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Are RSS Subscribers Worthwhile if they Don’t Visit Your Blog?

Posted By Darren Rowse 14th of November 2008 Blog Promotion, Featured Posts, RSS 0 Comments

“Why do bloggers put so much focus upon growing RSS subscriber numbers to their blog if most of them only ever read your content in Feed Readers and don’t visit your blog?”

This question (or variations of it) hit my inbox 3 times in 24 hours from different people so I thought I’d tackle it as a post instead of individual replies.

Let me start by saying that this problem can be frustrating. You see your RSS subscriber number growing by your actual visitor numbers remain steady – as do your comment numbers. It can actually feel like you’re wasting your time – I remember myself feeling kinda like this guy when I first noticed this happening to me:

RSS-Readers-frustrated.pngImage by Sybren Stüvel

However all is not lost.

There are a number of points that I’d like to make in responding to this question about RSS subscribers not visiting a blog. I hope that they give those facing this problem a little hope, encouragement and also a few ways forward.

1. A subscriber that never visits is better than a one off visitor who never returns

I had one blogger recently tell me that he’d removed the option to subscribe to his blog via RSS from his blog because he didn’t want to ‘give away’ his content. He wanted people who read his content to ‘pay’ him by visiting his blog (and earning him money from his advertising) and he saw RSS subscribers as ‘freeloaders’.

My response to him was that I’d rather have a subscriber who rarely visits my actual blog than a one off visitors who never returns because they have no way of keeping in touch.

While a subscriber might not actually visit your blog they are a powerful connection to have. My reasons for this will hopefully become evident in the points that follow.

2. Every post you put in front of a subscriber is an opportunity to reinforce your brand.

RSS subscribers are opting in to receive your content. When they hit ‘subscribe’ they are putting themselves inside your sphere of influence and are asking you to teach, inspire and communicate with them.

Each time you hit publish on a post and a subscriber sees something that you’ve written you have the potential to deepen the relationship, trust and influence that you have with your subscriber. While this might not have an immediate pay off in terms of advertising revenue – it can have a long term ‘pay off’.

3. RSS subscribers are Influencers

RSS is used by a smallish percentage of the population (around 11% at latest reports).

While the percentage may be smallish – I have a suspicion that they are a reasonably tech savvy and influential bunch of people. I’m guessing here – but I suspect that those who use RSS are also likely to have blogs themselves, they’re more likely to be into social networking, messaging and bookmarking tools.

This makes RSS readers a potentially very influential audience – capable of spreading news of your posts and blog throughout the web very quickly.

4. Making the Mind shift from Traffic to Influence

When I started blogging one of the main indicators that I looked at when measuring the success of my blog was traffic. If I had a day with lots of visitors I was happier than if I did not have anyone visit my blog.

While traffic is still important to me – I’ve noticed lately that I’m checking my visitor stats less than I used to. These days I’m increasingly interested in ‘influence’.

I don’t mind so much if someone reads my content on my blog, in an RSS reader or in some other tool – what matters to me is that people are reading it, that in doing so they interact with me, that they are drawn into some sort of ‘relationship’ or ‘community’ around the content.

My reason for this is that I’m finding that while traffic can be monetized directly – influence is actually a more powerful (and potentially profitable) thing. Let me explain more in my next point.

5. Influence can Lead to Profits

More and more bloggers are discovering that while direct income earners like advertising are great – that there’s also incredible potential for bloggers to earn an income through other more indirect income sources. Making money ‘because’ of a blog rather than directly ‘from’ a blog is possible in may ways including consulting, writing books, running training and workshops, selling products, landing other paid writing gigs, speaking at conferences etc.

The more people that you have some kind of influence with the increased chances of being able to monetize that influence in one of these indirect methods.

A subscriber might not be visiting your blog each day but if you provide great content on a daily basis to them you can bet that the day they decide that they need to hire a consultant on your topic that they’ll come knocking on your door.

6. Other Monetization Models for RSS

Indirect income is not the only possibility for RSS. There is also RSS advertising – this industry is still in its infancy and while isn’t hugely profitable using tools like AdSense I’m hearing bloggers reporting that it’s a growing income source for them.

The other great opportunity for income from RSS subscribers is affiliate programs. This taps into point #5 above – when you have ‘influence’ or trust established with readers an affiliate program can be very profitable.

