How hard might it be to game your way to the top of the Apple Podcast stats?

Everyone with a podcast knows how hard it can be to get good rankings in the Apple Podcast stats.  Whether you’re in new and notable, or just a particular niche, getting a good ranking can make or break your show.  Just like the proverbial catch-22 involving Milo Minderbinder, a good ranking gives you more traffic, which in turn, gives you a better ranking.

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For many years now, companies and individuals have been gaming the Appstore and the Google Play rankings, through a variety of different means – sometimes in violation of the service TOS, and sometimes not.

 

It’s a long way to the top…

The rules surrounding what’s allowed and what isn’t for Apple Podcast stats rankings are a bit murkier, and given the nebulous nature of podcast stats (which we have touched on repeatedly), it’s hard to say whether or not there’s a problem with a potential violator.

Kevin Goldberg, from DiscoverPods.com, recently published an article suggesting that a particular podcast – Kickass News – was possibly juicing their rank on the Apple Podcast stats, and his article is a very interesting read on the possible hows, and his reasoning for thinking they could possibly be doing such a thing.

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I’m not going to reveal all his insights – you should read his article on his site to understand all the nuances and the method of research he’s using, but here’s an interesting quote from the article –

Another telling sign is to correlate Apple Podcasts’ top podcasts chart with the top 200 episodes chart. The episodes chart, according to Walch, is based on new daily plays and downloads; therefore, it’s a more accurate measure of listeners. If, for example, a podcast got a lot of new subscribers on a given day — enough to validate their spot within the top podcasts chart — they should also have at least one episode inside the top 200 chart. As of February 15th, Kickass News has zero episodes within the top 200, yet are listed as the 5th podcast. For comparison’s sake, The Daily is listed as the 7th top podcast today. They have five podcasts inside the top 200 including number 1, 6, and 17. In fact, since February 1st, I couldn’t find one podcast listed in the top 10 that didn’t have at least one episode inside the top 200, except Kickass News. Unfortunately, I can’t locate historical data on the episode charts like I can with the podcast charts. I question whether Kickass News has ever cracked the top 200.

 

But ya wanna rock and roll…

Maybe Kickass News is employing some shady methods to get to the top of the charts, and that’s ok with Apple.  Are they potentially defrauding advertisers because they are claiming to have more subscribers and listens than they do, or are they simply leveraging their ranking to sell ad spots (if this is even about ad spots, it’s impossible to tell in this day and age, they could be Russian election influencers for all we know); although anything that relies on their ranking to generate income would be a false number if Kevin’s investigation results proved true.

I wish I could say I was surprised.

But I am not at all, even mildly, not even the tiniest bit, not one iota.  I’ve been doing this internet thing for a long time, and if there’s anything I know for sure, when you involve money in the deal, someone will be willing to cheat.

Couple that with a system like Apple’s (and everyone else) where it’s virtually impossible to understand the playing field, to verify the information that makes up the scoring and we’re all kind of left feeling our way along in the dark over something so simple as stats…  well, it kind of seems like it was bound to happen and maybe we should be surprised that it’s not happening more often.

 

Of course after everyone is done reading about it, I’m sure we’ll see it a lot more this year.

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