We spent $51,975 on podcast advertising: here’s everything we learned

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Publish Date : 2021-05-30


We spent $51,975 on podcast advertising: here’s everything we learned

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. Here’s an overview of what I learned 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.
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 most expensive, followed by pre and post‐rolls.
Cool, I thought, this all sounds pretty 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.
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:

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Budget: $14,200
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
Pageviews: 339
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.
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.

Image Credit
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.
Many podcasts don’t explicitly state that they accept sponsorships on their websites, so you’ll have to do a manual check.

Usually, the top podcasts are open to sponsorships and openly broadcast this. Many even have dedicated pages and “sales pitches,” like this one from Entrepreneurs on Fire.
Just one problem: these podcasts are really, really popular.
So much that when I started contacting them around mid‐April 2018, many were already fully booked for the quarter (some even through the year!.)

Note: This is actually a good thing because it means that these podcasts care about the quality of their content. Nobody wants to listen to a podcast that’s chock full of ads. You don’t want to sponsor a podcast that’s squeezing you in with four other sponsors, either.
Back to the topic.
After securing some positive responses, I found out that…
Pricing is completely arbitrary.
Some podcasts are completely transparent with their pricing structures and publish this on their websites.

Unfortunately, most aren’t. You’ll have to contact each podcast and ask for their current rates.
So, how much does podcast sponsorship cost?
I wish I could give you a more concrete answer than “it depends,” but I really can’t. The shows set the pricing (this is sometimes negotiable, especially if you’re looking to sponsor for a longer period).
This can range anywhere from $300 per episode to…well, see for yourself.

This is the full list of podcasts that Ahrefs ended up sponsoring this year, along with how much it cost us.

*If you’re looking to sponsor these podcasts, their rates may change from the time of publishing.
Some podcasts offer contracts to be signed, while others simply send an invoice. You can request a contract if you’re uncomfortable with not having one.
Classically, ad placements don’t vary much.
Remember what Google told us about pre, mid and end rolls?
This is generally true, although they’re not always all available (or labeled as such.) Get in touch with your chosen podcast, and you’ll instantly find out what the deal is for each show.
Here’s an example:

Whether or not they call it a midroll, this offer is exactly that.
The ads themselves, on the other hand, vary wildly.
Most podcasts will ask you to provide an advertisement “script”.
You’ll need to prepare some pointers or paragraphs for the show host to read off.
Here’s an actual one I wrote:

Even while writing it, I found “ad reads” like these to be rather unauthentic — you can see that I was trying to get the podcast host to add their own spin on it and share their own experience with Ahrefs.
No matter how good a podcast host is, true enthusiasm for your brand is hard to fake. So I count myself lucky that I ran into John from Marketing over Coffee early on.
When I reached out to him, this is what he proposed:

This blew my mind: he can do that for us?!

Image Credit
Podcast hosts know their audience better than anyone else. Having them promote us in their natural voice, and in a completely organic, non‐scripted way, was definitely the best way to go.
I jumped on board in a second, and that turned out to be a fantastic decision.
Podcast sponsorship is incredibly time‐consuming.
As you can probably tell at this point, there is A LOT of back‐and‐forth involved in sponsoring a podcast.
The more established a podcast is, the more rigid their processes are and the longer you’ll have to spend discussing things and ironing out details.
Be very prepared for some frustration and lots of lost time. It’s not anybody’s fault; sometimes things just don’t work out.

I’m mentioning this just in case somebody sees this article, decides that podcast ads are another “low‐hanging fruit” type of marketing activity, and assumes that all you need to do is toss some money into it and sit back.
No.
Getting the Most From Your Advertising Spend
Since we decided to do away with conversion tracking, I had to get a little creative with how we went about handling our advertisements.
Here’s the highlight reel of how we got the most out of our budget.
Organic, not scripted, mentions
This means that we give podcast hosts a free Ahrefs account, walk them through our tools (it’s ideal if they’re already familiar with us) and give them full control over all mentions of us and their placement in the shows.
Click through to hear the difference between a scripted sponsorship mention and a non‐scripted one.
Not to say that scripted ads are bad, necessarily. In the clip linked above, Rebecca does an absolutely fantastic job of promoting us according to the script I provided. She’s enthusiastic, authoritative and even adds on some points of her own.
But when the podcast host is fully fluent with our tools and then given the freedom to promote us however they wish, the difference in both the depth of content and persuasive strength is quite clear.
This has benefits beyond just higher quality mentions on their own show, by the way.
Proof: Matt Giovanisci of Moneylab went on other shows like Niche Pursuits and The Fizzle Show (episode 285) and raved about us there, too. We got a handful of new signups after. (You’re the best, Matt!)
Click through to listen to a couple of my favorite “ads” from the shows we’ve sponsored so far:
This epic long introduction from the guys at Moneylab;
Just another regular mention from the guys at Marketing over Coffee.
Giveaways + social media engagement
It seems that the current industry standard is for advertisers to set up a unique promo code and specific landing page for tracking purposes, as well as to give people a nice incentive to convert.


Since Ahrefs never runs any promotions or discounts and we weren’t looking at podcasts as a direct lead generation channel, we figured out another way to spice up our podcast mentions.
What we do instead is run Ahrefs account giveaways with a tweet‐to‐enter mechanic.
It’s a win‐win for everyone involved: the podcast host gets a great prize to boost audience engagement and some extra social shares. We get extra attention to our message and a way to gauge if the ad resonated well with that show’s audience.
And of course, listeners love the chance to win a subscription to the tool they heard about on the show.
These days, I like asking people to tweet @ahrefs and @podcast and convince us



Category :advertising

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