Podcast fans: What makes for a great show?

Let’s talk about podcasts. What works, what doesn’t? Of course, every show is different and great for different reasons. But I’m interested to hear what the general consensus is on these questions (answer whichever ones you want):

  1. What’s the ideal episode length?

  2. Do you prefer 1 host or 2+ hosts?

  3. Do you prefer guest interviews, or just the host(s) talking, or a mix of both?

  4. Should the host(s) talk about themselves / their own business or should they focus more on educating or interviewing?

  5. Guest interviews: Do you prefer well-known guests or exposure to folks you haven’t herd of before?

  6. Structured planned topics or loose conversation?

  7. Transcripts. Do you ever read them or find them useful?

Here are my answers:

  1. 30-45 minutes is ideal for me because it’s short enough to consume in one “session” and Iong enough that I don’t need to keep fiddling with the playlist.

  2. Although I’m the solo host on Bootstrapped Web, I tend to prefer 2-host shows. However solo hosts tend to run better interviews than 2 hosts.

  3. I like a mix of interviews and non-interview shows. However, interview shows tend to suffer from inconsistency, because a lot depends on how interesting the guest is.

  4. It used to annoy me when the host talked about themselves, but now I prefer it, especially if I’ve been tuning in for a while (I like following along with their story, their progress). So I think this style might be a slight turn off to new listeners, but works well in the long run.

  5. A lot of the same names tend to show up repeatedly on all the podcasts. I tend to skip episodes of I’ve heard that guest elsewhere too many times. So I like to discover new people through hearing them on a podcast.

  6. I have become a fan of bootstrapped.fm because, like many of us here, I relate to the hosts personalities. But I tend to prefer structured topics. Again, I think a loose style takes longer to win over new fans, but can also make for a loyal long term audience. I also prefer a descriptive (less clever/funny) show title, because that determines whether or not I’ll download the episode.

  7. I never read transcripts. And I don’t have them done on Bootstrapped Web. I guess they can add SEO value, but is it worth the time/investment? Not sure.

  1. 30-45 is my preferred length too. I rarely get a whole hour to focus on one thing.
  1. It’s the same with me. There’s only so many times you can listen to the same person tell the same story.

Yes. This is one of the most important things for me. I often read through the transcript, as it’s faster than listening to an hour of podcast. Different people will prefer different mediums, and it depends on how wide you want your audience to be.

Great questions Brian! I enjoy your podcast, and podcasts are how I do most of my “continuing ed”. I used to read a bunch, but I rarely touch a book or magazine these days.

What’s the ideal episode length?


Do you prefer 1 host or 2+ hosts?

Two ideally, one is fine too. If the hosts and discussion seem organized it doesn’t really matter to me how many there are.

Do you prefer guest interviews, or just the host(s) talking, or a mix of both?

I like both! Conversational interviews with interesting people, and well-structured / actionable “Tips for Improving your ____” formats are my favorite.

Should the host(s) talk about themselves / their own business or should they focus more on educating or interviewing?

I enjoy both, and learn from both.

Guest interviews: Do you prefer well-known guests or exposure to folks you haven’t herd of before?

I enjoy both.

Structured planned topics or loose conversation?

Definitely structured/planned topics, less so if it’s a guest interview. I tend to lose interest after just a couple of minutes if it’s just the regular hosts chatting and I can’t tell where the conversation is going.

Transcripts. Do you ever read them or find them useful?

I never use them. A list of resources or links from the episode would be super-helpful, but transcribing the actual discussion (or having your VA do it) seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

By way of example, here’s my list of favorite podcasts:

  • 99% Invisible
  • Bootstrapped.fm
  • Marketing for Founders
  • NPR Planet Money
  • Product People
  • Radiolab
  • Startups for the Rest of Us

Transcripts. I can’t stand listening to anyone talk talk talk when I could be reading it way faster and skipping over stuff I don’t care about.

Good topic; podcasting has become a very viable business model for some: podcast post: “ATP has climbed way up to 75,000 [listeners], and it sells sponsorships at $3,500 each, three per show — $10,500 per episode, or $40,000 to $50,000 gross per month.” While those numbers are hard to match, I suspect several of you should be able to start viable podcasts: “You need several thousand listeners and to be in the right market for most ad networks to be interested in you, and you have to be able to deliver results for your advertisers.” If you reach ~5,000 with your mailing list, it’s probably worth trying a podcast.

My answers to your questions:

Episode length: Anything from a few minutes to under an hour. Developing Perspective is usually 15 minutes, for example. Once a podcast goes over an hour, it becomes more of a chore to get through.

