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Spying On Your Listeners Can Improve Your Podcast

Jul 17, 2019

All this week, I've been talking about metrics for podcasters. Sometimes we focus on the wrong things like obsessing over downloads or conflating social media metrics with podcast success

Today we’ll examine a very helpful statistic. And yes, it’s rather like spying on your listeners. But in a good way. 

As a podcaster -- a content creator -- you want people to consume your content. You want people -- listeners -- to take the action you asked them to take inside of your episode. But did they hear you ask that? Big brands spend big bucks on customer surveys and studies, oftentimes with complicated gear and lots of technicians who track the eye movements, clicks, and other activities with a literal captive audience.

But thanks to our friends at Apple, every podcaster has access to the actual listener behavior of their own actual episodes. Not “in general”. And not based on questions asked of people. No, the data Apple provides to all podcasters is actual measured listener behavior related only to the episodes of that show.

That’s… powerful! 

And I'm amazed more podcasters don't take full advantage of this interface. I'm just as guilty as you likely are, and admit to only looking at these data occasionally. That’s something I need to get better at. Because doing so (say it with me) makes podcasting better.

Why listener data trumps downloads

Knowing how people consume your podcasted content is of the more important tools to help your show grow. Remember that “downloads” tell you nothing about humans. It’s tracking software that accesses your media files. Not people. Consumption data is 100% people-focused. (Because no one has, to my knowledge, build a bot that plays a podcast the way a human listens. Though I’m sure the apocalypse-courters at Boston Dynamics are working on it.)

Apple’s Podcast Analytics pulls data from a sub-set of your audience. No, it’s not everyone. But it is (or at least should be) a more than relevant sample size. Apple is “watching” in-app listener behavior of people who are actually listening to your episodes. They know when someone pushes the “PLAY” button on your episodes, and when they stop listening. They also track FFW and rewind. 

Best of all, they give you -- for free -- these data on all of your episodes. 

I can’t over-emphasize the value in this report. When you log into Podcast Analytics,  Apple will lay out a timeline of any given episode in a handy chart, from timestamp zero on the left until timestamp “the end” on the right. On that chart is a simple line graph that shows the percentage of devices (people) listening at that timestamp. 

Reading from left to right, you’ll likely see that line graph going down over time, corresponding to when people stopped listening to your episode. (And if you're seeing a solid line all the way across at the 100% mark, congratulations! But it probably means your show’s audience is so small, that it’s only tracking a single person who listened to all the way through. And perhaps that’s you!)

The secret weapon about this chart/line graph is the little player barely visible at the bottom of the chart. You can drag the “play head” of that player to any timestamp on the chart/graph to hear what was said at any point.

Let’s say you see a change in the line at minute 33 of a given episode. That could be a cliff where the line goes down and stays down. Or it could be an inverted spike making a little “V” shaped as the line dips but quickly returns to its prior level. 

Simply position the play head to the beginning of that change and hit play to actually hear the content your listeners were hearing when they chose to stop listening or to skip ahead.

What was it in your episode that made people skip ahead (that’s what the “V” shape means) or stop listening to that episode? Quite often, it’s a commercial or promo you chose to play on your show. It could also be a segment of the show that you think it's fascinating… but some people clearly don’t. It could be a lot of things, but you won't know until you go listen to what happened at that spot. 

Examing these data also help inject a bit of reality into your world view. And that can sting. If you notice that only 60% of the people represented by the line are listening to your episode five minutes in, you know you’ve got a problem. It could mean to you is that you gave all the value in the first five minutes. Or it could mean that your audience had different expectations and bailed out after five minutes of not having their expectations weren't met. Or it might mean the wrong people are listening to your show. That big marketing push to get more listeners might have seemed good by measuring downloads. But if you're losing half of your audience five minutes into your 40-minute episode, that's problematic.

So why don’t more people pay close attention to this valuable listener information Apple graciously provides to us? Because it looks weird. It’s not a single number, like downloads or number of likes on an Instagram post. But weird as it is, it’s important to know. I’m recommitting to looking at my listener consumption behavior on a more frequent basis. You should too. Because we need to know that our people are enjoying the content we put out. We need to know that our words are resonating with them. That we are giving our listeners what they expect, and are therefore doing our part to making podcasting better.

Tomorrow, I'll share the most important metric of all that every podcaster should be tracking… yet probably isn’t.

Can't wait, or do you need a pro in your corner who can help you make a better podcast? Get in touch with me: Go to to check out a list of all the services I offer for my clients. 

I shall be back tomorrow, with the wrap of this miniseries, and another Podcast Pontifications.