7. The challenge of drawing subscribers into your blog

Just because someone subscribes to your blog does not mean that they’ll never visit it. In fact RSS subscribers can be among your most regular visitors to your blog if you draw them into actually visiting it.

I won’t go into a lot of techniques for this in this post but using techniques like asking questions, running polls, interlinking posts, writing ‘best of’ lists and more techniques can draw subscribers into visiting your blog on a daily basis.

Read more detailed tips on getting RSS readers visiting your blog.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. I also used to think that RSS subscribers were worthless. But then I realized that my RSS subs were the ones promoting my blog for me, they were ones who were spreading the word. Bloggers focus too much on traffic. Focus on profits, not traffic.

  2. I prefer email subscribers rather than those who read the blog in a reader. I feel as if email subscribers subscribe because they want me to teach and talk with them. Whereas the idea of RSS does not appeal to me. I don’t know whether a person reads my feed or subscribes to it without any interest. I’m pretty sure that those who subscribe to my blog are interested in the the content that I’m going to write about.

    I have heard about monetizing RSS feeds but hey the money is in the list. And you can build a list using email subscriptions, right?

  3. An RSS subscriber, like me, can be easily drawn out of his feed reader when he finds a great article (this goes with the influencer) and shares that with his friends in Facebook or Twitter.

    I did just that seconds ago for a twitip post I liked.
    That post just hit another couple of thousand people.

    One word on drawing people in.
    For me, (an avid RSS Reader) I will more than likely unsubscribe from a clipped feed.
    Give me the full feed and I’ll read each and every one of your posts.

  4. Thanks Darren, great post!

    I haven’t thought much about modifying my feeds…

    Does anyone have any good feed-related WordPress plugin suggestions? Just wondering if i’m missing out on some good features. Thanks!

  5. Informative Darren. I’m glad you pointed out for us how it is important NOT to take for granted your RSS subscribers as well as the reason why. Good note. =)

  6. Good post. It’s all about building your brand, and being influential in your field.

  7. Darren,

    You’ve just described an Authority Blogger. :-)

    And this validates my own opinion, that subscribers (especially email ones) are more important than traffic. They forward their emails to others, who then subscribe. They’re the ones who look forward to the next post. They’re the ones who contact you when they need an answer. They’re my little community. And I’m humbled and honored when someone thinks enough of my site to subscribe.

    About monetization: Adsense doesn’t work for everyone, and I personally refuse to clutter up my site with it. Direct advertising (with relevant advertisers) is the way to go and with something like the RSS footer plugin for WordPress, it’s easy to add an advertisement to the feed and email. In fact, it’s a lot more targeted that way, because those subscribers are already interested in your subject.

  8. I have many blogs on my rss feed and the best ones I visit probably at least once a week. Take your site for example I have it on an RSS feed but I have probably visited it 4 or 5 times in the last week trying to figure out how to make money off a new blog. I greatly appreciate the information you put out there.

  9. Unless you have a way to monetize your RSS feed, any RSS subscriber does not present any direct value. I am not even sure if it’s easier to earn any money on RSS readers than on any random new guy who visits your blog.

  10. Blog is about building community, I don’t care if my blog has a lot of traffic gone because of RSS, but I do care if my readers following me!

    I can easily get them to visit my blog if I want to! Just have a contest or ask them to comment, they will be back.

    The most important thing, if they are following my post, they are my prospect!

  11. When I look for links to use in my posts the first place I go to is my RSS reader. RSS is a powerful way to get your articles out there for other bloggers to link to.

  12. Is it a coincidence that I have 3 subscribers to my RSS feed
    and have 3 sites replicating my content (the verbage only)?

    Am I being paraonoid?

  13. Hey Darren,

    I was wondering if you (or any of your readers) could clarify something. A newsletter subscription service like Aweber automatically stores and gives you access to the email addresses that are used to subscribe to them.

    What about RSS emails? When someone subscribes to your feed via RSS, do you have access to that email subscriber list like you would with Aweber?


  14. I think I’m coming from a different angle than most of your readers. To me, the most important thing is that the information gets out there and helps the people who want it. Traffic and profits are only important insofar as they help more people get more of that useful information. So from my point of view, RSS subscribers are great, regardless of whether they visit or sneeze or give me money.

  15. You know, I was just thinking about this the other day as I am really struggling to get my traffic up…but my RSS readership grows everyday.

