Feedburner Folly

Or… “why subscriber stats can be misleading”…

How do you measure the success of your website? Is it the number of unique visitors? Pageviews? Sales? Comments? You can pick any number of different ways, but a common one is the number of people who have subscribed to your RSS feed. Subscribers are people who are obviously interested in what you have to say and want to read more, so it’s not too shabby a statistic to track!

Feedburner, Google’s feed serving setup, makes it very easy to track how many people are subscribing to your feed, what reader they’re using, even which articles they’re clicking on. There’s a nice graph showing how many people are subscribed and how many people you have “reached” (people who have read or clicked on your articles). The thing is, just recently (June 17th) there was a huge jump in my subscriber count, and I hadn’t a clue why.

It was a chance comment on Twitter from mikecj that made me realise what had happened… Feedburner had started to count Friendfeed subscriptions in its total. Whilst that’s great and, perhaps, gives a better idea of how many people are actually reading this site, the jump seemed to indicate that a load of new people had subscribed when actually they hadn’t.

So, excitement over. But it did get me thinking – is subscribers really the best analytic to be tracking? I’m now wondering whether actual interaction… i.e. comments… is a better indication of quality of content and reader engagement. And, I’m not sure why, but it almost feels like adding Friendfeed numbers is artificially inflating the statistics… I say I’m not sure why because it must be a good thing to know those people are there, surely?

What do you think? How do you track the success of your blog? Is the number of subscribers a bit of a red herring? And what do you think about the change to Feedburner’s reporting? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. I had the same dilemma and questions Chris. I loved seeing the numbers jumped, but I felt like a cheat!
    I like the idea of measuring comments as a key factor, and my main measure is people who subscribe to my newsletter. I know they are really engaged and I have quite a lot of email interaction with them.

    • I’ve heard a few bloggers saying that their newsletter list is a great measure of interest – but I don’t have one :) I enjoy getting your newsletter, and I reckon that’s got to be quite a good indicator because people are quite precious over their inboxes… they really won’t subscribe for a newsletter unless they’re genuinely interested.

  2. AirDiogo says:

    More and more people are starting to use FriendFeed as a replacement for traditional feed readers.
    So counting them is just getting closer to the real number of subscribers of the feed. In my opinion this is a good move by FeedBurner, not because it increases the numbers, but because it reflects (better) a new reality.
    Not everybody that reads actually comments in the posts and newletters subscribers only can be used for those who have newsletters.

  3. Thanks AirDiogo – I’m sure it must be a good thing to know that Friendfeed readers are there as opposed to just hoping, it was just the jump in numbers that made me wonder whether subscribers is the best measure or not.

    Perhaps a combination of statistics will always be the best – subscribers to get an idea of how many people are reading, comments to gauge how engaging your content is (i.e. does it invite conversation), newsletter subscribers to know who really, really wants to know more about you and/or your product.

    What do you think?

  4. AirDiogo says:

    I agree.

    But don’t forget the oldest measure of all: visitors. In my main blog I do some tutorials and give some hints on games. Normally those kind of pages get a lot of visits from search engines and that kind of content normally isn’t targeted for regular visitors.

    In the end I guess it all depends on the objectives and the target audience.

  5. In the end I guess it all depends on the objectives and the target audience.

    Very good point there!

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  1. Mike's Life says:

    Eight Tips for getting more Comments…

    I was reading Chris Hinton’s post on Geek Speak the other day about Feedburner now including Friendfeed followers as subscribers. He asked whether subscribers, visits or page views were the best metric to measure the health of a blog, and he also sugge…