Misleading RSS numbers
Advertising in RSS feeds is one of the hottest topics for conversations around syndication these days. Some have even gone ahead and asked the mainstream media to stop serving partial feeds and serve full text RSS feeds and monetize them through contextual ads, for various reasons.
One of the reasons I’ve set up this blog is to see for myself how does traffic/audience building happen these and with that end in mind I tend to check my traffic patterns almost on a daily basis. An interesting observation that came to be in one such investigation is that RSS page view/subscriber numbers are no surefire metric for reach or effectiveness of the traffic you get.
For instance, in the past week, when I have been mostly out of town, the page views on my blog fell drastically, but the views of my feed increased and stayed stable. To be doubly sure, I’d unsubscribed from my own feed and even that made no difference to the numbers.
Now, the interesting question is not if people would unsubscribe once you put ads in the feeds, but whether the feeds are actually being read when we think they are being read. When a user visits a webpage, he actually reads or views the whole or a part of it. But when an aggregator hits an update on the subscription list, there is no guarantee that the subscriber has actually read that feed.
How can I say something like that? Well, because I have over 300 feeds in my list and other than probably 100 of them, I don’t read the rest on a daily basis, but my updates get counted as page views for the advertiser. In other words, the ad servable page views of an RSS feed is not the same as the total page views and I don’t think anyone is accounting for that right now.
I don’t have anything against advertising in the feeds, but I don’t like the way they are being served now (InfoWorld has re-introduced the lousy rectangular image ads alongside the footlink ads in its full text feed) and I don’t trust the metrics that are being thrown around. Till I see some improvement in that, I don’t think I’ll subscribe to the view that it is going to change the publishing world in a radical way. At least not for a while yet.