What Google Is About to Do to Podcasting

And why developing a taste for media reporting is such an important part of being a great storyteller

You already clicked into the email, so let’s get you locked in for a nice read. I have two things on my mind today. They are: the amazing value of media reporting, and what Google bringing search to podcasting really means.

I think these ideas might be worth sharing, so in a rare moment of marketing ingenuity, I have provided a button. Green one. Don’t click it.

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The amazing value of media reporting

In a past edition of this newsletter, I already gushed over the year-end stories that Nieman Lab did on the future of journalism. I’ve also mentioned that editing Timber has been a learning experience for me. Lots of good podcasting is journalism, so understanding how journalism works isn’t just important to me for making a publication, it’s important for you as podcasters wanting to tell great stories. There may not be any shortcuts to experience, but if you want to understand journalism quickly, you could do worse than develop an interest in media reporting. People that write about media with a critical eye are wonderful teachers for those of us trying to understand how to create media. Every problem they point out becomes a pitfall we can avoid.

Why am I thinking about this? Well we all know that from Caliphate to The Daily to Reply All, podcasting has been in some stormy seas. Jenna Spinelle wrote a brilliant piece on how we can navigate these seas. But the currents are constantly shifting in terms of how we tell stories and where we publish.

Tuesday, Delia Cai addressed these shifting currents with one of the sharpest pieces of media reporting I’ve read this year.

You could say that media, as an entire industry, stands in this weird space as an ecosystem of highly trained storytellers who very often turn our powers on each other (that’s the point of media reporting, of course) and our places of work.

She takes a look at the recent trend of workplace confessionals, how and where they get published, and the power that they hold. Only Cai noticed this trend and wrote about it. I’m so impressed by her writing all the time.

Following up on what Google might do to podcast discovery

On Tuesday, Timber published a story I’m so proud of by Amanda Cupido about podcast curation and tastemaking. Near the end of that piece, she interviews Gabe Bender, Google Podcast’s product lead. Bender alludes to big changes coming to Google Podcasts around search and discovery. He didn’t specifically say this, but I believe this is what’s coming:

  • Google will make features that are parallel to what they have with YouTube. This means podcasts will become extremely searchable with detailed search terms (think of Google video search results or YouTube search results), and they will be recommended to you as you’re listening (think of the home page and ‘next up’ areas of YouTube).

  • Because Google will show podcast results in search, this will impact all listeners that use Google for search, not just listeners that use Google Podcasts.

  • Google will likely autotranscribe podcasts so that they can include podcasts in search results based on what’s said in them, not just what’s said in their descriptions and summaries and webpages.

  • The concept of “page rank” will likely be applied to podcasts. That means the more external sources—web pages, videos, other podcasts—that reference your podcast, the higher it will appear in search results for the topic that is referenced.

  • There will be personalization. Search results and the ‘next up’ area in Google Podcasts will take into account anything Google knows about what you listen to and cluster you with other people that listen to similar things so that it can suggest shows to you that other people in your cluster listen to.

If all this happens as Bender seems to suggest it will, and if people use it, then a new kind of expertise will become important. Let’s call it P-SEO—podcast search engine optimization. Just as SEO consultants today help companies get their web pages to appear high in Google results, the same types of consultants will help podcasters appear high in Google’s podcast search results. The methods will be similar: buying or begging for other shows and web pages to mention your show, and including searchable terms not just in episode summaries but in the words you say during your show. There may also be smaller rewards for ideal show lengths and release schedules.

See where this is going? Even without Youtube-ifying podcasting, this has the potential to be very influential on what goes into podcasts. So as much as I’d like to be hopeful like Galen Beebe, that this doesn’t have “to be technology versus humans,” there is the potential for a negative effect on quality as people learn how to play the algorithm game. Smash that subscribe button!

That’s a wrap! Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for all of the love that you’ve given Timber recently. This creation, accidentally born in the time of a pandemic, has been the most exciting and gratifying, and pride inducing thing I’ve ever worked on. Thank you for making it that way. You’re the best.

—Jon Christensen