What Makes a Good Podcast? Here’s What Listeners Want

Picture this: You’re sitting in traffic during your daily commute, and you decide to escape the honking horns and the not-so-pleasant glances from fellow drivers. What’s your go-to distraction?

For millions of people around the world, the answer is podcasts

According to Edison Research, 57% of Americans have listened to a podcast at least once, and that number keeps growing. But what makes a good podcast, and why do listeners keep coming back for more?

Today, we’ll dive deep into the captivating world of podcasting, exploring the key elements that separate a humdrum series from an addictive audio delight.

Drawing from insights gleaned from hours of research, listening to interviews, and hearing the confessions of devoted podcast fans, I’ll uncover the secret recipe for podcasting success.

As Ira Glass, host of the renowned podcast This American Life, once said, “Great stories happen to those who can tell them.”

So, let’s embark on this storytelling journey together and discover what listeners crave in their auditory adventures. Stay tuned, because this is going to be one binge-worthy ride!

Well-Planned Episodes

A podcast without a solid plan is like a novel without a plot–confusing and difficult to follow.

Just as bestselling authors meticulously map out their storylines, exceptional podcast creators invest time and effort into crafting well-structured episodes that keep their audience hooked.

1. Begin with a strong hook

Just like a compelling novel, a good podcast reels listeners in with an intriguing hook.

As Gimlet Media co-founder Alex Blumberg explains, the first few minutes of a podcast are crucial to capture the audience’s attention. Craft a captivating intro that poses a question, introduces a relatable scenario, or shares a surprising fact.

This will entice listeners to stay tuned for more.

2. Establish a consistent format

Listeners crave familiarity, and a consistent episode format provides that much-needed kind of comfort. 

Whether it’s a conversational interview, a narrative storytelling style, or a mix of both, choose a format that fits your podcast’s theme and stick to it. This helps to build anticipation and make your podcast a reliable part of your audience’s routine.

3. Prioritize storytelling

Storytelling is at the heart of every great podcast. From investigative journalism like Serial to fictional tales like Welcome to Night Vale, the art of spinning a tale is crucial to keep your listeners engaged.

Jessica Abel, author of “Out on the Wire,” suggests that podcasters should take inspiration from classic storytelling techniques, creating a narrative arc with a beginning, middle, and end to captivate the audience.

4. Edit ruthlessly

A well-planned episode is more than just a collection of intriguing content; it’s a tightly woven tapestry that flows seamlessly from one segment to the next.

As Dylan Thuras, co-founder of Atlas Obscura and host of the Atlas Obscura Podcast, puts it, “Editing is like sculpting.” Cut out any fluff or unnecessary tangents to create a polished final product that keeps listeners engaged from start to finish.

Well-planned episodes are the foundation of any successful podcast.

By crafting an enticing hook, establishing a consistent format, honing your storytelling skills, and editing with a discerning eye, you’ll create podcast episodes that resonate with listeners and keep them coming back for more.

Insightful, Passionate Hosts

The voice behind the microphone can make or break a podcast. Insightful, passionate hosts can transform an average podcast into an extraordinary listening experience.

Here’s what sets these hosts apart and keeps listeners coming back for more:

1. Authenticity and relatability

Listeners are drawn to hosts who feel like trusted friends or confidants. Be genuine and relatable, sharing your experiences and opinions while respecting differing viewpoints.

As NPR veteran Terry Gross explains, “Listeners want to feel like they know the person behind the mic.”

2. A deep understanding of the topic

Expertise matters. A host with deep knowledge of their subject matter can provide the kind of rare, unusual insights that are difficult to find elsewhere.

To become that invaluable source of information, be willing to conduct extensive research, interview experts, and immerse yourself in the topic.

Roman Mars, creator of the popular design podcast 99% Invisible, attributes the show’s success to his passion for uncovering the “hidden stories” that others might overlook.

3. Engaging interview skills

Great podcast hosts know how to draw out the best in their guests. Develop your interviewing skills by asking open-ended questions, actively listening, and maintaining a conversational tone. 

As Guy Raz, the host of How I Built This, suggests, “Being genuinely curious and empathetic helps create a connection with your guest and allows for a more engaging conversation.”

