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Two Tips for Increasing RSS Subscriber Numbers

Posted By Darren Rowse 29th of June 2007 RSS 0 Comments

Over the weekend I managed to increase the number of subscribers to my Digital Photography School RSS feed by around 15%. Before Friday it was sitting at around the 20,000 subscriber mark and 3 days later it’s just over 23,000 subscribers.

How did I do it?

I did two things.

1. I Emailed Unverified Email Subscribers

At DPS I actively promote a Feedburner service to my readers that enables them to be emailed at the end of each day that I publish a post with a notification of what I’ve written. I promote this service here. People subscribing to this service are counted as RSS subscribers by Feedburner.

A few weeks ago I was digging around the administration area of my Feedburner account and noticed that while I had around 3500 people subscribed to this service that over 800 of them had not verified their subscription.

Feedburner has a double opt in system in place where subscribers need to give their email address and then confirm it from an email. Over 800 hadn’t clicked the link in the confirmation email! Over 800 people that wanted to me to email them every day to notify of them of my latest posts weren’t getting the emails.

When I realized this I promptly emailed Feedburner to see if they had a way of me reminding these unverified subscribers to confirm their subscription. Feedburner promptly replied to let me know that they didn’t have the ability to do this – but that I could do it manually by exporting my subscriber list, extracting the email addresses and then emailing subscribers myself.

This sounded like a bit of an arduous process so I left it for a few days – but after a little consideration decided it would be worth the effort to do. It took me about an hour to do it (I had a few email issues that day) and since doing so have noticed quite a few of the 800 are now getting the daily emails.

2. I Promoted the Feed

The second thing that I did last week was a special post on the DPS blog titled How to Connect with Digital Photography School.

The post was simply a reminder to readers of the different ways that they can hook into DPS. In the post I highlighted my RSS feed, the daily email updates, the weekly newsletter that I send out, our forums as well as a short blurb on social bookmarking.

The main aim of the blog was to educate readers on how to connect more deeply with the blog.

The response was quite amazing. I received many emails from regular readers thanking me for helping them participate in the community more. It struck me that while I’d been working incredibly hard to provide readers with digital photography tips that I’d not really taken the time to help new readers learn about how to use the blog.

I suspect that many bloggers fall into a similar trap – because most of us deal with RSS every day and have a reasonable idea how forums, newsletters and blogs work we can easily forget that many of those who read our blogs don’t know where to start.

Update: I’ve answered a lot of the questions that readers asked about this post in an update post here.

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. Having a good readership is the key to success!

    Great tips Darren, my aim is to get 500 Rss Subscribers by the end of this year. One as got to have goals right?!


  2. I never thought of emailing the unverified email subscribers; that’s an excellent idea!

    It’s interesting what you’ve noted here about newcomers in the last paragraph. Maybe the links you have at the top of your blog, should be something more of us incorporate into our blogs, giving newbie’s somewhere to go.

    Thanks again Darren.

  3. Darren, your timing on this couldn’t be better! I was just pondering this issue myself. I added the rthanks plugin to my WordPress installation, since I get a lot of hits from search and links placed in the WordPress themes I’ve created. But now that you’ve brought up the idea of unconfirmed feedburner subscriptions, I’ll have to take a look at that.

    I’m not one to push my own blog in comment, preferring to contribute to the discussion at hand, but since we’re talking about how to increase RSS subscribers, one way I’ve found to get something is to simply ask for it! So… I’d like to invite everyone to visit and subscribe!

  4. I’ve never thought much about RSS readership and really don’t have clue on how many are subscribed via RSS feeds, though I was able to recover some “lost” posts a while back using Feedburner. I’ve got this on my list of things to do when I get a chance to catch up. (We just got home from a 23 trip through parts of Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Arkansas with plenty of photo and info for fodder for future posts.)

  5. Wow great tips and results you’ve gotten! I basically have no RSS subscribers yet and this gives me an idea to email my MAILING list and let them know there is another way for them to keep in touch through my blog – hey I’ll even give them the feed in the email I think.

    Also, I’ve been thinking of making a video on how people can subscribe to my RSS feed on my blog and linking to it right under the RSS Icon so that people can see what it’s all about.

