A podcast download is when a listener receives a link to an episode published on your podcast and listens to the audio (or video if a video podcast). How is this being tracked?
Podcast episodes will have a unique URL and the podcast itself will have an RSS feed unique to the podcast. The RSS feed is updated automatically on a regular basis. Many podcasting platforms (including Apple Podcasts) will regularly check the RSS feeds for any new episodes being published. All of this takes place in the background without the owner of the podcast having to do any extra work (other than adding new episodes to the hosting platform).
When a listener clicks “subscribe” to the podcast, they are actually agreeing to be notified by the RSS feed of any new episodes. These episodes will automatically be downloaded to their podcast listening device (smart phone or computer). This allows the listener to access and listen to the episodes at their convenience.
When a listener receives the episode file via the RSS feed, it is called a “download.” The rules of counting downloads has changed over the years. It used to be, a “download” was whenever a listener accessed the RSS feed and received the episode to their device. Today, a download is not counted until a specific amount of the episode has actually been listened to (played). This is typically about 2-3 minutes.
What does all of this mean?
If someone wants to hear more of your podcast episodes, they will click “subscribe” to your RSS feed. They will automatically be sent any new files you produce. To be in compliance, you will not usually see a download statistic in your analytics until the listener actually clicks “play” and has consumed at least the first few minutes of the podcast.
Although downloads are important (at least to the podcaster), what should actually be tracked is the amount of listening time the average listener is engaged. That is what many potential advertisers will be taking into account if they are deliberating investing advertising revenue with your podcast.
If you receive 1000 downloads per episode, but the average listener is only engaged for 3 minutes (out of a 30 minute episode), the advertiser is not going to be impressed. Why would they pay for advertising when most of your ads are run in the middle or the end of the show?
But, if you had 500 downloads per episode and the average listener is engaged 22 minutes out of a 30 minutes program, that is a lot better in the eyes of the advertiser. Don’t you agree? They will actually be connecting with your listeners through their ads.
Although downloads and subscribers are important, you need to track all of the relevant information concerning your podcast listeners.