4. A distinctive voice and style

Successful podcast hosts often have a unique voice and style that sets them apart.

Whether it’s the soothing, narrative tone of Aaron Mahnke, the creator of Lore, or the humorous banter of Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, hosts of My Favorite Murder, having your own style will set your podcast apart from the crowd.

Ultimately, an insightful, passionate host is an invaluable asset to any podcast.

By being authentic and relatable, developing expertise in your topic, honing your interview skills, and cultivating a unique voice, you’ll captivate your audience and create a loyal fanbase that eagerly anticipates each new episode.

Actionable Insight

When it comes to delivering value to your audience, the age-old adage, “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” rings truer than ever.

Listeners crave content that empowers them with practical, actionable insights they can apply to their own lives. In fact, a study by Podcast Insights revealed that the “education” category is among the top five most popular podcast genres.

To create a podcast that truly resonates, consider these key strategies for offering actionable tips and advice:

1. Be specific

Vague advice is about as useful as a solar-powered flashlight during a lunar eclipse.

Dive into the nitty-gritty of your topic and share concrete examples, case studies, or step-by-step instructions. The more precise your guidance, the easier it will be for listeners to implement.

2. Tap into expertise

Just as a great chef invites fellow gourmands to their kitchen, a successful podcaster brings in guests with diverse perspectives and specialized knowledge.

Tim Ferriss, the host of the wildly popular The Tim Ferriss Show, attributes much of his success to the insights shared by his diverse lineup of high-profile guests, ranging from business moguls to Olympic athletes.

3. Keep it relevant

As Gimlet Media co-founder and former StartUp podcast host Alex Blumberg advises, “Don’t be generic.”

Ensure your content is tailored to your target audience and speaks to their specific needs, challenges, and goals. Listeners will appreciate content that is both timely and targeted.

4. Encourage listener engagement

Make your podcast a two-way street by inviting listeners to submit questions, comments, or personal anecdotes. Incorporating audience input fosters a sense of community and ensures that you’re addressing the topics that matter most to your listeners.

Take a cue from Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast that regularly features listener-submitted questions and dilemmas.

Remember, a good podcast doesn’t just entertain—it enlightens. By providing your audience with actionable tips and advice, you’ll create a loyal fan base eager to return for more knowledge, episode after episode.

Interviews With Interesting Guests

When it comes to podcasting, it’s often the people behind the microphone that make or break the listening experience. One of the most enticing aspects of a good podcast is the caliber of its guests.

But what does it take to entice a listener to hit the “subscribe” button and become a loyal fan? It’s all about the art of the interview.

A successful podcast host understands the importance of digging deep and bringing out the fascinating stories and insights that lie within each guest. Like Terry Gross said, “If I had to choose a new career, I’d be a psychoanalyst.”

Terry’s ability to create a comfortable space for guests to share their innermost thoughts and experiences is a testament to her skill as an interviewer.

But interesting guests aren’t just about big names or industry leaders. A good podcast takes a discerning eye (or ear) to identify individuals with unique perspectives, relatable experiences, and an innate ability to captivate an audience.

Consider the runaway success of How I Built This with Guy Raz, which features stories of entrepreneurs and innovators who have built some of the world’s most recognizable brands.

By showcasing the human side of success, his podcast lets listeners connect with guests on a personal level.

Of course, securing engaging guests is just part of the puzzle. A skilled host must also guide the conversation in a way that not only informs but also entertains.

This delicate balance can be achieved through well-researched questions, empathetic listening, and a willingness to let the conversation flow naturally.

As Marc Maron, host of the wildly popular podcast WTF, explains, “It’s an emotional journey. It’s not just a question and answer session.”

So, if you want to create a podcast that will resonate with listeners, remember that captivating guests are any successful podcast’s lifeblood. Keep your eyes (and ears) open for those hidden gems, invest time in research, and hone your interviewing skills.

After all, it’s the stories that will keep your audience coming back for more.

High-Quality Artwork

You may think, “But it’s audio content! Why does artwork matter?” Well, my friend, the truth is that we do judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a podcast by its artwork.

