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Increase RSS subscriptions- why?

If you read the blogging advice websites, you'll see a lot of articles about increasing RSS readership. A Google search for "Increase RSS" will turn up hundreds of them. Some titles:

5 Tips to Increase RSS ...
A Not-So-Often-Used Trick To Increase RSS Subscriptions
How to Increase RSS Feed Subscribers
How to increase RSS subscribers
10 Effective Ways to Get More Blog Subscribers
An Evil Way to Increase RSS Stats
Tweak your design, increase RSS subscribers by 80% in 25 days.
Wordpress Plugin to Increase RSS subscribers
3 WordPress Plugins to increase RSS readers subscribers
How To Increase RSS Feedburner Subscribers

Gosh, this sure must be important right? If you don't have a big pile of RSS subscribers, you better get working on that!

Has anybody stopped to ask why?

Yes, RSS subscribers are a metric that can be useful in measuring the relative popularity of a blog. For example, this site has something around 2,000 RSS subscribers. Some blogs have hundreds of thousands, so it's pretty obvious that if X has 1000 times more RSS subscribers than Y, X is a bigger and more popular site.

But this is only a metric, and there are other metrics that might be more important to you. We get many thousands of visits here daily from people who are not RSS subscribers. As those are the people most likely to click on ads, those visitors have the most to do with the income generated from ads. RSS subscribers don't see ads, and are unlikely to contribute much to my wallet.

So if my primary concern were ad revenue, why would I care about RSS subscribers at all? If anything, I'd want to discourage RSS, right?

Well no, because RSS is useful to the readers, so I certainly need to provide the feeds for those who want them. But I don't care if you (yes, YOU) read by way of RSS or directly here on the page or over at the blog style section. How you read is up to you, not me. So why would I want to worry about how many of you (the generic "you" this time) use RSS and how many do not?

In fact, I do not. I use RSS myself to track the dozens of blogs I follow, but if you don't want to, that's your business. I'm not going to try to "trick" you into using RSS if you don't see the value.

There's another little recognized fact about RSS: it doesn't necessarily reflect reality. Just because an RSS reader is fetching a feed doesn't mean that any human being is still actively reading the posts in that feed - they might be scanning the headlines only or might have just forgotten about it entirely - yet that person who is actually not reading anything gets counted as a subscriber. Subscriber yes, reader, who knows?

I think the fascination with RSS subscribers is a bit extreme. Remember, it's only one measurement of your performance, and it's flawed at that. Google Analytics or other analytical tools tell you far more about how you are really doing in your quest for Internet Domination. RSS subscriber stats are only a very small part of it.

Another site wrote about this a few days after I posted this: Are Subscribers Over-rated?. In the comments there, a number of people agreed that RSS counts aren't all that meaningfull.. though I suspect that's becuse that's how the article was crafted: had it said "You need to increase RSS subs!" there probably would have been enthusiastic agreement - people can be so sheepish! Anyway, one commentor pointed out the importance of "reach" in Feedburner stats. I agreed and added this:


I certainly agree about Feedburner, and "reach" is an important stat (though RSS readers don't necessarily click through). My reach runs about 6,700 per day according to FB but about 7,300 per day according to Google Analytics - who ya gonna believe? Googles stats more closely match my own tracking, so I trust them more..

Let's just face facts: RSS subscriber counts are a very vague and potentially misleading view of the success of your blog.

The true measure depends upon whats important to you: if it's money from ads, then how much are you making? If it's to get you consulting business, how many new clients came from finding your site? If it's reader involvement, number of unique comments is probably a good indicator, if it's influence then inbound links are important.. and of course you could be concerned about ALL of those things - I certainly am!


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6 comments



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Tue Feb 5 21:02:17 2008: 3590   TheGoodRadandSexy


Many people just do it to imitate Darren Rowse. But if you're a step ahead, you're doing it to have them spread your expertise and build your reputation. RSS subscribers is a good proxy for brand evangelists, imho. Certainly a metric for influence.

In any case, excellent question!



Wed Feb 6 00:25:12 2008: 3591   anonymous


No - readers are a measure of the spread of your ideas, but RSS subscriptions are at best an approximation of some of your readers..



Wed Feb 6 05:17:48 2008: 3592   anonymous


Just finished reading Problogger on the same topic and you ABSOLUTELY had the best, most insightful comment there. Made me pay attention and now will be watching you for a while. So I'd say, a good way to build RSS feeds is by making pithy comments on other people's blogs!



Wed Feb 6 11:41:50 2008: 3593   TonyLawrence

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Well, thank you. I think everyone is right, they just aren't distinguishing between readers and RSS subscriptions, Building anticipation is a fine idea (though I don't really like it myself - feels too "hard sell" to me).



Wed Feb 6 13:52:54 2008: 3594   FergusDoyle


Something not covered here - subscribers are/may be more loyal if they actually are readers and not just "flickers". So they're more likely to go to the site directly (link) looking for stuff - they've already bought into it's "a good site" and are being reminded of your existence by every post.



Wed Feb 6 19:27:10 2008: 3596   TonyLawrence

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I agree that's certainly possible.

Though this doesn't apply here, there was a comment at ProBlogger from a person running a sports site - he has a large number of people subscribing to an email newsletter he sends out but not many RSS subs. For a sports site, I think that's normal: less technical users won't know anything about RSS but have thousands of newsletter subscribers shows that he does have great reader engagement - so he's doing great and shouldn't worry a bit about RSS.

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