The Secret Statistics In Split RSS Feeds – Google Reader

Google Reader now reports feed usage, and it is being suggested by a prominent Google engineer that you should look at aggregated numbers.
Danny has gone into what many of the numbers mean, but he is missing out on some vital clues that are extremely revealing.

First up, for those counting stats such as Darren Rowse, Robert Scoble and Techcrunch here are my numbers.

Google Reader Statistics In Feedburner

Google Reader Statistics In Google Reader

Google Reader is currently showing 3 different feeds that are all providing the same content, which you might think would be better served as a single number as appears in Feedburner.
Hopefully that will never, ever happen, as those split numbers are incredibly useful.

Why Are There Split Numbers?

It is vital to understand why split numbers occur to fully appreciate how useful this is.

There are 3 main ways people subscribe to your RSS feeds using Google Reader.

  1. Using A Subscription Button

    My subscription buttons point to and this is the URL used by feed readers to collect my feed, even though that redirects to Feedburner using the Feedsmith plugin.

  2. Autodiscovery

    This is that little orange icon that appears in your browser alongside the URL for RSS subscription. It is handled in different ways by various feed readers. Google Reader evaluates any redirect before you actually subscribe, thus you end up at before making a decision. Historically speaking this isn’t a very good thing to happen, because as a feed publisher you “lose ownership” in some ways of those subscribers, as they are not subscribing to a page on your site that can be moved to somewhere else.

  3. Javascript Bookmark

    This again uses the autodiscovery URL in the header of your blog, but for some reason, maybe my own oversight or mistake my autodiscovery URL is – notice this URL doesn’t have a trailing slash.

RSS Feed Subscription – Evaluation

This is where we gain a unique perspective on Feed Subscription

  1. 580 people are subscribed to – those people used a subscription button to subscribe to my feed.
  2. 196 people are subscribed to – those are either very long-time subscribers from my time on blogspot, or they used RSS Autodiscovery to subscribe using Google Reader
  3. 146 people are subscribed to – those people most likely used a javascript based subscription button in Firefox to subscribe to my feed.

Now if you are very smart, you could use this method to split test subscription methods, and rely on Feedburner for your aggregate data.

This isn’t an attempt to get on a list of SEO blogs or back-slapping.

In this post I am trying to highlight some unique information that no one has ever revealed before, and could be extremely useful.

This isn’t the same as tracking RSS subscriptions, in many ways it is better because the tracking only gives you a click on a button, and doesn’t give you anything from autodiscovery, losing half of the data.

I for one hope Google doesn’t “fix” this “problem” with aggregated feeds, because it could prove to be very useful.

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  1. says

    Andy, interesting post.

    I think it is disappointing that Google Reader evaluates the redirects. I’m of the belief that people should always subscribe to your URL, not the FeedBurner one. If a large number of your subscribers use the FeedBurner URL, it makes it difficult for you to stop using their service. Interesting that Google own FeedBurner isn’t it?

    • says

      Stephen I always was upset about it, and it is quite possible even if they didn’t evaluate it, as long as they don’t merge this reporting then it could be used for split testing.

      The only problem would then be creating multiple redirects, or possibly adding #12345 tracking links ;) that should redirect correctly.

  2. says

    Nice tips Andy. It’s something as yet I’ve not spent the time looking at.

    PS – Sphinned you with your on page widget :)

  3. says

    Ouch – I never considered the potential downside of using feedburner.

    Are all three feeds being included in your feedburner count?

      • says

        Also when doing so I found I needed to disable Feedburner Smith plugin otherwise the Bloglines get cofused/redirected to the same feed.

  4. says

    This is highly interesting as usual Andy. It’s something many of us overlook. Thank you for breaking it down into digestable chunks.

  5. says

    This sheds some light on the problems with RSS feeds and google. I am a beginner webmaster and this article has simplified a lot of things for me. I have constantly been confused about my fluctuating reach numbers, but you have helped me. Thanks for the good post. Rami. Im a frequent visitor and subscriber.