Tracking the success of your podcast isn’t as straightforward as other types of online media. There’s little ambiguity when it comes to YouTube views or Facebook likes. In contrast, it’s a little harder to get hold of precise podcast listener numbers.
To get an accurate sense of how your show is doing, you need to know which podcast metrics are most important and what they actually represent. But before we get into those, let's look at what makes tracking podcast performance unique.
Podcasts Need to Be Downloaded
Unlike video or music streaming, podcasts need to be downloaded to a device before you can listen to them. Therefore the most important statistics for podcasters and sponsors are total downloads and unique downloads (more on these later). These are what allow you to approximate the size of your listening audience.
In podcasting a “download” represents one of two things:
- A listener hit the download button and downloaded a whole episode.
- A listener hit the play button on an episode in a web browser or podcast app.
Listeners Don’t “Stream” Podcasts
Technically, there is no such thing as a stream in podcasting. While it may seem like nitpicking, this is an important point to understand in order to make sense of your total and unique download numbers.
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Podcast Measurement Technical Guidelines:
“Despite the use of the word ‘streaming’ in podcasting, ‘streamed’ podcast files are progressively downloaded via the standard HTTP protocol.”
Basically, a progressive download allows for the playback of podcast before the full file has been downloaded. This is what gives the impression podcasts are being “streamed” through web browsers and podcast apps.
As you listen, the audio file downloads to a temporary file on your phone or computer in response to your device sending multiple download requests to the host’s server to get a little more of the file each time.
Total downloads provide a rough approximation of audience size and that makes them a podcast metric worth tracking. However, it isn’t perfect measurement. Total downloads will typically overestimate the true size of your listening audience. This is because a download does not necessarily equal a listen.
To help clarify, consider the following scenarios:
- A listener may download a podcast and not listen to it.
- A single listener may download the same episode on multiple devices.
- A downloaded episode may be listened to several times.
- Web browsers and podcast apps may make multiple download requests to the host server during playback before an episode is fully downloaded.
Given these inconsistencies, sponsors and advertisers tend not to focus on total download numbers. Instead, they look at the number of unique downloads.
Following years of ambiguity and conflicting advice, in 2017 the IAB stepped in to provide some much-needed clarity on podcast metrics. In their guidelines, they said unique downloads are where podcasters and advertisers should focus their attention.
So what is a unique download? And why are they a more helpful podcast metric?
According to IAB guidelines, a unique download represents a podcast episode that is progressively downloaded using the same app from the same IP address, all within a 24-hour window.
In other words, unique download numbers refine the data by grouping together multiple downloads which are highly likely to be from the same listener. The grouping is then counted as one unique download.
Your number of unique downloads is probably the most accurate of all podcast metrics because it most closely resembles your actual podcast audience size.
At Podcast.co, our analytics feature makes it easy to keep track of both your total and unique download numbers across multiple directories. Having all the relevant data in one place not only helps you review your performance at a glance, it also gives you a reliable information source you can use to help attract sponsors for your show.
In the graph above, the orange line represents total downloads and the blue line represents unique downloads. As you can see, the two are very closely linked, but total downloads always exceed unique downloads. To keep these numbers as accurate as possible, we filter out any downloads that come from bots.
Our analytics feature also provides further insight into your download numbers. Three straightforward charts help you keep track of your most popular episodes, where most of your listeners are based, and which platforms they are using to access your podcast. You can adjust each chart to show either total or unique downloads.
Spotify use their own proprietary system for tracking podcast listens and downloads, so this data isn’t shown in the graphs and charts above. However, we are currently working to update our analytics feature to integrate with Spotify specific statistics. We expect this integration to go live later in 2019.
Other Useful Podcast Metrics
Download numbers aside, there are a few other podcast metrics worth keeping an eye on for a more complete picture of how your show is doing. These other metrics won’t necessarily be of much interest to sponsors or advertisers, but they are still useful as they can highlight areas for improvement to help expand your reach.
Social Media Engagement
If you are using social media to promote your podcast episodes, you should keep tabs on how those posts are performing. Look through your comments and mentions to find those individuals who are talking about your podcast. What they are saying matters; it can give you a valuable window into what type of content resonates most with your audience. For more on this, check out our guide to promoting your podcast on social media.
Ratings and Reviews
Not all podcast directories have their own rating and review system, but some do. Most notably, Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Stitcher, and TuneIn. So it’s worth doing a weekly check-in on these directories. Podcast listeners are loyal and honest, so their feedback will help you refine the focus of your content when putting out new episodes.
Also, getting more ratings and reviews helps you attract more listeners. They provide a powerful form of social proof and generally signal to directory algorithms to make your podcast more visible on the platform. So it’s always a good idea to politely ask your listeners to leave ratings and reviews during the outro of each episode.
Trackable Calls to Action
If you are directing people from your podcast to your own website, monitor your traffic with tracking URLs. Look at visitors’ interactions with your website, technology used to get there and time spent on your site. It’s also worth checking to see if there is any spike in your website traffic on the days you release a new episode. This helps gauge how well your podcast is performing as a marketing tool.