It may look a little lacking when comparing it to other episodes you have published.

If that's the case, don't fight it. There's a common acknowledgment within the podcast industry that quality content triumphs over filler. So if you've got 17 minutes of valuable content instead of your usual 30, is it worth padding the episode out with fluff just to increase your minutes? 

Probably not.

Listeners are always willing to forgive podcasts when there's a slight change. So be truthful about it, and let them know in your intro.


When Are You Posting Your Podcast Episodes?

Weekly? Monthly? Daily? How often are you looking to publish your podcast? Some podcast producers schedule their episodes to release once a week, some every two weeks. Some podcasters can only manage once a month. Then there's the eager few, who release several times a week, or even daily! 

Typically speaking, the more frequently you post, the shorter the episodes. Conversely, if posting less regularly, then your episodes could be longer. 

If posting episodes at a high frequency is your goal, think about producing 15-20 minute episodes- especially if you post multiple times per week. Then, 45 minutes to an hour would work best if you post once per week, and 2-3 hour (and beyond) episodes if you're looking to post once per month. 

Balance is key here. You don't want to overload your listeners with lots of content in a short timeframe– but you also don't want your listeners waiting for an eternity for a new episode to drop. But, of course, that also goes for super long episodes four times a week or 5-minute episodes once every month. 


Monitor Listener Trends

According to the US Census Bureau, the average commute time is 26.9 minutes each way  (53.8 minutes a day). That's a lot of time to fill every day. So then, if you factor in that one-fourth of all podcast listeners consumes podcasts while driving, you need to ask yourself, how can you tailor your episodes to become a feature within their routine?

Daily work commute is the popular window for listeners to tune in to podcasts. 

  • The average work commute time in the US is 27.6 minutes.

Ideally, you'd want listeners to be able to finish your podcast during their commute; aim for under 50 minutes. 

You have to revisit your audience demographics. What are their daily or weekly habits? Are they likely to be at the gym for an hour three times a week? 

Contrary to what you may believe, audiences love predictability, and episode length can factor into that. So, predictability should be a part of your podcast planning before launching. If you think about it, your listeners will probably plan their podcast listening time around the length of a podcast episode (a 30-minute episode for the gym, a 45-minute podcast for their commute, etc.), and being consistent on your end becomes part of that routine.


How Much Time Can You Invest?

While your audience should always be at the forefront of your mind, we realize that podcast content creation can't always be about just them. Life gets busy. It can be a real challenge to fit podcast production into your work schedule (particularly if you don't have the help of a team) amidst general life stuff– work, family, friends, etc.

So, when mapping out your podcast length, you need to ask how much time and energy can you invest in your podcast?

Be honest! Creating quality content takes time, and if you run out of steam producing 1hr-long weekly episodes, you'll find yourself giving up at the first hurdle.

While we could suggest whittling down your episodes to suit your time constraints, if the content will suffer and your audience would lose out, then another option may better suit your process. 

Pass on specific duties to another party - a co-host, podcast agency, or freelance audio editor. Outsourcing is always a great option. It frees you of certain tasks that could otherwise jeopardize your podcast's quality. 


Are Your Listeners Satisfied with Your Podcast Length?

There may come a time when you realize something isn't working for you or your audience. If you decide that changing the length of your podcast episodes is an avenue you want to try, keeping an eye on your stats and checking in with your listeners is useful. 

 

Take Polls on Social Media

Social media isn't only a way to watch hilarious cat videos- it is, in fact, a useful tool for speaking to your podcast community. One use of social media is to tap into the needs and wants of your followers. For example, Instagram has a great poll feature that allows you to ask your audience questions about your show. It's a great way to get real-time results and immediate feedback. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook all have similar features you can use to conduct polls and collect feedback. 

Ask a question about your episode length and provide various answers for listeners to check off. 

  • Would you like to see longer episodes of the X podcast? [Yes / No]
  • When do you listen to podcasts? [Provide options]
  • Do you prefer shorter or longer podcast episodes? [Shorter / Longer]
  • How often do you listen to podcasts [daily/weekly/monthly]

Encourage your followers to pick the answers that resonate with them the most. 


Use Spotify's Episode Performance Data

Listener retention rates are a great indicator of how your episodes perform- and Spotify has you covered.

Spotify's "Episode Performance" graph shows the average time your listeners engage with each episode. Plus, whether there is a listener drop-off in the first, second, and third quarter.

This graph provides a visual presentation of trends in your retention data. If you notice a dip in listeners within 35 minutes, then there may be something you want to address in your episode strategy. 


Summary: So, What Is the Ideal Podcast Length?

There are so many decisions to make when producing a podcast. And episode length is certainly right up there at the top of the list. But, you have to remember that context is key. So, there's no blanket answer that we can give you because it depends on too many factors.

Do whatever feels right for your content. We suggest you make your content as long as it needs to be to communicate your message effectively. Always make your episodes as concise as possible without compromising quality. And if you can successfully strike that balance, you'll be off to a great start. 

Sometimes it's all about your gut instinct and intuition. Just don't forget to consider your audience in the process!


Happy Podcasting!


 


Author

Claire Gould