Blog Conversion: how do you get people to subscribe?


Dear Joel:

Yesterday, I saw your very interesting question on the Web Analytics forum. How do I get people to subscribe to the RSS feed, you asked, when they don’t understand what RSS is? You pointed out that you have an extensive explanation of RSS on your site and give readers some ideas of what feedreaders are and which ones they might check out (so why aren’t they getting it?)

Here is my advice to you and everyone else who wants subscribers to their feeds. BTW, don’t accept it as gospel — test it. One of the pieces of advice I tested myself and it didn’t work for my blog, but I have a different audience than you do.

  • Getting subscribers is hard, so deal with it. Lots of people can’t be bothered, or they are just cruising by and want to read something you wrote about that day — not every day.
  • Get your feed information up there prominently, not in a little footnote (or even in the fine print at the top of the page.)
  • Give visitors the option of subscribing by email as well as your feed. Feedburner now has that capability (and they may still have a FeedFlare enabling you to do it through a second party, too.) Let me point out that I tried this and no one signed up for my feed through email, but I have a somewhat more technical blog and probably have a readership that understands feeds (and if someone reading my letter to Joel doesn’t understand the feed thing and would like to, please send me email, steif at lunametrics.) Joel, your readership is probably a lot more like the blog for the fertility doctor that I monitor — her subscriber base is about 2.5% the size of her drive-by readership.
  • And most important of all, stop calling it RSS and stop teaching people what it means and how it’s about XML. They probably stop dead in their tracks as soon as they get to the X word. You need to write sometime like, “Want to get our online magazine sent to you every day? Here’s how you do it….” and then just explain the “how” and not the “why.” If you start by including an email option everyone will understand what you are trying to achieve because everyone understands the idea of getting it in their inbox.
  • Remember that this is a conversion like any other and so all the same rules apply. Test. Don’t hide the call to action. Don’t hide the price (free.) Etc.

Hope this helps you and everyone else who wants subscribers. BTW, the best thing that can happen to you is consumer generated media — someone else says, “This blog is the greatest, you have to subscribe!” The second best thing you can do is provide awesome content so that they will *want* to subscribe. (Or maybe they’re reversed…)


Robbin Steif

Our founder, Robbin Steif, started LunaMetrics in 2004. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Digital Analytics Association. Robbin is a winner of a BusinessWomen First award, as well as a Diamond Award for business leadership. In 2017, Robbin sold her company to HS2 Solutions and has since retired from LunaMetrics.

  • alan wilensky

    I have to speak out after interviewing nearly 800+ random people in the Boston area – I did this when starting my video blog business venture.

    Of 860 street respondents, the unsorted (non-demographic) breakdown is as follows:

    Knows what a weblog or Vlog is – 29

    Regularly reads blogs/ views Vlogs or listens to podcasts – 13

    Understands basic diffrence between blogs and web sites – 2

    Uses a podcatcher – reader – aggregator – 1

    Has familiartiy of Feed Concept or subscription mechanism – 4

    these are only a handful of the questions and conversations I engaged in.

    I was amazed that many of the respondents were ages 19-30, and that they had no concept of blogs, vlogs, and syndication/subscription concepts – many saw no added value after agreeing to talk for while about the technology.

    Not encouraging numbers….

  • Mark McLaren

    Alan and Robbin:
    This is a point that deserves attention.

    But, before getting into it, has anyone found a good, succinct explanation of what RSS is and how to grab a link and put it in a reader? I haven’t.

    A few weeks ago, Robbin blogged here about the fact that there are a million techie tools, services, etc. available for the Web, e-mail, and so on — and so few professionals working in Internet-related fields that know about them or know how to use them. Of course, the number of average Internet users that do is even less.

    Pew Internet & American Life Project reported in Jan of 2005 that 62% of Internet users did not know what a blog was. That was Internet users, so the fact that 29% of 860 people “on the street” knew what a blog or Vlog is is really quite impressive.

    But out of these only one uses a podcatcher, reader, or aggregator. Is that right? And 4 were familiar with the idea? Out of 860! Less than 0.5%.

    Although the sample is not ideal, it does seem significant that only one person uses RSS. Not surprising though. I have been building Web sites and other e-communications for 8 years and I just took the time to figure out how to use a reader a few weeks ago.

    At this point, I still don’t find the aggregator I’m using (Thunderbird) all that useful. Maybe because I’m accustomed to using other things like Bloglines.

    I just put a FeedBurner link on The McBuzzBlog a few minutes ago. I had to use a reader for a week or two (collecting links and putting them into the reader) before FeedBurner’s code insertion instructions made any sense to me.

    The fact that so few “average” folks know about or use the latest Internet technology is not necessarily a bad thing, though. It leaves plenty of room for new products and services.

    Really Simple Syndication is still not that simple, and, in general, making things easy is not that easy.

    For a related rant about browser headaches and Web standards, see Web Standards Solutions Are Not Practical or Helpful.

    Again, if anyone has found a good, succinct explanation of what RSS is and how to grab a link and put it in a reader, please post it here.

    I’m doing what Robbin does (which is usually a good strategy) by putting a single feedburner link on my blog. But I want to have a link next to it that says, “What’s this?” The problem is, the link has to go to a page with a good, succinct explanation of what RSS is and how to put a feed link in a reader, and I know Robbin has a lot on her plate right now….

  • But I want to have a link next to it that says, “What’s this?” The problem is, the link has to go to a page with a good, succinct explanation of what RSS is and how to put a feed link in a reader, and I know Robbin has a lot on her plate right now….

    For you, I will do it.


  • Mark McLaren

    Once again, I owe you, Robbin.

    I’m with you as far as leaving out any talk about RSS and XML and feeds and all that. Why does anyone need to know any of that?

    In my spare time I need to boot up one of my Macs (which I rarely use for Web surfing or e-mail – for other reasons) and go see how it works in that world… My guess is it’s easier.

    The RSS link “What’s this?” on this Yahoo! Web Analytics Group page goes to a long page of explanatory text that runs beyond the fold. Too much information and no graphics!

    Show me a simple three-step process with big graphical icons! Like the excellent one uses for its blog creation instructions.

    There’s a great opportunity here to simplify RSS subscription.

    Don’t tell me about internal combustion, just show me how to turn ignition the key.

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  • GS

    “so the fact that 29% of 860 people “on the street” knew what a blog or Vlog is is really quite impressive.”

    I don’t think that was 29% – It was 29 out of 860! That’s a meager 3%


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