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How I Broke 100,000 RSS Readers

written by John Chow on June 15, 2010

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Feedburner RSS count

I noticed today the blog hit a new milestone and broke 100,000 RSS readers for the first time. The count was hovering around the 96K to 98K mark for the past few days but finally hit the 100K level today. Very few blogs hit the magic 100K mark so I figure I’ll post a few tips to help you increase your RSS subscription base. If it helps you get to 100K RSS readers, then send me a post card.

Why RSS Is Important

RSS readers are far more important than readers who drop by from a search engine or a link from another site. If you think of your blog as a magazine or newspaper, your RSS readers are like the paid subscribers and people who drop by your site from other sources are like newsstand sales.

For a publisher, magazine subscriptions are far more valuable than newsstand sales. Ad rates are mostly based on how many subscribers a magazine has and not how many issues are sold at the newsstands. Newsstand sales, like traffic from Google and other sources, can be very inconsistent. By contrast, paid subscriptions are like money in the bank. If you want to see how important subscriptions are to a magazine, let one of your magazine subscriptions run out and watch how hard the magazine will try to get you back.

Having a big RSS reader base protects you from the unpredictable nature of the Internet. Google can like you one day and hate you the next. If most of your traffic comes from Google, then you better start building your subscription base. The main reason I was able to survive all those years without Google was because I built a large base of subscribers. Here’s how to do it.

Offer A Full RSS Feed

If you really want to increase your RSS base, then you must offer a full feed. Many RSS users won’t subscribe to your feed if it’s not full. I have over 50 blogs in my Google reader. Everyone single one of them is a full feed. If you don’t have a full feed, I’m not subscribing. I use my RSS feed to give my readers a mostly ad free version of my blog. Do not use RSS as a teaser in the hopes that the reader will click to the blog in order to read the full post. Unless your blog is updated 20+ times per day like Gizmodo, reader won’t sign up to the RSS in the first place.

Make It Easy for The Reader Subscribe

You should never assume that your readers are smart enough to find the URL to your RSS feed. Shoemoney made that mistake when he removed his FeedBurner button a few years ago. He just assumed that his readers would be smart enough to find his RSS link.

So one day I decided just to remove it. Then I started getting emails that there was no possible way for people to sign up for my feed… I thought to myself, “whatever, people can figure it out if they really want to” (which is the lazy way out).

So yesterday I was looking at my Feedburner stats and pretty surprised to see they look to have completely plateaued at around 16,500 readers since I took the little counter off.

This may sound mean, but you’ll go a lot further if you assume that your readers are the dumbest people on earth and need everything spelled out for them. That means displaying your RSS button in a very easy to find location and offering multiple ways to subscribes. You might even consider making a page to explain what RSS is and linking to it. You’ll be amazed at the number of people who still don’t know what it is and how it benefits them.

Make Sure Your RSS Button Is visible

Your RSS button should be placed near the top of the blog and be visible without scrolling. You want to let the readers know right away that you have a RSS feed and you can’t do that if your button is out of site. If you really want to get the readers attention, you can try integrating the world’s biggest RSS button into your blog.

Worlds biggest RSS button

Don’t Display Your Feed Count If It’s Less Than 100

The FeedBurner chicklet that displays the number of subscribers you have serves as social proof but it can also work against you. People in general are like sheep – they never want to be the first to do anything. If your chicklet is displaying a big zero, chances are it will stay at zero. It’s a lot easier for a big blog to get more subscribers because people see this huge RSS number and want to be part of it. I do not recommend displaying your feed count until you’ve reach at least 100 subscribers. I feel that displaying a feed count of under 100 is a deterrent for people to sign up.

Use The FeedSmith WordPress Plugin

The Google FeedBurner FeedSmith plugin will detect all the ways a reader can access your feed (http://www.yoursite.com/feed/ or http://www.yoursite.com/wp-rss2.php, etc.), and redirect them to your FeedBurner feed so you can track every possible subscriber. Without the plugin, readers subscribed to your blog using http://www.yoursite.com/feed/ or http://www.yoursite.com/wp-rss2.php (or whatever) are not counted. FeedBurner only counts readers subscribed to http://feeds.feedburner.com/YourBlog. What the plugin does is redirect all feed URLs to your FeedBurner feed URL so everyone is counted. This saves you the need to plead with your readers to update their feed URL. If they’re already getting your posts with the old feed URL, chances are very few will bother to update just so you can increase your feed count.

Offer a Feed for Mobile Users

More and more people are accessing the Internet with mobile devices like the iPhone. This is the fastest growing segment of the Internet and one you can’t ignore. You can easily offer a mobile version of your blog using the WPTouch WordPress plugin. The plugin takes your RSS feed and turn it into a mobile version of your blog. I do the same thing using a service call Mobify. Mobify takes more time to set up than WPTouch but it allows you to create a mobile site that is much closer to the look and feel of your main site – very important from a branding standpoint. You can see my mobile site at mobile.johnchow.com.

