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:
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