    Then I got a couple emails from subscribers and i realized that these people are REALLY reading my blog – everyday! And they care and if I need support, or have a question to ask well, they are there for me. Often, I also connect with these people on twitter as well. So yes, they are valuable and I wouldn’t want to go without them one bit.

    Something else I realized is that there is a high level of trust with subscribers. They’ve permitted me into their email (or reader) and if I promote something, they are more likely to jump on board because they trust me. They would also be the first ones to pass my url or tweets around to their friends. Why would anyone want to go without that?

  16. Actually for me it works the opposite. I get more visitors to my blog than RSS subscribers. I am really starting to think that my audience really isn’t computer savvy.

  17. FYI, I found this story from a link on twitter. And I’ve seen that twitterfeed can allow users to post your feed directly to twitter, so their followers find it.

  18. Darren seems you and I have the same brain when it comes to RSS recently. I did a post just other day about this. http://is.gd/7lAV

    For a business or corporation who blogs, I am not sure they have the same concerns as a blogger who is monetizing their blog. While I do see why someone monetizing may not want to give full feed, there is really no reason for a business now to.

    As far as RSS subscribers not visiting the blog, again, the business blogger does not have the same concerns. And I also don’t think a business blogger should worry about monetizing their RSS feed. These bloggers should be more concerned about providing information and who cares if their readers get this from the RSS feed without visiting the blog.

    There a number of ways to get your readers to visit the blog even if they only read RSS. However, I do believe the business blogger should be more concerned about getting people to bookmark their blog as an information source then how many RSS readers they have. If the 11% figure is correct, the average blog reader is not using RSS anyway. And this is why a business blog has to be attractive and function correctly. If these readers are not using RSS, then they are visiting the blog either from a bookmark or some other method. And if these blogs are not appealing to the eye, the visitors is not going to become a reader.

    I am not certain RSS has the same impact on the business blogger as it does on the huge number of bloggers attempting to make a living by monetizing their blogs. However I also agree, the business blogger can not overlook this part of their audience.

  19. Darren, I have been a subscriber of your blog for 2 years and though I rarely click through onto your blog itself, I read you everyday.

    This is my way of saying we’re out here, we’re reading you, and we’re gaining valuable insights from your blog.

    And thank you.

  20. I think one key thing was missed in this article that can make RSS detractors feel better about the offline aspect of email/RSS readers – employing summaries.

    In Feedburner (and I believe in WP too), you can specify that subscribers only get a summary of your post (the first x characters) and are forced to click through to the site to get the rest.

    This is the best of both worlds.

    You may wonder what is the purpose then of having a feed at all if they’ll need to click to your site anyway. If you choose to employ summaries, you can consider the feed as a notifier so that your readers are aware of new content vs. it being a tool for consuming content in totality – your readers are notified of brand new content and are directed to your site. This prevents them from having to constantly check your site when nothing new is available.

  21. I think it also begs the question of our purpose. Yes we’d like to maximize our click revenue, but ultimately, we need to want to give great content for our readers whether they click through or not… but we certainly hope for clicks too!

  22. Also don’t forget that not all RSS subscribers read the full content in an RSS reader. I aggregate all my feeds using NetVibes which only shows article titles and a very small excerpt of the article content. This works well for me as I follow so many sites. So if I find an article grabs my attention, I click through to the original article, pretty much the same as you would from an email subscription of the last weeks content.

  23. Barb D. says: 11/14/2008 at 1:55 am

    Darren–What I like about your RSS feeds is the fact that I can click on “comments” below each post. The comments actually draw me back to your website. So I enjoy the convenience of RSS, and that I can click easily back to your website in the “comments” section. RSS is definitely a worthwhile thing!


  24. You can add revenue from RSS feeds now :) Google recently made this available and you can now place Google ad-sense within your rss feeds…and make a little bit of money that way.

  25. I agree 100%. I always subscribe to blogs I enjoy. I think that if a post is of great interest, reader will often hit a link to goto the actual blog. At least I do.

    I’m sure their a number of blogs I enjoy reading that I would have lost track of it is wasn’t for subscriptions.

    Plus, if you concerned about making money. A loyal audience is much easier to sell to when new products come out.

    Freeloaders, no, your real fans!!!


