Sometimes, RSS Subscriber Counts Don’t Matter

numbersMarketing success is all about numbers. We measure what we do in terms of

  • revenue (i.e., numbers)
  • profit (more numbers)
  • visits/pageviews (again, numbers)
  • fans, followers, subscribers (more numbers)
  • etc.

But different numbers matter to different businesses. The key is to know which numbers matter to your business in your situation.

One of my clients is building a wonderful, authoritative blog in her industry – full of great advice about the products and services she offers. We keep an eye on a lot of numbers related to the blog, but I pay almost zero attention to RSS subscribers. Why? Because the target audience is your “average consumer,” and those folks just aren’t using RSS.

RSS Adoption Rates

In late 2008, Forrester Research issued a report called What’s Holding RSS Back?, and the numbers were pretty grim:

  • consumer RSS adoption was only 11%
  • of the other 89% who don’t use RSS, only 17% were interested in starting to use RSS

In response to that, Steve Rubel said:

“Feeds are way way too geeky for most and the benefit does not outweigh the learning curve. So I think RSS has peaked.”

I love RSS, but I agree. More recently, Michael Gray echoed the sentiment that RSS is something the tech crowd uses, and not many others.

“…you need to have realistic goals. If your subject matter doesn’t heavily intersect or overlap with things techno-weenie’s are interested in, your RSS subscribers will be low.”

Lisa Barone wrote a great article yesterday on Small Business Trends with tips for increasing blog subscribers, but for some small biz bloggers it’s just not gonna happen.

I have a “Shopping Mall Test” that I like to use: Picture yourself standing outside the entrance to your local shopping mall. If you asked the first 100 people that walked in the mall on any given day, how many would know what RSS is? (or insert any technology) For me, the answer is “not many.”

If Not RSS Subscribers, Then What?

1.) Email — While RSS is a mystery to so many Internet users, email isn’t. Be sure to offer email-based subscription options, too, and then promote the heck out of it on your blog. You need to almost constantly remind people that they can get email alert whenever you write a new post. (If you use Feedburner for your RSS feeds, it also offers an easy email subscription service; use that.)

(Slight tangent: I wrote more about the need for mailing lists and email subscriptions on Hyperlocal Blogger: Four Reasons Why Your Local Blog Needs a Mailing List.)

2.) Other social media — For my client, her target audience may not use RSS, but they most certainly use Facebook and, to a lesser degree, Twitter. Those are more important tools to us than RSS subscriptions.

3.) Money — Ultimately, the only numbers that really matter are revenue and profit. If your web site is making 3x or 5x more money now than it was a year ago, that’s what counts.

Your turn: Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts on RSS subscriptions and the numbers that really matter? Comments are open.

(photo courtesy lrargerich via Creative Commons)

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. SearchCap: The Day In Search, April 5, 2010 | April 5, 2010
  1. This put some of my woes to rest. It’s troubling to me as a new blogger not having such big numbers displayed on my blog, sometimes wondering if my readers just don’t like my stuff.

    But after reading this I now have to consider what my content is delivering, and who is reading it, not who is clicking the “subscribe to my rss feed” link. Thanks Matt.

  2. Andy Walpole says:

    “of the other 89% who don’t use RSS, only 17% were interested in starting to use RSS”

    I wonder what the figures are for those that don’t even know what RSS is or does? Not many I bet.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more Matt. Although RSS has revolutionized the way I read and consume news and information, my wife, along with everyone I talk to outside of the marketing and tech crowd is completely clueless when it comes to RSS.

    I think your “shopping mall test” is right on the mark. I would take it one step further and call it the Walmart or Target test, because this is probably closer to the true American median. Finally, successful content marketing comes from drawing interest that leads to a sale or generates business in some way. High traffic is an expense and only becomes a profit generator once that interest rings the cash register and converts to sales. Facebook and Google are a perfect example of why what the traffic does is so important to profitability. Facebook recently beat Google in the pageview race, but whose stock would you rather own right now?

    • Matt McGee says:

      Yep, Target or Walmart would be a good test, too, Craig. The bottom line is to think outside our own circle of tech savviness and early adoption. Gotta think like real, average people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *