What Is the Ideal Podcast Length? Questions to Consider
Launching a new podcast involves a lot of decision making: the name of your show, the episode content, designing your podcast cover art, the list goes on. While those are undoubtedly important, there’s an even more challenging question you need to answer.
What is the ideal podcast length?
As much as we’d like to provide you with a hard and fast rule, it’s just not possible. What works well for one podcast, might be a bad idea for another. So, what should you consider when determining podcast episode length?
What Is the Average Length of a Podcast?
As the data pool widens with each new podcast, the average duration is constantly changing. According to podcast titans Buzzsprout, the typical podcast length currently sits at 38 minutes.
However, unpacking the data of some 10 million podcast episodes, Pacific Content arrived at an average of 43 minutes and 24 seconds.
Who is right? Is it 38 minutes or 43? Well, the general consensus is that the majority of podcasts (31%) are 20-40 minutes in length.
As interesting as these stats might be, you shouldn’t rely on them entirely. Why? Because how long a podcast is depends on numerous factors (format, niche, overall information delivery, etc.). Some top performing podcasts range from just a few minutes to a couple of hours and more.
Knowing that, how do you decide what is best for your podcast and the audience tuning in? We’ve got some questions that will help you determine your ideal podcast length.
Should All Your Episodes Be the Same Length?
Before we dive into the questions, let's first chat about consistency. Consistency plays an important part when striving for success in podcasting. As a general rule of thumb, maintaining a similar episode length will keep listeners engaged and coming back for more.
Humans need that element of familiarity. As much as we enjoy being surprised, we also like to know what to expect. Disparity between episodes might not sit well with your regular listeners, as your podcast could be part of their routine. If an episode is half an hour longer than previous ones, it might go beyond the time they have allocated.
That’s not to say your episode length has to be set in stone, though. Aim to keep the majority of your episodes within a similar timeframe to build a dedicated band of listeners, but don't be afraid to mix it up every once in a while. You never know, your audience might grow to enjoy it when you intersperse longer episodes with shorter ones (or vice versa).
Can a Podcast Be Too Short?
As a newbie podcaster, you may be wondering if a podcast can be too short. In theory, no, it can’t be too short. The beauty of podcasting is that there is no specified time for an episode to reach.
The thing you need to keep in mind when considering a shorter podcast length, is that it leaves you less time to get your point across. Delivering complex information in an entertaining and engaging way will prove more challenging.
Short and snappy podcasts certainly have their place. If you have a list of super useful tips to share, for example, or if your show predominantly covers breaking news stories. In both cases, shorter episodes can work really well.
Rather than aim for a specific length, focus on paring down your podcast content ideas into their simplest form and share that and no more. People are busy, so the less padding and fluff there is in your content, the better.
What Is the Purpose of Your Show?
What do you hope 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 deciding on the right episode length.
Sharing soundbites on complex topics will retain your audience’s attention and help them remember what they learnt. On the flip side, longer episodes will make more sense if you're interviewing guests.
Listeners not only enjoy, but also expect that these conversations-style episodes will be longer. In fact, they may even feel cheated if you make them too short.
How's Your Storytelling?
Most of us know at least one raconteur. You know…that special person who can skillfully and seamlessly tell a highly engaging anecdote or story. Sadly, 99.9% of us don't fit into that mold.
Your show needs to uphold that fragile balance between keeping listeners entertained and engaged from start to finish. It's worth therefore considering:
How much information is there in your podcast?
Are you really a good storyteller who can capture an audience's 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. Luckily, like with most things, storytelling is a skill that can be learned and refined. And podcasts can help us work that muscle.
If you don't feel like you’re that great at storytelling, start small. Aim to create a 15-minute podcast that touches on all the points you need to without getting mired in the details synonymous with in-depth narratives.
The more you work on exercising that particular linguistic muscle, the more confident you’ll start to feel. Before long, you’ll find yourself edging your podcast towards a longer format.
Who Is Your Audience?
Audience demographics are the characteristics of your podcast listeners. It's the things that define your general audience, such as age, gender, cultural background, 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 very niche audience, it's worth taking their lifestyle into account when considering what length might work 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 graphic designers who work from home. In this case, one hour or more might be a more suitable length.
Your audience should always be front of mind when making the majority of your podcast decisions and podcast length is no exception. Research your potential audience's demographics and take into account their personal preferences, lifestyle choices, etc. Use those findings to guide the length of your podcast.
What Is Your Podcast Topic?
While a good podcast should cater to your target audience's specific needs, the most crucial factor for deciding podcast length is the actual content of your podcast.
Does the subject matter require a few hours for you to cover it adequately or could it be broken down in 30 minutes or less? For example, if you have an educational podcast, you might consider having your episodes hit the 2-3 hour mark. (Provided they are well-segmented and extremely thorough.)
