James Cridland

Google Podcasts is growing. Here’s how it could grow faster.

On June 20 2018, the podcast world was delighted to see a standalone Google Podcastsapp” released, linking users to a player that’s already installed every Android phone.

How is it doing? And how could it do better?

Google Podcasts is doing well

For July — Google Podcast’s first full month — Libsyn reported that it accounts for 1.23% of all downloads (which, if that doesn’t sound much, makes it the #8 podcast app in the world).

Omny Studio (most active in the US and Australia, two countries with a 50% iOS/Android split) say that Google Podcasts counted for 0.97% of all downloads in August, and that it’s the #15 app.

ART19, who host many of the world’s largest podcasts, told me this week that “Google Podcasts accounts for 0.915% of total downloads in the last 30 days when using a 24 hour filtering window”.

Whooshkaa says Google Podcasts is 0.6% of downloads; slightly below Overcast and Stitcher.

A UK podcaster reports for their (well-promoted) podcast, they’re seeing Google Podcasts with 0.51% of the downloads. “For context, that’s a 4-figure value in a show deep into 6-figure downloads.”

Note: Google Podcasts doesn’t auto-download, so it will always appear lower than apps that do.

It’s a good start: but there’s a long way to go. If the aim is to “double podcast listening”, what more can Google be doing?

Quite a lot, I think. Here are a few ideas.

A quick way to get Google Podcasts visible would be to reach out to the big podcasters and ask for a badge to be placed on their websites: because they’re not there right now.

I sampled the top ten podcasts in the US Apple Podcasts trending Chart. Google Podcasts was only linked from one of them. Apple Podcasts was prominently linked by four.

As an obvious reminder, an Apple Podcasts button is not in competition with a Google Podcasts button (Apple’s iOS only, Google’s Android only), so there’s no reason not to add one.

Google might feature podcasts within the app that actively promote Google Podcasts, perhaps. Apple, apparently, sends advice about their badge’s visibility and position when they feature podcasts too.

Google did publish a handy Podcaster’s Toolkit in the Podcast Movement delegate bag; and that was great outreach. But more of that would be a plan.

Tip: Search for a podcast on Podnews and use the “link button builder” linked from the page to produce working badges for both Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts.

Ensure that podcast press releases talk about Google Podcasts

Out of twenty press releases in the past week promoting new podcasts, they’ve all mentioned Apple Podcasts; but only one has mentioned Google Podcasts.

Google should be striving for parity with any Apple Podcasts mention. They have the technology — Google News will allow them to notice any mention of Apple Podcasts. The team should then be proactive, contacting the podcaster concerned, helping them with their link and asking that they mention their availability on Google Podcasts.

After all, if 80% of the world uses Android, why wouldn’t podcasters want to reach them?

Use Google’s marketing budget to help promote podcasters

If you’re selling computers with Intel inside, you used to be able to ask Intel to help pay for your ad campaign. If the ad said “Intel inside”, and contained the famous Intel “Bong” sound, Intel used to pay for around 20% of your marketing. It was a much cheaper way for Intel to promote their product, and to get them associated with a wide range of hardware. And even now, you probably remember that little five-note tune.

If Google Podcasts were to support a portion of podcasters’ advertising costs, in return for a big “Listen on Google Podcasts” button in the ad, Google would be associating its product with a variety of quality pieces of audio. Podcasters, too, would get assistance from one of the world’s biggest companies to promote the wide range of quality content of podcasts: something that, even now, research says people don’t know about.

Google is already committing to help the podcast community with a program to increase diversity. Help with marketing would be another, welcome and comparatively low cost way to increase podcasting’s footprint.

(I asked the New York Times press office whether Apple had contributed to the costs of their recent out-of-home advertising campaign. They didn’t respond.)

There is no web interface for Google Podcasts. The only way to check if you’re listed is to go to this page, a page that Google have only linked to from one place (halfway down a page in the “structured data” section of their developers website). It asks for a podcast’s RSS feed address, not its name. (Know your RSS feed address off by heart?)

Most podcasters are audio creators, not techies. Google Podcasts needs a simple search page: a text search for a podcast name, and a pre-built badge for podcasters to use, to help them.

Tip: I built one: search for your podcast on Podnews, and you’ll find a Google Podcasts link — if it exists — in a prominent header, alongside the Apple one. Oh, and chances are it will exist; I did a test on 100 random podcasts, and 97% were listed.

There’s no official way for any developer to build a tool that checks whether a podcast is available in Google Podcasts: and without that, there’s no way that a typical podcast host can help a podcaster by showing them where their podcast is on Google Podcasts — and even automatically show a Google Podcasts link on their page.

