In the past few days there has been significant attention drawn to a five part series on Google’s new podcast strategy. One of the reasons that these posts have received much attention is because for years there has been an overall sense through the industry that Google has not done a great job of delivering on podcast features. Those features that they have implemented have often been rolled out with little discussion or explanation, such as when they implemented a change to Google search that would start embedding podcasts within search results, or when they started openly displaying indexed podcast RSS feeds. Even over the last 6-12 months there have been many rumors of Google making a priority of podcasts, there has been a lack of data coming forward. However, the recent blog posts are feature rich with information from Google Podcasts Product Manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen.
I am currently writing this blog post in between part two and three of the series, so I admit that there is more information that could come out that could add clarity on what I’m about to discuss, however, even with only two posts in the series released, there seems to be a lot of speculation happening within the podcast industry, some of which does not appear to be correct.
When reading these articles, it’s important to remember that as it currently stands, there still is very limited concrete information provided about where the future of Google’s Podcast division is going. While the five-part series is the best look that we’ve had so far, with a little analysis of these articles, it becomes easy to recognize that relatively speaking, there are limited quotes from Reneau-Wedeen. I’m most definitely not dismissing these articles as there is fantastic information being revealed in these quotes (and they are worth a read); however, I’m cautioning that it is easy to misunderstand information provided in this article as coming from Google directly since the articles cite both new-details as well as commenting on information from the existing Google Podcast related products (for example referencing the existing “official guidelines for podcasts” in part one)”.
For those not familiar with the inner workings of the podcasting world, one of the most debated points of podcasting is whether to host your RSS feed on your own domain, or on a podcast media host (such as Libsyn and Podbean). If you ask this question in any podcast community, the odds are that you’ll quickly become even more confused as you will be presented with multiple conflicting points of views and opinions on the subject (for the record, I’m of the opinion that everyone is different and that neither is the right solution for everyone. However, I personally think that the long-term benefits of self-hosting RSS feeds barely edges out media-hosting – but again: it’s not for everyone). The reason I mention this is because in the last couple days there have been a couple industry notable names taking this recent series to suggest that this indicates that podcasts should be on their own domain – something that I’m struggling to understand the connection with the data in these articles.
I take issue with those that are pushing this message because as far as I can tell, the articles have not indicated anything of the such thus far. Furthermore, there has not been any published information by Google so far to indicate that Google’s podcasting features will favor people who have their podcast hosted on their own domain. In fact, the best place we can turn to have a look at how they may look at the situation is with Google’s most recent implementation – the search results for podcasts (a feature currently only available in the Android Google Search App 6.5 or higher).
Currently the official guidelines indicate the following:
In order to index a podcast, you must do the following:
- Expose a valid RSS feed describing the podcast that conforms to the RSS 2.0 specifications as well as the feed requirements described below.
- The feed must contain at least one episode that conforms to the requirements given on this page.
- The podcast must have a dedicated homepage with the elements described below. The homepage must have a pointing to your RSS feed.
- The homepage, the RSS feed, and any non-blocked audio files must be exposed to Googlebot; that is, they must not require a login, and must not be protected by robots.txt or tags.
- If you want your podcast to appear in Google Play, you should also read the Google Play Music podcast RSS feed specifications. The RSS specifications for Google Play Music and Google Search are complimentary but not identical, so if you enable support for one, you neither prevent nor enable support for the other.
It’s important to note that while one of the points is that Google indicates having a dedicated HOMEPAGE – and does NOT say a dedicated DOMAIN. The use of the word “homepage” is very telling in my opinoion, as a “homepage” can be hosted in a variety of places such as on a subdomain or even a directory. From a user perspective, it makes sense that Google wants a homepage of some form if they are showing podcast results – they would want a webpage that they can tie the directory to within the results. If Google was wanting a dedicated domain, it makes sense that they would clearly indicate as such.
Looking further into the idea of integrating a media-hosted podcast into the existing Google Search service, here’s what Libsyn had to say about the integration of their shows to the current Google Search podcast results:
You need 2 things, when you break it down:
A valid podcast RSS feed
A link to your feed on your website.
We provide a valid podcast rss feed and if you use the podcast page, we link to the rss feed in the code:
If that doesn’t support that Google seems to be including podcasters who both choose to self-host their domain as well as podcasters who opt for media-hosts, here are two screenshots (one from Libsyn and one from Podbean) that demonstrate that as it stands currently, both Podbean and Libsyn support this criteria:
You can see that in both screenshots that the podcast results are directly below their respective results, which are hosted on their media hosts. In my Google Search results, I can start playing the podcast as per the Google Search podcasting feature integration. These results suggest that as it currently stands, there is no indication that Google isn’t supporting podcasters who choose to host their podcast on a podcast media host and that the functionality works perfectly fine.
In my opinion, based on this information it stands to reason that if Google has existing infrastructure and guidelines for podcasts, that it’s likely they will build from these as they develop other features, such as the expected dedicated podcast app. It’s also important to note that part two of the series specifically references that the Google Podcast team is “conscious that the podcasting industry is still growing and that there are a lot of different players relying on and experimenting with different business models“. This coupled with the fact that there are countless major players in podcasting that follow the model of using media hosts like Libsyn and Podbean to host their RSS feeds, it seems extremely short-sighted to believe the idea that Google would build a podcast model that ignored or even negatively impacted these players. Why would Google, which prides themselves on providing the best results for the intended search, create a new podcasting tool that ignores a significant percentage of podcasts? It makes no sense, especially considering that they have to compete against the domination of Apple which clearly does not either.
While these articles have definitely provided some wonderful insight into the future of Google and their podcast strategy, it’s important to note that there is still a lot of questions that remain about their future direction. At the same time, it’s also important to keep in mind that what Google does now, may not be what they do later (heck future proofing is one of the reasons why I personally think that self-hosting slightly outweighs media-hosting). However, the bottom line is that so far their implementation of podcast features does not seem to be any indication that Google is making changes to favor people who self-host their RSS feed.
With all of that said, I think it’s important to make clear that I am not an expert on SEO, so I can not speak on whether or not there is potential SEO impact by having your RSS feed on your own website. I do have a few personal opinions on this subject, as well as why I think there are many safe-guards to implement if you are going to go the media-host route, but that would be a discussion for another time. In the meantime, I do suggest that if you ARE currently managing your own homepage that you should take a look to see if you are meeting the requirements outlined above by Google in order to take advantage of the Google Search capability. As well, if you have a homepage with a podcast media host now would be a great time to reach out to your provider to confirm that your page meets the suggested guidelines. No matter how you have chosen to host your podcast, everyone should keep in touch with what Google has for future changes, especially considering the growing international Android user base.