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Podcast Reviews Matter, But Not Really.

An image of a cell phone displaying podcast reviews and ratings. To the left of the phone are a few mock ratings on a yellow background.

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There’s been a myth in the podcasting space for a long time – it’s about podcast reviews and how they influence chart rankings on Apple Podcasts – and it’s been debunked plenty of times, but it persists.

Myth: Reviews on Apple Podcasts aid in ranking

You don’t need to take my word on this, Apple has said it themselves:

“[the algorithms we use to rank podcasts] encompass a mix of new follows, playback activity and completion rate; ratings and reviews aren’t factored into these charts. -Apple, December 2020

source: https://podnews.net/article/understanding-podcast-statistics

You can’t get more clear than that, and you can’t get a more trusted or knowledgeable source on Apple Podcasts than… Apple.

Fact: Reviews influence whether someone makes a purchase

In 2019 the AAAS published a study finding that 85% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase. Does this mean that 85% of people read reviews before listening to a podcast? No. However, I feel it’s a reasonable inference to make. Products cost money, and podcasts are free, so it may be slightly less, but to assume reviews and ratings still have a significant impact on follow through, feels, in my expert opinion, reasonable.

If I’m right, reviews on Apple Podcasts may not affect your ranking, but they will affect the frequency with which those discovering your podcast for the first time on Apple Podcasts will bother to hit play.

Why don’t reviews on Apple Podcasts influence this?

A laptop displaying data charts, sitting on a glass table. These charts do not relate to podcast reviews.

I don’t work at Apple, but common sense suggests that the metrics most valuable to a quality ranking system, is not what listeners say, but what they actually do. Reviews are a vanity metric, and vanity metrics lie.

If someone listens to a podcast for three episodes and gives it a 5-star review, but never returns as a dedicated listener, is that a 5-star podcast? To Apple, again, I’m guessing here, a 5-star review podcast is one that has listeners returning for new episodes, completing 90%+ of all episodes’ audio, and hitting that follow button. If you have a lot of that going on, you’ve got a good podcast worth a feature or a high rank.

Also, side note: if you’ve got all that going on over on Overcast (as an example), but not on Apple Podcasts, Apple isn’t going to care because Apple isn’t going to know. You want a shot at being featured? You want to rank high? You’ve got to have those things going on inside of Apple Podcasts or you’re not getting bupkis.

Fact: Apple Podcasts isn’t the only game in town

While reviews don’t influence ranking on Apple Podcasts, they may well influence ranking on Podchaser, or on Spotify, or anywhere else that allows listeners to leave reviews.

But I suspect they don’t. Why? Well, for the same reasons. It behoves these platforms to rank based on number of followers, episode completion rate, and actual listener behavior because it means when someone hits play on a highly ranked podcast, that podcast will be of the sort of value you’d expect a highly ranked podcast to be.

If any platform ranked podcasts based solely on the vanity metric of listener reviews, it would be far too easy to game those platforms – which would result in listeners feeling negative about the suggestions they were receiving, which would make them mistrust the platform, which would be bad for the platform in the long-term.

Should I care about podcast reviews or not?

For the sake of converting non-listeners to first-time-listeners to long-term-listeners, you should care that the reviews you receive are 5-stars reviews nearly all of the time – and the only way you can influence that is to produce a quality show.

Outside of marketing purposes, you should not care about reviews because they do not actually indicate anything useful. Reviews don’t tell you how loyal your listeners are, or how much they like your show. All reviews tell you is that someone took a minute or two to rate you – and that’s not really what you’re looking for as a podcast, is it? You’re looking for committed, loyal fans.

So, then: reviews matter, but not really. Focus your energy on producing a great show, not one that just gets people to leave five star reviews before they disappear and infrequently return.

Would you like to learn how to more effectively encourage your listeners to leave reviews for your podcast?

Consider listening to episode #133 of Podcasting Sucks. In it I talk about the practical, common sense approach to getting more podcast reviews and why, even though they won’t help you rank on Apple (or probably anywhere else), you should still care about them.


Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

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