When Shoemoney challenged me to a competition to see who can get the most new RSS readers in a month, I thought it was a great opportunity to put my Internet marketing skills to the test against one of the Internet’s best. Many people speculated that RSS readership would plummet after the competition was over because people would unsubscribe since there were no more prizes up for grabs. Well, I’m happy to report that my RSS number has actually increased since the contest. I’m at a new high of 13,912 and should break 14,000 this week.
Shoe exploded his RSS to 18,003 on the last day of the contest and to over 21,000 the day after. With the contest over, Shoe has turned off whatever magic button he pushed and his feed counter is down to 14,950. That’s still 4,117 more readers than when the competition started. So how did I increased my RSS readership by 4,691 readers in one month?
Understand How FeedBurner works
The first thing I did was read up on the inner workings of FeedBurner. Since the contest would be decided based on FeedBurner numbers, it made sense to study it and find out how the counter works and see if there was anything that could be exploited.
FeedBurner’s subscriber count is based on an approximation of how many times your feed has been requested in a 24-hour period. If a reader doesn’t access his feed reader for a few days, he is no longer counted even though he is still a subscriber. So the object was to get everyone to check their feed everyday.
The “Ah Ha!” moment came when studying RSS by Email. FeedBurner counts an email subscriber for as long as they can send them emails. Unlike a RSS reader, If the RSS by Email subscriber doesn’t read his email for several days, he is still counted. The only time his count stops is if he unsubscribe to the service.
Generate The Buzz
From the beginning, I knew that any buzz I generated will also benefit Shoe and visa versa. The whole object of the competition was to increase BOTH our RSS readership. I had a good laugh from readers telling me to ask my readers to unsubscribe from Shoe’s feed. I’m sure Shoe got a chuckle as well from his readers advising him to tell everyone to unsubscribe from me.
The competition itself was the main part of the buzz. All we had to do to keep it going was get people excited and talking about it. And one of the best way to do that was by staging a month long contest that involved both readers and sponsors. At one point, Shoe and I were discussing whether or not we should hate each other and start a flame war between our blogs. Imagine the linkbait that would have created?
Opening The Bag of Tricks
While the competition and contest was the main traffic generator, I still had to get people to subscribe to my RSS once they land on the blog. The first thing I did was had Unique Blog Design add a RSS by Email subscriber box to my blog template. If I was going to win this competition it would be done with RSS by Email because subscribers are always counted even if they don’t check their email every 24 hours.
I edited my WordPress single.php file to add the following at the end of the post. The notice only showed up when you click on the post to view or comment on it. It does not show up on the front page.
I used the WordPress Affiliate Pro plugin to turn every RSS word in the entire blog into a link to my RSS feed. In addition, there were a couple of posts (here and here) to explain what RSS is and why you should subscribe to it.
Firing The Big Gun
The big sign ups came when I sent out a newsletter to all John Chow dot Com newsletter subscribers. Since they’re already signed up to receive my newsletter by email, it stand to reason that many would sign up to receive RSS by Email. If you look at the following break down of my feed readers, you’ll see that FeedBurner Email went from zero to the second biggest subscriber group, right behind Google Feedfetcher.
Before FeedBurner delivers the RSS by Email, a reader must first verify their subscription. If they don’t, then they will never receive a single Email and are not counted. To remind subscribers to verify their subscription, I used the Notify Unconfirmed Subscribers WordPress Plugin by Techie Buzz. This plugin will send a personalized email to all unconfirmed subscribers asking them to verify their subscriptions.
In the end, I didn’t add enough RSS by Email subscribers to overcome Shoemoney’s last day charge. However, I’m very happy with what I’ve accomplished because everything I did was legit and my RSS number continues to rise even even after the contest. The jury is still out on what Shoe did to add over 7,000 readers in two days, only to lose most of them after the contest was over. Maybe he’ll tell me how he did it at the dinner this Friday.