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Solving Future Podcast Discovery Problems

Sep 16, 2019

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.

Three things before I wrap:

I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications