How To Accurately Track RSS Subscribers
Matt Hopkins posted in RSS, Search Engine Marketing, Web Analytics on May 1st, 2007
That title may be a bit over ambitious, but I think that I have come up with the most accurate method for counting subscribers to your RSS feed.
This post is the sequal to Tracking your email campaigns and will build upon the tracking concepts used within that post. The previous post on tracking allows you to identify visitors who read the RSS feed then visit your site through a link in the feed. So that method will go some way to providing a readership metrics for our RSS content.
A readership metric is great, what about subscribers?
We can track the number of subscribers to a RSS feed in a number of ways, but after a few hours of research one method stuck out. This was to taint the feed URL for every visitor with a random value. Then all you have to do is count up the values and that will give you a subscriber count.
Below is an example feed URL that has been tainted.
In this case we could count the number of ID values to give a subscriber count. Now this is fine but my method is to take this one step further and have the random value as the persistant cookie value for that visitor. By doing this we can actually identify the visitor even more accurately than using cookies because the feed request becomes the visitor identifier. Therefore it is possible to constantly update the visitor persistant cookie, even if it has been deleted to reflect the original cookie value.
Obviously this method is not without its problems, but luckily the negative effects can be minimised.
For instance you cannot let the search engines get hold of the RSS feed URL as search engines seem to favour RSS content over native web content. To ensure this, make sure your robots.txt file denies access to your RSS feeds.
What if someone syndicates your RSS feed on their site? Well your readership metric should hopefully increase but your subscriber metric will not be changed. Not a great thing but I think it’s an acceptable risk.
No more pinging your RSS feeds to RSS search engines. This would obviously defeat the point of counting of counting subscribers as you would be promoting one subscriber ID which may actually represent many people. But if your content is any good and your search engine optimisation is up to scratch then you shouldn’t need to tell the RSS search engines where you are.
Now the finale, I have read a few blog posts on tracking RSS subscriber numbers but the one thing that differentiates this post is that I am confident enough to implement it on my own blog as well as any site I am working on. To see, just subscribe to my RSS feed.