Over the last 2.5 months, I spent $360 of my hard-earned cash on Facebook Ads to prove something I already knew: Facebook Ads are not a great choice for podcasters looking to grow the audience of their podcasts.
More specifically, it proved that a Facebook advertising campaign was prohibitively expensive and failed at the job of acquiring a meaningful increase in listeners to my podcast.
Again, I knew this would be the case. My history with Facebook Ads has given me battle-worn skepticism.
So to get my negativity and bias out of the mix, I contracted with a firm that specializes in running Facebook Ad campaigns for podcasters with the express purpose of attaining dramatic audience growth. Because, hey maybe I’m wrong about my assumptions and the past failings I’ve seen from Facebook Ads aren’t the case when it comes to podcast audience growth.
Spoiler: I wasn’t wrong.
A quick programming note before I get into specifics. This is the last missive of 2021. My Long Winter’s Nap starts tomorrow and ends on January the 4th, 2022. So if you’re new, welcome. There are over 500 episodes in the back catalog you can ponder until I come back with new content in a few weeks. So stick around.
You Can't Eat Clicks
Like most digital ad campaigns, this Facebook Ad campaign traded dollars for clicks. In my case, I traded $360 on targeted Facebook Ads to gain about 500 clicks. And to intentionally belabor the point because it’s really important, that’s 500 clicks, not listeners.
As it turns out, it’s very easy to buy clicks with paid media campaigns. And at less than a buck a click, they seem inexpensive. But clicks by themselves, like counting total monthly downloads of all episodes of a podcast, is a rather useless metric.
Clicks are just the first step. What you want, and what I wanted, was for those clicks to convert listeners. So for me, did those 500 targeted people who were intrigued enough by the ad creative to click on the Facebook ad convert to 500 listeners? And if that seems too optimistic then how about maybe 400 listeners? OK, fine, let’s split it in half and shoot for 250 new listeners? Did I get close to any of those numbers?
In a word—no.
In four words—no, of course not.
Nor did I expect them to. Nor should you. And most importantly, nor should the person whose job it is to run an effective ad campaign.
Keep in mind that I spent the better part of two decades running the paid media team at digital ad agencies that spent millions of dollars on behalf of our clients each year. So I, like every other person working in digital advertising, know that most people who click on an ad will not actually convert and take the desired action. My desired conversion action was becoming a listener.
What percentage are likely to convert? It varies depending on many factors, but a good benchmark used for projecting results is a conversion rate of between 0.2% and 2%
Yes. Somewhere between 2 out of 1000 or 2 out of 100. That’s it.
So let’s assume the best-case scenario and pick the 2% conversion rate for my clickers. 2% of 500 is 10. That’s it.
And OK, I’ll grant that the ad campaign may have resulted in 10 new listeners enjoying my show right now. If I examine my average 7- and 28-day per episode download numbers, I see enough growth that I could fit 10 new listeners. I could also chalk that up to natural growth, but let me be gracious for a moment and say that’s what I got from this campaign.
10 more listeners, acquired at a cost of $360 in media dollars. Or $36 per listener.
That’s a rather expensive acquisition cost. Especially when you consider I don’t have a product to sell to the listeners of my podcast.
Pulling The Plug
So after 76 days of spending money with absolutely no indications that this Facebook Ad campaign would provide markedly better results without a marked increase in spend; I pulled the plug. I was and remain confident that enough data had been accumulated to say no, of course this isn’t working. Just as I had anticipated.
I could wax poetically about why this campaign failed to perform even close to the promised results (and why campaigns like will always fail) for hours on end. I could slice and dice the numbers—the outputs of the campaign—to identify areas of incremental improvement. I could analyze the efficacy of the messaging strategy. I would write a white paper that extrapolates the disconnect between clicking to a website and subscribing to or following a podcast. I could pull in other experts to lament the lack of attribution tracking with today’s podcast listening apps that doesn’t hamstring other digital mediums.
And all of those would be very real issues, any of which or all of them that may have contributed to the failure of this campaign and every paid ad campaign like it.
But let’s go back to the beginning where I said I spent this money to prove something I already knew. That’s true, but it’s only part of the truth.
I mostly did this so that I could demonstrate to you, the serious podcaster, that it is highly unlikely that a Facebook Ad campaign will grow your podcast audience by any meaningful degree. Not if you look past clicks, one-time-download numbers, or any metric other than the one that matters: Is my show’s audience growing?
Clicks on ad units do not matter if those clicks fail to convert to becoming listeners. And at best, 98% of those clicks you paid for will not result in a clicker becoming a listener.
My advice. Don’t waste your money.
But Don’t Take My Word For It
Because I believe in total transparency, I’ve published all the data from this campaign in a Google Sheet for you to examine for yourself. I have tabs showing the 7- and 28-day average per episode downloads for my show for all of 2021, helpfully summarized by week and by month to check for growth. I’ve even highlighted the rows that correspond to when the campaign began. And there’s area couple of tabs that detail the daily click and spend levels from Facebook for you to cross-reference.
Perhaps you’ll find something I missed. But I doubt it.
If you have an additional data request, I’ll happily provide it. Just send me an email with the details of your request. But with one caveat: I care little for campaign outputs and only really care about business objectives. And this objective was simple: Add a whole bunch of new listeners.
And that didn’t happen. As I anticipated it would not.
Evo’s Long Winter’s Nap Begins!
And with that, this half-season of Podcast Pontifications comes to a close. For the next few weeks, I’m taking a break from daily production, just like I do every year at this time.
But I’m not really napping. I’m not a bear. I’ll still be quite active, talking about and sharing ways to make podcasting better mostly on Twitter and in the Advancing Podcasting community, a Discord server just for serious podcasters. Join us over there.
I shall be back on January 4, 2022 with yet another Podcast Pontifications.
Podcast Pontifications is written and narrated by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy, corrected the transcript, and edited the video. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.