In my opinion, every serious website/blog observes the way how it is percieved by its users. FeedBurner seems to be the most often used solution for blogers, it has useful statistics and insight into the number of subscribers…but…why does it one day shows XY subscribers, while the second day that number drops even 50%? How accurate are these statistics and how to determine the actual number of subscribers? Can we trust FeedBurner statistics?

On the course of these questions, endless Internet space is searched in the quest for the right answers. Results are more than interesting:

What does FeedBurner say?

At the beginning of the year, FeedBurner issued the announcementin which partialy explains the way in which RSS subscribers are calculated. The main cause of inconsistency of number of subscribers could be the way in which RSS agregators are registering its users.

Offline (desktop) or web based aggregator

First of all, there are two kinds of RSS aggregators- ‘offline’ and ‘web based’ aggregators. Offline aggregators or desktop aggregators are software aplications for which the name speaks for itself- while the computer is turned off, these readers can not report results. Therefore, commonly-known ‘weekend effect’ of FeedBurner during which the numbers can go down, is caused partialy by offline readers. Does that mean that they are used mainly during worktime or people avoid computers on weekend? Hm… ;)

Web based aggregators

The second kind of aggregators are so-called web based aggregators. FeedBurner published an interesting graph in which the share of the largest web based aggregators is shown.

Feedburner Click Stats

(percentage of clicks per RSS title)

Feedburner View Stats

(percentage per views)

The picture reveals that MyYahoo holds a large percentage when the number of clicks on RSS channel content is in the question. The reason for that is that MyYahoo shows only the headlines of texts, and for further reading you need to click the headline that leads to the full article.

IAlso, in distinction to others, MyYahoo has its unique way of defining its users. Results are calculated on the monthly basis for all active users. Therefore, in case you didn’t log in to MyYahoo or Yahoo! Mail in the last 30 days, MyYahoo will not include you in the RSS subscribers statistics. In the next chart you can see the way in which others do that:

Feedburner Agregatori

FeedBurner’s original text with mentioned terms can be found under Feed Terminology.

  • Bloglines, Google, Netvibes, NewsGator, Pageflakes and Rojo calculate into their statistics all subscribers to your RSS news, even though it is possible that some of these users had never checked the content of your feed.
  • Yahoo: in order to be included into its statistics, you need to check the feed (to log in to your MyYahoo or Yahoo Mail account) within 30 days.
  • Microsoft as it seems, does not publish subscribers data.

FeedBurner subscribers are just a part of the ‘audience’

To base your work and enthusiasm on the number of people that watch the RSS channel is a risky thing to do. Ok, the number can motivate you to be more responsible and to publish new content, but take into account the fact that there are many ways in which people can view your content. Widgets, desktop aggregators, wireless devices, social sites that agregate news from other pages, direct page visitors — these are only some of many that need to be taken into consideration.

Why do the numbers fluctuate?

  1. Offline (desktop) aggregators. The reason has been already mentioned, offline aggregators report subscribers only when they are connected to the Internet.
  2. Different ways of subscriber classification. All big web based aggregators have their own way of determining the number of subscribers.
  3. Technical problems related to the web based aggregators. The best example is the problem that happened last week to Google Feedfetcher. After activation of FeedBurner, Google has integrated data of its own subscribers into their statistics, so certain sites recorded the increase in the number of subscribers up to 50%. Of course, the common sense dictates that the technical problem during last week was the reason why Google Reader was ‘hanging by a thread’ and that also had the influence on the number results of subscribers within FeedBurner. But, it is interesting to see how touchy the site owners are with these things, because the descent has caused discussions and invocations of the Judgement day while inside information states:

Google Feedfetcher were offline because this service was apparently out late with friends on Friday night …

How accurate is the data provided by FeedBurner?

Does the number of RSS subscribers represent the real number of people that watch your blog? Probably not! The way in which this could be percieved is to look at it as the number of people that actualy subscribed to your channel. What does that mean? Specifically, users that register to the channel and decide to stop watching the blog or stop using certain aggregator, rarely do they delete channels they watch. Because of that reason, older blogs can have much bigger number of subscribers (e.g. user decides to switch form Netvibes to Google Reader and in the process he does not delete data from Netvines account).

How to determine the actual number of the people that reed articles you write? The most relevant indicator could be the reach:

Feedburner Reach

Namely, reach represents the number of users that have browsed/clicked the feed.

Tips when setting the RSS channel:

  • Choose one channel version. There is no need to offer different RSS monitoring formats.
  • In case you have many RSS versions, and you would like to monitor statistics, redirect them to FeedBurner’s version in order to get more precise number of subscribers.

And that’s it. Use the opportunity and subscribe to the RSS channel of this site. Offer is limited ;)

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