Ever since I started this blog in July 2004, I've used the free FeedBurner service as a means of enabling you to easily subscribe to the blog's RSS feed. FeedBurner is probably the RSS subscription service of choice for most people as I see its little icon on more blogs than any other service's little icon.
FeedBurner also tells me general traffic statistics about the feed: how many people subscribe to it, which RSS readers they use, etc. This is good but knowing more than that about the subscribers to an RSS feed and what they do is becoming increasingly important - more so, I believe, than knowing how many people visit your blog.
Why? Because of RSS aggregators or readers, and there are lots of them (I have a Windows PC so I use Feed Demon). Whether web-based or installed on your own computer, they enable you to receive information from many different websites and blogs all in one place.
What this means is that it's increasingly likely that more people will read what you write via subscribing to your RSS feed than through visiting your blog. This is especially true if people like what you write on your blog and so want to read more of it, and read it regularly.
Look at it this way. If you want to read what 20 different bloggers or websites write about, you could go and visit each of those blogs or websites. So that's 20 different places to visit. Or, you could sign up to get each of these RSS feeds and automatically receive what they write, every time they publish something, in your RSS reader.
I know which method I prefer and have been employing for the last ten months.
Indeed, the only times I tend to proactively visit blogs are for reasons like these:
- To read or leave a comment to a post
- Writing a post on my own blog and wanting to trackback to a post on another blog (so I go to the blog to get the trackback URL)
- If I click through on a link in an RSS feed and land on a blog or a website
One issue with that, though. If a blogger publishes only an extract in his or her RSS feed, rather than the full post content, you'd have to visit the blog to read what they wrote. With few exceptions, that means I don't subscribe to any blog that doesn't publish a full feed.
So if a blogger uses RSS in this way as part of a plan to drive traffic to their blog or website, then that plan won't catch me unless the blogger or website publisher is someone who I really do want to read no matter what. I do have a few of those, which you can count on the fingers of one hand.
Now back to knowing more about the subscribers to your RSS feed and what they do.
Earlier this week, FeedBurner announced the availability of a new, paid, service that gives you deeper insight into what happens to your RSS feed - Total Stats Pro.
With free FeedBurner, you already get this as part of the deal:
- Feed Circulation: A daily measure of your feed readership that tracks your popularity over the life of your feed.
With Total Stats Pro, you still get that that - and you also get this:
- Detailed Item Popularity: The performance of each item you publish, tracked in web-based and desktop news readers.
- Who's Syndicating Me? Referrer reports by item that help you understand not only which web-based aggregators are driving traffic back to your site, but also identify any non-aggregators that are repurposing or resyndicating your feed content.
Matt McAlister has written a review of Total Stats Pro that explains the benefits of the new service very well (better, actually, than FeedBurner explains it) together with some screenshots of how he's using it.
A key point from Matt's review:
Understanding referrer data is particularly important since you can't assume that clicks from your feed are coming only from people's RSS readers. URLs from your feeds will get out into the Internet [...] and people will click on those URLs. Your URLs may appear in RSS readers, on web pages, within the posts of other people's feeds, etc. So, identifying the source of the clicks is at least as valuable as knowing how many clicks your URLs generate. This helps you understand both what people want and how they want it.
Total Stats Pro costs $4.99 a month. For that, you can include up to three feeds in the tracking service. There is a free 15-day trial, which I signed up for today.
I'll report on my experience with it in a couple of weeks' time.
Finally, I believe that RSS will become one of the most important tools at your disposal in the efforts you make to extend your connectivity with other people and build relationships with them. This applies no matter what type of site you have, whether it's a blog, an online news service or a traditional marketing website.
Here's why, in the words of Robert Scoble yesterday:
[...] If you don't have an RSS feed, your site is lame because you've told the connectors (er, superusers, er influentials) that they don't matter. When I see a site that doesn't have an RSS feed I see a site that says "Mr. Scoble you aren't welcome here and we don't ever want you to come back again."
I'd just add one point to Robert's view - publish full content in your RSS feed, not an extract. Give me good reasons to come and visit you, not the (equally) lame way of using a bit of content with a dot-dot-dot at the end.