If you wish to go all out, you can use your RSS to create an iPhone app for your blog.

Turn On Aweber Blog Broadcast

If you’re an Aweber customer, then you should turn on the Blog Broadcast feature. Not only will this give you additional content for your newsletter, but it will add all your newsletter subscribers to your FeedBurner counter because Aweber reports subscription information to FeedBurner. The screencast below shows how to set it up.

Even if Aweber doesn’t increase your RSS count, you should sign up for the service anyway because given the choice between building email subscribers or RSS subscribers, I’ll take email every time.

How To Get RSS Readers To Visit Your Blog

Having a large RSS readership is great and it is something every blogger should build. However, because many RSS reader won’t visit your blog, making money off them is very limited. Google AdSense and Text Link Ads Feedvertising are two ways to monetize a RSS feed, but the best way to make money off RSS readers is to encourage them to visit the blog. Here are some ways to do that.

Turn On FeedBurner FeedFlare

I run my RSS feeds through Google’s FeedBurner. They offer a FeedFlare option that allows you to add a comment count to the end of each posts. This lets the RSS readers know how many comments the posts have generated. Unless a reader subscribes to the comment RSS, comments cannot be read from the post RSS. This mean a RSS reader must visit the blog in order to read the comments. If a RSS reader is interested in the post, then chances are good that he or she will click on the comment link to see what other readers have to say.

Encourage Comments

Having the FeedBurner FeedFlare showing zero comments on all your posts doesn’t help you much. This is why I try to encourage comments as much as possible. A blog is a communication tool between its author and readers, and should be taken advantage of. The easiest way to encourage comments is to ask for feedback on your posts. A RSS reader has to go to your blog in order to comment so this is a great way to get them to visit.

Link To Old Posts

This is a great way to get RSS readers (and blog readers) to check out the blog. Whenever possible, I try to find old posts that are related to my current post and link to it. This type of linking has several benefits – it helps search engines find your older articles, it helps your blog readers discover articles they may have missed, and it encourages RSS readers to click on the links and visit your blog.

Remind Readers That RSS Is Not Real Time

A new blog post won’t show up in the RSS feed until the feed updates. This updating can take a few hours. Therefore, readers who want to read the latest posts will still click through to the blog to see if the post on the RSS feed is the current top post. A way to remind readers of this is by using the Feed Footer RSS plugin that allows you to place a note at the bottom of each post in the RSS feed (the notice that does not appear in the blog). You can place a notice in your feed stating something like, “This may not be the latest post! Check out John Chow dot Com to see if you’re missing anything.”

*Note – this only works if your blog is updated multiple times per day.

Turn Off the Full Feed

I don’t really recommend doing this but it is an option. If you don’t run a full feed, RSS readers have to click through to the blog to read the rest of the post. The problem with this is many RSS readers will unsubscribe and many new readers won’t subscribe at all if the feed is not full. You want your RSS number to go up, not down.

RSS Ads for Only $200

I opened RSS text advertising on this blog back in August 2008 when the FeedBurner counter showed 7,727 RSS reader. Back then the price was $200 per month. Today, the RSS number is 12 times greater but the price is still $200 per month. If you haven’t taken advantage of this advertising opportunity, then now would be the time to test it out.

RSS text ads can have a full 80 character title and 150 letter description. It’s a great value and a fantastic way to reach over 100,000 loyal readers. If you’re interested in buying a RSS text ad, send the text and URL to [email protected] and pay with the PayPal link below.

Buy a RSS Text Ads

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{ 61 comments }

Harshad June 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I messed up my RSS after changing the blog URL. I did it some time back as well and twice before that when I wanted to shift from Feedblitz to Feedburner and then back to Feedblitz. Would have crossed at least the 1K mark if I was serious with feed subscribers :(..Hope to improve it soon tho.

College To Careers June 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

lol…yeah, i think i did the same to mine…not even sure if it’s working properly…

Salesfist July 7, 2010 at 8:15 am

that’s not good.

Ewen Chia follower June 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Yes, thanks to John CH. this is another memento of RSS readers importance.

ZK @ Web Marketing Blog June 15, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Boy another landmark … congrats John.

100K thats huge number.

d3so June 16, 2010 at 1:22 am

Dang! Congrats on your achievement. I hope ICANN reach that number someday, I’m at 2k right now.
Thanks for Sharing tips. Those will surely help.

Web Yazilim Tasarim June 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Indeed that’s a huge number! But i guess none of us would think that it was an unbreakable record for John :P

Darin Carter June 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Great RSS Tips, for the Vet or the Neub !!!