If your podcast topic leans towards entertainment or bite-sized facts, it will take much less time to get through your points. As a result, episodes could fit nicely into 45 minutes or less in length.
As the host, you know your topic best. Consider how much time it takes to talk about your topic and whether it's easily digestible within that timeframe.
Have You Said Everything You Need?
You are the captain of your podcast ship. Regardless of the topic, you 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 will have a gut instinct as to when a topic has been discussed enough and you've communicated all you need to.
What if you've said everything you wanted to say, but it's falling short of your usual episode length? You might worry that it will appear to be lacking when compared to other episodes you have published.
Don't fight it. The common consensus in the podcast industry (and all online content, for that matter) is that quality content is what matters. 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 the duration of the episode?
Listeners are always willing to forgive podcasts when there's a slight change. Just to be up front about it and let them know in your intro.
However, if you are concerned about falling short on time you could always script your podcast ahead of time to get an idea of how long it will be. A script timer will help you tell the podcast length by the number of pages written.
When Are You Posting Your Podcast Episodes?
How often are you looking to publish your podcast? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Some podcast producers schedule their episodes to release once a week, others every two weeks. Some podcasters can only manage once a month. And let's not forget about the eager few who release several times a week or even daily!
Typically speaking, the more frequently you post, the shorter the episodes. Conversely, when posting less regularly, your episodes could be longer.
If posting episodes at a high frequency (e.g. multiple times a week) is your goal, think about producing 15-20 minute episodes. Alternatively, 45 minutes to an hour would work best if you post once a week. If you're looking to post once a month, then 2-3 hour (and beyond) episodes will do the trick
Balance is key here. You don't want to overload your listeners with lots of content in a short amount of time, but you also don't want to make them wait an eternity for a new episode to drop. The same goes for publishing super long episodes four times a week or 5-minute episodes once a month.
What Are Listener Trends Telling You?
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 on a daily basis. If you consider that a quarter of all podcast listeners consume podcasts while driving, you need to ask yourself how you can tailor your episodes to become a part of their routine.
The daily work commute is a popular window for listeners to tune into podcasts. Ideally, you'd want listeners to be able to finish your podcast during their commute, so aim for under 50 minutes.
To get this right, you must revisit your audience demographics and look at the type of people you are trying to reach. 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, listeners love predictability and episode length can factor into that. It helps to make predictability a part of your podcast planning before you launch.
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.). Consistency on your end will help them figure out that routine.
How Much Time Can You Invest?
While your audience should always be front of mind, we realize that podcast content creation can't only be just about them. Life gets busy. It can be a real challenge to fit podcast production into your schedule (particularly if you don't have the help of a team) amidst everything else: work, family, friends, etc.
When mapping out your podcast length, you need to ask yourself how much time and energy you can invest in your podcast. Be honest! Creating quality content takes time and if you run out of steam producing hour-long weekly episodes, you'll find yourself giving up at the first hurdle.
One way around this is to whittle down your episodes to suit your time constraints. However, if this causes the content to suffer and your audience to lose out, then you might have to consider another way to manage the process.
You could pass on specific duties to another party, such as a co-host, podcast agency or freelance audio editor. Outsourcing is always a great option. It frees you of certain tasks that, should they fall through the cracks, could jeopardize the quality of your podcast.
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 average 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's actually a really useful tool for speaking to your podcast community. Social media is a great way to tap into the needs and wants of your followers.
For example, Instagram has a 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 on our 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 and let that inform your decisions moving forward.
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. Most podcasts will see dips and rises in listener retention throughout their episodes. What you want to look at is whether there is a listener drop-off in the first, second and third quarter.
Spotify's graphs are there to provide a visual of the trends in your retention data. If you notice a regular dip in listenership within the first 20 minutes, that may be something you want to address in your episode length and content strategy.
How Long Are Your Intro and Outro?
You also need to take your podcast intro and outro into account when figuring out the ideal length of your podcast episodes. While every episode needs an introduction and a sign off, how long they are must be adjusted according to the duration of the episode.
If your podcast format is short and snappy, it follows that your intro and outro will be too. Creating an overly long introduction to your five-minute episode is only going to annoy your listeners. They’re there for the content, not your backstory or sales pitch.
Remember, you can always plug (or bring attention to) things in the episode itself. You don’t only have to rely on the beginning and end to do that. Just remember to do it in a way that’s not jarring to your audience.
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 a big factor in this decision. As much as we'd like to, we simply cannot offer a blanket answer. Ultimately, podcast length depends on too many variables.
Do whatever feels right for your content. We suggest making your episode as long as it needs to be in order to communicate your message effectively. Your audience will be your guide. Talk to them, monitor the data and adjust the length if you need to.
Strive to make your episodes as concise as possible without compromising quality. 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 remember to consider your audience in the process!