7.9 Min Read • Diagnosis

8 Podcasting Red Flags That Suggest Your Show Is Doomed (And How to Fix Each of Them)

When you know what to look for, podcast problems are easy to spot. And once you see them, they're a whole lot easier to fix.
By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns



Low self-esteem.

Disrespect and rudeness.

Bad-mouthing previous partners.

When it comes to dating and relationships, the red flags to look out for (and steer clear of) are well-known easily identifiable… and unfortunately plentiful.

While they might not be so obvious, podcasting is rife with red flags as well.

Like their relational counterparts, red flags are a clear sign of a show destined to end badly… or at least require a major intervention before it will work.

And like their relational counterparts, we have a tendency to look past, discount, and rationalize these red flags in order to see what we want to see.

As a result, many hosts spend years on a show that will never be successful, despite the evidence that is all around them.

The sad part is that while some red flags are signs of intractable problems, many of them point to issues that can be addressed and solved.

So today, we’re going to explore 4 of the most common podcast red flags, which—if present—indicate issues that are likely keeping you from growth.

For each we’ll look at the symptom, underlying problem, and the cure.

Podcast Red Flag: Not Getting Any Feedback From Your Listeners

Underlying Problem: Getting feedback is one of the most difficult aspects of podcasting, as there’s no centralized two-way communication channel.

What’s more, only a small percentage of your listeners are ever going to communicate with you, even if you provide them with clear directions on how to do so.

That said, you don’t need a huge audience to generate engagement. Promising shows are able to generate DMs, emails, and social media shares within the first few episodes, even with small audiences of just a few dozen people.

If you’re not seeing this for your show, it’s a sign that the content is simply not good enough to move people to reach out. This may be related to the production quality but is more likely due to the quality of the ideas being discussed and the way they’re being presented.

The fix for this problem is straightforward but not simple: Create content that is more valuable, emotionally resonant, and distinct from other content being created on the topic.

In short, you need to find a way to innovate to bring them something richer, more helpful, or more resonant than what they can already get elsewhere.

Podcast Red Flag: Tepid Reactions When Telling People About Your Show

Underlying Problem: Marketable shows consistently get people’s eyes lighting up and have them reaching for their phones to subscribe based solely on their one or two-sentence description.

If you’re getting anything less than an obviously enthusiastic reaction when you tell people about your show, it suggests one (or more) of the following problems.

  1. You’re talking to the wrong people
  2. You need to work on your pitch
  3. The underlying idea/concept/premise the show is built on just isn’t good enough

Chances are, you can tell whether or not you’re talking to the right people.

But when it comes to the second two issues, how do you know if the problem is your idea or the way you describe it?

In my experience, every show’s messaging and pitch could always be better. But great ideas don’t require an absolutely perfect pitch to get people excited about them.

So while you might not have the perfect, pithy single-sentence pitch for your show, you should definitely be able to get people excited based on a longer two or three-minute description.

If you can’t achieve this for the majority of people you talk to, the show’s premise likely needs major work before it has a chance of gaining traction.

Note: There are some shows that you really do need to listen to to get what makes them interesting (This American Life comes to mind). But creating that type of show is a red flag in and of itself, as it sets you up for an extremely difficult-to-market show that you probably don’t have the financial, energetic, and temporal runway to pull off.

Podcast Red Flag: Low Episode Consumption Rate

Underlying Problem: Compared to YouTube, blogging, and social media, podcasting is a notoriously difficult medium when it comes to collecting and using data to diagnose your content and make better creative decisions.

But one metric that is a clear indicator of the quality of your show is the episode consumption rate found in both your Apple Podcasts and Spotify dashboards that display what percentage of each episode the typical listener makes it through.

In general, a 70% Apple Podcasts consumption rate is a good benchmark to aim for.

If your typical episodes are getting less than this, it’s a sign that your content isn’t holding your listeners’ attention.

To fix this, you’ll want to pay attention to your episode mechanics including your show structure, opening hooks, value density, question sequencing (for interviews), editing, and more.

Another potential cause for low episode consumption rates is episode content that doesn’t clearly and immediately align with the episode’s title.

This misalignment leads to a high listener bounce rate, due to listeners clicking play thinking they’re getting one thing and then leaving when 8 minutes in they still haven’t heard anything about the topic they came for.

Regardless of the problem, the blueprint for creating highly engaging episodes is straightforward:

Deliver a steady dosage of value directly related to what was promised in the episode title, starting in the first minute.

Podcast Red Flag: Low Cross-Episode Retention Rate

Underlying Problem: Great shows convince 40-60% of first-time listeners to come back for a second episode.

And while this data is hard to find (a paid Chartable plan is the best option right now), if you have access to it, and are seeing rates lower than that range it hints at one or more issues that will limit your growth.

  1. Your show isn’t compelling enough to convince new listeners to come back. This can relate to either the topic selection of your episodes or the structure of the episodes themselves.
  2. Your episode packaging and promotion aren’t communicating the relevance, intrigue, and urgency of your episodes to your audience.
  3. The show is attracting the wrong people entirely.

