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Podcast Rankings: How Do Apple and Spotify Podcast Charts Work?

This guide aims to arm you with essential tools and strategies to ascend the podcast charts, reach a broader audience, and truly make your mark in the podcasting landscape.

Contents

How do podcasts ranking work?

Podcasting has exploded in popularity over the past decade. More people are listening to podcasts and more people are creating them. It's a medium that allows for innovation, creativity, and immense reach. (We say this a lot but it’s worth repeating.)

However, achieving noticeable success in this arena demands more than having a great concept or compelling content. Success also requires strategic positioning and focused marketing efforts to increase your show’s visibility and listenership. 

We’ll cover best practices to improve your rankings and we’ll unpack how Spotify and Apple Podcasts charts work, and what you can do to maximize your efforts on both platforms.

How Do Podcast Rankings Work? (and Why They Matter)

Podcast rankings are influenced by a combination of factors, including subscriber count, episode downloads, and listener engagement. Why do these rankings matter? 

Exposure. The higher your podcast ranks, the more exposure it gains. This increased visibility invites more downloads, listens, and subscriptions, all working in concert to propel your podcast further up the charts.

However, the question remains: How is this ranking determined? What elements are affecting your podcast's placement on the chart? 

To successfully make your way to the top, it's essential to get a handle on the ranking methodologies of the two primary podcast platforms—Apple Podcasts and Spotify. So, let’s start there.

How Do Apple Podcast Charts Work?

Apple Podcast Charts showcase the shows and episodes that are currently popular in a particular region. Given the sheer volume of podcasts out there, they serve as a helpful guide to show you what’s available without having to sift through thousands of options. 

But remember, these charts don't measure all-time records or overall listenership size. They're more about helping you discover what to tune into next. How they decide this depends on a mix of three things:

  1. Downloads: When people tune into episodes, it shows that the content is gaining popularity.

  2. Completion Rate: When someone listens all the way to the end of an episode (a rarity in today’s attention-deficit world), it's a clear indication that they enjoyed what they heard. 

  3. Follows: When listeners subscribe to a podcast for updates, it signals their intention to keep listening to the show (more on this below).

Apple Podcasts Charts
 

The primary factor influencing Apple Podcasts' rankings is the growth rate of new subscribers. The platform places particular emphasis on the total number of followers a show has racked up in the previous week. 

Drilling even deeper, Apple is especially interested in how the numbers have improved in the last 24, 48, and 72 hours. Simply put, the more subscribers you can amass in the shortest amount of time, the better your chances of scaling the charts.

We leveraged the strategies mentioned above to drive immediate success for The Breakout. We'll delve into the specifics of their case study further down.

Top Tips for Ranking on Apple Podcast Charts

Apple might be keeping their exact algorithm under wraps, but they do offer pointers on how to improve your podcast's chance of climbing their charts.

  • Create Kick-Ass Content: You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth saying again. As Apple puts it, “Make an incredible show that is unmissable for listeners.”

  • Leverage the Social Asset Generator: Once your show appears on the charts, use the Social Asset Generator to share the achievement.

  • Don’t Game the System: Manipulating your podcast's chart rankings goes against Apple Podcasts’ content guidelines. Their team keeps a close eye on the charts to make sure they accurately depict user engagement.

How Do Spotify Podcast Charts Work?

Similar to Apple, Spotify's Podcast Charts also highlight the most popular and trending podcasts, although their ranking algorithm varies slightly from Apple's. According to their newsroom, here's how Spotify calculates its charts:

  • Top Podcasts: This is based on a combination of the total number of followers and recent unique listeners. It highlights the most popular shows, both old and new, that enjoy a significant following.

  • Top Episodes: This is determined solely by the count of unique listeners on that day. It’s essentially a snapshot of what's gaining traction.

  • Listener Counts: Spotify's listener counts only factor in plays on Spotify. If a user listens to an embedded Spotify player and isn't logged in, it doesn't count towards Spotify's numbers.

Spotify Podcasts Charts
 

Top Tips for Ranking on Spotify

While there are a number of ways to improve your ranking on Spotify (and perhaps even get your show featured on their editorial playlist), these three things carry slightly more weight in terms of immediate impact:

  1. Maximize Unique Listeners and Followers: This is possibly the most direct factor influencing your ranking. Gaining more followers and unique listeners will directly boost your position in the "Top Podcasts" section.

  2. Capitalize on Day-of Listens for Trending Episodes: Since the "Top Episodes" ranking is based solely on the number of unique listeners on a particular day, focusing on this can get your episodes into the trending list, increasing visibility and potentially drawing in new regular listeners.

  3. Encourage Listener Support: Encouraging listeners to actively follow and regularly listen to your podcast not only boosts your unique listener counts and followers but also helps foster a loyal audience base that can contribute to long-term success.

Apple vs Spotify: Comparisons and Contrasts 

While Apple and Spotify have their own unique algorithms, there are some similarities in their podcast chart rankings. 

For instance, both platforms place a high emphasis on unique listeners and follower counts. Podcasts that are successful in engaging their audience and motivating them to follow or subscribe will have a better chance of ranking higher on both platforms.

However, there are also differences. Where Apple considers the completion rate of listened episodes (the more people finish your episodes, the better your ranking), Spotify's "Top Episodes" ranking takes into account the number of unique listeners on a specific day.

Whether your aim is to top the Apple or Spotify charts, or both, understanding these intricacies is crucial to maximize rankings on each. 

