Looking to advertise your business on podcasts? Don’t spend a penny until you’ve read this.
I remember the day Ahrefs’ CMO Tim told me I was “now in charge of podcast sponsorships.”
I said: “Awesome!!!”
I had never listened to a podcast in my life.
Naturally, the rest of my day was spent getting real intimate with Google. We covered important topics like:
What is a podcast;
Why are podcasts popular;
Podcast ad examples;
Standard podcast formats
You get the gist. Here’s an overview of what Google told me that day:
Podcasts are highly‐targeted. There’s a dedicated, top‐quality podcast for every imaginable niche out there, from true crime case reports to discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This also means that we can reach just about any audience we want to.
Podcast listeners are among the most engaged and loyal audiences ever. The nature of the medium means that podcast hosts speak directly into our ears for over 30 minutes at a time, and many listeners build a strong affinity with the content and show host. Makes sense!
The traditional success metrics are impressions and downloads per show. Obviously, the higher the numbers, the better.
Podcast advertisers generally choose to have a dedicated landing page and a promotional offer for each podcast they sponsor – this is how they track conversions and the overall success of their ads.
I also learned that there are three main categories of ads in podcast sponsorships:
Pre‐roll: ~15–30 second ad at the start of the show.
Mid‐roll: ~1-minute ad in the middle of the show.
Post‐roll: ~15–30 second ad at the end of the show.
As a general rule, mid‐rolls are the telemarketing list most expensive, followed by pre and post‐rolls.
Cool, I thought, this all sounds pretty telemarketing list straightforward.
You know how the story goes by now: I was quite wrong.
Over the course of half a year, I trial‐and‐errored my way through all the things that Google doesn’t tell you (at least, until this page starts to rank for podcast‐related terms.)
The good news? I’m about to share everything we learned with you.
Let’s start right from the beginning, shall we?
First Attempt: $14,200 Spent
While I’d personally never listened to a podcast before 2018, that isn’t true of 44% of the US population.
There’s a huge, thriving community of podcast listeners who avidly follow their favorite hosts, discuss takeaways from the latest episodes and recommend shows to each other. Many people even make a good living off podcasts now!
Taking notice of all of this, Tim decided to pay this channel some attention over a year ago.
Our first experience with podcast advertising: Tim spent ~14k USD to promote a special offer on five different podcasts, tracking traffic and leads by creating a specific landing page for each show.
Here are the results:
Podcasts sponsored: 5
Hack the entrepreneur by Jon Nastor
PNR With This Old Marketing by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose
“Mad Marketing” & “The Hubcast” by Marcus Sheridan & George Thomas
“$100 MBA Show” by Omar Zenhom
Trial signups: 11
The conclusion, in Tim’s own words:
It was quite foolish to expect a substantial ROI from “cold advertising” a complex product like Ahrefs with a 30‐second pre‐roll in a 30‐minute podcast.
Tim Soulo, Head of Marketing
This is probably a good time to mention what Ahrefs does.
We’re an industry‐leading SEO toolset. We help you get more website traffic from search engines and increase sales. We’re also very well known for our blog, which at the point of writing, sees close to 175K organic traffic a month.
a screenshot of our organic traffic growth via Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
Tim’s first thought was that we’d never sponsor podcasts again (and no wonder; it cost us almost $1.3k for each trial signup!)
But then he noticed something. While attending conferences and networking with people, many of them told him that they’d heard about Ahrefs in podcasts.
Sometimes an existing user would mention that they were happy to hear about us on their favorite show; sometimes a random person (not even in marketing) would remember us from an old podcast mention. Even if they didn’t convert at the time, they thought that Ahrefs was kind of cool—and this brand recognition stayed in the back of their mind.
That’s when it all clicked.
We were going about it all wrong—rather than being a tool for lead generation, podcast advertising is a tool for gaining exposure and brand awareness.
I wish the rest were history.
Second Attempt: $37,775 Spent
Armed with Tim’s findings, I set to work with a new understanding of how podcast advertising fit into our marketing strategy.
These are the lessons I learned.
Get in early, because the “big” podcasts are always full.
I began by creating a spreadsheet of all the podcasts I’d reach out to.
It was glorious. I looked for recommendations on Slack channels and Facebook groups. Trawled through “Best Podcasts” listicles and Reddit threads. Sorted the list by category: SEO, digital marketing,