When a podcast episode runs long, podcasters may be tempted to split it into multiple parts. This can sometimes be an easy (though somewhat lazy) way of producing more episodes. Podcasters usually do this because of how long the full episode would be. But the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.
I've split episodes before, too, and I regret it.
Here are the five reasons you should not split your single podcast topics into parts.
Reason 1: podcast apps
Most smart podcast apps (also known as “podcatchers”) will automatically pause someone's subscription if they haven't played a certain number of recent episodes. For iTunes and Podcasts for iOS, that limit is five episodes. If I subscribe to your podcast and you release a couple or few split episodes very close to each other, then you increase the chance of my podcast app pausing my subscription to your show. I could be only two weeks behind on your weekly podcast and I stop receiving your latest episodes.
Additionally, many podcast apps have their defaults set to download only the most recent episode. So if you release two episodes closely together, only the second half will be downloaded, by default.
Reason 2: audience retention
With two separate episodes, it's highly possible some people will listen to one part, but miss the other. This is especially true if you released the multiple parts closely together.
I made this mistake when I knew we would have a very long discussion about the first-season finale of Once Upon a Time. We split our discussion about the finale into two parts and published two episodes within 24 hours. This resulted in the most recent episode being downloaded more than the other, which means some of my audience missed the first half of the conversation.
Reason 3: topic engagement
If you release the first part of a conversation this week and the second part next week, it's very likely that your audience will forget much of the previous part and will be less engaged. You can sometimes work around this by resetting context, but this requires either a “in last episode, we talked about” segue, or you need to plan the presentation better and carry the context through. For example, in part 1, I may say the title of a movie we're reviewing; but in part 2, I refer to it only as “the movie” and my audience may have lost track.
Reason 4: inflated numbers
If you release two episodes in one day, you'll see a spike in your downloads, but this doesn't indicate any increase in your audience. It's just that you released more content to be downloaded. Delaying your releases by a week helps, but then you still run into topic engagement problems.
Reason 5: search-engine optimization (SEO)
If both parts are the same topic, such as an interview with a guest, then you're splitting your SEO efforts. Instead of a single post ranking well for targeted keywords, you now have two posts competing for the same keywords and search-engine ranking.
Reason 6: podcasting doesn't have time limits
The beauty of podcasting is that we can set our own rules. While it's generally good to keep your content fairly consistent in length, there's nothing wrong with releasing a significantly longer episode if the content deserves it.
In radio, they have hard limits. They must take commercial breaks at certain points and they can only broadcast their show for so long. So in radio, they have to split content that can't fit in a single episode.
Podcasting isn't radio—set your own limits, but don't be afraid to break them!
In my Once Upon a Time podcast, we can sometimes have very long and detailed discussions—as long as three hours for a one-hour TV show (it's actually closer to forty-three minutes when you remove the commercials). The only complaint we received about the length was from someone who would burn our audio file to audio CD so she could listen in the car. For that one circumstance, I simply split my MP3 file for her.
Don't use bad excuses
The two reasons podcasters split content into parts is usually because they feel the recording was too long, or that they want to release more episodes.
When the recording is too long
If your episodes are too long, then you potentially have bigger problems. This shows either a lack of planning, disrespect for your guest's time, or poor choices in editing (or not editing).
Keep track of time while you're recording and try to keep things moving to be respectful of everyone's time. Try not to waste time on irrelevant topics.
If you have already recorded, find what you can remove without harming the value of the conversation. Frequently, this will be small talk in the beginning, or maybe repetitive places (like a guest answering the question twice).
When you want more episodes
Not planning your time well and splitting content into multiple episodes can be a lazy way of releasing more episodes. But when you do this, you're not truly releasing more content—it's usually a continuation of the same content.
The best reason to split content like this is when you want twice the advertising revenue (on a CPM model) by essentially doubling your downloads for the same content.
When splitting content does make sense
If you create a miniseries with multiple topics, even including the same guest, splitting each topic into its own standalone episode works very well. Look at how I split my conversations about podcasting and the law with Gordon Firemark. We planned our content to be individualized and treated each topic as its own episode and this worked and continues to work very well. (For example, I can point to a single episode about copyright laws.)
What do you think of split content? Why did you choose to split or not split content? What do you think when you hear split topics from others?
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