Our special guest for episode 372/373 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast was Benjamin Shapiro, host of the MarTech and Voices of Search podcasts. Host Erin Sparks spoke with Benjamin about two key aspects of podcasting every podcaster wants to know: How to grow a podcast audience and how to monetize a podcast. Here’s what we learned:
Benjamin Shapiro: His Background and Experience
Benjamin Shapiro is the host of the MarTech and Voices of Search podcasts. His two properties drive over 100,000 downloads and reach tens of thousands of marketers per month. Benjamin is a brand development and marketing strategy consultant that left a successful seven-year career in business development at eBay (Manager of Internet Marketing & Business Development) to become an entrepreneur that has run a bootstrapped startup, multiple marketing teams at early-stage VC-backed companies, and an independent consulting and content business (BenjShap LLC). He specializes in helping growth-stage companies understand how to identify the overlap between corporate identity and customer needs to build an effective marketing strategy
The early-stage VC-backed company work had Benjamin feeling really burnt out. It’s incredibly hard work and not well-compensated. He stepped away from that and started his work as an independent consultant to help companies just figure out their marketing foundations, setting up marketing channels, finding out what a brand is all about, who their customers are, and then finding the overlap between those. After a few years of that, he hit a kind of ceiling having worked with all the companies he already had relationships with. What he needed to do was expand his professional network, and that’s when he started the MarTech podcast to build authority for his consulting practice, make new networking connections, and so on. He didn’t think it would be anything more than a marketing experiment, but after several months he had several thousand downloads. He pivoted away from trying to sell consulting services and focused on growing the podcast audience, such that after eleven months he was getting 10,000 downloads and then started trying to sell sponsorships. So the consulting practice the podcast was meant to promote ended up eating it and taking over.
Pivotal Moments in Podcast Development
What were the key moments in developing the podcasts that gave Benjamin’s shows traction? The first milestone was getting through initial content creation and publication. Benjamin started by creating a set of ten episodes for a weekly show. He was planning on working with that batch of content to determine whether or not the podcast was even worth the effort going into it. Having that set of episodes in the can and ready to go meant he didn’t have to worry about producing an episode every week and could devote time to thinking about the distribution and marketing of the show.
The second phase was about growth, which for him was focusing on that starting in month two through the end of year one. This involves coming up with marketing strategies, finding your niche, finding who your listeners are going to be, how much needs to be invested in order to grow the audience into a meaningful number.
And then the third phase was monetization. He started selling advertising around eleven months in, which felt possible when they had hit those 10,000 downloads.
What’s the Right Length for a Podcast Episode?
Benjamin’s got more than 637 episodes under his belt, and they all pretty much stay within a 20-minute format. How did that come to be? Benjamin notes it was a data-driven discovery. The first episodes were closer to an hour-long. But then the data that came revealed people were only listening to about 30% of an episode.
He decided to take a few episodes and cut them into two episodes each, and the data showed people were then listening to 20-25 minutes of those reduced-length episodes or about 66% of an episode. So then he chopped them up again into four episodes from an hour-long interview and people were then listening to 85-90% of each one, so 20 minutes turned out to be the data-driven sweet spot for overall episode length, especially if you’re going to plug two sponsors, you need people to listen long enough to get to that second ad in the latter half of an episode. it turned out that short, punchy, highly discoverable chunks are what was working best for his audience and for monetization.
How Important is Show Production Quality?
Benjamin’s podcasts have been super low-budget in terms of production requirements while maintaining quality. The equipment was not at all expensive, and he’s not doing video or a lot of repurposing of content. The expensive part of the production for him now is talent in terms of really good editors, and project management staff to keep track of where every piece of content is in the production pipeline. But otherwise, there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, nothing fancy. EDGE of the Web has much higher production values in that sense. But the production values are “good enough” and they just put the focus on making sure the content is compelling. They got the kind of listener engagement they were aiming for so there was no need to further complicate things with all kinds of additional product features.
Podcast Growth Pro-Tips
There are four aspects that go into really growing a podcast:
- Organic: Benjamin hasn’t put a whole lot into organic. They don’t publish show notes or transcripts or repurpose content on their website. There’s more to be done there if they decide they need to at some point. They focused more on just monetizing the audience they had.
