Click farms have been found to be manipulating Apple’s list of Top Podcasts. Analysis from podcast industry tracker Chartable found this, calling the list ““the closest thing to the Billboard Top 100 in the podcast world.”
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After Apple introduced the Podcast Directory in 2005 it became the world’s biggest podcast aggregator. Podcast rankings have two purposes: Showing the popular podcasts, and helping advertisers figure out which podcasts to support.
Which is why having a click farm manipulate top results is bad. Chartable (via Venture Beat) gives an example:
As of September 30, the show ranked #218 on the charts. By October 7, the show was #1, displacing the top-ranked podcast Serial, despite no individual episode achieving a higher rank than #271.
“Listeners also subscribed to” showed Bulletproof Real Estate subscribers also selecting multiple and seemingly unrelated podcasts from a podcasting network called “Warrior Empire.”
Additional podcasts seemingly came out of nowhere to take places in the top 10, unseating well-established podcasts, with unusual activity noted across clusters of Warrior Empire offerings, as well as other “also subscribed to” podcasts.
Apple’s role in combating this will be difficult, but not impossible. One solution would be figuring out a way to measure a podcast’s popularity with a metric other than the number of new subscribers.