NPR aims to raise profile of its podcasts with new directory

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NPR's revamped podcast directory.

NPR’s revamped podcast directory.

NPR’s digital hub for its podcasts and others in public radio got an upgrade Jan. 26.

The upgraded podcast directory allows listeners to listen to individual podcasts straight from the directory page and subscribe to podcasts through a range of apps they might already be using to listen to them, like Stitcher. And one of the most important upgrades: It’s now mobile-friendly.

“Mobile is huge for us,” said Patrick Cooper, director of Web and engagement in NPR’s Digital Media division. NPR made its site mobile-friendly in 2013, and more than half of NPR.org’s traffic now comes from mobile platforms.

Mobile is even more important for podcasts, a medium that relies heavily on mobile devices. Mathilde Piard, NPR’s product manager for social media and podcasts, told Current that before the redesign of the podcast directory, 40 percent of traffic to the directory came from mobile.

That would usually be a solid number if it weren’t for the fact that mobile users were finding nonresponsive pages where they couldn’t listen to podcasts, only download them. It was like a “phone book of podcasts,” Piard said, and not good for converting listeners into subscribers.

The turnaround on the podcast directory upgrade was quick. According to Cooper, NPR began researching ideas for improvements to the directory in August 2014 and started working on the upgrades in December before launching late last month.

When asked if the success of the popular podcast Serial influenced NPR’s decision to upgrade the directory, Cooper said, “Not really.” NPR has been podcasting since 2005, he pointed out. But he added: “We’ve been happy with the explosion in the podcast space.”

“We’ve seen boosts every time we’ve rolled out a podcast . . . since TED Radio Hour,” Cooper said.

The medium has grown significantly over the last two years. According to an NPR spokesperson, users downloaded about 30 million NPR podcasts in October 2013. That has increased to around 60 million downloads per month.

NPR’s latest radio show and podcast, Invisibilia, was downloaded and streamed more than 10 million times. The show, which launched in January, continues to be the top podcast on iTunes.

Invisibilia will have more downloads per episode in January than any other NPR podcast, which is unprecedented for any new show and much more for one that has been on the air for less than a month,” Eric Nuzum, NPR’s v.p. of programming, said in a statement.

Over the long term, NPR will look to do even more to improve its technology behind podcasts, not just the user experience. One upgrade could tailor podcast recommendations based on the listener’s location. For example, a listener in New York might be prompted to download WNYC podcasts.

Some of the most significant changes won’t affect listeners as directly but could help NPR producers working on podcasts. In a statement, NPR said it’s giving producers more tools to “publish great shows and get new podcasts rolling.”

NPR didn’t give specifics about those improvements, but Cooper said the goal is to get the technology “out of the way” so that producers can focus more on executing an idea than working with back-end infrastructure.

A week after the redesign, the decision seems to be paying off. “The numbers are looking really good,” Piard said. “The design is a lot more engaging and sticky with bounce rate going down.”

Related stories from Current:

Correction: A previous version of this post gave an incorrect date for when NPR began podcasting.
  • Alexis Lemmon

    Where do we get (or do we?) to vote back in a cancelled podcast? Am I alone with the thought that TDLR was an enjoyable and fun podcast? I also quite liked the host as well.