Number of hosts: It doesn’t matter. Some podcasts I listen to are one person or mostly one person talking, some are round tables of 4-5 people. What’s more important is that everyone on the podcast be interesting and not have an unpleasant personality/voice. There are a few bootstrapping/startup podcasts where the two hosts are at different points in the startup process, and just listening to their different viewpoints on a topic is very educational, beyond the information on the topic itself.

Interviews vs. hosts talking: It doesn’t matter. The content is the thing. If the show is going to be an interview instead of a round table, one thing I strongly dislike is interviews where the host talks a lot, and/or asks run-on questions. Interviews should be ~80% or more the guest talking. The host can monologue before or after the interview, but shouldn’t do so during the interview.

“Should the host(s) talk about themselves / their own business or should they focus more on educating or interviewing?”: With a big caveat, either, as long as the content is good. The caveat is, if your typical listener is right in your target market, don’t make the podcast about your business. Example: Startups for the Rest of Us: informative podcast with a very educational dynamic between the two hosts, but I feel like I’m listening to a painful infomercial every single minute they talk about their products, and they talk about their products a lot. If people want to advertise to their listeners, they should put clearly-delineated ads in the podcast, not make an infomercial.

Guest interviews: Unknown or well known are both fine, as long as they have something current and valuable to share. I prefer it when bootstrapping podcast interviews focus on what is useful business/technical information for bootstrappers now, rather than talk about things which are no longer relevant or which are just personal. It’s great that years ago the guest was able to make one of the first apps on the App Store, or now spends 2 months a year in each of his houses around the world, but I don’t want to hear more than a minute about either.

Structured planned topics or loose conversation?: At least semi-structured. There’s a glut of podcasts of people just shooting the breeze, and they tend to be less interesting and run long.

Transcripts: I think they are useful to have, but I don’t read them on a regular basis. Rather, I check them for specific things I missed when listening. Transcripts seem like they would be a great way to build search traffic for a site.

Also, I prefer it when the podcast is at least slightly produced than just raw. I.e., it’s just a little nicer and more professional feeling when there’s intro/outro music, etc. than just a cold start and stop.

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I hear ya, the educational segments are most valuable.

But I actually really like their personal updates, especially these past few months (Rob’s Drip getting off the ground, Mike overcoming productivity issues, etc.). I think it’s an excellent ongoing case study. Like you said in a previous answer, it’s cool to see 2 different people at different stages in the process. This is one show that I actually tune in just to hear their update, even if I’m not into the educational topic.

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I don’t disagree with the positive elements you mention. To me their show often feels like: “Well, that covers what I’ve been doing with Drip, Hit Tail, the Microprenuer Academy, the second edition of my book, and MicroConf.  Mike, why don’t you talk about Audit Shark…” I agree there’s value in their updates, but those parts feel like an infomercial to me.

Contrast that to Bootstrapped With Kids, where I’m not in their target markets*, and listening to them discuss their businesses is much more pleasant. I find there’s a big difference in the level of detail and honesty of podcasts such as BWK and those where the listeners are viewed as potential customers.

  • They’ve talked about starting to target listeners, but as of this writing haven’t.

[quote=“CasJam, post:6, topic:1802”]
Like you said in a previous answer, it’s cool to see 2 different people at different stages in the process.
[/quote]The difference of viewpoints between Rob and Mike, and Brecht and Scott (BWK) is often more valuable to me than the nominal content of an episode. It helps me identify when I’m not thinking about problems from the “right” point of view, working on or in the business, etc.

Hmm… those parts are actually most interesting to me. They are real-world stuff. And they have a feeling of a story evolving over time.

On the contrary, I do not care much about the tips of migrating from Windows to Mac (ha!).

After some time I realized I only listen to podcasts with 2 people.

When only one person is talking, it is too often becomes rather monotonous - not everyone has a professional-grade voice. Two people exchanging phrases give each other a rest.

3+ people are too messy. It easily gets sidetracked, the episodes become longer without providing extra information.

So, 2 is the ideal size, I believe.

I agree. A lot of podcasts/blogs talk about theory (Put up a landing page, and watch the customers roll in!), but the practical examples of how Rob and Mike struggle with some of the same issues that someone like me would suffer from, and how they get around them, sounds very interesting to me.

Opinion-wise I would only be repeating the previous answers. As an example, have a listen to a couple of episodes of “Chasing Product”, it ticks all the boxes for me. The guests are great and the host is very open and raw about his experiences. I like it because it feels very real and human. It is also well-structured with plenty of scope for interesting tangents so it doesn’t feel like an infomercial.

I listen to quite a few really good podcasts (including those mentioned and inferred) but this one is a stand-out for me.