The future of podcast discovery is bright; but only because the present of podcast discovery really sucks. But before you cheer too much for the future of podcast discovery, it might be a bit more dystopian than you want.
Podcasting’s perceived “discovery problem” is the topic for part 5 of my future-of-podcasting mini-series. (1, 2, 3, & 4) I say “perceived” because podcasting per se doesn’t have a discovery problem. People who claim podcasting has a discovery problem really mean that they are upset their content isn’t ranking number one for an arbitrary, single search phrase they place a lot of importance on.
The other day, I searched for “NHL hockey” on Spotify’s podcast section. I refined to just podcasts (so not episodes) and scrolled to the bottom to get a rough count. I’m going with 60, because I did a quick scroll-scroll-scroll with my finger a total of six times to get to the bottom.
Sixty podcasts were in the consideration set for “NHL hockey”. This means the people who run 59 of those shows think there’s a problem with podcast discovery because theirs isn’t listed first.
Another and likely bigger problem is that discovery doesn’t just mean search discovery. It’s great that Google is adding podcast episodes to their SERPs — search engine results pages. That’s definitely going to improve discoverability. That’s great. But that’s just search. Search is not the only way people discover content. Because scrolling through an endless list of results isn’t helpful.
Spotify knows this. That’s not how people discover music on Spotify. The brains at Spotify will figure out how to slot podcast discovery into the same or similar mechanisms as they allow for music discovery. And while an improved discovery process for the listener is great, it means you have a new problem. How do you ensure that your content is being discovered on Spotify in ways that have nothing to do with search?
And what will you do about Pandora’s Podcast Genome Project, which promises to analyze podcast episodes not just by topic, but by tone, style and myriad other distinguishing characteristics to automatically choose content based on listening preference? How do you optimizing a single show to the individual tastes of millions of users?
We have the question backward. I’ve framed it backward the entire article thus far. This isn’t a “content discoverability” problem. The problem is not that our content is not being discovered by people. Content cannot do things to make it more attractive to people. It’s produced content!
In reality, people aren’t discovering your content. That’s the real problem. Because people are discovering podcast content. They may be searching. They may be selecting from a list of recommendations. Whatever their “discovering” activity and behavior, I assure you that most of the time, the person finds something to listen to. But that something isn’t something of yours.
Seen from their perspective, they, the listeners, don’t have a discoverability problem. And your problem of them not finding your content isn’t even a known problem to them… because they aren’t aware of your content to know they’re missing it! So it’s not a problem for them. This is a problem for you.
So what do you do about this fractured discovery landscape? The tactics may vary from platform to platform, but the strategic mindset you should adopt is always the same: understand the intent of the listener when they are in the discovery process.
Only once you understand their intent can you create content that matches that intent.
That’s it. That’s always the answer to all questions of optimizing. Just make content that matches what people are looking for when they are in their own discovery process.
Easier said than done, right? Hey, I’d love nothing more than to tell you how to tweak your content for Spotify, Pandora, Google, and all the other discovery options out there, but clearly that’s not possible. So yeah… it means more work for us. Boo.
Just making really great content that people want in their lives and you’ve made a lot of headway. But even then, I’m sorry to say that our discovery issue is never going away.
Since you got this far, how about mashing that 👏 button a few dozen times to let me know you dig the written-word version of my thoughts on these podcasting topics? I’d sure appreciate it!
This article started life as a podcast episode. The 223rd episode of my four-times-a-week short-form podcast called, oddly enough, Podcast Pontifications. It’s a podcast for working podcasters that’s focused on trends in our growing industry and ideas on ways to make podcasting not just easier, but better. Yes, you should listen. Here’s an easy way: 👇
Evo Terra (hey, that’s me!) has been podcasting since 2004, is the author of Podcasting For Dummies and Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies, and is the CEO and founder of Simpler Media Productions, a strategic podcast consultancy working with businesses, brands, and professional service providers all around the world.