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Do We Still Need Podcast Reviews?

I recently read this article by Tanner Campbell calling for the end of the current format of reviews and ratings on Apple Podcasts. Tanner raised some interesting points and I totally get where he is coming from. But it got me thinking if I, too, believed that Apple Podcasts should do away with their review section. It also made me haul out some other things I’ve been thinking about recently with regards to podcast reviews and recommendations in general…

But let’s back it up a bit…

Part of the reason that podcasts took off in the first place is because of how easier it is for anyone to enter the sphere. Anyone with a story to share or information to impart can, without too much difficulty or know-how, put a podcast out into the world. And this low barrier to entry is great! It really is such an integral part of the podcast explosion that has happened in recent years. But it does also work against the podcast industry as there are so many shows out there (850,000 to be exact, according to recent statistics) which can then prove to be too overwhelming for those trying to “get into” listening to podcasts. I often find myself stressing out about how I’m going to find my next “favorite listen”, or which shows to feature in my next blog post because there are just so many to choose from, and it can be difficult to find the gems amongst all the rough. Podcast reviews on a variety of platforms have certainly helped ease that stress!

We also published a post earlier this year as to some of the general reasons for wanting podcast ratings, as well as how to go about getting those coveted positive reviews for your podcast (you can check the full article out here.) And I still stand by all those points. There definitely are some great benefits of getting more positive reviews for your show. But I also have a personal reason for encouraging podcast reviews.

And that’s simply because I like reading reviews. Whether they’re for podcasts or a new restaurant I’m wanting to try out, I like knowing a little “something” before investing my time (or money) into something new.  

So if I’m making a booking on Airbnb or if I’m looking for somewhere great to eat, (in those days of yonder when those sorts of things were possible) I look at reviews. And I’m sure I’m not the only one! And in the end, you’re going to pick the place that best meets all your requirements AND the one that has the best reviews. No doubt about it. (Although, even if you find an amazing place or restaurant with a plethora of 5-Star reviews, you’re going to keep scrolling UNTIL you find a bad review. Don’t ask me why. Humans are weird…and which is a point that certainly helps strengthen one of Tanner’s reasons for suggesting an overhaul of Apple’s podcasting rating system! More on that in a minute.)

In his article, Tanner raises three main points:

  1. There is no evidence that positive reviews and 5-star ratings help grow your podcast audience. (True.)
  2. Negative reviews and bad ratings can certainly have a negative impact on audience growth. (True!)
  3. Constantly asking your audience for ratings and reviews tends to not go down all that well with your listeners. (Also, true!)

And from the perspective of a podcaster, I really do agree with the points raised in Tanner Campbell’s post. While there are some platforms that state that their algorithms take ratings or likes into consideration when ranking the podcasts on their site, there is no real evidence that there is a correlation between the number of positive reviews and five-star ratings for a podcast and audience growth. It is also true that a single negative written review, accompanied by the dreaded one-star can negate a huge amount of 5-star ratings (my previous statement stands – our brains are just plain weird sometimes!) The article also points out that people are often all too ready to leave a scathing review, whereas the same can’t be said for those positive reviews. There may be plenty of four and five-star ratings, but there is often a lack of words accompanying all this love. Or there will be a comment, but it’s something nondescript, like, “Great show.” or “Good job.” Nice, but not really helpful when it comes to carrying weight as a review. 

To take this point even further, there is another issue I’ve come across with regards to podcast reviews, particularly on Apple’s podcast platform, which has to do with fact that people can leave one-star ratings and a “review” that has nothing to do with the podcast in question. This certainly does the argument for the benefit of podcast reviews no favors. The fact that someone can give a podcast a single star and then follow that up with a review that reads, “Chicken, chicken, wing chicken” (which, honest-to-goodness, is a review I recently came across during one of my research stints) is a definite point for concern. (On many levels. What does “Chicken, chicken, wing chicken” actually mean? Are they referring to the host or the show in general? Does it have anything to do with the podcast at all? Just so many questions.)

And, while we’re talking about the legitimacy of some of these reviews, I must also confess that I am super confused by the number of “reviews” that consist of a seemingly never-ending sea of emojis, usually accompanied by the phrase “Spot the difference.” And I’m not talking about seeing this “phenomenon” once or twice. I’ve probably seen iterations of this comment upwards of 30 times, across a huge variety of shows! Now, I don’t know if this is some kind of subculture that Gen Z’s partake in that is just going way over my head, or what the story is, but what I do know is that it is definitely not helpful in any way, shape, or form in terms of a podcast review, and again, would be another strike against the argument for keeping a review option available.

But with all that being said, and with all the very valid reasons calling for an evolved ratings system, I still can’t get away from the fact that I believe that genuine podcast reviews are still an important part of helping to move the industry forward. As I’ve mentioned, films, restaurants, hotels, and other such well-established entities are all helped along by reviews, and so I just can’t see that podcasts won’t greatly benefit from these, on whichever platform, in the long run.

But there is one more reason why, in particular, I would hate to see Apple Podcasts lose its review section. 

Whenever I’m researching a particular genre of podcasts, or podcasts that fall under a particular theme, or even just when I’m on the hunt for a new, exciting podcast to listen to for my own enjoyment, one of the steps in my research is to read some of the podcast’s reviews (did I mention I like reviews?) on platforms like Goodpods, Podchaser, but particularly – because it is currently the platform where podcast reviewing is most active – on Apple Podcasts

I have spent A LOT of time in the review section of Apple Podcasts, both in a personal as well as in a professional capacity, and do you know what I have found – amongst those strange comments and all those emojis? I have found some truly beautiful, and down-right moving reviews. I’m not talking about a review from a great-aunt or other relative of the show’s creator. I’m talking about reviews from a random listener who deeply connected with the host, the content, and the podcast overall. These reviews are so genuine, so honestly appreciative, and often, so vulnerable, that they remind me again just how magical podcasts can be, how much I love listening to amazing podcasts, and what a special medium podcasting is. 

I know this reason is pretty emotive, and I realize it probably doesn’t carry that much weight when facts and figures are the methods most often used to measure success. And I also am well aware that I am not coming at this as a podcaster myself. From that side of the equation, I can totally see and appreciate the argument for getting the reviews section of Apple Podcasts revamped or removed altogether. It really does make sense. But from the perspective of a serious podcast enthusiast, and someone who loves to see great shows getting the love they deserve, I tend to hope they stick around! (Albeit in, perhaps, a modified format.)

So, to draw all these thoughts into a conclusion, I’m ending with an appeal. You know those podcasts you absolutely love? The ones you listen to as soon as a new episode appears in your library? Those shows that you just can’t get enough of because they are so good? Please consider taking the time to write a review, on whatever platform you prefer. And really let those podcast hosts (and the world!) know just how much you love what they’re doing by including all the reasons you love their show, and exactly what everyone who is not listening to this podcast is missing out on. It’s just a small way, in my opinion, that we can help others find their feet in the medium when they have no idea where to start (or what to branch out to from This American Life) and how we can encourage those hosts pouring so much of themselves into their podcasts to keep going. Not only can these reviews help drive the quality of podcasts forward, but it’s just another way we can strengthen and grow the wonderful communities that develop around the podcasts we love.

What do you think about podcast reviews? Whether you’re a podcast host or podcast enthusiast, I’d love to hear your take! 

Related read: 7 Strategies for Dealing with Negative Podcast Reviews

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