John Paul Aguiar June 15, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Great tips John.. Havn’t looked to deep into my RSS feed subs since I’m at such a small amount,, but these tips will def help get me more and get them back to my blog.

browie June 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Excellent post John. This was very helpful. I enjoyed the video too.

CredFolloz June 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm

This is great figure John and really represents a huge market.

College To Careers June 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm

We often forget about RSS and the value of it. I actually often placed little value on it because of having to prioritize my time…1) content 2) networking 3) etc…

good reminder.

ZK @ Web Marketing Blog June 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Not only RSS we should give enough time to get maximum from it …

Like –

Twitter
Facebook
Feedburner
Linkedin

These have equal importance.

bg June 15, 2010 at 2:18 pm

“assume that your readers are the dumbest people on earth and need everything spelled out for them”

Advertising pioneer David Ogilvy said it more politely: “The consumer is not an idiot. She is your wife.”

Web Yazilim Tasarim June 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Wow i’ve never heard that latter comment and i gotta say it’s pretty funny and pretty accurate at the same time :D

Warren June 15, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Hi John, great article at a good time, I had some downtime on the 6th of this month, and ended up having to do a complete site restore. I never realized it but the feed went offline. By the time I did, I was down to just a handful of subscribers left, (was a week before I noticed) I just looked after reading this and they did bounce back, but having the Feedburner stats counter would have alerted me to the problem much earlier.

Profit Addiction June 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Congrats on the milestone John, that’s amazing! I remember just 3 years ago you were under 2k subscribers!

Keep it up, try to pass Techcrunch :)

Internet Marketing Course June 15, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Well, I know John is basically a super hero and all but… Techcrunch has 4,179,000 readers. He’s got a lot of work to do before he catches them! :)

Profit Addiction June 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Yeah, I know… if he continues growing at this rate though (5000%+) in 3 years, he should be good! :)

Web Yazilim Tasarim June 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm

He prebably wouldn’t get that many readers but i’d bet he would get close! :P

Internet Marketing Course June 15, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Wow! I just noticed your chicklet now says “100K” that looks so cool! I love RSS as well, I think it’s HUGE (whether the plain feed or the email subscriptions) to retain visitors with less work. Congrats, John!

S Ahsan June 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm

If you provide a good reason for your visitors to subscribe, they will! I have noticed that my subscribers count increased when i placed a short text just below the RSS button –”reasons to subscribe” or you can also use “why subscribe”.. it really works :) good luck

Eric | My 4-Hour Workweek June 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Congrats on the 100k, John. I’m always happy to read subscriber tips from someone with your RSS subscriber success.

ZK @ Web Marketing Blog June 15, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Proper use of all resources helps you to reach at this level.

John have tried everything perfectly RSS, Subscription, Twitter, Facebook and I think that is the reason why he is at this stage.

Web Yazilim Tasarim June 19, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Indeed. I think he earned it rightfully :)

psychicjim June 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Great post John,

Many of us look up to your success as we are trying to duplicate something similar in our own blogs.

Your are informative as always and a guiding light for up and coming entrepreneurs,

thanks again!

Dana @ Blogging Tips Blog June 15, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Oh, so I think I must put more visible RSS icon in my blog. Thanks for the tip John, I will try it.

Men's Online Magazine June 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I think having a huge RSS subscriber list is a huge asset that a lot of marketers take for granted

PPC Ian June 15, 2010 at 7:49 pm

John,
Congratulations! Also, really appreciate the awesome tips. I’m going to implement the AWeber blog broadcast one.
All the best,
Ian

Jimmy June 15, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Awesome tips as always John, I’m still trying like hell to get subscribers :) but I recently started with my blog and I have read your books. So hopefully it will go better soon :) Peace

Eunus Hosen June 15, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Congrat’s John, I’m also a part of this huge audience :)

Jovan K June 15, 2010 at 9:51 pm

so if I cancel my rss feed subscription to your blog, are you going to go out of your way to try and get me back on? Say a free review?

Jeremy Blake June 15, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Jeeze man…too many good tips. Good point about offering a full feed. I need to double check that all of my blogs are doing that.

Nabeel | Create Your First Website June 16, 2010 at 12:25 am

First of all, congratulations John! You have reached a landmark, and we all wish you even more success!

Secondly, wow what a COMPREHENSIVE post on the true way to increase RSS Readers. I agree, that the button should be in the most visible space possible. You cannot underestimate the importance of simplicity.

Take your visitors by the hand. Never assume that they will find your rss button.

In one blog, the rss reader was in the right sidebar, in the middle of the page! I had to scroll down and I kept looking to find the button.

TYCP Magazine June 16, 2010 at 12:26 am

Nice going. I’ve been using full RSS feeds for a while now & it definitely helps.

Chris Pontine June 16, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Would you say that your readership grew a lot once you went from a summary to a full RSS feed?

