Google Search Updates Plan to Improve Podcast Discovery

Google now makes it easier for users to find individual podcasts in search results, showing potential episodes that fit search terms and playing back those podcasts. Users will have to ask Google or Google Assistant for podcasts about that particular topic — that is, “find a podcast on golden retrievers” — which will then open in Google Podcasts’ web app. Google, which houses a 2+ million podcast index, said it will eventually support third-party playback and drop the “podcast” search term requirement.

The Verge reports that, although Google hasn’t said when podcast functionality for Assistant will debut, it is currently “automatically transcribing all the podcast episodes it finds.” That includes indexing all podcasters who publish with an RSS Feed.

Google Podcasts product manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen said that Google will look at factors such as how many people listen to a show or whether it comes from a publisher with “a lot of authority” in determining what podcasts surface first.

“There [are] so many more high-quality, varied podcasts than there used to be,” said Reneau-Wedeen, who notes that it’s similar to the 2000s “on the Internet, where you need a search engine to really help you to discover and find all the content that might be useful or entertaining to you.” Up until now, there have been no discovery tools for podcasts.

But having podcasts be searchable could also change how they’re made, given the practice of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make Internet content “more Google-friendly with commonly searched terms.” This could simply mean that podcasters change titles or write different descriptions, but “could have negative side effects if podcast creators eventually rely on formulaic approaches to titles and descriptions.”

Reneau-Wedeen says his team is “thinking about how search terms could be abused and is going to rely on Google’s web spam team to detect when people are trying to game the algorithm.”

Variety reports that, in addition to surfacing podcasts about a specific topic, Google will also show “web pages, news, images and videos.” The indexing of its 2+ million podcasts will start initially for English in the U.S. and then “expand over time.” Variety notes, “Google has been slower to embrace podcasts than Apple, which introduced the Apple Podcasts as a default native app with the iOS 8 release in 2014 — a move credited with helping fuel the current boom in the podcast biz.”

According to App Annie, Apple Podcasts “accounted for about 63 percent of all podcast listening as of February 2019.” Google Podcasts for Android, which debuted in June 2018, “accounted for just 0.9 percent,” and currently boasts over 5 million installs.

“Our goal is to double worldwide podcast listening, to not just make it easy to listen to podcasts on Android but make podcasts a first-class citizen on Google,” said Reneau-Wedeen. Apple now has more than 750,000 podcast shows comprised of 24+ million episodes registered in iTunes.