Simple question. And to be honest, a simple answer: a podcast should be as long as it should be.
Cop out answer, I know, but it’s true.
There is no single magic number to throw at you which will definitely be right. Instead, it’s something quite specific to each podcast depending on a number of factors which we’ll explore here.
Once you have a decent understanding of the factors, it will help you balance your own equation and hopefully find the perfect length for you.
It’s worth mentioning that over time, the average length of a podcast does seem to have come down a bit. When I first started, it was the norm for shows to be around an hour in length. Now, I’d say that ‘sweet spot’ is more like 30-40 minutes. That certainly isn’t to say that every podcast should be bang on 35 minutes, but it’s interesting nevertheless.
1. Think about your audience first and foremost
This is really the biggest factor in helping you make the right decision about how long your podcast will be: your audience.
Who is your podcast aimed at? How busy are they? How much time will they be able to give you?
Really get under the surface of who your listeners are and what they want from a podcast. You might want to go out and do some research – ask them.
2. How good is your content?
Of equal importance is to consider the quality of your content. I mean, your content needs to be brilliant, of course, but we already know that.
If your episodes naturally last 30 minutes, with everything in that needs to be, then they should be 30 minutes. Don’t stretch it out to 40 minutes for the sake of it; don’t try to hack it down to 20 minutes either.
Doing some dummy run episodes – also called pilot or test recordings – will really help you get a feel for the natural length your content runs to.
3. What’s your format?
It’s an obvious one isn’t it, but the length of your podcast needs to be appropriate to the format.
If you’re doing an interview show, it’s not going to work if you set a target length of five minutes.
If you’re doing a solo show sharing some tips and advice, then an hour is really pushing it.
A lot of interview shows fit into the 30-50 minute bracket. There are some which go into serious depth and come out at over an hour. We all know of some interview shows which top two hours.
To go ‘long form’ – anything over 50 minutes, really – you need to be absolutely sure it’s right. You should be ‘deep diving’ into a topic, or have a significant guest. It should be clear to potential listeners beforehand that there’s a reason for this to be the length it is – it isn’t just long for the sake of it.
4. Don’t get drawn into obsessing over ‘the commute’
Once upon a time, everyone commuted to work, probably for an hour there and an hour back.
Those days certainly aren’t dead, but things have changed, and personally I think it’s a mistake to be drawn into trying to ‘time’ your podcast around the commute – or any listener habit, to be honest.
It’s pretty commonplace now for people to consume podcast episodes across more than one listening session, and they don’t see it as a big deal.
Concentrate on the first couple of points – your audience and your content – to help you find your ideal length.
5. Can you jump around?
Consistency is important in podcasting and we know that listeners can be put off shows which massively vary in length from one episode to the next.
But actually, it’s entirely natural for them to vary somewhat. This isn’t radio or TV where everything has to fit perfectly into a set window.
So you might have an episode which naturally comes out at 25 minutes, and then another the week after at 35 minutes.
And you know what, that’s fine. Allow yourself to have a length range, with an identified sweet spot. So maybe 20-35 minutes is your range, with 30 being the sweet spot.
As long as episodes fit within your range, you have enough consistency, without having to drag out or edit down episodes for the sake of it.
But you shouldn’t set a range of 25-55 minutes – that’s too wide. Keep it to a maximum variance of about 15 minutes.
There is a notable exception here and that is a ‘bonus’ episode – a one-off where you break from your usual format for a specific reason. Let’s stick with the above example of 20-35 min range and sweet spot of 30. But then you land a huge, big-name, high-profile guest, and they’re happy to give you an hour and a half of their time.
As long as you’re clear in marking the episode as a special, a one-off, then I think it’s fine to throw the usual rules out of the window. You can’t do it too often though, maybe once or twice a year max.
6. What works for YOU?
The factor that often gets forgotten. It HAS to work for you and your existing commitments. And by ‘you’ that means your co-hosts too, if you have them.
There’s no point deciding to do an hour-long podcast every week if you know full well you aren’t going to have the time in the long-run. Be realistic.
If you over-commit, you might find that podcasting starts to become a real chore, and no-one wants that.
A while back, I had to make some changes to one of the podcasts I do. Initially, we did around 50-60 minutes every week. But life changed, and that just wasn’t possible any more, so we made it 30-40 minutes every fortnight instead.
I thought we’d get a load of criticism from our audience, but we explained the reasons quite openly on the podcast itself, and in the end didn’t have any negative feedback at all.
So, what IS the right length for you?
Hopefully now you’re a little bit closer to figuring out how the podcast length equation looks for you, but if you still need a but of help feel free to fix up a chat with me here