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Podcast Discoverability | How Do Listeners *Actually* Find Their Favourite Shows?

The subject of podcast discoverability is a hotly debated one in the medium right now.

On the one hand, there are those who claim that there is a discoverability problem in podcasting. They say that listeners struggle to find new content, and that a solution needs to be found to help them seek out their new favourites.

Podcast Discoverability

These solutions tend to be along the lines of better charts, ratings systems, and Netflix-style “if you like this, then…” algorithms. Basically, the onus is placed on technology to do a better job recommending relevant and interesting new shows for people.

On the other hand, there are those who insist that there is no podcast discoverability problem. In this camp, the argument is that people generally find their favourites through more “human” means.

This can be things like word of mouth recommendations (either online or in-person), and through hearing podcast creators interviewed on other shows.

This debate matters because if there is a podcast discoverability problem, then it would benefit the medium as a whole if someone could solve it. And if there isn't a podcast discoverability problem, then these developers would be better investing their time and efforts into other ventures.

From a podcaster point of view this is important too. If you run a podcast and would like to grow your audience, it's good to know where listeners are actually discovering podcasts.

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February 2020 Update – We're Running a New Podcast Discovery Survey!

It's open until the 31st March 2020. We'd love to hear your views – and you could win a new microphone or pair of studio-quality headphones in the process. Take the survey

The Podcast Discoverability Survey

With that in mind, we decided to run a podcast listener survey where we could gather some hard data to mull over.

We ran it over a 2 week period in December 2018, and it had a total of 218 responses.

Here are the results, along with some of my “insightful” commentary…

podcast discoverability poll
How Listeners Search for New Podcasts

What to podcast listeners do first when they want to find a new show to listen to? This is arguably the most interesting section of all, because it's entirely based on listener habits.

You Want to Find a New Podcast to Listen To. What Do You Do First?

Ask on Social Media or Online Community – 43%
Directly Ask Someone I Know Who Likes the Same Stuff – 23%
Search My Podcast App's Directory – 16%
Search on Google – 12%
Browse Through a Podcast Chart – 6%

We see here that the respondents definitely trust people over technology when it comes to finding new podcasts. In the comments section of the survey, many talked about how they followed certain people online who have their finger on the pulse with shows in their favoured genre. Our own Wil Williams' name came up a lot there. Tumblr, Facebook, and Reddit communities focused around certain genres were mentioned too.

Google and search engine searching in general performed pretty lowly, at only 12%. There could be a few different reasons for this – one being that audio itself isn't searchable (yet), and that a great website with a strong SEO game doesn't necessarily translate to a good podcast.

With that said, it's more likely that listeners will Google “best of” lists than attempt to find and veto individual shows through their own websites. These roundups are just another form of word of mouth marketing too, which further cements its place as the most important podcast discoverability method.

Podcast charts such as New & Noteworthy are the clear loser here with only 6% of the vote, which might alarm those podcasters who spend the majority of their time and energy trying to get on them. Hopefully this data will help show that there are far more important things to focus on when running a podcast.

It's a revolutionary idea, but if you make something good, and people like it, they might well tell others about it . . .

Of course, that's not to say that promotion and marketing isn't important. Here are 4 great ways to grow your audience that actually do work.

podcast discoverability poll

How Listeners Discovered Their Favourite Podcast

This is less about how listeners attempt to discover new shows, and more about how they actually found their favourite one. Again though, the data shows the strength of word of mouth marketing above all else. We'll take a closer look at this in a second.

How Did You Discover Your Favourite Podcast?

  • It was recommended to me – 67%
  • Other – 12%
  • Through a social media post by the creator – 9%
  • Browsing a Podcast directory or chart – 8%
  • Google/Search Engine – 2%
  • The creator was interviewed on another podcast – 2%

The “Other” answer asked for a little more info. Of those choosing this option, the majority were either social media-based discoveries, or through traditional media such as TV, radio, and newspapers. Remember those?

Listeners discovering their favourite podcasts through the creator being interviewed on another show only makes up 2% here. I'd say that's more to do with the fact that not all podcasts are interview shows, though.

For podcasters, being interviewed on another podcast can still be a good way of growing your listenership. The caveat here is that show you're interviewed on has to share a common audience with your own show – and you need to bring value to that audience!

podcast discoverability poll

Word of Mouth Recommendations

It wasn't a surprise to see word of mouth come out on top. But we wanted to dive a little deeper and find out what that actually means. What seems to be the most effective type of word of mouth marketing?

