For most marketers RSS metrics are still a gray area, although in fact RSS is completely measurable, even more so than e-mail.
As complexity grows with added capabilities, we're only taking a look at the absolute basics of measuring your RSS feeds today. These are the basics you can implement immediately to see how you're doing, and then gradually move on to more complex analyses.
As always, the key point is just to get started and then move on from there.
1. The Reasons For Measuring RSS
The most basic reasons for measurement are quite simple:
A] How many people are subscribing to my RSS feed? Is the number increasing or decreasing?
If the number of readers is decreasing, it's a sign that your content is not meeting the needs of the target audiences your site attracts, consequently meaning that you need to consider improving your content strategy.
Optimization possibilities include:
--> More practical how-to articles
--> Different content topics
--> More "personal voice"
--> Greater publishing frequency (more frequent posts)
--> Less frequent posts
--> Longer or shorter posts
--> More news coverage within your industry
Also, based on your readership you'll be able to calculate your "readership --> purchases" conversion rate, if you're using your site to sell products online. The simple formula to calcuate this is "the number of orders / number of readers * 100".
B] Are my subscribers actually clicking on the content items in the RSS feed?
If you find that your subscribers are actually opening the feed, but not clicking on individual content items it's a clear sign that either your content item headlines need to be improved, made more attractive, or that the actual content is not strong enough to entice readers to clickthrough.
Knowing your feed-to-website clickthrough rates will also enable you to introduce gradual changes in your content strategy and actually see how they improve or hurt your key success metrics.
These two questions are of course only the most basic, but will enable you to build on them in the future and start developing more advanced measurement & optimization procedures.
2. The Tools
Now that you know what you'll start tracking you'll need appropriate tools to actually help you measure your RSS feeds.
If you're using any of the more advanced RSS marketing & publishing solutions, the key metrics will already be provided to you out-of-the-box.
If not, you'll need to use a specific service just to conduct your measurements. For small-business marketers, the best choices are http://www.feedburner.com or http://www.pheedo.com, which come at no charge for the basic toolset.
Using them is quick and simple: just go to their site, register for a free account, enter your existing RSS feed URL, start promoting the new RSS feed URL (given to you by the service) on your site, instead of the one you are using right now, and start measuring.
But be careful! These two RSS measurement solutions actually create a new RSS feed URL for you, which is hosted on their own server, meaning that you only want to use it to generate "real" subscribers, and not actually submit the feed to any RSS search engines and directories. If you do so, some of the SEO benefits of RSS will unfortunatelly be wasted.
3. Increasing the Number of Your RSS Subscribers
Now that you know your subscriber growth trends you can also start improving your on-site RSS subscriber generations processes.
Here's what you should test and see how it improves your subscription conversion rate:
--> Place your RSS feed subscribe links above the fold, directly below your e-zine subscribtion box.
--> Start promoting your RSS feed by first enticing visitors to specifically want to subscribe to your content, and only then to actually subscribe to your RSS feed. Remember, the content is what attracts people, RSS is just a channel to get it to them. And then, continuously test your copy to get maximum results.
--> Instead of using just an orange RSS subscribe button, also use a My.Yahoo, Bloglines and MY MSN subscribe buttons, to attract even the people that might get scared when seeing the word RSS.
--> Place RSS feed subscribe links next to your key topics on the site, and naturally provide topical feeds for those same topics.
--> Test everything, from the copy you use, to the different buttons you use, and their location on your site.