Key Factors Influencing Podcast Rankings

Regardless of whether you're aiming for the number 1 spot on Apple, Spotify, or another platform, several things universally influence your podcast's position in the rankings. Understanding them can help you strategize your way to the top. 

  1. Number and quality of reviews: The more positive reviews you have, the more likely your podcast is to rank higher. This is because platforms see high-quality reviews as a sign of a popular and respected podcast.

  2. Subscription growth: Rapidly increasing subscribers can significantly boost your podcast rankings. Podcast platforms view this growth positively, as it shows your podcast is gaining popularity.

  3. Episode downloads and plays: The more your episodes are downloaded and played, the higher your podcast will rank. This demonstrates to the platform that your content is engaging and important to listeners.

  4. Social media shares: Sharing your podcast on social media can help increase visibility, tempting more listeners to download, play, and subscribe, which in turn can boost your rankings.

Remember, these key factors apply to all podcast platforms, and focusing on them can help your podcast climb the charts to reach the highly sought-after top spot.

Screenshot of podcast listener consumption rate
 

Best Practices to Improve Podcast Rankings

If you want your podcast to climb the charts, there are a few things you can do to make it more visible and engaging to listeners. Let's look at what they are and how you can leverage them to your advantage:

Enhancing Content Quality

Creating engaging and valuable content for your listeners is the first step. High-quality content not only retains current listeners but also attracts new ones. Some strategies to improve the quality of your content include:

Consistency in Output

Maintaining a regular podcast release schedule keeps your audience engaged, and anticipating your next episode. Consistency also shows your commitment to the podcast, positively impacting your podcast's ranking. 

Aim to release your episodes on the same day and time each week so your audience knows when to expect your content. Having a schedule in place can ensure that you're always delivering fresh content to your audience.

Further reading: What’s the best day to publish a podcast?

Optimization of Podcast Metadata

Done right, podcast metadata, such as the title, description, and categories, can improve your podcast's discoverability and increase your chances of gaining more listeners and subscribers.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Include relevant keywords in your title and episode descriptions

  • Keep your podcast and episode titles clear and straightforward

  • Use detailed episode descriptions to capture potential listener's attention

  • Add appropriate tags and categories to your podcast

Don’t underestimate the relevance of your podcast cover art either. It’s the first thing potential listeners see and it can significantly affect their decision to hit play or not. High-quality, eye-catching artwork can make listeners curious and encourage them to check out your podcast. 

Increasing Listener Engagement

Listener engagement can take various forms. From active participation in the comments section to sharing your podcast on social media, higher engagement sends signals to the platform about your podcast's value and popularity. 

Practical ways to boost engagement include:

  • Requesting listeners to leave reviews and ratings

  • Regularly interacting with your audience on social media 

  • Collaborating with popular podcasters in a similar niche

Engage with your listeners
 

Selecting the Appropriate Podcast Category

Choosing the right category can mean the difference between high visibility and getting lost in the crowd. It helps potential listeners find your podcast when they're browsing or searching for a particular topic. 

When listing your show, you have the option to list it under multiple secondary categories. However, you can only choose one primary category. Keep these tips in mind when deciding:

  • Choose a category that accurately matches your podcast's content

  • Opt for less crowded categories to increase the chances of your podcast standing out

  • If your podcast fits into multiple categories, prioritize the one most relevant to your core content

  • Regularly review and update your category choice as your podcast evolves

Following these steps can significantly increase your podcast's reach and visibility, propelling its ranking on any podcast platform you choose. 

Case Study: The Breakout

After producing 74 episodes, Dr. Keri Ohlrich and Kelly Guenther, hosts of REcharge, decided to rebrand their podcast to align with their upcoming book.

Lower Street facilitated The Breakout’s growth by launching a targeted paid campaign to improve its ranking and increase visibility. Here’s what that looked like:

  1. We launched a targeted paid campaign focusing specifically on the intended audience 

  2. We implemented marketing campaigns across various platforms (Apple Podcasts, Castbox, etc.) in order to reach a larger audience segment

  3. To take advantage of platform algorithms, promotional efforts were launched within 24 to 48 hours of the podcast's release.

  4. We carefully monitored the campaign, tracking both direct (from paid campaigns) and indirect (organic) growth 

The result? The Breakout soared to the top of the Apple Podcasts Charts. Take a look at our case study to see the exact numbers (hint: they’re impressive) as well as everything we did to achieve that!

The Breakout Podcast
 

Climbing the Podcast Charts: Final Thoughts 

Making it to the top of the charts requires a comprehensive and well-crafted strategy. We’re talking high-quality, engaging content, a consistent release schedule, well-optimized podcast metadata, and more.

Continuously reviewing and adapting your strategy based on your show’s performance and the changing podcast landscape is equally important. But with dedication and consistency, your podcast could be the next big hit on the charts!

Remember, climbing the podcast charts isn't an overnight journey. It requires persistence to keep experimenting until you find what works best for your unique podcast. 

But don't get discouraged. Much like expert mountaineers, successful podcasters ascend, step-by-step, leveraging their tools, knowledge, and passion to make it to the top.

Fancy giving your podcast the top-chart treatment? Let's work together to boost your podcast's success, just like we did with The Breakout. Contact us today to see how we can assist you on your path to becoming a podcast chart topper!

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    Steven Bonnard

    Author

    Steven Bonnard

    Hi, I'm Steven. I'm a globe-trotter who loves running long distances and listening to podcasts, especially from the politics and fantasy categories.