One of the things you’ve heard from me over and over is to focus on subscriber acquisition as the main focus of blogging. Getting people to voluntarily pay attention to you over time is your goal, because it’s the cornerstone of permission marketing.
Whether you’re dealing with RSS or email subscriptions, not all subscribers are equal. People abandon RSS readers, ignore your content without unsubscribing, or simply don’t check in all that often.
Again, this applies to email marketing as well, and is likely even worse in that arena. Many people have “throwaway” email accounts for subscriptions (especially when an inducement such as a free report is involved) as a way to avoid spam.
All of this is just part of doing business online, and it’s not exactly a revelation.
Fred Wilson is getting attention today on Techmeme for characterizing RSS subscription numbers and other online metrics as statistics that lie. When it comes to RSS, he uses his own engagement data to support how bogus RSS is.
This blog has, according to FeedBurner, 133,000 RSS subscribers. That’s a big number. But the number of people who read this blog via the feed every day averages less than 4,000.
Fred mentions several of the reasons I mention above as a reason for this dismal ratio. He then concludes “the 133,000 number is basically useless.”
I’m not sure what’s going on in Fred’s case, but with several popular blogs, those high subscription numbers are misleading. That’s because many RSS readers (most notably Google Reader) offer suggested feeds and topical bundles to new users.
For example, if you subscribe to the Small Business bundle in Google Reader, you’re automatically subscribed to Seth, Church of the Customer, Duct Tape Marketing and several others. This offers great exposure to these excellent blogs, but the by-product is that engagement ratios are likely lower.
A person who subscribes specifically to your blog should be much more engaged than a person who subscribed due to an auto-inclusion or a topical bundle. For example, Tech Crunch boasts 839,000 subscribers as of today, but is also auto-included in just about every RSS reader around. Tech Crunch is no doubt very popular, but that number is nowhere near an accurate indication of readership.
Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so… these blogs are high quality, or they wouldn’t get bundled in the first place. And by displaying those high subscriber counts (note: Seth doesn’t, but he should), they’re using social proof to attract even more true opt-ins.
Copyblogger is deemed too niche to be bundled or auto-included, but there’s an upside to that as well. My whole goal is true engagement through true opt-in subscribers, and I think it shows in the comment section and calls to action. While the added social proof of auto-included subscribers would help me attract more subscribers, I’m not losing any sleep over it.
What do you think?
Would you rather enjoy the benefit of higher subscriber numbers in trade for lower overall engagement (such as having 100K subscribers and three comments per post)?
Or do you like attracting your followers the old-fashioned way, satisfied that someone who subscribes has independently chosen too?