  26. Hi Darren,

    I seldom post my comments here but today I’d like to let you know that for the last couple of entries make you blog positively very differentiated from other well-known blogs like johnchow’s that I extremely benefit from reading your ideas and content. To make it even better it would be great to post more about blog success stories(like the wine guy’s) and this kind of article(how to/why). Thanks a lot.

  27. I love my RSS subscribers. I get a little extra jolt when I see the number go up. I’m glad that you shared this. Just the other day I was wondering why my traffic was staying the same, but my subscribers were going up. Thanks for the information.

  28. “I don’t mind so much if someone reads my content on my blog, in an RSS reader or in some other tool – what matters to me is that people are reading it, that in doing so they interact with me, that they are drawn into some sort of ‘relationship’ or ‘community’ around the content”

    That’s very truth Darren, and this is why we blog right? I felt frustrated once for the this reason, I was seeing the rss counter increasing but my visits were stuck at the same level…

    When somebody subscribes to your blog, a sense of loyalty is created between you and the subscriber, and that’s the important thing…

  29. Great Post. I liked the point “Influence can Lead to Profits” :)

  30. I took a 2 year hiatus from posting on my blog, simply because I had other personal and professional projects that trumped it on the priority list.

    I recently resurrected the blog, and was pleased to find that a percentage of my RSS subscribers where still active. Not huge, but it allowed me to get some immediate readership, without completely starting from scratch.

    I’m certainly not recommending the practice, but these loyal subscribers immediately began reviewing my site after I started posting again. That certainly counts for something, even if it doesn’t immediately put money in the bank.

  31. That blogger you talk about in point 1 Darren is an asshole.. I hate bloggers or web content creators that act all selfish like that.

    I mean of course making sure you get credit for your work is important, but some people fail to realize how small and usually insignificant they are in the giant sea that is the web.

    I’ve had an experience with a site that puts up videos on youtube, I embeded their videos in some of my posts with links to their main website and they still got upset. Like hello idiots this is the web and if you put stuff on youtube it’s called “Sharing”…

    Anyways I don’t link to or even mention them anymore, my bet is once starcraft 2 is out (the topic of both our sites) they will fade away into nothing because they don’t understand the power of sharing on the web. Right now they would be benefiting from my traffic since I get x10 more… if I blogged more of their videos.

    great post.

  32. I like your idea about shifting your focus from traffic to influence. It is really important to be influential and the number of rss subscriber determines your level of influential. This fact alone will determine your success as a blogger. Traffic will change from time to time but influence does not. If your influence were already established, what ever you do, people will still follow you, be it wrong or not. John Chow for example, there are lots who are saying that he no longer doing good or are helpful but still people still follow him because his influence are already established.

  33. I think they’re worthless unless you use them for social proof.

  34. Excellent article. I agree with your guess, that majority of those who subscribe to RRS feed are probably bloggers themselves

  35. Including the “Comments” FeedFlare helps a lot – because once a couple of people have commented, a lot of other people then see it in the feed and come to the site to see what the discussion’s about! I think this FeedFlare might only work on WP blogs though.

    For anyone who thinks they’d rather keep site traffic high with partial text feeds – don’t! I have 17000 subscribers on one of my blogs and there’s /no/ way I would have got to that with partial feeds. Even if you lose traffic in the short term, full text feeds are worth it to get that subscriber number high.

  36. Darren,

    Don’t forget to mention that RSS subscribers is also a good metric for measuring a blog’s popularity. It can be a helpful number to throw around, especially if you don’t drive enough traffic to rank well on Alexa or Compete.com.

  37. So, are you harming yourself by providing a feed that is excerpt only, which requires the subscriber to click to your site to read the rest of the article?

  38. Darren and others: I have a question,not related to this posting. Perhaps, you and others could answer it. I have seven blog sites. I want to combine it to only three sites based on the topics. Is there an easy way to do it? I am thinking of copy and paste way, but that will take sometime. Is there a way to change the blog site address in the “EDIT” mode? I am new on blogging and not really a computer wizard. Your response will be appreciated

  39. After Google added support for “Adsense For Feed” , RSS subscriber makes good sense from revenue point too.

  40. In the spirit of drawing people to my brand via RSS, here’s another tip that I picked up the other day (forget where; may have been on Daniel Scocco’s Daily Blog Tips): When posting your website or blog in a comment, such as the “link” for my name above, include your RSS feed.

