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Why Podcasting Leads All The Audience Engagement Channels So Far


We rely heavily on Apple Podcast and Spotify to distribute our podcast. But then I have no idea who the listeners are. As a podcast creator, I only get to know how many times the episode has been downloaded or heard. What should creators, hosts be doing so that we are able to own our audience?

Rob: Well, first off people have to understand that in podcasting, there's no place for the listeners to opt in to anything, for any tracking ethically. And in some countries legally, you can't track those listeners to try to find out who they are. Although there is some softwares out there that does that, and there are some people that promote doing that. Those services, again, are illegal and unethical because you have to have an opt-in culture. You know, that's what the European union has said with GDPR. 

When the listeners don't have the option to opt in to being tracked in podcasting, you really can't track them. So the question is, how do you own those listeners? Well, you're not going to do that from your free audience. If you want to own your audience, you're going to have to come up with a premium offering where those listeners then opt into your premium offering and give you the opportunity to have a better relationship or a direct relationship with them. But you're not going to be able to find that out through Apple podcast and Spotify and, and Ghana and any of the other services that are out there.

So if you want to have a more direct, intimate relationship, the real way to do that is to have an opt-in system usually via a premium offering where you offer up some bonus or extra content for a price. Sometimes people do it for free just to get that. You get this free extra piece of content, but that's the way you have to do it with an opt-in magnet.

Publishers are hunting down different ways to build an audience and keep them engaged all the way. There came a wave when videos had overpowered the written word. And now it seems like the time for podcasts has arrived to shine. Until Spotify entered the podcasting space in 2019, it was Apple that was the single largest podcasting platform. Now the number of podcasts has shot up like never before on these platforms. And why wouldn’t it? The audience engagement rate is none like marketers have seen before. 

We had Rob Walch, the VP of customer relations for Libsyn, the founder of the award winning podcast for one one, which he started way back in 2004. He is the founder of the award winning podcast on podCast411, which he started way back in 2004.

Rob and his podcasting life

Rob: I started podcasting all the way back in 2004. So I've been doing this over 16 years and when I started Apple wasn't even in the game. Apple didn't have support for podcasts back in the early days.

So quite a different world you. You would get RSS feeds and you try to tell someone what your RSS feed was, and they'd have to download a third-party program and then manually type it in or copy and paste it from your email. It was difficult to say the least to get subscribers.

Um, and, and now things are a lot, lot easier. Matter of fact, we are now at a place where you can say to someone - listen to my podcast anywhere you listen to audio. It really has become that ubiquitous in the world today. Nine of the 10 biggest streaming platforms have podcasts on them. 

You have consulted on podcasting for Jack Welch, Senator Edwards, Governor Bill Richardson, Tim Ferriss, eBay, and the Sacramento Kings/Monarchs to name just a few. Love to know more about what all you have done. How has the journey been like for you?

Rob: Well, the journey has been fun. I mean, my first client for podCast411 was Senator John Edwards and he had just come off running, with Senator Kerry for the presidential election in 2004, which they lost and Edwards was looked at as maybe the, the lead candidate for 2008 presidential election on the democratic side. And he was the first politician to have a podcast. And I was lucky enough to work with him and help him produce his podcast. 

You know how the journey was sometimes, it's not what you do, but what you didn't do that, that you, you remember most. And in July of 2005, I got contacted by someone and said, Hey, the Senator is looking to start a podcast. Can you help us? And I said, well, I don't know if I can help you. I think it'd be a conflict of interest, but here's somebody else that I know in Chicago that can help you in. And, and that podcast was for Senator Obama. So, I had turned down, Senator Obama thinking it was a conflict. And the worst part was when I talked to the Edwards people a couple of weeks later, they go, no, that's fine. As long as you're a Democrat. In my mind, I learned a lesson which has never turned down business until you check with your current business, if it's a conflict.

So that's an important lesson too, you know, over the time I've got to work with some really interesting people, Jack Welch I believe was really great, to work with really interesting to hear, you know, when he was quote off mike, how he interacted with some of the guests, and boy, he can curse like a sailor. So there's some edit fund editing points where I had to take out some blue stuff. I'm an engineer, he was an engineer. So it was really interesting just to, you know, have the opportunity to be able to talk with him and just be in a room with him virtually. So that was, that was definitely something I'll always remember the conversations with him. Just how he talked to the folks. I mean, he was a few people forget in the nineties, he was the CEO. He was what Tim Cook is today and he was the CEO of the largest corporation in America.

