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How I Broke 100,000 RSS Readers

written by John Chow on June 15, 2010

$48,209.70 in 6 months. Learn How!
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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