This one’s a bit of a hot topic in the Spotify promotion world.

SEO playlists, for those of you who are happily unfamiliar with lame marketing acronyms, refer to playlists that appear prominently in Spotify search results for common keywords.

In other words, if you type the main playlist keyword into Spotify’s search bar, an “SEO playlist” will show up.

Like this…

⬆️ These are the playlists that come up when you search for “indie rock.”

⬆️ These are the playlists that come up when you search for “summer jams.”

You’ll note that playlists created by Spotify tend to show up first. (That makes sense, because Spotify’s got control over the results.) But you’ll also see that there are a bunch of user-created playlists that appear for any search term, too.

Technically, the Spotify-created playlists qualify as SEO playlists, too, but user-created playlists are the ones on which marketers tend to focus.

So what’s the big deal with these?

Two things, really:

1) You can pitch the curators of user-created SEO playlists directly (while many of Spotify’s playlists are algorithmic or editorial, which means you only get one shot at landing a placement).

2) SEO playlists have a super-legit source of traffic. This is proof that they’re popular, for one thing, and it’s also good proof against the presence of bots (because Spotify probably wouldn’t favor them if they didn’t have human listeners).

The upshot of all of this is that getting on a popular SEO playlist can drive tons of real, legitimate streams. Like, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of plays from a month of inclusion on one list.

That’s great, right?

Well… maybe. But there’s a downside, too.

See, curators are incentivized to create lists catered to the most popular search terms – because playlists that rank for popular terms get a lot of followers and streams, which brings the opportunity for higher levels of monetization. But popular search terms are often too broad to be useful in categorizing music.

It’s like this: There are literally a million searches on Google each month for the one-word phrase “shoes.”

But it’s virtually impossible to determine the type of shoe for which any one of those searchers is actually looking. Do they want high heels? Velcro shoes for a two-year-old? Basketball shoes? Horseshoes? Cat shoes? (Yes, those are a thing, and yes, you should Google it.)

Let’s say you’re making leather dress shoes for women. Sure, you could pay to show up in front of those one-million-shoe-searchers – but what’s the point, when virtually all of them aren’t looking for you?

You’d probably be better served to appear in front of the far fewer searchers for your product, specifically.

The same concerns apply to SEO playlists. You’ll see popular playlists built around terms like…

  • Viral TikTok hits
  • Glastonbury 2023
  • Rock music
  • The Flash soundtrack

And yes, each of those playlists will have a ton of legitimate followers (not bots) who would legitimately stream your track. But most of them probably won’t be looking for your track.

The danger is that, if you get placed on a popular playlist that’s actually a poor fit for your music, it’ll jack up your engagement metrics. You could see a low save rate, a comparatively small number of playlist adds, and too many skips – and, of course, Spotify could see all those things too, and then decide that your music sucks and should be kept out of the algorithm forever until you die.

It’s a legitimate risk.

“Okay, great, Jon,” you’re thinking. “So should I just stay away from SEO playlists and keep my music in a bomb shelter, or what?”

Ah, come on. You already know what I’m going to say…

It depends.

(Man I’ve been wearing that phrase out lately… thinking about getting it as a tattoo.)

Look, I totally get the appeal of SEO playlists, because they’re probably the most cost-efficient way to drive streams – and besides that, I’ve seen a bunch of SEO-geared campaigns that have had really positive long-term results.

SEO playlists can be one of the most powerful ways to grow on Spotify. It’s totally possible to get on hugely popular playlists, drive a ton of decent data, and stair-step up to a new level of streaming growth.

But I’d say two things:

First, I think SEO playlists are best used when paired with a high-engagement promotional activity, like Facebook ads. If your only promotional spend is toward SEO playlists, you run a pretty high risk of generating low engagement data; if, on the other hand, you balance that with super-high save rates from another source, the risk is lower.

Second, I think SEO playlists are best if you’re making something pretty close to mainstream music – specifically pop, hip-hop, EDM, or country. For what it’s worth, pop artists, in my experience, have had by far the best luck with these things.

If you’re making something more niche (folk singer-songwriter, or jazz-hop, or nu metal, or basically anything that requires more than one genre label to explain), then the odds that you’ll be a poor fit for an SEO playlist are much higher.

If you meet those two conditions (you’re driving high-engagement streams from another source and you’re making mainstream music), I think SEO playlists are probably worth a shot.

If you meet one, it’s a little riskier, and if you can’t claim either, I’d probably stay away.

But hey, ultimately, it’s your call.

So, there you have it: My two cents on SEO playlisting.

Shots fired, I guess. (Although is boiling down to “it depends” really controversial? Probably not, right?)

If you want to dig more deeply into the two different sides of this debate, I’d recommend checking out…

Ryan Waczek’s case study. Ryan’s the founder of Indie Music Academy. They’ve been my number-one recommendation for Spotify promotion for the past couple of years, and they rely almost exclusively on SEO playlists.

Ryan does a good job of rationalizing why that’s the best way to do playlisting. (Click through the links in that case study to check out his stellar whitepaper, too.)

Jason Grishkoff’s blog article. Jason’s the founder of SubmitHub, and he does a good job of rationalizing why genre-relevant placements on smaller lists are the way to go. You already know I love (and hate) SubmitHub.

For what it’s worth, I think Ryan and Jason probably agree on most of each others’ logic, actually. But their companies do have different focuses, so it’s just interesting to read how they landed there.

Hope this stuff is helpful, and whether you ever blow up on Spotify or not, remember: Your music matters.

As always, here’s wishing you good luck.