Giving RSS numbers their due

rss2.JPGI’m sure everyone who has devised and executed a social media campaign, particularly one involving outreach to writers of blogs and other sites, has been asked to provide some sort of metric to justify such efforts. Often what’s asked for are pageviews or visitors or (gulp) impressions.

But here’s the story I tell all the time when people ask about my personal site’s reach: I get, on MMM, about 800 hits to the site a day. But a good amount of those come in, via searches, to posts I wrote months, if not years ago. So if you’re including MMM in your blog outreach plans and you’re basing its inclusion on that 800 +/- daily visits, you need to know that not all those 800 people are coming in through the front door.

That means some portion of that overall number of people are not seeing whatever you’ve just pitched me – yet – though some of them are. Unlike overall visitor numbers we can tell who’s hitting the front page. That is one advantage of the web versus traditional metrics like overall circulation – we can see how people move around on a site.

The 1,000+ people who subscribe to my RSS feed, though, definitely are. That’s because via the feed they’re always seeing the most recent content and updates, and they’re seeing them at a time of their choosing, whatever time they’ve blocked off to catch up on their reading. But I don’t think RSS subscriber numbers is something that’s often asked for or included when measuring success. This despite the fact that, based on my experience, far more publishers make their RSS subscriber numbers visible on their sites – largely through a FeedBurner chicklet – than make their site visit stats publicly viewable.

The same rings true here on OTD, where the number of people snagging the RSS feed vastly outstrip the number of hits to the site.

Considering there’s such a demand for numbers as a means to justify online public relations efforts; and considering there seem to be more publishers who use that FeedBurner number on their sites; and considering that number translates into a higher percentage of the audience that’s going to see the successful results of your outreach, I think it’s past time to start factoring RSS numbers into the numbers agencies provide to clients.

Now I’ll be the first to state that swapping one number for another does little or nothing to address the fact that influence in a particular vertical niche or community held by one person does not always correlate to certain numbers. But aside from anecdotal impressions given by those familiar with the online space there isn’t much we can do to back that up. Numbers are always more reassuring since that’s how traditional media has always been measured and that’s what people are looking for.

So as long as it’s numbers being asked for it’s incumbent on those of us navigating the online space on behalf of our clients to provide the best ones available. Considering all the factors above it seems to me RSS subscribers is probably one of the better numbers we can provide.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.