    Thanks again!
    Angela Wills

  6. Hey Darren,
    I wish you posted this yesterday!
    I just went through my unverified list and deleted them all thinking they were Spam sign-ups like I get on my forum.
    Oh well, live and learn.
    But that is the main reason I read your stuff, I always learn something. :-)

  7. I never knew about the double-opt in email process for feedburner! Very helpfull! thanks!

  8. Darren, good tips. I had no idea about the feedburner export option. Being able to remind them is a good idea.

    Two questions:

    1. Is there a chance your reminder could be thought of as spam?
    2. How many reminders would you send?

    My thoughts are at 800 potential subscribers, sending more than 1 “reminder” message would increase response.

  9. Earlier today a reader asked me why we didn’t offer email subscriptions and the reason was I forgot to enable it.

    Sure enough within a few hours 15 people had subscribed!

  10. Awesome! I can’t wait to get my readership built up and using Feedburner for RSS!

  11. Thanks for giving such nice tips Darren. I have few email subscribers who are unverified. Now ill go and mail them right away. Indeed the subscribers are important and the time you have spent on getting them back is surely useful.

  12. guess these tips only works if you already have a foundation of subscribers and visitors. For a blog with hardly any subscribers or readers, these tips do not really work, unfortunately.

  13. Darren, I’ve considered emailing unverified Feedburner subscribers but haven’t because of a concern that Brad raised…that I’d be at risk of spamming accusations and maybe in violation of a Feedburner policy. If you have a chance to talk about this a bit more, it would be great! Thanks.

  14. Ok, I’m going to “borrow” your idea to remind visitors how they can engage. Nice post!

  15. over 23,000 subscribers…

    I would be happy even with 50. But perhaps if I had 50, I would like to have some more.

  16. What kind of message did you send? Is there a verification URL that one can put in the message?

  17. I think this is your best tip post ever Darren :)

    What did you say in your “activation” email? Just ask them to subscribe again?

  18. Quick question, whereabouts in the feedburner control panel is a list of all the unverified/verified email addresses?

  19. unverified readers?!
    Huh, where have you found that one? I am trying but there is no such data, that is I just cannot find it.

  20. Hi Darren,

    Thank you so much for this tip and all the others. I’m new to blogging and your valuable and practical advice have been most useful for my building up the site. Much grateful.

  21. i like the idea of a special post how people can stay connected with my hawaii vacation blog through email and RSS subscription. sometimes it helps to explain more detailed what both things mean. we just assume so many things from our blog visitors. i noticed a lot of them even feel confused about leaving a comment. thanks darren. i will make up a subscription post. pua

  22. Darren, I’ve noticed this problem, too. What method did you actually use to get the people to subscribe? I’m under the impression that most of these lost activations were probably routed to spam and then deleted, so the messages aren’t available anymore. Did you delete their previous activation attempts and ask them to go through the process again?

  23. Wow, I never knew that FeedBurner would leave my subscribers unverified. I checked the email readership on my feed and I saw dozens of unverified readers. Thanks for the heads up Darren!

  24. Sometimes in blogsphere, with regard to technology combined with marketing my blog, I feel like Marlin in Finding Nemo, when he says to Squirt the turtle, “It’s like he’s trying to speak to me, I know it. Look, you’re really cute, but I can’t understand what you’re saying. Say the first thing again!”
    But I am sure that’s just me ;-)
    Catherine, the redhead

  25. Darren,

    I agree, the feedburner email tool is wonderful and I’ve been using the Feedblitz option for my one blog for over a year with great success. The other blog that I started earlier this year though has been a bit of a different experiance. I chose to go with Feedburner’s own email subscription option, but there is one major drawback to it, no way to manually activate accounts. I’ve got a few unverified people who either didn’t get the email because of spam filters or forgot that it is a double opt in. With Feedblitz, I can manually activate these accounts, with Feedburner, my only option is to delete. What’s worse, I have no option to resend the confirmation email to them.

    I’ve questioned them on this in their support forums and never get a solid answer, your suggestions? Should I just email the people directly or hang on and hope Feedburner will address this?

  26. The same thing with Feedburner happened to me; I emailed everyone saying they had to click on the subscription links. 90% of them went to my blog and resubscribed. 10% of them didn’t. I did the same thing you did. :)

  27. I’m so excited that I read this. Up until a few weeks ago, I never noticed that my site’s feed. And I’ve been blogging since 2003!


