How do you measure “how good” a podcast episode is?
As listeners, good is a kind of “know it when you hear it” type of thing.
But as a host, it helps to have an objective measuring stick to assess your show and measure your efforts to improve it.
Episode consumption data is certainly one way to measure the quality of your episodes. The longer people listen to the episode, the better it must be, right?
But what is it—practically and specifically—that drives higher consumption? What are the levers you as a host can play with to influence higher consumption, cross-episode retention, and thus growth?
In my experience, it all comes down to what I call Value Density.
What is Value Density?
Value density is based on the idea that podcast listeners listen to our shows to get some type of value out of them.
Depending on the show, that value might be to:
- Learn something
- Feel something
- Change their state
- Or something else entirely
The value of a comedy podcast is clear in that it makes you laugh or smile.
The value of an education-oriented podcast is that it teaches you something new
The value of an entertainment podcast might be that it distracts you and immerses you in the podcast rather than whatever it is you’re doing.
Regardless of your show type, the only reason people listen is to get some kind of value for themselves.
Value Density, then, is a measurement of the frequency of that value being delivered over the course of an episode, with high Value Density shows being objectively better than low-density shows.
Think about it.
Would you rather listen to a 90-minute episode that teaches you two or three new things or learn the same things in a 30-minute episode?
Or with a comedy podcast, would you rather listen to a 20-minute-long episode that makes you laugh once or a one-hour episode that has you cracking up five, six, or seven times?
In both cases, you’d probably opt for the episode with a higher Value Density.
How to Measure Value Density
The first step to determining your show’s current Value Density is to determine the value your audience listens to your show to receive.
For any show, there are likely multiple forms of value that listeners take away. But there’s likely one core form of value that is tied closely to the promise of the show.
It’s the thing that brought them in the door in the first place, and the metric every new listener is subconsciously using to evaluate the show as they decide whether or not to keep listening and subscribe.
When defining this value, get as specific as possible.
Instead of saying “This American Life helps me feel something as a listener,” say, “This American Life helps me feel connected to others,” or, “to better understand myself,” or, “view the world with more empathy.”
Or instead of saying “Huberman Labs makes me smarter as a listener,” say, “Huberman Labs gives me practical knowledge and tools that I can use on a daily basis to better understand and make decisions around my health.”
Once you’ve defined the value your show provides, it’s time to measure it.
Here’s how to do it.
- Write down the core value your show provides
- Listen back through the past three episodes (or do this exercise while editing future episodes)
- Note the timestamp of each moment in the podcast that you feel represents a peak moment of insight, emotion, or an “aha” or “huh, interesting!” related to your defined value.
- Calculate your Value Density by dividing the number of value peaks by the episode’s runtime (in minutes). A 60-minute episode with 3 value peaks would have a Value Density of 3 / 20 = .05.
We could chart these moments on a graph as follows
There are no right or wrong answers at this stage.
What you want is simply an objective baseline that you can use to measure and improve going forward.
Improving Your Show’s Value Density
Once you have your baseline Value Density, you now have an objective measuring stick to track your show’s improvement.
To improve it, you have two options:
- Add more value peaks — By improving your interviewing and/or scripting skills and increasing your audience synchronicity (your understanding of what’s most valuable to them)
- Eliminate fluff — Through editing and/or improving your interviewing and/or scripting skills, and increasing your audience synchronicity
The most popular shows in the world implement both of these tactics liberally, combining intuitive interviewing and scripting with heavy editing (even if you as a listener can’t tell).
In my experience, shows with the highest Value Densities often cut at least 50% of their initially recorded content.
This is an agonizing process for any creator, but it makes a difference that listeners can feel.
The result is the kind of episodes listeners tell their friends about.
A show that becomes the go-to in its space for its ability to consistently deliver on the promise it makes its listeners.
When it comes to creating this kind of high Value Density show, the bar in most niches and industries is incredibly low.
Which means the door is wide open if you’re willing to walk through.