80% of people listen to all or most of each episode, whereas the average reader spends just 37 seconds reading a blog post. What do you think is driving such adoption?

Rob: People have to understand how the podcast medium works. It is a destination medium. That means you choose to go and find the content you want to listen to. It's not stumble upon. It's not going  through YouTube and finding or trying to find just something to watch. ItSo first off, when people start listening to something they've actively chosen to listen to, it wasn't something they stumbled upon.

Second, when they hit play, they put the phone in their pocket or their purse and they listened to it all the way through. So it's hits play, and they're oftentimes they're listening to the podcast as a way to distract from something else they're doing. Whether it be a commute, a workout, walking the dog or doing yard work.

So. That is a key reason why people listen all the way through, um, because they knew they wanted to listen to it, to start with, and they're listening to get past some other obstacle.

More than 50% of US homes are podcast fans, 4% of them listen weekly. One-third of millennials are listening to podcasts regularly.  Podcast shows are now competing with Netflix and Prime. How can one build an audience or a follower base that tunes into their podcast regularly? What does it take to build a loyal audience?

Rob: I wouldn't say podcasts are competing with Netflix and Amazon prime. For the most part, when people are watching Netflix and prime, they're doing it to relax. They're doing it as the only thing they're doing. They're sitting down on the couch, they're doing it with the family. They're going to sit in and watch a show together, you know, Hey, let's, you know, let's go watch stranger things, something like that. As a family, you get out of the popcorn. 

Podcast is more of an intimate medium. It's something you do one-on-one, when you are alone. You don't do it with your family. You don't sit around. And for the most part, most people don't sit around and listen to podcasts as a family. Usually doing it when they're trying to do something else, driving the car or walking the dog. And these are times when you can't be watching videos. So there's a lot more opportunity in the day actually to listen to audio than there is to watch a video. But I wouldn't consider the two in competition, outside of when you're on the treadmill. For those folks that work out, that's, that's the one place where you might have a little overlap of competition, but outside of the workout, it's really exclusive to one another, for the most part.

To build a loyal audience, it's really just about having great content, having it where your content is worth the time of the listener. And you have to always respect your listener. You have to interact with your listeners. But if your content isn't entertaining, and/or informative, you're not going to build a loyal audience. It just is not going to happen. And no amount of marketing will ever create a popular podcast.

Would you say a topic is more important than a speaker or vice versa?

Rob: Well, the topic is going to define who your potential audience is. You might have a topic on chameleon breedings. There's a podcast on chameleon breeding, and it's only for people that are breeding chameleons. So that topic right there defines who the audience set is, how that audience set then interacts with the podcast is going to be up to the host. So there's lots of business podcasts, but if the host doesn't have a better personality than the other hosts out there, and doesn't have more interest.

You are competing with other people in your niche and you should always look at it in your niche. You know, you shouldn't say, Oh, well, I'm trying to compete with Joe Rogan. And your podcast is about backyard beekeeping, a completely different audience.

The big question - Before you hit publish, what should one keep in mind?

Rob: One of the largest podcasts out there, um, is hardcore history is Dan Carlin, by a per episode basis, he said - You know what is unique audiences? And, Dan said something a couple of years ago that stuck with me - I try to make my next episode better than my last episode. So he doesn't release the next episode till he feels it was better than the last episode.

And that's what you should, as a podcast or ask yourself, is this episode better than the last episode? And if the answers are resounding, no, don't release it. Figure out how to make it better than the last episode. Always be working to improve your show no matter how successful you are. You know, Dan has gotten millions of listeners to his podcast, but he's paranoid that his next episode is going to suck and you have to have that paranoia.

You have to think my show is going to fail and the audience is going to go away. And what do I do to keep the audience here? Because if you get complacent with your audience, they will go away. So you have to figure out how to make your next episode better than the last one. And so let's say, at least we have the speed, this episode would be better than the last one that I created.

The Podcast show is live. A bunch of episodes are up and running. How do you start driving listeners to it?

Rob: There's going to be times you're going to have a guest that's going to completely bomb on you. I mean, I did an interview podcast and every now and then I'd have a guest that was just really bad. They'd give one word answers to every question, as if it was a multiple choice, you know, it was, it was yes or no. It was brutal. And sometimes you have to as a host state, I'm just not going to put that episode out. And I had to do that once. I just didn't put it out. Um, it just was not good. Oftentimes when I had an interview that I felt didn't go well, often it was the host, it wasn't a guest.

