Pretty much every new podcaster I’ve worked with has asked this very question… how long should a podcast be?
I think generally speaking, average podcast length has come down a little over the last few years. Whereas once, around an hour seemed to be most commonplace, it’s now more like 40 minutes or so. That’s not based on any indepth research or anything, just my informal observations.
Does that mean your podcast should be 40 minutes? No, not really.
Here is the magic answer: Your podcast should be as long as your podcast should be.
That’s a totally unhelpful statement, I know, but we’ll start to break down how we figure it all out in a moment.
You see the thing is, podcasts aren’t like TV or radio shows, which have to fit into a schedule and therefore have to be a predetermined length. This is one of the joys of podcasting – none of the rules that other mediums have to contend with.
It also carries the risk of making a podcast far too long, or perhaps not long enough.
I follow shows with episodes of all kinds of different lengths. Seriously: the shortest does episodes of exactly one minute; the longest averages over two hours per episode. It seems crazy saying it but – they both work, because they’re both the right length for themselves.
So how do you start to figure out the right length for yours? I think it goes something like this:
Step 1: Figure out your format
You’ll be doing this anyway as part of your strategy (or at least you should be – hey if you don’t have a strategy yet, that’s what we do, so get in touch).
Interview podcasts are the most popular, but there are plenty of solo shows too. Maybe you’ll be doing something that is news style, a documentary, a panel discussion, a magazine show with several different parts, a story-telling podcast or something completely different.
Once you know this, it’ll help you to figure out a potential range of length.
For example, you can’t really do an interview podcast that is five minutes long. To do it justice, you’re going to need a minimum length of something like 20 minutes.
A news podcast on the other hand absolutely could be just five minutes. Think about news bulletins on the radio. Similarly, it could be more in depth on a story and be, say, half an hour.
A panel discussion is more likely to end up passing an hour because everyone will have plenty they want to say.
Step 2: Check out the competition
Good practice is to search out other similar podcasts and see what they average. I’m not necessarily say copy them, but it’d be worth having a listen and getting a feel for what you think works.
If you listen to something with a longer average length and your attention starts to drift, that’s a good nudge for you to go shorter.
If you listen to something but feel like you still have too many unanswered questions at the end, it’s probably too short and needed to go a little more in depth.
Step 3: Match your brand
You might be thinking that the first two steps are pretty much common sense. Obvious, even. Well, step 3 seems to be the one that gets missed the most often.
You are probably creating your podcast for an existing brand. It could be as a tool to promote your business, or lead the conversation in your space, or maybe it’s all about your personal brand and your desire to be a thought-leader.
So, what do you stand for? What do your clients, contact, friends know you for? Are you a clean, contemporary business? Is your personal brand known for short snappy Insta reels, or thorough in-depth webinars and deep-dive blogs?
Now consider where the podcast needs to fit. If all your usual content is quite short form, there’s a good chance you’re going to want your episodes to also be pretty concise too. That’s what you’re known for!
On the other hand of course, you might have been thinking about podcasting as a way of contrasting your current content. If everything else you do is long-form, it could make complete sense to do a shorter podcast to engage a different sort of audience.
Your podcast is going to be a cornerstone of your brand. Make sure it fits.
Step 4: How often are you going to be releasing episodes?
This plays a part too.
Shorter podcasts tend to release more often than longer form ones. If you’re looking at really in depth deep dive interviews, you can’t realistically be releasing one every day.
Step 5: Testing, testing
Hopefully the first four steps have helped you build a bit of a range for what you think is the right length for your podcast.
So how can you be sure? Testing.
I’m a huge fan of recording pilot episodes. They allow you to completely mess things up without risk of anyone else ever hearing it, and they help answer those nagging questions so you have lots of certainty when you come to record for real.
Pilot recordings are also ideal to help you play around with length. When you listen back, you’ll get a really clear feel for whether it’s too short or too long. Then, tweak things, and do another pilot.
It is a surefire way of making certain that you have the right length
Important question: Do all episodes have to be the same length?
No, they don’t. We’ve talked quite a bit about ‘length range’ in this post and that’s deliberate. Remember what we said earlier – this isn’t TV, you don’t have a fixed length.
What you’re looking to find is your own range with an ideal ‘sweetspot’ length. So for example, you might conclude that your range is 35-50 minutes, with a ‘sweet spot’ of 40 minutes.
But now and then you might do something that’s a completely different length. You might usually do around that sweet spot of 40 minutes, but then land yourself a great exclusive interview that ends up being 90 minutes.
That’s fine. There are no rules in podcasting.
I am though a little cautious of episode length varying too wildly. I like to feel I’m building trust with my audience and reliability is a key part of that.
To me, an ideal scenario is your episodes being within your range, and then if there is one now and then that is vastly outside of that, that’s OK. You can even label that a ‘bonus’ episode so it’s clear that it is a bit different to your usual format.
As with so much in podcasting, ultimately there is no simple ‘that is right and that is wrong’ answer. But hopefully these steps will really help you start to figure out your own answer.