The popularity of podcasting is on the rise again, partially fueled by some run-away successes like Serial. According to tracking for 20,000 top podcasts, the listeners have tripled in monthly podcast listeners over the past 5 years to 75 million (RawVoice). Basically the potential podcast listeners are there – if you have the right content.
The most attractive aspect of the medium is how intimate the relationship can be with the audience. Podcasting is a unique channel in a world where it is becoming harder and harder to keep someone’s attention.
If you are going to pour the amount of work necessary into creating a podcast, you will want to measure its success — but how? Here are some of the engagement metrics we can look for:
- Total Downloads Over Time
- Monthly/Daily Downloads
- Downloads by Episode
- Unique User Downloads/Subscribers
- Embedded player views
- Podcast Website Traffic
- iTunes reviews
- Calculated iTunes Subscribers
Ok, but why it is so hard to measure who listens…
Podcasting is a decentralized medium — the point of consumption happens across different devices and platforms. A podcast is basically a coded feed of XML that lists the information about your podcast, titles, descriptions and a link to where the MP3 audio file lives.
Once this file is downloaded by a user’s device, your ability to track what they do with that file falls off of a cliff. Imagine you were in the 90’s and gave out CDs with your podcast audio episodes and then tried to figure out who actually listened to them. Trying to track podcasts is pretty similar. We can track total downloads and we can tell if those downloads were from unique devices, but that’s where the measurement trail meets the edge of the cliff.
How do I track my iTunes and overall Subscribers?
Shouldn’t this just be a number I can lookup on the backend of iTunes once I set up my feed? As of 2019 (no retroactive data prior), iTunes Connect has podcast analytics for feeds hosted on the platform. The interface is designed well but sadly it still does not show subscribers.
So, the answer is you can’t tell iTunes subscribers with 100% accuracy. Before you feel bad about your data note that these numbers are ONLY from devices that use the iTunes podcast app. This is what allows them to show cool things like amount of actual time devices spend listening to the podcast. However, they aren’t showing data from users that use other podcast apps like Stitcher, Pocketcast, or Spotify.
In order to find subscribers, you need to have a third-party hosting service like PodTrac or Podbean. A service like this will help you track unique downloads by client/device that uses the iTunes library.
Once you have third party tracking it is possible to look up how many unique feed hits, unique IP downloads you get from iTunes or Apple devices. You then need to act under the assumption that these are devices that are “subscribed” to your feed, automatically pinging the feed.
In this image we have selected the feed hits by the source “iTunes” which then gives us overall and quarterly data (screenshot from Podtrac). Based on this rolling quarterly number we can take the last full quarter Q1 of 2015 across all platforms, giving us 276 as an approximate number of iTunes subscribers.
It should be noted that this is a relative proxy that is almost certainly under reporting as you can see in the purple region that nearly 50% of download activity isn’t being actively tracked. We can cross check these numbers by using another tracking platform that we have setup for Whole Whale through Podbean.
Looking at this data snapshot from Podbean for the same podcast we can see that there are 285 iOS unique platform downloads which matches up closely with the Podtrac 276 number. This view also shows other platforms downloading the podcast, as Android platforms become more popular, you can quickly see that just measuring iTunes’ success does not give you the full picture — especially when you realize 40-50% of your data is not available (noted in both data snapshots).
Finally! Ways to measure a podcast's success! Click To Tweet
What is the best way to track a podcast?
If you are creating a podcast and care about tracking you should choose a professional podcasting host like PodBean or Lybsyn that simplifies the tracking setup. If you want to get a bit fancier you can run the hosting on a platform but build your podcast feed through WordPress podcasting plugin which will give you a bit more control over tracking.
For our Whole Whale podcast, we went a little overboard because we’re geeks. Our current configuration:
- We host our podcast on Podbean
- Build the feed through the WordPress Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin.
- Create posts for each podcast episode and embed the Podbean player.
- Redirect the download URL for the feed episodes through our website triggering a Google Analytics event.
- This then sends the request through Podtrac.com.
- The feed was submitted to iTunes and the Stitcher Publisher portal.
To be clear, this is overkill. However, it has helped us understand that even when we go crazy trying to measure things we are still a bit in the dark. None of these tools gives us 100% accuracy on our listeners, rather a benchmark to try to build on. Even if we can only see 50% of our activity, we can still set goals on increasing the predictive outputs we can see.
If it were easy…
Remember, just because something is difficult to measure doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. As content platforms and devices become more diverse, it is a good idea to make sure your content can follow your audience. We LOVE podcasting because it is an intimate communication medium and a chance to really talk with people that want to hear what you have to say.
Additional Podcast hosting and tracking resources
- Anchor – free hosting, podcast creation, and analytics tool
- PodBean.com – hosting and tracking
- Libsyn – hosting and tracking
- blubbry.com – hosting and tracking
- Soundcloud.com – great for embedding podcasts on your website
- Rawvoice.com – raw audio hosting with analytics
- Podtrac – podcast tracking service
- Google Analytics Podcast events – a little complex to implement and requires your own feed
- Stitcher.com – publisher portal
If you love nonprofits and podcasts, take a look at our list of over 101 of the best nonprofit podcasts online. Also, if you are in the market for Podcast editing, our friend at thomasaudioediting.com is awesome.
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