- Virality: This one is important, and Benjamin and his crew have done well on this with a lot of content, lots of guests, compelling content, and so on. They’re strategic about who they invite to be on the show both in terms of their capacity to contribute great content but also that they have their own audience to which this content can be promoted. Each guest is a marketing channel for your show.
- Paid (PPC): Benjamin probably did quite a bit more of this than most podcasts do early on. And he did audio ads on other podcasts through dynamic insertion, and what they bought into was remnant space at discounted prices in the CNN network of podcasts. And this was very successful in driving a lot of audience growth for them.
- Partnerships: This is where you take the time to be a good community member and work with other brands and other podcasts, maybe being a guest on other podcasts, and so on.
Implicit in all this is that you’re incredibly consistent with when content is going to be published so your listeners can count on it, and that means a ton of planning and managing in order to be able to produce the content and get it out there when it’s supposed to be there. And there are project management tools that are good for this, such as Airtable or Monday.
The key is to make sure that as one person in the production flow completes their piece of the puzzle, there is an automatic notification to the next person to pick up with their piece of the production workflow. Having the workflow broken up into chunks, each of which has a different responsible party, is the only way Benjamin and his crew can successfully produce upwards of 500 episodes per year between the two shows. And using the right project management app means the production team can be distributed all over the world.
Monetizing a Podcast
Can you make money with a podcast? Absolutely. The more compelling your content, the greater the chance at successful monetization. But what does monetization even mean? Well, it’s going to vary from podcast to podcast depending on what your business is. EDGE of the Web is a podcast of the SiteStrategics agile digital marketing firm, so a big part of its purpose has to do with building brand awareness and networking and business development of SiteStrategics, and also some sponsorships, such as ahrefs. Other podcasters are doing their thing because they want to position themselves as thought leaders. Others do it just for the greater good.
When most podcasters think of “monetization” they’re thinking along the lines of a CPM model, meaning advertisers are paying a fee per thousand impressions, which in the podcast world download. But that’s a totally broken way of looking at it unless you have a podcast that gets millions of downloads. Smaller podcasts aren’t going to be able to live off the CPM model at all.
Benjamin came up with a different model for monetizing his podcasts. Instead of thinking of sponsorships from an advertising angle, he positions them more as a project retainer fee. They clearly identify what content is sponsored content, and what’s really fascinating is that the sponsored content gets more downloads than their non-sponsored content! The reason for this is because the sponsored content is going to be like a batch of five thematically-related episodes. The non-sponsored content is a little more all over the place and is typically in 2 or 3 episodes of a particular guest, but not necessarily tightly related thematically.
Then for dynamic insertion ads they’ll tell a brand it’s not about your brand will be mentioned next Tuesday, it’s more like your brand will be mention in every show for a month. That works much better. And then for the advertorial content, it doesn’t just stop with their batch of sponsored content. Benjamin and his crew then take the actual listeners of the content and create lookalike audiences and do retarget campaigns to find more listeners via other platforms.
Retargeting ad campaigns are very important in podcasting, but a lot of podcasters don’t get it. At the moment a person is listening is going to lead to very few people ever getting to the sponsor’s website—something like .5–1.5% because by the time they’re in a place where they can visit the sponsor’s website, they’ve forgotten all about it. But if you follow-up with retargeting ads, then you’re going to bump that up dramatically.
This all hinges on using the data you have to show how all the additional marketing efforts you’re going to do on the sponsor’s behalf will have huge ROI. When Benjamin dug into it, they discovered sponsors were getting an 8X ROI on their spend. So a sponsor who put $10,000 into the relationship was making $80,000 back and the MarTech podcast was their highest-ROI channel. The CPM model is not the right model for podcast monetization. But it’s still the prevalent model because most podcasters simply don’t know how to do it any other way.
The tool Benjamin uses to find/buy new listeners/subscribers for his shows is called Choozle.
Connect with Benjamin Shapiro and MarTech
Twitter: @benjshap (https://twitter.com/benjshap)
MarTech Podcast: https://martechpod.com
Voices of Search Podcast: https://www.voicesofsearch.com
Consulting website: https://benjshap.com
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