John Wordock is Executive Editor of the Westwood One Podcast Network. An award-winning podcaster and industry veteran, he’s responsible for content strategy, development, and production.

For a metrics nerd like me, it was a heavenly experience.

In an office in lower Manhattan, above an Eddie Bauer store, I met with the senior Apple Podcasts team to offer feedback and thoughts on their metrics dashboard. There, on large white screens in a modern conference room, sat data about consumption and listening habits.

That was several years ago, when New York City’s streets teemed with life, but the memories are still fresh and the need for metrics to attract audiences and advertisers is more important than ever in the age of COVID-19.

As the podcast industry courts listeners now safe-at-home, you’ll need to immunize your show from misperceptions that podcast consumption is in decline. What better way to do that than with metrics! Podtrac data, for example, has shown that podcasting has maintained its growth from the start of 2020.

For another in-depth view, go straight to the source with Apple metrics, a dashboard available to podcast publishers and show producers.

What does the Apple metrics dashboard show?

When you log on, you see past episodes, duration, devices, total time listened, time per device, and average consumption (a.k.a. completion rates). You can also look at data for top countries and subscribed versus not-subscribed listeners.

In my current role, I track how Westwood One’s podcasts are performing and how we’re positioning content for advertisers and listeners. I look for crucial clues: How long are you listening? Are you skipping ads? How much time are you spending on your device? Are you subscribed to the podcast or not? Which subjects attract listeners? Which ones do not?

Apple’s metrics dashboard helps podcasters, from savvy veterans to eager newcomers, better understand how their content is being received by the public. Click on individual episodes and see listening levels graphed out to the minute. Run your mouse over the graph. See times, peaks, and dips. Identify patterns around ads and regular show features.

At a time when podcast metrics are criticized for the lack of sophistication, Apple provides a useful window into your content and your listeners. This is important information that can be shared with potential sponsors.

How can podcast creators develop compelling content to generate impressive metrics they can track on the dashboard? With these strategies:

Strategy #1: Focus on storytelling and preparation

Want to produce a great podcast? Then prepare, prepare, prepare. If you publish an interview podcast, do your homework, know your questions beforehand, and anticipate the answers. If you produce a scripted show, do table reads with your producer, pick apart your episode, and look for ways to improve your story. If you fly solo, bounce your ideas off a spouse or friend.

It takes just seconds (yes, seconds) for a listener to decide whether to continue. Right now, we live in a swipe left or swipe right society. Whether your podcast finds love may hinge on your prep work.  

With so many podcast options, said to be over a million on Apple and Spotify, it’s easy for listeners to send you to the junkyard of abandoned episodes. So be upfront. Be engaging. Be colorful. The better you get at storytelling, the better podcaster you’ll become.

Take Scott Galloway. The host of The Prof G Show opens shows with a monologue and often holds most of his listeners to the first mid-roll ad. He does so by giving his listeners what they want: No mercy. No malice.

Strategy #2: Get creative with pre-roll ads

Because listening decisions are made so quickly, avoid starting an episode with ad copy if possible. You could turn off even the most adoring fans. Yes, Joe Rogan leads with pre-rolls. But guess what? He’s Joe Rogan and he can do whatever he wants.

If you are a mere mortal, tease what lies ahead in the episode. Introduce the theme. Promote your guest. Telegraph what to expect ahead. Doing all this before the first ad will buffer the audience from being bombarded by a commercial early on.

What’s more, creatively positioning pre-roll ads should become even more important in the years ahead as podcast listening grows on smart speakers. Do you really want to hear a 30-second ad after asking, “Alexa, play The Stacking Benjamins Show on Apple Podcasts”? That helps no one. Not you. Not your podcast. Not your sponsor.

Strategy #3: Experiment

The beauty of having Apple metrics at your fingertips? You have instant insight into how content performs, how your listeners react, and how ads are received. You see what works – and what doesn’t. You can use that information to format your podcast moving forward and make tweaks. Think of the Apple dashboard as a digital focus group letting you track actual behavior. So test things out. Experiment.

If you notice episodes about hot dogs get higher completion rates, then plan to cover that topic more often. Your audience is sending you a signal – they love when you talk about hot dogs. This information can also help your ad sales team pursue that big sponsorship with Oscar Mayer.

Strategy #4: Hold your audience

Strive to hold 80% of your audience to the mid-roll position and use it as a draw for advertisers. Look at the percentages on the right side of the dashboard. They tell a story. Consumption rates under 70% are fair. Good listenership sits around 80%. If you have a podcast reaching 90% or higher, congrats! You’re my hero.

Looking to land a mid-roll sponsor? You need to show potential advertisers your audience will hear the ad. Set a goal to hold 80% of the audience and, once achieved, use that sizeable mass as a selling point. At my previous job, I used to track completion rates for certain podcasts and then share screenshots with the ad sales department to show many listeners were making it to the mid-roll point and beyond.

With such a limited window of time before listeners make up their mind about you and your podcast, everything uttered on mic should have value. Hosts need to engage and ooze passion, whether talking about a brand, a partnership, or a special promotion.

Strategy #5: Deal with dips

Through the Apple dashboard, you will spot potholes in the listening pattern. What is that dip? Oh, it’s where the host read the ad copy. So how can you stop your listeners from fast-forwarding through the ads and leaving large divots on your data screen?

The best podcast reads are often seamless and connect with the topics being discussed. The transitions are smooth and easy. On the Westwood One Podcast Network, Dan Bongino, Dennis Miller, Pat McAfee, and Jason Stapleton regularly connect with their audiences by injecting themselves and their passions into their ads. You likely don’t mind hearing an ad because the transition from content to ad seems natural.

In the case of Bongino, just recently he passionately read ads for Express VPN, Omaha Steaks, and My Patriot Supply before moving to his guest – President Trump.

Creative copy, it cannot be stressed enough, is essential to developing an experience that resonates with listeners. So be passionate. Sell your copy. And make your listener fall in love with you and your sponsor. At the end of the day, and hopefully by the end of the episode, listeners will benefit from ad reads that are entertaining and impactful.

Strategies for creating compelling podcast content:

  • Focus on storytelling and preparation: Be upfront, engaging, and colorful to deliver captivating stories that will grab your listener’s attention
  • Get creative with pre-roll ads: Include an episode tease, theme summary, or promote guests before getting into ads at the top of an episode to avoid bombarding listeners immediately
  • Experiment: Use metrics to track the performance of different topics covered and don’t be afraid to try out different content
  • Hold your audience: Make retaining 80% of the audience to the mid-roll point your goal so you can prove to potential advertisers that their ads are going to be heard
  • Deal with dips: Transition between content to ads more smoothly so listeners will be less likely to skip

John Wordock is Executive Editor of the Westwood One Podcast Network.

Contact the Insights team at CorpMarketing@westwoodone.com.