If the Podcast Was Recommended to You, How So?

  • On social media or in an online community, by a listener – 44%
  • In-person – 22%
  • I found it in a Roundup or “Best Of” list – 21%
  • On another Podcast where it was mentioned, featured, or reviewed – 13%

Again, we see that theme of asking communities of like-minded listeners on platforms like Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and Facebook.

podcast discoverability survey 5

It's heartwarming to see the in-person results as this suggests that some humans actually still talk to each other in real life. There were some nice examples of this cited, like co-workers playing podcasts together at work, commuters travelling together each day, and people recommending shows they've discovered to their friends and family. Maybe we're not entirely doomed as a species after all.

Shows featured on “Best of” lists are naturally going to find new listeners in that niche too. Though the standard Google search didn't perform that well overall in this survey, these roundups are always well shared by the podcasters who appear on them. As they usually share a common audience, the people reading them will be inclined to check out any podcasts that they haven't listened to before.

At 13%, podcasts being discovered because they were featured or reviewed on other shows means it's the lowest performing word of mouth strategy. That doesn't mean it's a poor one though – it's just that podcast review shows are a pretty niche thing. Also, not many podcasts actually play trailers of other shows, or even talk about them. That's a very content-dependent thing.

podcast discoverability poll
Is There a Discoverability Problem in Podcasting? Apparently, Yes…

Though word of mouth is comfortably the most popular way of discovering new podcasts, it appears that many still aren't fully satisfied with it.

A large chunk of the respondents did feel that there should be a technological solution out there somewhere. At the same time though, things like charts performed so poorly that either people don't trust them, or don't even know about them.

The value of charts needs to be questioned. It makes sense that the most popular shows are at the top, but those are the ones everyone has heard of anyway. Do we really need another list of shows like Serial and The Joe Rogan Experience?

If it's recommendations for new or lesser-known shows, how does an app or algorithm decide what those recommendations will be? If it's simply based on the similarity of topic to other podcasts someone listens to, that says nothing about the actual quality of the show. Also, any kind of system that's based on ratings or reviews can be easily gamed. Is an IMDb/Netflix model really the answer?

Gaming the system doesn't stop with ratings and reviews either. We've seen recent stories about placings on Apple's Podcast Charts being bought (again, amusing when you consider how few listeners are actually browsing them) so this further reduces any guarantee that a show must be good because it's featured or charting.

Ultimately, Podcasters Control Their Own Discoverability

There's no doubt that many people will continue to explore and invest in ways to solve what many believe is a need in podcasting. Whether or not someone will invent some incredible solution and it'll be adopted by the majority of podcast listeners is another matter altogether though.

For me though, the bottom line is that the onus lies with podcasters themselves. If you run a podcast, it's up to you to make sure your show is discoverable. No one else. Our friends over at Rebel Base Media wrote a great piece on on this, and the fact that every podcaster is the marketer of their own brand. You can read about their Podcast discoverability triangle over there.

That isn't a task with a silver bullet answer. There's a plethora of factors that go into that. I mentioned it before, but you need to make something really good that people love and will talk enthusiastically about to their friends. You also need to show up consistently over a long period of time.

Community and conversation is vital to podcast discoverability, as we can see clearly in these results. No matter what your podcast topic is, there'll be a community based on that niche, and you should be part of it.

Don't just be someone who talks about their own podcast either. Share and promote the other shows that you love – that alone will encourage people to check out your work.

Then there's the more tangible stuff. Many podcasters severely restrict their audience growth due to factors like their show name, description, and website. It's all about stacking the conditions in your favour as much as possible.

Want to Improve Your Podcast Discoverability?

If you're a podcaster and you'd like to increase the visibility of your show then check out 30 Days of Audience Growth. It's just one of the courses available inside The Podcast Host Academy. You'll also find courses on everything from editing and presentation skills to monetisation and productivity. On top of that, you get access to regular live Q&A sessions with us too.

Or, alternatively, you can simply pay a click farm to get you into New & Noteworthy and start reaping the harvest of that beefy 6% market share 😉

Oh, and one more thing. We've turned the survey data into an infographic. You can download it via the link there!

Written by:

Matthew McLean

Matthew is an audio drama writer and producer who enjoys talking about podcasts. He makes the tea at The Podcast Host, and is a loyal servant of adopted house rabbits.

January 10th 2019
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