    Pathetic… I know. Simply pathetic.

    Trew Life

  28. Simply a fantastic idea.

  29. Thank you so much for all the wonderful info. I can see how much of this can work very well and will attempt to use some of your suggestions asap.

  30. Mike P,

    I think you can still see the email address of those that haven’t verified, so just send them a personal email to remind them.

  31. Hi,

    I also have experienced this kind of Feedburners’ trap, some of my subscribers have to do it again nevertheless they do say that they had already done it before.
    So, it was a great tip anyway.


    Paulo Sidney

  32. Great tips! I’ve been trying to come up with some ideas on how to up my RSS readership. I never really thought much of email as a good way for people to subscribe to my feed though.

  33. One simple measure that increased my RSS subscribers was to offer full feeds. I think people shy away from this option because they feel that Feed readers won’t get exposed to ads and therefore they’re a lost source of revenue. I don’t think this is the case.

    Feed readers are loyal readers of your blog and are much more likely to read your new content than non-feed readers. Most likely, your content frequently contains links to other posts you’ve made – links which open a new window that arrives at a particular post page on your blog. You’re delivering a loyal reader to specific page on your blog who’s primary dealing with that blog is through RSS. Thus the design is a ‘novelty’ to them and their ad blindness levels are low. If you’re using Adsense for content the ads are also targetted to the topic which has interested them enough to click through the link…

    I could go on about the advantages of full feeds, but that’s an article in itself. Safe to say, my opinion is that they’re pretty great!

  34. I thought the whole point of the double opt in system was that if the subscriber doesn’t verify the link then you have no right to contact them again.

    I use Constant Contact and they will terminate your account if you contact someone who has not verified their email subscription.

    Perhaps Feedburner is different but I think people should be very wary of emailing people who haven’t completed the double opt in.

  35. I have the same problem with feedburner as well and have been tempted to not bother with the follow up e-mails. However, if you can do 800, I’m sure that I can handle my much smaller amount. We mentioned this post on our “Who Said That?” weekly closeout.

  36. I kind of figure that the reason for “verified opt in” is to NOT send out emails if the link is not verified.

    Most verified opt in emails will state “If you do not want to subscribe, simply ignore this message.”

    So, Isn’t what you did really spam?

  37. Thanks for sharing the results of this interesting experiment with us, Darren. Would you be willing to let us know how many of the 800 you contacted actually subscribed? That would be quite interesting to know.

    I understand people’s reservations about emailing the unverified potential subscribers. That is the point of having the double opt-in system — to protect people whose email addresses might have been used without their permission.

    But then again, if this experiment yields a high proportion of subscribers, then there’s reason to question the “spamminess” of a polite follow-up mail.

  38. […] wrote a number of months ago about getting unconfirmed subscribers to your RSS feed to confirm their subscription – Techie Buzz has developed a plugin to help you do […]

  39. […] wrote a number of months ago about getting unconfirmed subscribers to your RSS feed to confirm their subscription – Techie Buzz has developed a plugin to help you do […]

  40. I was wondering if you could explain the importance of Feedburner in this equation. Why couldn’t I simply create an RSS on my page. In other words, what are the main advantages of using Feedburner for your subscriber base?

  41. Here’s a list of RSS feed directories that you can use to help promote your feed. There are about 80 of them.

  42. Hello , I like a lot of your blog post especially the article regarding ips for Increasing RSS Subscriber Numbers, it looks very interesting. I found you on yahoo while searching for Education Loan. I just Stumble it on Wednesday!

  43. Hi Darren,

    Great article since I have been contemplating doing just this for a while. My question is how to these people confirm their subscription if they want to (assuming they may have already deleted that confirmation email)?
    Thank you for any and all feedback!

  44. Great info Darren, just what I needed.

    I wasn’t 100% of the legalities of this as they are not yet confirmed ‘double opt-in’.

    Another great plug-in I have just discovered is the “What Would Seth Godin Do”

    It uses cookies to see if a user has been to the blog before or not and places an appropriate message after your blog post title.

    If the user is new to the blog the message notifies them of the RSS subscription to keep them updated, but if they’ve been to the blog a certain number of times it simply welcomes them back.

    Check it out on my blog if you think it might be useful.


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