What did this person say in the last episode? One was about interviewing other, other podcasters and I didn't listen to enough of their episodes. I didn't learn what they were talking about to ask them the right questions and then issues I've heard from other interview podcasts. They never go off that eight questions or 10 questions. And someone will say something really interesting. And they don't follow up. So as a host, if you're going to be doing one of your shows, you really need to listen to your guests and be willing to go off your preset questions.

Go off the preset questions

If there's a rabbit or, you know, there's some path that they're willing to take you down, that is more interesting than when you had prepared. I had an interview one time with Quincy Jones and Quincy Jones is one of the best, the greatest music producers of all time. He produced the thriller albums for Michael Jackson, many. People said to me, you need to have the questions ahead of time. You can only ask these questions and that's all you're allowed to talk about. We got one question and Quincy went off on a tangent and I just followed him. And then back to the other questions. And I thought it was a great interview because I didn't stick to what was pre pre set up.

And I said to him at one point, you know, I'm sorry, your folks had said we were supposed to stay on these questions. And he goes they're my folks, don't worry about I'm their boss. And we had fun with the interview because we went off on to talk about. And so you have to do that too.

As a host of a podcast, you have to be willing to just have some fun. You know, the person talked about the time they were in high school and they gave their principal a black eye. Will you follow up on that? Was it an accident or was it on purpose? Whereas he does a walk around the corner and accidentally walks into their principal. Did he go into his office and punch him? The audience is going to want to know a little bit more. Sometimes we actually miss out on juicy stuff just because we have spoken to the script. 

Editing is your friend 

That's the other thing I think a lot of people forget is that some people hit record and they hit stop and they don't do any editing and you might have an hour long interview and 45 minutes of it is really.

Interesting. But 15 minutes of it, the person starts talking about, um, RSS and XML files and Jason and, and all the other parts were interesting. And this part was so in the weeds. Cut it out, make it a bonus content for people that really are into that. But if you know the majority of your audience isn't techie, but you got real techie, cut it out, make it a bonus where they can click through to hear this other 15 minutes of bonus content.

Rearrange the interview

Maybe even make them send you an email to get that right. But you can always rearrange your interviews too. I've done that. And I know people have done that. They rearrange the interviews. They'll get to the end of the interview and they'll go - You know what? I didn't ask this question.

Let me ask this. I know it would have been better earlier in the episode, and then they'll put it earlier in the episode. They'll even say notes like for themselves when they're editing or their editor goes- Move this after question number two. Even though you're recording linearly, when people hear it, you can edit and make it unlinear.

Let's say a bunch of episodes are up and running and you have a good topic in the hand plate. How do you start driving listeners to it?

Rob: First thing I want to say here is start driving listeners. There's some people who say, Oh, get 10 episodes or 27 episodes out. Before you launch your show, launch with one episode and start at episode one, how you start driving the audience to episode one is the same way you drive at episode 10 or episode a hundred.

Trying to reach out to your potential audience and then letting your audience know that you're going to interact with them. I think the shows, and I've seen this, the shows that have done the best, are the ones where they really interact with their audience. And that's why it's important to promote at episode one and not long 10 episodes, because if you launch with 10 episodes, you have zero listener feedback in your show.

Gather feedback

And if you want to really grow your show, you really need your audience. And even if you don't have to put their feedback at the beginning of the episode, you just put it at the end. It can be answering an email. It could be playing a voicemail, but by going out on day one episode, one saying in the episode-

Hey, here's our email address, here's our number. It's, you know, give us a call (206) 666-6364 it's Two O six Triple six, six three six four or shoot an email to I can just rattle that off because I said it so many times, but I say it multiple times an episode, because I want to reinforce to my audience that they're part of the show and going out and driving listeners to your show.

I really believe it is part of letting them know they can be part of your show. And once they're part of your show, they become advocates for your show and then they go out and they tell people about your show. They say, Oh, I was on the show. Oh, you have to check out this podcast. They're brilliant because, well, they played my voicemail.

Of course they're brilliant. Right? So things like that, interacting with the audience, but going out, finding the niche where the people are hanging out. Let’s say, Facebook, finding blogs about your niche and interviewing the bloggers that run those blogs. 

Make it easier for the speaker to promote

Have a blogger, send them the code to your episode. Here's the direct link to the episode. Here is the embed code for the episode. Here is a preset tweet. Anytime you interview somebody, you should make it so easy for them to promote they were on your show. Oftentimes I'll get interviewed and I never hear from the person that interviewed me.

