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Must Measure Metrics for Bloggers. Part 1 Rss.

Paul Anthony / May 31, 2009

Posted in: Archive

measurement-preciseGoogle Analytics is an awesome piece of kit – considering that it is free.  It pretty much measures everything a webby / blogger would want. However there are a few bits and pieces that I would recommend you measure on your website that take an additional bit of work on your part, but can enhance the statistics you are already collecting. This series of posts examines some of the  must measure metrics for bloggers in particular.

Why RSS? Well, rss is a pull technology, and as such gives a good indicator of whether your content is up to scratch or not. It also can enhance your traffic somewhat, as people don’t have to go looking for your new content, they know about it the minute they turn on your feed reader. Many tech savvy people prefer to digest blog posts through an RSS reader as it prevents them from jumping from blog to blog around the web to read their favourite content. They get it collated all in one place. It also has the added benefit of increasing the likelihood of getting syndicated elsewhere, and benefit from the traffic of the syndicator. All positive things for the growth of a site.

Rss and Email Subscription

I’m assuming that you’ve already signed up for Feedburner to get statistics about your subscribers. It’s pretty much a should do the minute you start blogging. Whilst I’ve had problems with fluctuating numbers on the statistics it provides, its still better than nothing. Feedburner also publishes your RSS feed as an email newsletter for free, and is wholly owned subsidiary of Google, so chances are wont be long before we see some sort of better integration between the two. I’d thoroughly recommend that you give your subscribers an optional RSS or Email subscription – as not everyone uses RSS.

If you’ve started out blogging, and have been for sometime, you’ll realise that signing up for Feedburner poses a difficulty; your RSS subscribers may have already started subscribing to a URL that you own yourself (i.e. http://www.webdistortion.com/feed/) -Feedburner on the other hand gives you a URL that looks a bit like this (http://feeds2.feedburner.com/WebDesignInIrelandBlog) – so the question of ‘Will my existing subscribers get lost in the process exists’   indeed I had this problem myself. However not to worry – there is a plugin for WordPress which will redirect your own URL to a feedburner alternative its called Feedsmith and you can find that plugin here. If you are blogging on any other platform (why? I ask why?) – you’ll have to figure out your own way to redirect it.

Anyway, once you’ve got that setup, its time to harness Google Analytics a bit further.

Why monitor your subscriptions?

Assuming you have two buttons on your site for syndicating your content, you’ll want to measure which one is providing the most signups. Is it the email subscriptions that is working for you, or the rss subscriptions? Which one is receiving the most clicks?

Figuring this stuff out, along with assumptions you’ve made about your audience can help you make design decisions about your site. For example, if your content is largely of a technical nature, and you have more rss subscribers than email subscribers, well then that is normal. Remember on the whole – non techies don’t understand what RSS is – which I’ve blogged about before. But if the reverse is true – well then, do you need to enhance the button placement for your email subscriptions? Would it result in more signups? This is the science you need to work out – and you can only do that by testing.

Analytics for RSS Subscriptions

There are two basic steps in setting up any additional metric. Firstly you need to setup your HTML document or blog template to pass the info to Google. After that you need to configure the Goal in your Google account. In this particular instance the goal will be triggered when someone signs up on our site. Either to the RSS or Email subscription.

We want to measure how effect each of the options are in gaining subscribers to the site. I have no less than five potential entry points to gain subscribers. Two on the left hand size (as text links), the feedburner chicklet (the blue box) and two buttons in the footer. It’s therefore quite useful information to know which of these actually contributed to the goal.

Adding your HTML

To monitor each of these, we have to tag each link somehow to tell Google that they have been clicked. This is done via a bit of html which looks something like this.

<a href="URL" onclick='javascript:urchinTracker("/goal/rss/regularrss")'>

Now obviously for you particular situation you’ll change the href to your blog feed URL. The urchinTracker function is a call in Google Analytics which says “log this for this user”, and adds the data to Google’s internal data. I’ve repeated this process on each of the links for my RSS.  The parameter I pass to each of these looks like this.


See what I’m doing? Keep the URL structure the same for /goal/rss – but change it for each of the different types of button or links. You can apply this concept to any goal you wish to capture on your site. Take a look at my own source code if you are lost. You’ll be able to see how I’ve pieced them together.

Most people would create a goal for each of the above so they can track exactly which button was clicked. But that would be messy, and anyway, Google only allows you to setup 4 goals in total. Remember I have five entry points and  I would need to use two different profiles to track all of the goals. So we’ll work around the caveat.

Setting up your goal

Once you have the html setup on each of your links, move on to the Google interface itself. Once logged into your Google Analytics account, highlight the account you wish to setup RSS subscription monitoring for.  Click on the blue text  to get into Google Settings.


Next you’ll want to head to the Goals and Filters section – beside the first available goal (should say not configured) – you can hit “Edit”

The settings bit is surprisingly straightforward. Rather than create a goal for each of the above, I can use a regular expression to match then all. This way I only need to create one goal. The regular expression that I use for the goal looks like this:


You may want to apply some monetary value to this goal, if you feel that a subscriber actually equates to a value.  Also note that I haven’t applied the case sensitivity to this. If you have a landing page (or payment page for paid subscribers) that exists before someone subscribers, you may want to add it to the conversion funnel, but the majority of bloggers don’t as it only results in lower conversion rates.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series. Part two will feature how best to setup site wide search on your blog, and how to measure it.

  • Analytics
  • Google
  • measurement
  • psyc
  • rss
  • RSS feeds
  • series
  • the psychology of rss