When Should I Display My RSS Feed Subscription Count Stat Button?

by Robb Sutton

Feedburner (recently acquired by Google) provides a great service for bloggers that aggregates your feed quickly and efficiently in multiple formats automatically. The main reason behind 99% of bloggers (I just threw that stat out there…just know that most bloggers are using the service) are using Feedburner to serve their feeds is the ability to track statistics like subscriber counts, click through rates and other metrics that would not be possible without some outside service. If you are not using Feedburner, you need to start now so that you can track your rss feed quickly and easily. Even if you are just starting out, this is a crucial step in beginning blog setup.

As part of Feedburner’s service for bloggers, they provide a simple rss feed subscriber count button so you can show off how many subscribers you have to your blog. Here is mine.

You guys have seen this button before on numerous blogs, so this is not new information. The question is WHEN to start showing your feed stat to the world and when should you hold off and wait. There are several sides to this argument, but I am going to tell you my opinion and why.

Why Do You Want To Show Your Feed Count?

First, why would you want to show your feed count in the first place? There is a huge amount of social proof when it comes to recruiting new blog subscribers on the web. For many of your readers, they might have been referred to your site from a friend, recommendation from another blogger or free eBook that you have written. In this case, the friend or information source provides the social proof needed that convinces you to stick around and check things out for yourself. So…as you hit the blog that you have never visited before, you mindset going into the new blog journey is that this blog was recommended by another person who’s opinion you trust. Word of mouth and referral is still the strongest form of social proof and it converts the best down the road.

But…what about the causal search engine visitor? What are they going to use to gain this trust in your blog? For this type of reader, first impressions are EVERYTHING. You want to have your best foot forward in converting this casual visitor into a subscriber, so you have to provide your own social proof on your blog to build up your credibility. While there are several ways to accomplish this task, displaying your feed count is one glaring way to get immediate social proof and get them to subscribe at the same time.

You are basically showing this new visitor – “Hey! Look how many other people trust my content…you should too!”. This “follow the herd” mentality is incredibly strong on the web. Think back to the last time you visited a blog for the first time that had 20,000+ subscribers. What was your first thought when you saw that high number? Did you subscribe to the feed?

When To Start Displaying Your RSS Feed Count Stat

Now…that same social proof that a RSS feed stat provides to gain you trust can also work against you. Every blogger knows that all new blogs start with the same “Hello world” standard Wordpress test post and zero subscribers. As bloggers, we get it…everyone has to start somewhere and even the huge bloggers with hundreds of thousands of subscribers started off with zero or just one (probably their mom trying to be supportive).

However, first time visitors to your blog may not know that or even care. They are going to assume that your blog has been around for awhile because their is a page full of content in front of their face.  They are not going to research your post dates to find out how old your blog is unless you tell them (which I wouldn’t recommend doing either for beginning blogs), so when you have a low subscriber count showing, they start to wonder why the count is so low? Does this blog not have great content? Does it now update enough? I really like this article that I have landed on, but if no ones else really sees it worth of a place on my RSS reader or email inbox…why should I do it? Not every first time reader is going to go through this thought process, but extensive testing done by other internet marketers and bloggers has proven that MOST first time readers will.

So the question becomes, when do I start displaying my RSS feed subscription count to achieve positive results on my blog? I typically recommend showing off a RSS feed count in the 700 – 1000 range. It provides enough buffer for large swings due to Feedburner stat errors (which are known to happen) and the number is large enough that you can see strong conversion rates with new subscribers.

On my mountain biking site, I actually waited until we hit the 4,000 mark before I threw the widget on the screen. The idea there was to keep readers assuming their were more subscribers than there actually was at the time. It is not misleading new subscribers, it is letting your content, layout and hard work do the talking for you. In many cases, if you are not displaying your count and you have an incredible design and engaging content, first time visitors will actually assume you have much more traffic than you actually do!

The end result, you need to feel out your site and your niche to see when it is the best time to start throwing stats on your blog. Some of you may feel comfortable jumping down to the 500 mark to display your rss reader count, but – I can assure you – if you start displaying your count at 12, 27, 64…you are not going to get the results you are looking for with your blog. When you are just starting out, make it incredibly easy to subscribe by placing links and icons above the fold and at the bottom of every article, write strong and engaging content and start to watch that number rise as you continue to promote your blog. When that statistic hits the point that it is an asset to your blog, start displaying that number to further grow your blog. You will want to display this count with your subscription links/icons above the fold (the area of the screen that you can see without scrolling) on your blog. It is also good practice to include one in your footer if your design allows.

You do not want to shoot yourself in the foot before you have even really started. Save the stats and figures for a time that will actually help grow your blog instead of raising questions that result in negative results.

Note: You can also custom code your RSS feed count from Feedburner like I have done in the header of robbsutton.com for even better conversion results!

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Mike October 15, 2009 - 8:25 am

I really don’t push my feed at all. I have a total of four readers according to feedburner that have subscribed to email. However, I can tell via Google Reader that more people are reading it and my main focus has been on growing my mailing list which is a whole lot more than four people.

Robb Sutton October 15, 2009 - 8:37 am

It really depends on the niche when it comes to RSS subscriptions. A lot of topics have an audience that does not use RSS at all…but…EVERYONE knows what an email newsletter is.

I think you have the right focus there.

bucabay October 22, 2009 - 2:27 am

How about just displaying a static image that says you have 200 000 subscribers? Would that work 😀

Robb Sutton October 22, 2009 - 8:10 am

LOL…yeah probably! You know how people are sometimes…”no content but something has to be special about this! I’m in!”


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