I have no idea when the episode went up. I have no idea what you know, anything about that. Um, so if you want your guests to promote, make it easy for them to promote. So those are some of the pieces of advice I would give there on driving the audience.

How do you know whether a show is doing okay or great? Sometimes it's difficult to know if someone's actually listened to an episode. If they have downloaded, whether the listener finished an episode, listened to ads or skipped over content. How do you actually understand and know? 

Rob: First you look at your, what I call, the core audience. How many downloads are you getting per episode within 30 days of release? And then how many of them are coming from browsers and how many of them were coming from aggregator apps? Aggregator apps are more important than browser audience, browser audience there. They found it. They came in, they may or may not be back, but the people coming from aggregator apps, those are the ones that went and clicked subscribe.

So you want to look at your core audience, total size, and then what percentage of that audience is coming from aggregator apps. And you want to look 30 days out from each episode. And is that trend growing or is it going down. 

Don’t stick to absolute numbers

You don't need the absolute number and say, I have 500 listeners to my podcast. It's not successful. Well, no, that's not true at all. And depending on what your podcast is about, 500 listeners may be really successful. You've heard of the chameleon breeder podcast? How many listeners do you really think you're going to get for your podcast? And, and I say this for business folks, 500 people listening to your podcasts, you know, when's the last time you sat in a room. With 500 people that you get up and present it to, how many of them are there because they're waiting for the next speaker to come on and how many of them that are there are actually checked, listening to what you're doing rather than checking their emails?

If they download, safe to assume they are listening

At least when they're downloading your podcast, you know that for the most part, they are  listening to your podcasts. So when you see the listens in the downloads, you can be pretty sure that the majority of them are listening. Now you can go into Apple podcasts and you can look at the trends and see what percentage are listening, how far through, and you see where they're dropping in and out. You can see that in Spotify and you can see that in Google podcasts as well. So you do want to check those three places. Those are three places as, as a podcast, or you can go and check completion rates and get a feel for where you are dropping off. And here is what I would say. When you look at where people are dropping off, don't look at the number that are listening in those services. Cause they're not really accurate. They don't report everything, but it does tell you where people listen all the way through and where they drop out.

Data over assumptions

If you see a 15 minute segment of your show that started with 80% of your audience and 15 minutes later, it's 79% of your audience. What was it? You said in that 15 minutes, that was so compelling that nobody left, basically knowing why people listened is really just as important as knowing why people left, you know?

If you have an ad, you're going to expect to see certain people skip over that. But why do people listen? I was, I used that myself, my own show Today In iOS, I used to have this segment about three minutes into my show and I thought it was the best segment of the show. And then I started looking at the Apple data and I realized everyone was skipping my segment. And, and I was like, okay, well, I'll move this to the end, this show because I still like it. I'm at the end of the show and then I was looking where people were sticking in. And it was funny and ironic people were listening the most too when I had listener feedback. So when I had listeners coming on with feedback, the audience was more likely to stay into touch and not drop off.

But my own favorite segment that I created, they were skipping it for half the audience almost. I mean, that's interesting. Sometimes it's a little ego hit, but you should know. Look at where this thing is and look at where they're dropping. And don't worry if they're skipping the ads, you're going to get 10 to 15% of your audience will skip ads.

If you had to just talk about three KPIs, just named three KPIs, what would they be?

Rob: Core audience

What's your core audience for your show? You know, how many listeners do you have? 30 days out from when you release an episode and then the trend line on that, you know, this episode versus one, five episodes ago versus five, before that, is it going up? Is it going down? Is it staying flat? So that's the one  look at the most. 

Percentage on aggregator apps versus browsers

Do you want a heavy marketing push? You should expect some browser numbers to go up, but after you did the marketing push, did you see the aggregator numbers go up? So people tested it. Did they like it? Did they stick around? 

What percentage of the people are listening through 

When they go into the Apple podcast, how many people make it to 90% of the way into your episode? If you look at those that made it 5% in what percentage of them made it to the 90% Mark. Look about five minutes into your episode. If you have an hour long episode and then look around 45 minutes in what people that were at the five minute Mark were still, what percentage of them were still there at the 45 minute Mark. That will tell you a lot about whether your audience finds your content compelling.

In 2020, the first ever in history the Pulitzer prize was given to audio journalism validating the medium in a whole different new way. How does 2021 look like for podcast creators? 