Irish Garden Home June 16, 2010 at 1:58 am

The “Google FeedBurner FeedSmith plugin” link doesn’t work anymore, Google has taken that one down ages ago. SY

Melvin June 16, 2010 at 3:05 am

heheh. as i was reading this post, the count is not 100,000 hmmm.. heheh, anyways anyone knows the feed count fluctuates a lot.. but either way its really an amazing milestone John,..

yvon June 16, 2010 at 7:52 am

Congrats on the 100,000 milestone; you put great effort in to this and you test; test ; test. That’s what I like about people like you, you don’t assume but check your metrics to make decisions.

Blaine Rumsey June 16, 2010 at 8:05 am

Great post. Very useful information. I am especially keen on the Mobile site part. In fact I am going to download and play with WP-Touch and hack it so that you can add a site logo and style it much like mobile.johnchow.com, and add Google Analytics. – but maybe they beat me to the punch??? Going to download it right now and get to hacking.

Vincent Ng-Conversation Arts June 16, 2010 at 10:08 am

Hey John, Congratulations on your 100,000. I actually was one of the new subscribers to your blog. This post has been informative, especially since I’ve only started blogging seriously in the last 2 months.

I think every beginner blogger should read this to have a great understanding. I never gave the mobile blogging a thought…but I’m going to check out the idea now.

Rick Byrd June 16, 2010 at 11:33 am

Awesome post for me. I was commenting on another post recently that I had not set-up the Blog Broadcast feature AWeber and now I have a video to refer to.

Thanks for the great ideas to get the RSS readers to my blog.

Oh Yah, Congrats on the 100,000 reader mark.

- Rick

Dana Robinson June 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Great advice, however too many of us must have tried to download the Feedsmith plugin, the site is down. Good job! Found a download link for it here if anyone else is looking. http://www.google.com/support/feedburner/bin/answer.py?answer=78483

Chris Pontine June 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm

For a majority of the life of my blog I have used a summary response for my blog.

I believe you mentioned though you need to look at this as an outlet for your readers and not a sneak peak.

Great info in my eyes. Thanks so much.

Aaron June 16, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Is it just me or has your number of readers fallen by 5,000 today? Your counter as of not shows: 95589

John Chow June 16, 2010 at 11:09 pm

The counter goes up and down by as much as 10K in a day.

jtGraphic: James Thompson June 24, 2010 at 7:50 am

That’s because feedburner only counts a subscriber when the reader checks in DAILY.

Sukhdeepak June 16, 2010 at 11:41 pm

First of all my whole hear ted congratulations to you for the success. You have really achieved a milestone. RSS feeds are very much important keeping in view the growing competition for the promotion of website.

Alan Parekh June 17, 2010 at 1:01 am

Congrats on your milestone John! I think I will need to implement some of those ideas on Hacked Gadgets… I have been hovering just over 12K

Udi June 17, 2010 at 9:27 am

Great article! I wasn’t aware of several of your suggestions and have already adopted them… admittedly, the one with the full RSS feed went against my intuition but what you say makes sense, and together with your experience, proves you are right.

Sujit Shrestha June 17, 2010 at 10:41 am

I like the point Don’t display feed count if <100 , you may be right, but if full feed is provided , will there not be drop in traffic as all is available in feed??
Else a great helpful article for me

uzoma money man June 18, 2010 at 8:41 am

its a great way to see John write about personal things that happen on his website, the truth is I never though rss feeds were so important as a matter of fact, I never took it serious, they seem to me toys that are not neccessary but now I know better.

thanks John

Neil June 18, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Congrats on reaching 100k subscribers. A great achievement. I love the info in this post, you’re dead right about not dispaying rss subscribers under 100 as well!

Addy Kho June 18, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Congratulation on the achievement

Home Insurance June 18, 2010 at 9:09 pm

The initiative taken for the concern is very serious and need an attention of every one. This is the concern which exists in the society and needs to be eliminated from the society as soon as possible.

Home Insurance
************
gregg

Web Yazilim Tasarim June 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Haha John. Gratz and cute button you got there :)

Profit Academy June 20, 2010 at 5:43 am

Its great to see such a fantastic blog, i look up to the success and followers you have gained.

make money from blog June 26, 2010 at 8:53 am

hmmmm congrats john this is pretty huge cos it didnt come easy.

Ary July 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I never thought about offering a Feed for Mobile Users, but I just downloaded the plugin and will activate it. Thanks~
For the ads, it’s pretty much a pain, if you don’t have the emails.
But congrats on the 100k RSS subs, though I think you have more by now.

ZK @ Web Marketing Blog July 15, 2010 at 8:53 am

Very less people able to touched that landmark.

Harshit Singhal July 26, 2010 at 7:06 pm

yeah RSS is a very very important tool. Congrats on breaking the 100 K mark :)