The length of your podcast episodes can be enticing to your listeners – or it can put them off. The ideal length depends on your topic, genre and your ideal listener demographic: in this blog, we’ll teach you how to decide on the perfect episode length for your intended audience.
Consistency is key in establishing a good listenership, and you’ve got to balance this with retaining interest over time while also giving yourself enough time in an episode to cover everything that you need to.
In this blog, we’ll look at:
- Why the length of your episodes matter.
- How long should they be?
- What to take into consideration.
In this article...
Why getting the length of your episodes right matters
Some people base their episode length entirely on what works for them, the podcaster. And while this is an important factor – you don’t want to burn out or set yourself up for failure – there are other factors at play. When deciding how long your podcast episodes are going to be, you need to consider the following key factors and questions:
Your target audience should always be at the forefront of your mind. We actually have a whole in depth guide for creating your Podcast Avatar, but we’ll touch on that again now.
Think of your target listener as a single person, and give them a name. Ours is called Jason – he’s 25, has a full time job with a half hour commute and a little disposable income each month. A 20-30 minute episode would be perfect for his commute, wouldn’t it?
How much is there to say?
Listeners can tell if you’re talking to fill time. If the topic you’re discussing is a quick one, so be it! If that’s a problem, either pick a different topic or talk about more than one thing in your episode. Never just fill space to meet an arbitrary time quota.
How much time can you spare in the long run?
The idea of doing an hour long podcast might be appealing when you’re first starting out, but if you have kids or other responsibilities you may find that you burn out fast. When you’re planning your show, make sure you’re being realistic about how much time you can give up for podcasting in the long term.
How long are the rest of your episodes?
It’s your podcast, so of course you can change the length of your episodes (more on that later), but as a general rule, we would suggest being as consistent as you can. Once you start to get some fans, they will build listening to your show into their routine.
Going back to Jason, he enjoys listening to your show on his 30 minute commute. So if you then decide to change your show to two-hour episodes on a whim, your new episodes suddenly don’t fit into his established routines. This could cause him to miss your calls to action, as he never gets around to finishing the whole episode, or he could even stop listening altogether and find another podcast which better suits his routine and preferences.
As a caveat, you may decide that you want to do a longer or shorter episode as a bonus – you may have a special guest, etc. This is absolutely fine. We’d just recommend letting listeners know: “you may notice that this episode is longer than normal and that is because…”
Top Tip: If you’re going to change any aspect of your podcast, make sure to tell your audience before you do!
How long are podcast episodes?
This is a question we see a lot, and there isn’t a single answer. Every successful podcast’s runtime is decided based on a number of factors. Take the biggest podcast in the world, The Joe Rogan Experience: these episodes are largely unedited and generally run to around 3 hours, with super in-depth discussions with a variety of guests.
Notice how the run time lends itself to the format – the guests Rogan interviews are some of the most famous and controversial people in the world, from Elon Musk to Jordan Peterson to Miley Cyrus. So of course, people are going to stick around and listen to the whole interview.
Now let’s contrast this with another famous and successful podcast – The News Agents. This is a daily news podcast, hosted by well known British journalists Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall, and like JRE it also features high profile guest interviews. This show sticks around the 30-40 minute mark, likely because its listeners are perhaps mature, politically engaged people with full time jobs, listening on their commute.
See how the understanding of your target demographic informs the content and run time of the show – read more on how to create your audience avatar here!
What is the average podcast episode length?
A 2019 data analysis showed that the average podcast episode length was 36 minutes and 34 seconds. Now, this shouldn’t really have any effect on your decision for your own episode length – this should be based on a combination of how long you can realistically spend recording (also take into account time you’ll need to spend on editing and promotion) and what suits your intended audience.
If you’re really stuck, though, half an hour isn’t a bad place to start.
How length varies based on topic
Aside from your podcast avatar and your hosting availability, a very important factor is the topic of the podcast you’re making, as there are certain genres that work best at a given length. We’ll dig into this more below, but as a general rule:
Mini podcasts (5-10 minutes) are best employed with news roundups and bite-sized educational content.
Shorter or mid-length (20-40 minutes) podcasts are brilliant for business interviews and corporate shows.
Long podcasts (60+ minutes) are great for in depth interviews.
What is the best length for a podcast?
So, we now know that the best length for a podcast is informed by its host(s) schedule, genre, target demographic and podcast avatar. Below are benefits and drawbacks of different podcast lengths:
Mini podcasts are bite-sized, generally around 5-10 minutes. Done well, they can introduce a listener to an interesting concept and sell them on an engaging host in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee – it’s an exercise in economic vocabulary use to keep your message clear and concise.
Mini podcasts benefits
- Very little investment necessary from a listener – they can happily check out a full episode even if they’ve never heard of you before.
- Can easily fit into a busy listener’s day.
- Quick and easy to record and edit for a busy podcaster.
Mini podcasts disadvantages
- Can be difficult to explain a topic in such a short time frame.
- You have to be very engaging to hook people in five minutes.
- Could be limiting for what you want to express.
Shorter and mid-length podcasts
Shorter or mid-length podcasts are perfect for bite size news consumption, such as the New York Times’ popular show, The Daily, which tends to be around 25 minutes. It’s a wrap up of the day’s big news stories – the episode length was informed by the content (news in brief), the target audience (likely professional, politically engaged, university educated people who listen on a commute) and the fact that it’s a daily show.
Another content type suited to a shorter form podcast is a deep dive into a particular topic. A great example of this is one of my favourite shows, Philosophize This!, an educational show which analyses different philosophers and philosophical concepts. The run time is informed by the content (an overview of a pretty niche subject, in this case a given philosopher, summarising their ideas and how they advanced the field) and the target audience (university educated people with an interest in literature and education, likely listening on a commute).
