How to Track RSS Subscribers?

Learn What Options You Have to Count the Number of RSS Subscribers to Your Site’s Feed

Publishing an RSS feed on your website has lots of advantages over regular email marketing. However, RSS technology also has its downsides. The major concern that RSS feed publishers and blogs authors have faced is the lack of ability to track their RSS feed readership.

Why is it important you ask?

Every internet marketer and web biz owner wants to measure the effectiveness of their online marketing campaigns. By tracking the numbers they can see how many people click their ads or read newsletter and can easily measure their conversion ratios of any kind. With email it’s not hard to do. Various scripts or software can track the numbers of people who subscribe to the list. Using email, a publisher sends an email message and it’s up to the reader whether to read it or not.

However, it’s much harder to do with RSS technology. The problem is that RSS readers access the XML file (feed) themselves. That means you have no control over how many times your feed was accessed. Some readers check for updated content on your file every week, while others every hour.

For example, you have a group of people who have subscribed to your RSS feed via online RSS reader service. That online service checks for updates every week. If you try to track how many times your RSS file was accessed you’ll see only two attempts.

Other readers check for updates every hour and you might assume that your feed was clicked 12 times a day and you have a big readership, while in fact, there’s only one subscriber.

There are some attempts however to track the number of subscribers to your RSS feed. Some of them include:

  • Access Logs
    Server logs can track the number of pages accessed on your website. They can also show you CSS, JavaScript, image and XML file access statistics. But the problem is that they cannot tell you precisely how many times your RSS feed was accessed. As mentioned earlier, there are RSS readers that check for updates once a week and there are those that check once an hour. So you can’t get any accurate statistics.

  • Images
    This technique is used heavily today to track website visitors. It can also be used to count RSS feed readers. As you may know, it’s possible to include images in your RSS feed. You could make a small 1px width and 1px height image and put it in your feed. Whenever people open their online or desktop reader, your image will be accessed. This is quite good way to track the number of RSS subscribers you have. But it’s not very reliable and you can see only those who read, but not those who subscribe.

  • RSS Buttons
    Another possible way is to track the number of clicks of your image button that leads to an RSS feed. Again, web logs help you to do this. However, this method is not very reliable either. It doesn’t tell you how many subscriptions you get. It just shows you the clicks. And there are many people who will click the orange button just to see where it leads without any understanding of what to do next.
  • Tracking URL
    Actually, some companies offer similar services in order to count RSS subscriptions. They simply encode every single click with unique URL. Just like webmasters change the address of their domain to track where people are coming from (http://domain.com?track1) with question marks, it’s possible to implement this strategy in RSS feeds. Whenever a person clicks the button, unique URL is assigned:

    http://domain.com/feed.xml?uniqueurl_countvisitors

    This option might be good way to track subscribers.

  • 3rd Party Services
    There are third party RSS tracking services, like FeedBurner that count subscribers to your feed. But there are also disadvantages of such services. You have to publish the URL of that company and not your domain, because the whole subscription runs through their services.

Summing Up

At this moment there are almost no reliable solutions that can help you to track RSS subscribers to your feed. But sooner or later some new solutions will show up and will enable you to track your feed subscribers. Even if those solutions will not be very accurate (there are no 100% reliable tracking methods), they’d still give you at least some basic information that could help you maximize the effectiveness of your online marketing campaigns.