How Long Should My Podcast Be?

Posted by Zach Magnuson in For Podcasters / December 19, 2016

There is no quick-and-dirty, one-size-fits all answer to this question. My first reaction is to say, “As long as it needs to be.” As long as you’re keeping your audience engaged and providing value, the length of an episode shouldn’t matter, right? Not so fast.

Maybe podcasts with well-established audiences can get away with that mindset. But if you start out by dropping 3-hour episodes, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Even Dan Carlin, the king of longform podcasting, didn’t start out that way. Just imagine running across a new podcast that looks interesting, but then you see that it’s 2.5 hours long. That’s going to make you think twice about hitting play. Who has that kind of time? Unless the show has come highly-recommended from someone you trust, you would probably just move on.

This is exactly how potential listeners will feel about your show. People are much more likely to give your podcast a try if it is 20 minutes than if it is two hours long.

Ok, so your episodes should be less than three hours long. That’s still pretty vague. Let’s see if we can get a little more clarity by thinking about the listeners.

Fit Your Podcast into Their Lives

Think about how and when people listen. Podcasts pair well with a lot of different activities. Some people listen while cooking, getting ready for the day or working at their computer. But the majority are now listening on mobile devices, primarily during commutes and workouts.

So, if you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to make your show fit well with those two activities. The average commute is about 25 minutes. And a bit of googling reveals that a lot of workouts are around 30-40 minutes. Of course, some commute times vary widely and some people work out for hours. Unless you have specific knowledge about your target audience, stick with the averages.

My recommendation is that you use these times as a rule of thumb until you get established and comfortable as a podcaster. If you’re unsure how long your podcast should be, aim for 25-30 minute episodes. Once you’ve built an audience, you can gradually experiment with different show lengths.

Consistency

Try to establish a rhythm with your podcast. Consistency breeds familiarity and comfort. If your podcast is alway 20-25 minutes long, people grow accustomed to that. They’ll naturally find the best spot to fit you into their normal routine. If one episode is 20 minutes and the next is an hour, it’s not as easy for people to fit your show into their lives.

Too Long?

You don’t have to stress about timing yourself down to the minute or anything like that. Just pick a target time and aim for it with each episode. If a show runs a little long, it’s not a big deal. When an episode is starting to stretch extra long, consider breaking it into two parts.

A guideline for when to split an episode up take your normal runtime and multiply it by 1.5. If an episode is much longer than this number, consider making it a two-parter.

For example: If your show is normally about 30 minutes long, you should start thinking about breaking it up around 45 minutes. (30 x 1.5 = 45)

The decision to split up an episode is pretty subjective. An extra long show might be preferable to two short episodes in a row, depending on your audience and the topic. You may find that multiplying your average show-length by 1.75 is a better rule for your longest episodes.

My best advice is to experiment and find what works for you and your audience.

Too Short?

Whatever you do, don’t fill your podcast with a bunch of fluff to meet a time threshold. It’s just not respectful of your audience’s time. If you have an episode that runs a little short, so be it.

If short episodes becomes a recurring problem, you may need to re-evaluate your podcast. Is your target runtime too long? Perhaps your podcast lends itself better to quicker episodes. There’s nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, you may need to put in more prep work. It’s not always easy to ensure that there is enough valuable content for an entire episode.

Remember, the worst thing you can do is make your audience feel that your podcast wastes their time.

It’s Your Show

The advice in this article is meant for new podcasters who need direction starting out. There may be unique aspects of your show that override these recommendations.

Perhaps you’re creating a podcast specifically to be enjoyed on long roadtrips. You’ll obviously want to make each episode more than 30 minutes.

Or you may want to create a podcast that delivers quick inspiration every morning. More power to you; five minute shows can be great too.

The bottom line is that no one know your audience as well as you do. If they want longer shows, give it to them. If they want quick, punchy episodes, great. Find the best way to serve your audience.

Summary

  • If you don’t know how long to make your podcast, aim for 25 minutes.
  • Have reasonably consistent runtimes.
  • If an episode is more than 1.5 times as long as normal, consider splitting it into two episodes.
  • Get to know your audience and give them what they want.
  • As your podcast grows, you can be more flexible with your runtime.

Author: Zach Magnuson

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