A common dilemma: you have a podcast, but nobody is listening.

Before I get into what to do about that, here’s something to make you feel better:

As of April 30th, 2007, Feedburner is tracking the feeds of 106,270 podcasts. A few months ago, the company said that they were tracking about 6,200,000 people subscribed to those podcasts. If you put those two numbers together, you’ll see that the average podcast has about 60 subscribers. Since this is the average, and there are podcasts with tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers pulling that number way up, your little podcast may be doing better than you thought!

Of course, most people are aiming for more than 60 subscribers with their podcast, so I’ve compiled a list of ways to accomplish that:

  1. Make Your Show Better

    Before you attempt to increase your listenership, your show has to be good. A rule you should always follow is “Every episode must be one you would want to listen to.” You can drive people to your site, but if the show they find isn’t compelling, they will listen once and never return. These tips will only work if your work is good enough to hold an audience.

  2. Build a Blog for Your Show

    You do have a website for your podcast, right? If not, get one NOW. If you do have a site and it isn’t running on a blogging system like Blogger, WordPress, or TypePad, I would seriously recommend switching to a blogging platform for the site. This is because the search engines know what to do with blogs, and therefore index the content pretty reliably. Some also index anything that looks like a blog more often than other sites, giving you a leg up if you publish often. In addition, some of the later tips work better if you are using a blogging system for your site.

  3. Run an Easy-to-Use Site

    Don’t let the first thing your visitors see be clutter. The top of the site should have a prominent title that gives people a good idea of what they are going to find there. At least one episode of your podcast (or post from your blog) should be immediately obvious when arriving at the page. You should also have large “subscribe” buttons for iTunes and your RSS feed — and they should be right near the top of the page so people don’t have to search for them. If your target audience is not that tech savvy (e.g. yours may be the first podcast they encounter), set up an email subscription system and feature it prominently on the site.

  4. List Your Podcast in Podcasting and Blogging Directories

    Everyone should be listed with iTunes, Yahoo! Podcasts, Digg Podcasts, Technorati, and Podzinger. There are many other directories (you can find a good list here), but these are the ones I consider “Must Haves.” Why? Well, iTunes and Yahoo are the two most popular directories, Digg is a newcomer with the potential to bring in a huge number of listeners, and Technorati and Podzinger are two of the best ways for people to find your individual episodes through searching.

  5. Tag Everything

    Another advantage of using a blogging platform is tagging. Tags are metadata — words and phrases that relate to the podcast or blog post they are associated with. Tags are especially important for podcasting, as the text associated with an episode may not include search terms that are relevant to the audio. I just had an example of this yesterday with the latest episode of Boston Behind the Scenes: the subject of the show has a strong connection to both the Boston Public Library and the MFA, but I didn’t specifically mention that in the blog post for the episode. By tagging the post “Boston Public Library,” I allow people to find the post with a search without cluttering up the page with extra text.

  6. Contribute to Other Sites

    Let’s say you do a podcast about cars. There are tons of blogs, news sites, and discussion boards about cars. In fact, if you are enough of a car person to do a podcast about cars, you probably frequent many of those sites already. So, next time you go to one of your favorite car blogs, post a comment.

    Don’t just spam for you podcast, but write something useful. The magic is in the “URL” box on the comment form. Put your podcast site in that box, and you suddenly have a link from a major car site to your show. This will bring you a few more hits and will look good to Google/Technorati/etc. That second part is very important — it dictates where you show up in search results.

    Of course, you shouldn’t just stop at comments. Submit an article (with your link) to a prominent site. It can be about anything at all, but will be more successful if it is at least somewhat related to your podcast. If they accept it, you will get a bunch of traffic from that page, and you will look even better to Google. I did this with my Boston Behind the Scenes episode on the Boston Marathon: this story on Slashdot about an astronaut running the marathon brought in hundreds of visitors — some of whom are now subscribers.

  7. Include Pictures in Your Posts

    This may sound more like a way to keep people at your site than to bring them there, but it can do double duty. The reason is that you need a source for your pictures. Of course, the world’s source for pictures over the last few years has been Flickr, and that’s where you should go as well. Always ask permission before using a picture (or at least notify the photographer via email if you found it in a Creative Commons search), and post a comment on the photo. Include a link back to your site in the comment, and you’ve made another connection!

    If you take your own pictures, post them on Flickr and link their descriptions back to your site. If the pictures you take (or select from other photographers) are interesting enough to generate a lot of views, you’ll have another source of hits to go with your boosted search engine ranking.

  8. Make Connections When Referencing Other Sites

    If you mention anything from another site, be sure to include a link in your show notes. If the site you are citing supports trackbacks, use that to get another link to your site in the wild. If there is no way to comment or add a trackback, send an email to the site’s owner letting them know how you used their content. They will appreciate the notice, and may mention your site as a result.

  9. Use Social Media Sites

    I wrote “social media” because I wanted to emphasize that I’m not just talking about MySpace here. If your audience is on MySpace, you should set up an account and post your episodes using their blogging tool. If your audience is more of a Gather crowd, post your episodes there (with links back to your site!). Set up a del.icio.us account and post your episodes there (with generous tagging). Post all of your episodes on PopCurrent and Digg (not just in the podcast category), then put buttons on your site to encourage your visitors to vote for your entries. Of course, if there are other such sites that your listeners frequent (craigslist? YouTube?), you should be there — with links.

The overall messages of this list should be clear: Be visible, be searchable, and get linked everywhere you can. And most of all, create something that is worth finding and linking to!

(Thanks to Performancing for the nugget of a couple of the ideas, and to femme fatal for asking the question that lead to this list.)