Rob: It is one small niche and pro podcasters consist of less than 1% of the podcasters out there. The majority of podcasts are indie podcasts, businesses that are out there promoting they're there. Their brand, they're promoting the products they're promoting themselves. And I think you're going to see even more of that. One thing you have to take with a big grain of salt is the number of podcasts.

There's one at 1.8 million podcasts listed on Apple podcast. Have released more than 10 episodes and have had one of those 10 episodes in the last 90 days. So only 380,000 of the 1.8 million are active podcasts. While there's a lot of people coming into the space, most publish one or two episodes and are gone. 

Never to do that. Keep creating content created on a regular basis. You're not competing against 1.8 million podcasts. There's, you're competing against 380,000 of which only a tiny, tiny percentage are going to be in your niche. And you have to look at your niche and you need to reach out to other podcasts in your niche.

I think in 2021, one thing I would tell - don't get competitive. Get a collaborative view of things and go out and find the other podcasts in your niche and work with them to have them on your show, to cross promote and to get their audience. So there's time for their podcast and your podcast. And as you can be a little collaborative with some of the other podcasts, you can grow your audience.

What are your thoughts about co-hosting a podcast? 

Rob: First off, having a solo show is the most work right where you have no guests and it's just you. And you're talking about your topic that is the hardest podcast to do because you have nobody to play off of. 

Interview podcasts are great. Um, but you have to do research again on who your guests are going to be. And it takes work, but having a co-host and having a panel, you know, we have two or three or four hosts on the show, they're not as much work if you have a good knowledgeable co-host on your topic. Each of you rely on the other person to bring two or three bullet points to talk about you, you set up a Google doc page and everybody puts in what they, their two or three points are for that week. Everybody can do a little research on what you're going to talk about, and it's not a lot of work. Usually leads to less editing too, because you want it to be a free flow conversation. You still should do some editing though. 

I do that with the feed for Lipson. Elsie Escobar is my co-host for that. We're 185 episodes in on that podcast. And we talk about podcasting.It's a podcast about podcasting. It's a very meta podcast. But we have good chemistry. We have fun. Entertaining for a technical topic. I have to get my snark on. I have to be the snarky one and Elsie has to be the more feel good, loved one. And we have our role to play on that show and to make it fun, make it fun for the audience.

I'll say that finding a good co-host is not easy. I see a lot of podcasts that will podfade and, and the reason was their co host. They'll say, Oh my co-host wasn't doing their job. They weren't holding up their end of the bargain. They weren't reliable. They didn't show up on time. They didn't do the research or the funniest one was my co-host got mad at me cause I slept with her ex-boyfriend! Which was one of my all-time funniest reasons for someone pod fading.

What different are you folks at Libsyn doing differently for podcast hosts? Anything that we should look forward to?

Rob: We're rolling out a brand new UI, and that's coming in 2021. We actually have the beta available. You can sign up to see it already, and that includes new players in a new webpage. Then we're going to be adding more and more tools. We have some tools coming out there to help folks monetize better. We have tools coming out to help people create content. So we've got quite few things in the works for 2021.

We have a new destination that we'll be announcing the end of this month, which is a major destination with a major brand, that people will get excited about. We have some other destinations coming later in the year, but we've got a big one coming in January to start off the year.

So a lot of stuff to help create a lot of stuff to help distribute and monetize. Fame and fortune, right? We help you create the content and get out there for the fame. And then we have more tools coming on the monetization side.

Get in touch with Rob

My email address is And if you have any questions about podcasting or anything else that was covered, happy to answer your questions.

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Rob Walch

VP of Podcaster Relations @ Libsyn

Rob Walch was inducted into the Podcasting Hall of Fame in 2016. Rob is the Vice President of Podcaster Relations for Libsyn (LSYN) having joined Libsyn in 2007, Prior to joining Libsyn in 2004, he founded podCast411, an award winning podcast. Rob is host of Today in iOS (iPhone) Podcast – The first and largest podcast about the iPhone -

Rob is Co-Author of the book “Tricks of the Podcasting Masters” - Que 2006, an editors pick as a Top 10 Reference book for 2006 by He has consulted on podcasting for Jack Welch, Senator Edwards, Governor Bill Richardson, Noah Shanok (Stitcher), Tim Ferriss, and the Sacramento Kings/Monarchs to name just a few. Rob is a member of the IAB Podcasting Working groups. And is on the Editorial board for Podcast Business Journal. He is also a regular guest Lecturer at the University of Kansas School of Journalism.

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