Nielsen’s Podcast Buying Power Service revealed that 66% of podcast listeners discovered new shows through browsing podcast platforms. This means your artwork serves as the metaphorical storefront window that entices potential listeners to step inside and explore.

High-quality artwork is essential to capturing the essence of your podcast and conveying it to potential listeners. Think of it as a visual elevator pitch—a snapshot of your show’s personality, tone, and topic.

The design principles to keep in mind for an eye-catching podcast cover are:

  1. Simplicity: Keep the design clean, uncluttered, and easy to understand at a glance.
  2. Legibility: Ensure your text is readable, even at a small scale, so it’s easily identifiable on mobile devices and tiny thumbnails.
  3. Consistency: Align your artwork with your brand identity, using consistent fonts, colors, and imagery to create a cohesive experience for your audience.

And don’t forget: size matters! Most platforms, like Apple Podcasts, require a minimum of 1400 x 1400 pixels, but it’s recommended to aim for 3000 x 3000 pixels for optimal quality across devices.

To create a show-stopping cover art, consider working with a professional designer, or explore design platforms like 99designs and Canva. Or take the AI art route with Midjourney, like I do for my blog cover art.

Remember, you don’t need to be a visual virtuoso to have stellar artwork, but investing in a compelling design is key to making a powerful first impression and reeling in those precious listeners.

Solid Podcast SEO

In a world where Google reigns supreme, even podcasts must bow to the mighty search engine. Podcast SEO, or search engine optimization, is more than just a buzzword. It’s the key to ensuring your podcast reaches the ears of eager listeners who are actively seeking content just like yours.

But how do you make your podcast Google-friendly? Here’s the lowdown on good podcast SEO:

1. Keyword-rich titles and descriptions

Much like your favorite blog post, your podcast episode titles, and descriptions should be packed with relevant keywords that reflect the content.

Dan Shure, an SEO expert, and podcaster himself, emphasizes the importance of optimizing episode titles for search, saying, “A great podcast title is like a great book title or movie title. It needs to draw you in and make you want to click, but also be optimized for search.”

2. Transcriptions

Although search engines can’t “listen” to your podcast, they can certainly read the transcriptions.

Providing a full transcription for each episode not only improves accessibility for your audience but also gives search engines plenty of text to index.

The result? A boost in search visibility. Take a cue from popular podcasts like StartUp Podcast and The Ed Mylett Show, which offer transcriptions for their episodes.

3. Detailed show notes

Show notes are an excellent opportunity to add valuable context and resources for your audience. They’re also a playground for search engines.

By including relevant keywords, links to related content, and even guest bios, you’re giving search engines more information to index, increasing your chances of ranking for relevant search queries.

James Cridland, editor of Podnews, points out that, “Good show notes give you more chances of being discovered, and are useful for your audience, too.”

4. Backlinks

Just as backlinks are important for traditional SEO, they’re also crucial for podcast SEO. 

Collaborating with industry influencers, guest posting on relevant blogs, and getting your podcast listed on popular directories can all help generate valuable backlinks that boost your podcast’s search engine ranking.

The Secret Sauce for a Winning Podcast

Crafting a podcast that listeners can’t resist goes beyond just engaging content and smooth audio quality. It’s about leveraging good podcast SEO to reach a wider audience, understanding listener preferences, and continually evolving to stay ahead of the ever-changing landscape.

As you venture into the world of podcasting, remember to keep your audience’s needs and desires at the heart of your content creation. By doing so, you’ll not only create a loyal following but also a podcast that stands out in an ocean of audio content.

So, grab your microphone, put on your headphones, and get ready to create a podcast experience that will leave your listeners craving more. Happy podcasting!

2 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Podcast? Here’s What Listeners Want”

  1. I’ll be going on a long road trip with friends soon, and since the plane travel will be quite lengthy, I wanted to find podcasts to listen to while I’m on my flight. I agree with what you said that having passionate hosts who can keep listeners engaged can make podcasts enjoyable to listen to. I hope I’ll be able to find interesting podcasts about classic movie commentaries before I leave for my trip.

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