Google G 220

Google continues to be focused on podcast discovery, as the tech giant continues to see search as its biggest role for the industry. Increasingly that means offering personalized podcast search results that offer more details about the content of a podcast and why a show is being recommended. “We’re excited to ramp our investments in the podcast space and take on the challenge of solving podcast discovery in 2021 and beyond,” said Gabe Bender, Google Podcasts Product Lead, at last week’s Podcast Movement.

Bender told the industry that Google believes there are three “fundamental shifts” that need to happen to drive the future of podcast discovery. That includes shifting from a discovery model based on editorial curation to one that includes algorithmic discovery. Manual curation will continue to play an important role, particularly around sensitive news cycles or seasonal events,” said Bender. “But algorithms can help drive personalized personal discovery at scale.” 

Google is focused on shifting search away from a show-based discovery to one that includes things like episode topics and people mentioned, similar to how articles on the web are found. Bender said the majority of people find information not at the publication level, but at the article level using personalization and context. That model could work in the audio too, according to Google. “The shifting beyond a show-based discovery model will help capture the nuance of people’s interest and surface the right audio experience to the user at the right time,” he said. 

Google is also focused on global podcast listening, with voice and audio playing an even more fundamental role in the delivery of information in some parts of the world than in the U.S. “Addressing the discovery problem at a global level will help accelerate podcast adoption and introduce more people of all backgrounds, regions, and languages of the magic of the podcast format,” said Bender.

To do that, Google Podcasts are scanning the metadata of every podcast and episode to identify the people, places, topics, and items mentioned in a show. Its web crawl technology, which powers Google Search, and the open RSS spec of podcasts, has allowed Google to have what Bender said is the largest podcast search capabilities with more than three million podcast episodes. It is a quest he said is similar to how the tech company tackled web search two decades ago. “We have done this for web, we have done this for video, and now we want to do this for audio, making podcasts universally accessible and useful for all,” he said.

Bender did not offer any specifics at what else Google has planned for the coming year, but said it will in general terms be focused on helping people find and listen to the right podcast regardless of how popular a show might already be. “For creators, it means helping podcasters of all backgrounds grow their audience,” he said.

Google Targeting The Globe

The need for improved search functions is undisputed. Bender said the number of podcasts is growing exponentially, literally doubling every year since 2014. “Connecting the right podcast with the right listener at the right time continues to be a barrier to the industry’s continued growth,” he said. “People still struggle to find a podcast that suits their interest and feels deeply personal.” Because of that discovery challenge, Bender said the top five percent of podcasts continue to capture 90% of downloads which he thinks is not reflective of the quality of shows available to listeners.

 Some forecasts are predicting podcasts will reach more than a billion listeners by 2023. Edison Research data is showing in the U.S. a third of people now listen to a podcast each month. “While that number is encouraging, we at Google are even more excited about the global potential for podcasts,” said Bender. “Today there are seven billion people around the world who are not regular podcast listeners and yet a majority of these people turn to radio every week to fulfil the very need that podcasts serve today – staying informed and entertained when their hands and eyes are busy. We’re excited about introducing these non-listeners to the magic of the podcast format and converting them into podcast enthusiasts.”

Two years ago, Google Podcasts was just an Android app. During the ensuing months it has launched an iOS version targeting Apple users, redesigned its Android app to include more personalized recommendations, and debuted the Your News Update news aggregation tool that allows users to create their own audio news feed.

Bender said they have also begun offering podcast producers more analytical dataon how listeners are engaging with their episodes with the launch of Google Podcast Manager earlier this year to work as a central hub for podcast analytics and managing podcast ad sales. The feature includes allowing a podcaster to see how many people are discovering their podcast on Google Search. It also sunset Google Play Music and migrated those users to Google Podcasts. Bender said the move was designed to “unify” Google’s podcast vision.