Benefits of short podcasts
- 20 – 40 minutes is a great length to fully explain a given topic.
- Not a massive amount of editing and recording time required.
- Easy to keep up for a busy podcaster.
- Perfect for a commute.
- Shorter length is better for the listeners who don’t have a lot of time (again, this will be based on your podcast avatar)
Disadvantages of short podcasts
- If you have a guest on, you have to get straight to the point – if you decide on 20 minutes you have less time to put them at ease and establish a rapport. However, this isn’t an issue if you’re closer to 40 minutes.
- If you’re covering a complex topic you may need to split it over multiple episodes.
Longer podcasts are suited to people with a lot of time for recording and editing, and for content that requires a lot of time to dig into, such as in-depth interviews. While it may be heartening that the top podcast in the world, The Joe Rogan Experience, features 3 hour episodes and essentially zero editing, this isn’t an indicator of market trends – it’s a technique that should be employed cautiously.
Benefits of long podcasts
- Can really get into the details of whatever you’re talking about.
- Plenty of time to build up a relationship with a guest or interviewee.
Disadvantages of long podcasts
- A lot of time spent recording and editing.
- Big time investment for listeners – can be off putting for newbies.
- More suited to people with a lot of time on their hands, maybe not the best for casual podcast listeners.
Opinion from experienced podcasters at Captivate
Captivate’s SEO manager and host of The SEO Mindset, Sarah McDowell, says:
“I don’t believe there is an ideal podcast episode length, as this all depends on your topic and podcast. I listen to a wide range of different podcasts that vary in length from 10 minutes, to around 30-40 minutes and some are even over an hour. If the content is good and I am engaged, length doesn’t matter to me.
So many times I have paused a podcast episode and then gone back to finish it, because I want to hear how the podcast ends. Saying that, it’s always good to have a rough idea of how long you want your episodes to be.
For The SEO Mindset Podcast, we decided to do episodes that were around 30 minutes, as we felt this was long enough to be valuable and get over our message. Sometimes episodes are shorter, and sometimes they are longer, but we always aim for around 30 minutes. We also picked this length as it fits with our current podcasting process, and helps us plan episodes as we know roughly how many, and how long our segments need to be.
We also had our podcast avatar in mind when deciding eg our ideal listener listens to our podcasts during their commute, so again 30 minutes fits in with this.”
Captivate’s Head of Design and host of the Spark of Rebellion podcast, Garry Aylott, says:
The length of your podcast episodes should be led by your audience research (your avatar), your gut instinct (never turn this off) and, after a while, your analytics.
In the early days, as you’re building your podcast, you won’t have huge amounts of data to work with e.g. percentage of episode listened to, drop-off time, etc, so go with your gut. If you feel it’s dragging on, start to condense; if you feel you’re whizzing through and not including as much good content as you’d like, increase the run time.
Use your freshly created avatar to get inside your audiences head and as you start to collate your analytics and build a clearer picture of your listenership, you can fine tune it from there. Lastly, don’t be shy about asking your audience, get feedback regularly.
Podcast Length FAQs
Is a 15 minute podcast too short?
No, it’s absolutely not too short – if you can cover the ground you need to in 15 minutes, go for it! Just make sure there’s enough content packed in to keep people coming back.
Is a 5 minute podcast too short?
Nope! Mini podcasts are super popular, and can be a great way to hook in new listeners.
How long is a mini podcast?
Given that the average podcast length is just over 35 minutes, it would make sense for a mini podcast to be below 10 minutes.
Is 2 hours too long for a podcast?
No, two hours isn’t necessarily too long for a podcast – just make sure you’re keeping your listeners engaged. If you’re going off on tangents, these tangents should be interesting, and if you’re doing a long interview make sure you’re asking original and engaging questions.
What is the longest podcast episode?
The longest ever broadcast podcast episode is 153 hours, and the record was set by a team in the Netherlands. Maybe try and keep yours a little shorter than that…
Should all your podcast episodes be the same length?
A bit of natural variance is fine – let’s say around 10 minutes either side of your intended goal is perfect, no one needs your show to be exact to the second.
However, it is a good idea to keep the lengths as consistent as realistically possible, given that your listeners should have started to build listening to the show into their routine. If you start varying episode lengths from 10 minutes to an hour, that’s really going to throw their routine off, and potentially damage your download numbers.
Remember our caveat from earlier: if you want to do a longer or shorter episode, this is fine. Just make sure to let your listeners know – it’s also clever marketing to present this as a bonus or special episode, so listeners feel like they’re getting something extra for free!
Can I change my podcast episode length?
With all that we said in this article, it’s important to remember that your podcast belongs to you, and should be fun. If the episode length you’re aiming for at the moment isn’t working for you, feel free to experiment and change it. Just remember to let your listeners know you’re going to do this, and then once you’ve figured out what your new length is going to be, try and stay consistent with that.
Always remember that these guides are best practices for growth – your podcast is yours!
Takeaway and TL;DR
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for how long your podcast should be. You need to consider how much time you have for recording and editing, what type of content you’re talking about and your ever-important podcast avatar!
There are benefits to mini podcasts, short ones and long ones, but they also all have their drawbacks – when considering how long to go for, make sure you consider all of these.
Try your best to stick to an episode length when you’ve decided on it, but if you do want to change then just make sure you inform your listeners!
There are only four possible things that could be holding your podcast back – take our free quiz to find out what’s stopping you from being successful and how to overcome it. It’s totally free!
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