How To Increase Podcast Subscribers, Listening Duration and Measure Listener Engagement

Put aside the usual calls-to-action (CTA) for a minute — like “subscribe to my show”, “rate and review”, “go to my web site”, “join my list”, “get on my newsletter”… All that is great, and very much required for sure. But that mostly sounds like “blah blah blah” to me.

I even gave it a name: I call it “CTA Deafness”. Just the same way when I go to a web site, I automatically, without any effort, go completely banner-blind, and ignore every single ad banner and image and footer text and header text — and fortunately or unfortunately, anything that even remotely looks like a banner, which means ads for your own products and services. So when I listen to your show, I’ve probably checked out when you’re telling me to do the “usual suspect” things. I’m guessing my listeners do the same as well.

So here’s my 1 simple trick that is helping me increase subscribers, get some of them to listen longer (in case they were dropping off), and get a feel for listener engagement.

If you currently do not have ads on your show, this trick I’m about to share, will work great. And if you do have ads, then do this first before you do the ad-read, or maybe even skip the ad for an episode and test it.

This adds a gamification element to your show, and makes it fun for your listener to take action.

Here’s all the steps first, and then I will explain each one:

1. Create an “Irresistible Bonus
2. “Pattern Interrupt” to announce it
3. “Save The Best For Last”: Announce that it’s going to be at the end (so they have to listen completely, hopefully, most people will listen rather than simply fast-forwarding)
4. “Gamify the Delivery” by restricting it to only Subscribers (will tell you how you can kind of enforce that as well)

Here’s how I implemented this myself…

Remember, I started out just wanting to do an experiment, so I did not go all out with every step. But I think I have figured out a formula that works, so now I just have to ramp up and be creative with each of the individual steps.

1. Create an “Irresistible Bonus”: In my case, I’m giving away my actual Kindle book about membership sites and online courses, a $4.99 value. “Perceived value” is greater than “True value”.

So if I just gave away a “PDF Report”, it will not have the same value and impact as giving away my real, Kindle book that is actually selling on Amazon and has some great reviews. So even if you have to pay money to create something valuable, do it. Put some thought into it, make it really useful, and if it’s a report, then maybe upload to Amazon Kindle first and get reviews — so you can use that social proof to boost the perceived value, because a “Kindle Book” that has a price, is usually valued more than just a regular “E-book” or “Free Report”. Of course, there’s a whole bunch of things you can give away as the lead magnet, and just that topic alone is worth writing an entire book about, but you get my point.

2. “Pattern Interrupt” to announce it: How about changing things up a bit? Instead of your usual intro, how about the announcement first (that it’s coming at the end), and then the intro? Or instead of the usual ad-read, promote your own bonus for a change. So think about what you usually do, and skip that, and do this instead. If you are usually serious, then how about breaking into a little song? Or try to do a bad impression of a celebrity? Or talk with a foreign accent — or, a terrible version of your own accent (like I do with my Indian accent at times), do something self-deprecating, or funny, etc. And then announce the bonus.

3. “Save The Best For Last”: Announce that it’s going to be at the end. You can do it in a classy way so that it doesn’t reek of manipulation. This is important for a couple of reasons. The main one, is so that it doesn’t drag out the beginning of your show, and while returning listeners may not care much, new listeners will get bored with your extended intro and might just leave and never come back. A small bonus, is that if anyone is even thinking of checking out half-way through, it kind of gets them to stick around till the end. Maybe you will even know if people ARE in fact sticking around till the end.

4. “Gamify the Delivery” by restricting it to only Subscribers. So how to enforce this? Now this is not perfect, but you can tell them that they must take action within 24 hours of the episode going live. And I you gamify it by giving out a “secret word” at the end of each episode. So they must email me that “secret word” within 24 hours. So that kind of helps with 2 things: 1) They must listen to THAT specific episode (so they can’t do it from listening to an older episode at a later time) and 2) If the only people who get the download within 24 hours, are the subscribers (yes, I know — it can take longer in some countries, so increase it to 48 hours if you want) 3) Now, you’re also introducing a deadline: They not only have to subscribe (to get the episode within X hours), but they also have to actually LISTEN to your show, because the “secret word” changes from episode to episode.

Image below shows an email that just came in recently from a listener.

It has the secret word “4141” (which I mention on the show). But most importantly, notice how the person says “I finally caught one within 24 hours”. So he’s been trying — and forgetting — to do this. And with only 2 more shows to go to do this (I have a deadline for when the whole thing ends as well — you know, just to pump up the scarcity), he is excited that he “finally” got to it.

And then, he goes on to say “I can’t wait to devour it and leave you a nice review on Amazon”. I never asked for a review. But he volunteers to do it, and he’s going to “devour it”, which means he’s excited about the bonus, which means I’ve done a decent job with my show where I have proven that my bonus is valuable, and real.

I’m sure there are podcasters who dream of eventually making a decent income from ad revenue on their podcasts (“dang it, Flynn & Dumas!”). If you are one of them, then my experiment above is a great way for you to test your own listener engagement. If you get, say, 100 downloads right out of the gate (within 24 hours of publishing your latest episode), and you can’t get even 5 people to respond to your bonus offer (a 5% conversion), then you probably don’t have a very engaged audience. Now, that’s OK — nothing wrong with that — because not all listeners respond to the CTA’s on the show. I’m guilty as charged here as well, because there are a lot of shows I listen to, and I’m a big fan of many of the hosts, but I almost never really leave ratings, or reviews, or sign up for their list, or visit CTA links mentioned on the show — I’m just lazy and forgetful. Those CTA’s are almost never good enough for me. However, I will occasionally visit the podcast web site for show-notes, just so I can look up that tool or service I heard on the show. If you cannot get your listeners off their behinds and take action for a perceptibly great-value bonus, then it’s going to be hard to get them to do the same for your advertisers. Which means, if you have large numbers, you can get away with it for a little bit, but without engagement, it means the advertisers are not going to get much ROI from advertising on your show, and you’re going to lose them eventually.

Check out the latest episode of my show (see my signature below), to see my “Secret Word” trick in action, complete with all 4 steps: Irresistible Bonus, Pattern Interrupt, Save The Best For Last and Gamification of Delivery.

Even if ad-revenue is not your goal, I’m guessing you probably want to know about your listener-engagement. If you’re happy just churning out content week after week, month after month, without EVER hearing back from your listeners, and having no feedback, getting no love or support from them, or you can get by with VERY little feedback, then more power to you — because you’re probably among the rarest of podcasters :-)

Unfortunately, I’m not in that rare company. So even if I’m not necessarily going to hard-core pitch commercial stuff to them, I still want to know how many of them will get up for me — and take some action, any action. Because a lot of the times, feedback and engagement is worth a million bucks — and worth all of the blood, sweat and tears and love and labor and effort we podcasters put into our shows.

Anything you would do better, or differently? Would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this.


- Ravi Jayagopal
Podcast Host,

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