    Which is what I’ve done here as many ProBlogger readers are web-savvy: If you click my name, you’re brought to my RSS feed subscription page. You can still read the content but if you’d like to read my advice on social media and online marketing, I’m making it easier for you (and providing supplemental advice to Darren’s above).

  41. Hi,

    RSS can help you build audience and reinforce your brand. It can also help you make money by running AdSense. It can be a proof to you that you create great copy : if people opens it.

    Thank you

  42. Thanks for the great post. Keep it up!

    I subscribe to many blogs through Google Reader and use the share feature for the articles I like the most and on my personal blog my readers can see the clips I am sharing with my widget. While I do not typically visit each blog I often find myself commenting on a number of posts, which forces me to actually visit the blog. So I am of the belief that RSS readers are not a bad thing. I would agree that most people using feed readers are probably among the most tech savvy and many are active in the blogging community.

    So how does an RSS feed differ from a newsletter subscriber, if at all?

  43. Being on both sides of the debate, I prefer RSS feeds. Firstly, as a reader, I much prefer to read blogs through RSS. This allows me to keep track of what I’ve read, what’s new, etc. For many blogs, if it wasn’t for the RSS feeds I don’t think I’d be there nearly as often. In all honesty, I caught this post through the RSS feed.

    On the other side, being a blogger I love having RSS feed subscriber. Sure you can’t really market ads to them, but they’re also probably a lot less likely to click anyways in the first (they’re use to your blog). But like you’re suggesting Darren, they’re great to build a community around your brand.

    A great example of this is the book you released. I’m sure a lot of people found out about the book through your RSS feed. I know I did. Had you not had an RSS feed and I only intermittently checked, well I might have missed some crucial posts.

    And it’s not just your books (or Amazon, etc.). If you build a large community you will have other opportunities come to you. The more you’re in people’s mind, the better.

    And as you say, never ever doubt the power of influencers!!!

  44. I see a nice advert at the bottom of the article in gReader. Do you know whether or not you get $0.01 everytime someone VIEWS the article? or do they have to click..

    BTW i will soon unsubcribe to a feed if its plastered in ads, but what you have is more than enough!

  45. Don’t forget your RSS subscribers are also likely to be those people who tweet links to your posts on Twitter – which link directly to your blog, not to their RSS feed of your blog. So they may actually be sending people to you.

    The other aspect is that bloggers like me who do most of their blog reading in a reader, also will link back to your posts in our own posts and those links also are the direct permalinks.

  46. Don’t forget your RSS subscribers are also likely to be those people who tweet links to your posts on Twitter – which link directly to your blog, not to their RSS feed of your blog. So they may actually be sending people to you.

    The other aspect is that bloggers like me who do most of their blog reading in a reader, also will link back to your posts in our own posts and those links also are the direct permalinks.

    That sounds really confusing but the point is that your RSS subscribers are spreading the word about you.

  47. I totally agree with this post!

    Bloggers are beginning to realize that it’s not all about how many clicks your ads get or how much daily traffic you’re getting, although they are important.

    I decided to take the advice of Daniel Scocco from Daily Blog Tips (http://www.dailyblogtips.com/50-simple-ways-to-gain-rss-subscribers/) and made some changes to my blog yesterday. As of today, I have 7 subscribers. Sure, it’s not much, but it’s 7 more than I had before.

    Like Darren says, it’s about how much influence you have. One of those 7 subscribers could be someone looking for a guest blogger or an angel investor looking for the next big thing on the internet or just an average Joe curious to see what people in Ohio do.

    Either way, it’s nice to know that people are reading and watching my content.

  48. If you do full feeds and include affiliate links in the header and footer of each post in your xml feed (using the wordpress PostPost plugin for example) then RSS is just another viewer for your entire advertising-based revenue generating blog business. Thats awesome – come on splogs, steal my stuff (just leave the links intact)!

  49. it’s a good post, i thing the real value for any blog is subscribers, the can visit your blog onse and then rean information from readers
    thats i think why so little comments, for example Darren blog has 66k subscribbers, but comment only a very small percent.

  50. Really interesting topic. For people who post different content (like me, I post Tech & Sketches), RSS is great, as not everyone would be interested in seeing all posts.

    I read loads of blogs through RSS, though I hardly comment on most. But whenever there’s something interesting, I make sure I leave a comment. I guess that’s where the purpose of RSS Subscribers is served :)

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