Podcast onramps and episode entry points

. 4 min read

Podcast onramps and episode entry points

When you discover a new podcast, how do you choose where to begin?

Do you scroll all the way back to the first episode? Or do you check out the most recent release? Do you browse the back catalog and pick an episode that catches your eye? If there’s a trailer, do you listen to it?

In other words: what’s your entry point for a new podcast?

I ask people about this all the time, because I’m fascinated by how podcast listeners interact with new shows.

I’m always happy when someone shares their personal podcast discovery behavior with me. But it’s anecdotal at best, and not necessarily representative of broader usage patterns.

Enter the data nerds

In an effort to get some data-backed insight into podcast entry points, I asked the team at Simplecast to help.

Specifically, I wanted to know which episodes in our clients’ podcast archives were the most popular among new listeners.

To be clear: I wasn’t looking for all-time download performance. I only wanted to know which episodes were the most popular among people who had never listened before.

Fortunately, Simplecast offers a metric called Unique Listeners, which uses fingerprinting technology to identify unique devices. That means they can measure downloads from first-time listeners to a series.

We decided to look at the back catalog of Hackable?, an original podcast from McAfee. For a three-week period in August 2019, Simplecast measured the total number of new unique listeners, by episode, by day, across the entire back catalog (Season 4 of Hackable? wrapped on July 30, 2019, so no new episodes were released during the measurement period.)

Thanks to Simplecast, we can look at which episodes were the most popular entry points for new listeners to Hackable?:

☝️ It’s important to understand this is not a download chart. It’s a breakdown of first-time unique listeners, by episode, over a three-week period. It answers the question, “Where do new listeners start?”

A few things jump out for me:

  1. By far, the most popular entry points were episodes from Season 4, which was Hackable?’s most recent season at the time. This makes intuitive sense, especially because Apple Podcasts on iOS displays the most recent season more prominently than earlier seasons.
  2. Surprisingly, of the Season 4 episodes, the most popular entry point for new listeners wasn’t the most recent episode. Instead, it was the season premiere (S4E1). I suspect we’re seeing some users scroll down to the beginning of the season, and start there.
  3. Despite its age, the very first episode of Hackable? continues to be a strong entry point for first-time listeners. This suggests many people want to start Hackable? from the very beginningEvergreen content FTW.

How to create onramps

Now that we have a bit more insight into real-world download patterns among first-time listeners, what can podcast publishers do to improve the first-time-listener experience?

Here are a few ideas.

Create a “best of” or “start here” playlist

This American Life has a section of their website to showcase recommended episodes, including one called New to This American Life?

Gimlet’s Reply All offers a Where To Get Started list of episodes, and recently published a Spotify playlist of co-host PJ Vogt’s favorites:

You could also create thematic playlists. Earlier this month, the team behind IRL: Online Life is Real Life created a list of their Top 10 Podcast Episodes about Online Privacy, which was marketed through social and email.

What does your show’s “best of” playlist look like?

Adjust episode sequencing and update trailers

Look at your back catalog. How strong is your most recent episode?

How strong is the first episode of your most recent season?

Is your trailer up-to-date? Does it still serve as a helpful introduction to someone who’s never heard your show before?

If not, refresh your trailer. Retroactively re-sequence your episodes. Put your best foot forward.

Identify gateway episodes

 at RadioPublic is a strong advocate for gateway episodes:

A gateway episode — also known as a featured episode, a “start here” episode, or a highlighted episode — provides a way for a podcaster to showcase a chosen episode, much like a pinned post on Facebook or Twitter. We recommend that you use them to feature and highlight the best episodes for people who are new to your show.

What’s more, RadioPublic’s dashboard allows you to choose up to three episodes that’ll be pinned to the top of your show’s feed on RadioPublic:

How do you create onramps for new listeners? I’d love to know.

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