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How does Google’s new podcast strategy work?

As Google finally wakes up and smells the podcast dollar, Orange Line's Bruno Rodriguez unpacks what the tech giant's new strategy will mean for brands.

The boom in podcasting has, unsurprisingly, not gone unnoticed by Google. Last month the tech giant unveiled its strategy for doubling the number of podcast listeners in the next two years and for brands, it offers a good opportunity to engage with a captive audience.

Google’s new approach to podcasting is based on three pillars.

First, podcasts will now rank in Google results, just as image and video search are now embedded to the search engine. For example, if you search for the popular podcast ‘My dad wrote a porno’ on an Android device, you’ll be able to play specific episodes and subscribe.

Second, podcast listening will be seamless across all devices compatible with Google Assistant, including smartphones, computers, tablets and smart home devices. Right now, the new podcast functionality is available on Google Search for Android and Google Home, and listeners can continue listening on their phone to a podcast started on Google Home.

Finally, Google wants to use AI to identify the content of podcasts and insert them in the search experience – especially for search queries. That means that right now Google will look at podcast metadata, but in the future it might be able to understand, index and return fragments of podcasts to search queries.

With these changes, Google hopes to double podcast listening in just two short years.

According to Nielsen, 50% of US homes are already avid listeners to podcasts, while Edison Research shows that 17% of Australians have listened to a podcast in the last month. That’s more than four million Australians, mostly affluent and educated consumers, listen to podcasts every month and that number is predicted to increase significantly by 2020.

While the audience for video and written content is still larger, the podcast market is growing at a faster rate and, above all, is less saturated. According to Apple, it has 525,000 active shows in 2018, so the competition when compared to 130 trillion web pages or the nearly 10 billion videos in Youtube, is much less.

Google’s podcast move taps into some of the biggest consumer trends over the past few years, such as the almost universal adoption of smartphones which is driving most of the consumption of podcasts and the ubiquity of AI-driven voice assistants, both through smartphones and smart home devices.

For Google, the future is, or at least might be, screenless as users communicate by voice with their devices and artificial assistants anticipate their needs. The best way to ensure search is still relevant in this context is making sure Google can integrate audio in its search engine, not only linking to podcasts but accessing and playing small fragments from them on the go.

What’s in it for brands?

Brands should understand there’s a growing demand for audio-only content, a segment that is not yet saturated and with an average listener who is affluent and educated. This audience skews slightly male, enjoys primarily comedic, educational or news content and listens to it at home, in their cars or while commuting.

This does not mean that podcasts will dominate the content ecosystem: it won’t be the main form of content distribution, but one more channel and one that happens to have a low barrier to entry.

What’s also important to note is that 90% of listeners will listen to the entirety of a podcast, ads and all. This presents new opportunities for advertisers. Podcasts also create an opportunity for branded content. Slack Variety Pack, from Slack, or ZipRecruiter’s Rise and Grind with Daymond John are great examples of how brands can engage their customers through podcasts when they have a clear story to tell.

For marketers, audio could be the next video. Yes, the demand will be smaller, but currently, so it the competition. Voice interfaces won’t likely change search in the short term, but brands that largely rely on organic search traffic could consider podcasting to spread their risk.

Bruno Rodriguez is senior SEO manager at Orange Line.

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