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Ask around and you’ll hear a common theme amongst digital marketers and content creators lauding praises on podcasting: There’s no algorithm to try and game/fight/adapt to. Once someone subscribes to your show, they’ll get your episodes. Period. End of story.
If only that was the end of it.
Like so many things the web, too much of a good thing means an algorithmic change. Algorithms exist for one reason: To surface the best content for the person who is engaging with -- often unwittingly -- the experience controlled by the algorithm.
Many of us were first exposed to algorithms thanks to Google. When you search for something on Google, your query goes through a very complicated algorithm with literally hundreds of different factors at play to determine the information presented to you on the search engine results page (SERP).
Years later Facebook and other social media platforms recognized that literally billions of people all creating and consuming content make too much stuff to be presented chronologically. So now, most social platforms use algorithms to determine which content to show -- and which to hide.
When we have near-infinite choices available, we humans aren't very good at making choices. So algorithms come into play. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify and more have a vested interest in keeping people consuming the content on their platform. They implement algorithms to keep people engaged with their platform. Not necessarily any particular content from any particular provider.
As an individual, that decision to filter your content through an algorithm might piss you off. It may, in fact, cause you to abandon that platform and use a different service, albeit one with a smaller pool of content that hasn’t (yet) implemented algorithms.
But these platforms aren’t stupid, and you can bet that if there was a real exodus away from them due to their algorithms, they’d either abandon the algorithm or change it. And while changes to algorithms happen all the time, they aren’t abandoned. Because they work at keeping the audience using the platform more.
So what does it have what's this have to do with podcasting?
While I don't see algorithms influencing how podcast episodes are displayed to you once you’ve already subscribed (though there is evidence that might be changing), algorithms will have a big influence on how new content is presented to you.
Spotify is about to relaunch their app (finally), add you can bet your bottom dollar that an algorithm will be a big part of showing you what podcasts you might like. Pandora is about to drop a tsunami of podcasting content in its app, and we already know there Podcast Genome Project will be a big part of their offering. Google Search now features playable podcast episodes in search results, all of them algorithmically placed.
YouTube’s content has been algorithmically controlled for some time now, with smart publishers adapting their content to play to the algorithm simply so they can get more views. And I’m not talking about short-fixes and grey-hat tweaks to titles, descriptions, and keywords. Content produced specifically for YouTube is seeing fundamental changes. Changes in length, style, and approach. This is resulting in better content, much of it so highly produced that it looks a lot more like something you would expect to see on Netflix than some funny cat video.
If the algorithm is causing YouTube creators to change the content they produce, it’s not a stretch to see that happening in podcasting.
Podcast apps and directories will implement algorithms in their search pages and home pages. They’ll do this not because they think you and I, experienced podcast listeners, need help finding content. No, they’ll dit because they want to make the majority of humans, the 72-ish percent of people who don't regularly listen to podcasts, to have a rewarding listening experience because of their app or directory.
No, we don’t know exactly what factors will go into these algorithms. But it doesn’t take much digging to realize that all algorithms tend to reward “better” content. The existing algorithms tend to reward content that gets people engaged with, commenting on, or just sharing the content with others. Does your podcast compel listeners to do that?
But you may not think in-app or directory-based discovery matters much. Surveys, after all, tell us that word-of-mouth is the number one way people find new podcast content. And there’s no way an algorithm can influence word-of-mouth discovery, right?
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Well… not so fast. If better in-app/directory discoverability does actually surface better content, then it stands to reason more people will be talking about the really good content they just found. So… more mouths to spread the message?
The growth of podcasting isn’t likely to stop. As new shows -- good, bad, and somewhere in between, continue to release, new listeners are going to be continually flooded with too many choices. That’s not a trend that will reverse anytime soon. Soon enough, we’ll live in a world where most podcast listeners will be exposed to algorithmically discovered content.
That future fact means you need to be prepared for this change. It means that everything we've done in podcasting today is foundational, and the world of tomorrow might make the quality of content the most important ranking factor. With the rise of all the new podcast production companies with experience in producing exceedingly high-quality content, you can bet these future algorithms will have plenty of high-quality content to chew on.
How sure are you that your podcast will be loved by these coming algorithms? Get in touch with me. I would love to take a look/listen and talk with you more about where I see your show fitting in our algorithmically-driven future. I firmly believe algorithms will -- eventually -- make podcasting better. firstname.lastname@example.org reaches me, or go to PodcastLaunch.pro for a list of the services my firm offers our clients.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.