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!

What is RSS?


RSS is a phrase you are bound to run into on the Internet, if you haven’t already. So what is it?

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a simple way of sharing content from frequently updated websites, like blogs, news sites, or social networks. Basically an RSS feed contains all the information needed to keep up to date with the site’s content, without the need to actually visit the site or keep checking it manually. This is usually accomplished by subscribing to the site’s feed in an RSS (or Feed) reader (like Google Reader), although some web-browsers have feed-reading capabilities built right in.

RSS is particularly useful in situations where a site is updated very frequently, or very rarely. For instance, keeping up with Lifehacker, which is updated several times a day, is much easier when I only have to log into my feed reader and I will autimatically see any new posts that have been published. Similarly, keeping an eye on my friends’ Halo 3 scores (which he doesn’t play very often) is less of a chore when I go into the same feed reader as I use for everything else and, if he has played recently, I can see it. The alternative would be to visit Lifehacker or Bungie.net on a regular basis to keep checking them out.

Many sites publish RSS feeds, from Flickr (which allows you to keep track of your contacts’ new photos), to Blogger, to this one. If you find a site you want to keep an eye on, and they publish a feed, then you really have nothing to lose by signing up for updates. The logo above is widely used as the symbol indicating an RSS feed, although this isn’t a universal standard quite yet, so keep your eyes peeled!

And speaking of RSS, if you want to receive notification of the latest posts when they appear here, you can sign up to Geek-Speak’s RSS feed too :)