Yes, discoverability is an issue in podcasting

I’ve heard time and again how podcasting doesn’t have a problem with discovery. Then they go on to suggest a simple solution: Search for your topic of choice in your favorite podcast app and you’ll be presented with plenty of podcasts to listen to.

Boom! You’ve discovered plenty of new podcasts on your topic of choice.

Not really.

Search results do not equal discovery

In my opinion, search results aren’t the same as discovery. My definition of discoverability means stops when I find a show that I want to listen to.

As such, doing a search to find podcasts on a particular topic is only the first step in podcast discovery.

True discoverability is more along the lines of a podcast version of YouTube’s recommended videos. It helps surface things you didn’t know existed with a high likelihood you’ll actually like the recommendations. That last part is key.

It’s worth pointing out that some apps have recommendations. For the most part, they suck.

Search results are only the first step

Everyone has different preferences and podcasts, like many mediums, vary greatly in many different ways.

For example, maybe you want to only listen to shows that are still actively putting out episodes. Relying only on a search will no doubt include the tens of thousands of inactive SoundCloud and Anchor podcasts, too. Then you get to sift through all of those shows trying to find one you like.

Personally, I really enjoy single host, independent podcasts that are done in a narrative style. They’re a very different type of podcasts than an interview-based podcast.

There is no app (that I’ve found) that will tell me which of the podcasts showing up in my search result fit the style of podcast that I enjoy most.

Podcasts cover almost every topic you can think of…finding a list of shows on topics isn’t the same as discovering a podcast you love.

No, it’s not hard to dig deeper into a podcast to get an idea of if they fit your preferred style. In my example, it’d be easy to see if they list guests. Or you could just listen to the podcast to see if it’s one you’ll like — both of these are further examples of why search results do not equal discoverability.

In fact, getting decent search results are only the first step in podcast discoverability. After searching, you’re still left with a number of steps to determine which of the podcasts in your results are shows you’ll actually listen to.

Right now, the next step is usually to listen to any number of podcasts to see which are shows you’ll keep listening to.

That can get to be time intensive and, if you’re like me listening to a lot of podcasts while commuting, getting behind the wheel is not the time to click around and try to find new shows.

Search results rely on something definitive

Let’s say you’re looking to answer the question, “What’s the most popular podcast?” A good place to start is to search for the most popular podcast:

Search results are only the first step to finding an answer.

Did you get your answer?

It might be in the first link over at podbay.fm/browse/top. Once you get there you realize they’re only listing the most popular in iTunes:

Source: http://podbay.fm/browse/top

Congratulations! You found the most popular podcast with a search result!

Well, hold on there. Since the iTunes charts can be manipulated, top rankings there doesn’t always equate to popularity.

So, you’re forced to go back to the search results and sift through other links to find a better answer. The more you do, the more you’ll start to realize that answer might be more elusive than you first thought. There is no definitive answer because how one organization defines the “most popular podcast” might vary greatly from another organization’s definition.

That’s a key problem with relying on search results as the answer to discoverability — they ignore the subjective.

True discoverability relies on something subjective

Using myself as an example, I’ve never listened to an episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast. I’ve also never listened to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, even though I love history. What I don’t love is podcasts that long.

My tastes, like yours, are subjective.

You probably don’t like the same podcasts I do. Our taste in podcasts can vary, and that’s okay. What you define as a good podcast isn’t what others define as a good podcast.

Therein lies the issue with trying to offer up search results as the answer to discoverability — search results don’t care about your personal tastes.

“What’s a podcast I would like to listen to?” is a very subjective question. A simple search result doesn’t care that I don’t listen to any true crime podcasts, so it won’t filter those out. It doesn’t care that I don’t care for 6-hour podcasts, so Hardcore History keeps popping up in my search results.

And let’s not even get into how badly some search results suck. Searching for “tech” and “technology” can surface completely different results depending on the app you’re using. Which contains the shows you’ll like? Maybe there’s another phrase you need to search for to begin discovering new shows.

That’s a lot of sifting to find something you define as a good podcast.

Word of mouth is the best discoverability we have

Another answer thrown out for discoverability is word of mouth. Ask friends or in online communities for recommended shows based on the podcasts you already like.

Source: https://www.thepodcasthost.com/listening/podcast-discoverability/

This is the closest thing we have to discoverability in podcasting. Word of mouth is a great way to find new podcasts. I’d argue the numbers above are because it’s the best form of discoverability we have right now.

However, word of mouth isn’t an end-all solution to discoverability. It’s just letting someone else do the work of discovering shows for you.