Tip: By trial and error: a Google Podcasts URL is built from the podcast’s RSS feed, base64-encoded (using a url-encoded ‘base64url’ variant). If you scrape the destination URL, it will contain an external image link to the podcast image if it exists in the Google Podcasts catalogue, or a relative placeholder image if it does not.

Help podcasts get into Google Podcasts by fast-tracking them

The current way to get a podcast into Google Podcasts is to do some weird HTML links from your website to your RSS feed and vice-versa; and then… wait. For maybe a week or so. Who knows.

If you’re launching a podcast, you need a link: or, at least, some confidence that you’ll be there when you launch. If you submit a podcast, ideally it should be available instantaneously if it is compliant with the requirements.

Tip: you can check if your website is compliant with the Google Podcast linking requirements by searching for your podcast on Podnews, and hitting “technical information”.

There’s no “share” functionality within the Google Podcasts app_;_ so listeners are entirely unable to share links to their favourite podcasts. This is made all the more frustrating, since these links would “just work” on any Android phone, irrespective of whether the Google Podcasts icon has been installed. But without any way of sharing a podcast by a listener, nobody will be promoting Google Podcasts on behalf of the company

Tip: Search for your favourite podcast on Podnews, and you’ll find a Google Podcasts link — if it exists — to share.

Close down Google Play Music Podcasts

Of course, Google Podcasts is one of two podcasting experiences that Google runs (it could be worse). The other one is Google Play Music Podcasts.

The two Google podcast apps are entirely different, and just because you’re in one, you won’t be in the other. (That’s also how my FAQ starts.) And, given that for various reasons many podcasters don’t have Android phones, it’s appears more complicated than it could be.

Google Play Music Podcasts isn’t the best experience for a few reasons:

  • It only works in the US and Canada: so would-be listeners outside North America just get a fleeting error message (with no mention of Google Podcasts)
  • It caches all audio. This means stats don’t come back to podcast hosts, and dynamic content, like advertising, doesn’t work
  • Podcasters need to submit their podcast separately (and it’s hard to do so outside North America): so the database is small and incomplete
  • It’s too orange¹

There already is a perfectly acceptable replacement for Google Play Music Podcasts. It’s called Google Podcasts. Time to make this easier for everyone.

Make the app better

I’ve been using the app as my main podcast app for the last few weeks. It’s not aimed at a power user, but it’s a good experience.

That said, it’s missing a few crucial features:

  • There’s no auto-download. Arguably there isn’t auto-download in Netflix or Spotify either, and there’s a good argument to say that it shouldn’t default to filling your phone full of podcasts. I’m fine with the default being to stream: but would prefer to be able to mark a whole podcast series to download, rather than individual episodes; and even better if it automatically downloads podcasts you listen to often, in the same way as Google Maps works.
  • While it powers Google Home smart speakers, it doesn’t have any Chromecast functionality. It’s probably one of the only podcast apps without it, and it’s really hard to listen to an older episode without it. Chromecast is, of course, a Google product. Support looked as if it was coming just two days after launch; we’re still waiting. UPDATE: They’ve added Chromecast, finally rolling it out at the end of September 2018.
  • It doesn’t work in Android Auto at all. An attempt to ask for a podcast by voice doesn’t work, since you cannot select Google Podcasts as an audio source. Android Auto is, of course, a Google product; and the car is the second most popular place to listen to a podcast.

Make it preinstalled — a ‘native’ default app

Since Google Podcasts was launched, Android 9 was released: the latest version of the Android operating system. While the player is included — so any Google Podcasts link will play the podcast — the actual Google Podcasts “app” still isn’t automatically there, so there’s no simple, visible, way to start listening.

Google maintains a list of must-install apps for Android OEMs. It would appear that, for now, Google Podcasts isn’t on that list, in spite of being only 110KB. When 17% of the US listens to podcasts every week, it’s a surprising omission.

It’s a great step

Google Podcasts is a great step forward by the company. They should be commended for finally sorting out their strategy; and the inclusion of podcasts in their search engine results on Android will create real opportunities. It’s telling that Google was visible at Podcast Movement, and Apple wasn’t.

Podcasting has, however, been slow to grow, at less than two percentage points per year. Edison Research say it’s one of the slowest-growing media they’ve ever tracked.

Podcasting needs not just a step… but a leap forward.

If you’re interested in podcasting — and heavens, if you’re still reading you probably are — then you might want to subscribe to the Podnews newsletter, your daily briefing for podcast and on-demand. It’s free.

¹ Being “too orange” isn’t, of course, a fault by itself; but this colour is not having a great time of it right now