- WEB STARTUPS
- WEB JOBS
- ALL TOPICS
Are “RSS Subscribers” Equal to “Hits”?
Are RSS subscriber numbers the new “hits”? How many of you remember when the reported metric was hits? I do and the fun that it was. At CKS, the client managers would run around the office yelling when their client site hit a large number (i.e. a million hits!). Of course, depending on who developed the site in the office, that eventually became a joke. When the press relelases came into the office and the headline was “XYZ.com reports 1 million hits in last 24 hours”, I laughed.
As we all know now, hits were a horrible metric as they could be gamed easily and in fact, most times they didn’t even need to be gamed depending on who developed the site. Add in another 10 blank gifs and you have 10 more hits per page load, awesome! Imagine if we had 100 blank gifs, even more awesome! And so the story goes. Luckily the industry quickly moved to page views. I still wonder how much was paid out due to the marketing of “hits” as a metric.
Now fast-forward to 2007 and RSS reporting. This has really bugged me for a year. What are we reporting when it comes to RSS? It appears that “subscribers” is a number that people like showing off. Here are some examples I found:
Everything from 90 to 580,000 subscribers. But what does this number mean? FeedBurner defines Subscribers as, “Subscribers is an approximate measure of the number of individuals currently subscribed to your feed.” They go on to say, “FeedBurner’s subscriber count is based on an approximation of how many times your feed has been requested in a 24-hour period. Subscribers is inferred from an analysis of the many different feed readers and aggregators that retrieve this feed daily. Subscribers is not computed for browsers and bots that access your feed.”
So we now understand that subscribers is an approximate number of how many times a feed was requested in a 24-hour period. FeedBurner also reports “Reach” which they define as, “Reach is the total number of people who have taken action — viewed or clicked — on the content in your feed.”
Perhaps the FeedBurner widget should actually report Reach and not Subscribers. Would “Subscribers = Hits” and “Reach = Pageviews”?
Let’s take it a step further to look at what is a Subscriber. This is my educated speculation until I hear anything differently. If we look at popular start pages Netvibes and Pageflakes, both provide a set of default feeds upon initial page load. Using Pageflakes as the example, TechCrunch (the 580,000 listed above) is a default feed. This means that anyone who loads Pageflakes.com is now a Subscriber of the TechCrunch feed.
An example from Netvibes would be Yahoo Sports feed. And any load of Netvibes.com equates to another Subscriber for Yahoo Sports. With both of these sites having Alexa rankings under 10k, I can only imagine that they must see some nice traffic. But what happens if that new Netvibes user doesn’t click anything on the Yahoo Sports feed or minimizes it? They are still reported as a subscriber.
So at least for a day (and I would suggest everyday) the numbers will remain high. There is a lot of churn at both Pf and Nv but that churn keeps all of their default feeds higher in Subscriber counts. As long as the same number go out and come in, the overall number remains the same.
I am not sure if Google Reader and all of the other feed readers are the same way, after the initial load. Does it count a load only when the person actually clicks on the feed the next day or if you have the feed loaded in your list, does it count? Any Googl’rs out there with the details?
As an analytics freak, I look forward to a time when we will see robust RSS reporting. FeedBurner stats do a great job but not everyone uses FB. And their stats rely on the readers to send them accurate numbers.
In summary I would suggest that we look at moving away from Subscribers as the published metric for RSS. It’s time for a new metric that accurately reports who used a feed during the day, not just who may have loaded a feed. Because that my friends, is a hit.