I generally recommend addressing these issues from the bottom up.

Start by talking with your ideal listeners to verify that your show’s packaging, messaging, and topic selection appeal to them.

Then, dial in your episode titles and promotion to clearly communicate the specific relevance, hook, and promise of each episode to your target listeners.

If, after a few months, you still find your cross-episode retention lagging, look to upgrade your episode content and structure, especially if you’re also seeing a low episode consumption rate.

Podcast Red Flag: You’re Having Difficulty Finding or Accessing Your Ideal Listeners

Underlying Problem: Not all audiences are created equal. This is one of the most important lessons in all of marketing.

The market, and specific audience segment within it you choose to serve will determine the fate of your show, product(s), and ultimately brand.

If you’re having trouble finding and connecting with your ideal listeners, then, you’ve got a major problem. Because while your goal is ultimately to build a highly recommendable show that your people talk about and spread amongst themselves, you first need to build a seed audience of at least several hundred of them.

Which means you need to be able to find and access them.

If you can’t, it’s probably due to one of the following reasons:

  1. You haven’t defined your ideal audience in the first place, or don’t yet have enough data to identify the audience segment that is most attracted to your show. If this is the case, consult the Content-Art Spectrum for how to proceed.
  2. Your ideal audience doesn’t naturally congregate publicly. This is common in many niches where shame or embarrassment is in play, such as shows about addiction recovery, trauma, or topics where a listener might not want others to associate them with. Podcast guesting, cross-promotion, and traditional SEO can all be effective in this case.
  3. This might seem like an extreme case, but this scenario exists for countless potential niches. In the long term (ie. years), you can perhaps work your way into your target audience’s circles, but in the short term, there’s not much you can do.

Podcast Red Flag: You’re Getting Your Show in Front of People but Aren’t Getting Listeners

Underlying Problem: If you’re consistently getting your show in front of people but your listenership doesn’t appear to be growing, the most likely reason is that the show concept simply isn’t interesting enough to grab people’s attention and reel them in.

That said, if—and only if—you’ve already validated your concept by pitching the show to several dozen of your target listeners and immediately seen their eyes light up with excitement at the single-sentence pitch of the show, there’s likely one of the following issues at play.

  1. Your artwork doesn’t look legitimate or isn’t clearly communicating who and what the show is for.
  2. Your messaging and copy don’t clearly and instantaneously communicate who and what the show is for.
  3. You’re getting your show in front of the wrong people.
  4. You actually are getting new listeners but they aren’t sticking around, or you’re losing old listeners just as fast as you gain new ones. Some amount of ​​listener churn​​ is normal for all shows, but if you know your show is getting new listeners but your average number of downloads per episode is staying flat, churn is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.

Let me reiterate: If you’re having this issue, 99 times out of 100, the problem is that the show concept isn’t immediately compelling enough to force people to stop what they’re already busy doing and take a closer look.

Since building this type of show concept is the foundation of all successful podcast marketing, make sure your show consistently passes the Smash or Pass Test before considering any of the other potential root causes.

Podcast Red Flag: You’re Getting Listeners but Aren’t Converting Them to Customers or Clients

Underlying Problem: I’ll be honest, this one’s a doozy as there are dozens of reasons your audience might not have been convinced to buy from you (yet). A few of the most common include:

  • The offer itself simply isn’t compelling enoughThis is the root of most sales problems.
  • There’s a misalignment between your offer’s ideal audience and the audience your show has attracted.
  • The messaging or copy around your offer isn’t good. Specifically, they don’t understand one or more of the following: What the offer is for, who the offer is for, what makes it better than the alternative options, how it works, what the downsides are of avoiding action, what the upsides are of taking action, etc.
  • People don’t know your offer even existsVery common and easily fixable by inserting an ad for your primary offer in every episode of your show.
  • People don’t trust you to solve the problemCommon with interview shows where the host hasn’t positioned themselves as an expert guide in their own right.
  • You haven’t given them enough time — Depending on your offer it might take anywhere from several months to several years for the typical audience member to convert. For Podcast Marketing Academy, my average client’s time to conversion is 10 months. If you haven’t been producing your show longer than your offer’s typical time to conversion, you shouldn’t expect to have converted anyone yet.

Podcast Red Flag: Marketing Your Show Feels Hard

Underlying Problem: Marketing will always take work, and that work will often be challenging.

But marketing itself shouldn’t feel hard.

Marketing feeling hard is a sign that you haven’t yet found your way to creating a show that people want—and even better, are actively seeking out.

When you have a show that is desirable, attractive, memorable, and polished, all you need is a way to get it in front of your ideal listeners for it to achieve a consistent baseline level of growth.

At this stage, the goal of your marketing is to accelerate the growth that already exists.

If you’re not yet at that stage, the fact is that more “marketing” probably won’t unlock more growth.

What will is revisiting your show’s premise, episode mechanics, and positioning to develop something that passes the Smash or Pass Test with flying colours.

Then, and only then is the time to ramp up your marketing.

And when you do, you might just be surprised at how easy it feels.

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