Does reading via RSS "rob" pageviews from a publisher?

Image courtesy of feedly.comI'm a religious follower via Feedly (since the demise of my precious Google Reader), but only click through if I want to comment.

How does something like Feedly count in the Offbeat Empire's pageviews, etc.?

That is, am I essentially robbing you of a pageview by reading the full article in my reader, or does the way Feedly gets the article count as a pageview?

-Shannon

This question comes up periodically, so I figured I'd bubble up my answer here into a full post for easy referencing!

First, some historical context

RSS feeds were a thing that was totally going to take off in like, 2007. RSS was going to be HUGE. Instead of going to your favorite website to see if there were updates, the updates from your favorite websites would come to you. This video does a great job of explaining why so many of us were excited about the concept:

Flash-forward seven years, and RSS just never quite hit the big time. Instead, people default to Facebook or Twitter as their primary feed readers. Over the years, RSS became a niche nerd thing, which is why Google shut down Reader, the RSS tool that Shannon mentions.

For those of us who love RSS, we fucking love RSS. My RSS reader is my window to the world. If you don't get RSS, you're in good company… as of today, 61k people use Facebook to follow Offbeat Bride, as opposed to 3000 who use RSS. That should tell you something.

Ok, but what about RSS subscribers "robbing" pageviews from a publisher?

When you subscribe to blogs in an RSS reader, you can read the full blog posts in your reader. The posts come to you. (There was one time in 2010 when I tried changing the RSS settings to only show an excerpt of the post, in the hopes that folks would click through. RSS followers completely revolted. Hell hath no fury like an RSS follower facing an excerpted feed.) So, when you read the entire post in your feed reader, are your eyes counted toward the publisher's pageview statistics? Or are you "robbing" a business of a pageview?

Keep in mind that as a publisher, my pageview counts are what we use to sell advertising. Advertisers want to know how many people are reading, and unique visitor counts and pageviews are important metrics.

Here's the truth: yeah, you're kinda robbing me of a pageview. However, you're rewarding me with long-term reader loyalty, which is theoretically worth way more than a pageview, so it all works out and more importantly: you don't need to worry about it.

I'm a committed RSS user myself, and I always like to remind my fellow RSS nerds just how few of us there are left. Remember that comparison I gave with Facebook? Here's another way to look at it: We get about 6000 Facebook followers a week — twice as many as our TOTAL RSS following. People who read via RSS do indeed cut into our pageview counts, but it's relatively so few people that it really doesn't matter. Offbeat Bride has 2.8 million pageviews a month. At the most, RSS readers cost us maybe (MAYBE) 100k pageviews a month. It's just not that many, especially when you consider the loyalty payoff.

See, unlike Facebook (where the site's algorithms show followers only a few of our posts), RSS followers see every single new post when it goes up. This includes every single sponsored post. You might be "robbing" us of pageviews, but unlike FB followers, you actually SEE all the posts, including the monetized ones.

Following via RSS means you're loyal to the site — which is valuable to a publisher in different ways. It's not pageviews, but in some ways… it's a bigger deal. You're never going to miss a post. You're never going to complain about how we never write about disabilities and sex, and then have us be like "Uh, we did a post last week about exactly that topic," and then you're all, "Oh, uh Facebook didn't show me that post, sorry."

tl;dr Yes, you do, but it's ok (seriously)

In summary: yeah, you are technically "robbing" a pageview from a publisher when you read via RSS, but there are so few of you that it's not a big deal, and you reward the publisher in other ways.

That said, if any of our RSS followers want to alleviate your guilt, there are non-pageview ways to support the Offbeat Empire!

  1. Interesting analysis. Thanks for posting this. I do get Home and Life in my Feedly reader, but I don't read Feedly at work, and I often come here to the website from work, when I want a break. So I guess I'm doing double duty that way? Loyalty of Feedly, Page Views from coming to the blog?

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    • Yeah, Feedly DOES track the number of followers for each feed and theoretically higher follower counts are better:

      …but I'm not sure to who. We certainly don't use that number when talking to advertisers (very few of them know what RSS even is), and I'm not sure anyone searching Feedly for "offbeat" would be like "Ooh, I was going to follow that other site, but now I'll follow Offbeat Bride because it's got more followers"… although I suppose that's possible? It's good for bragging rights, if nothing else. :)

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      • 1) Advertisers don't know what RSS is? General public, I've gotten used to explaining, but that surprises me.

        2) For the who, I think Feedly also uses the follower count when deciding what feeds to recommend a la "If you follow this blog, then you might want to check out these other three." I went on a hunt for feeds this winter and would get the same dozen or so sites recommended by Feedly. Even after they were added.

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        • Advertisers don't know what RSS is? General public, I've gotten used to explaining, but that surprises me.

          The majority of our advertisers are small business owners like photographers, dressmakers, florists, etc. Lots of these folks don't work on the internet (or even on computers most of the time), so they're not necessarily techy.

          Sure, they know how to use email and Facebook, but following so many websites that you need a special tool to help you keep track of all your reading? That is definitely a specialized tool for those of us who are online all day, every day.

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    • That's the hope! My developer Kellbot actually hand-hacked the RSS feeds to give a preview of the post comments to help drive more click-throughs… I think it works!

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      • It works on me! I don't comment often, but I'd say half the time when I click through, it's because there are already interesting comments in the comments preview and I want to see the rest.

        Also, I'm amazed at how few people are using RSS. Only 1000 people reading OBH from Feedly?

        I guess I see the appeal of having everything on Facebook, but I like Facebook for easily digestible life bites from friends and family. I go to Feedly when I'm prepared to sit for a while and read longer, meatier articles.

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        • You make a great point that I totally should have mentioned in the post! Part of the value of loyalty with RSS followers is that even if you don't get every pageview from them reading every post on the page, over the years you hopefully get MORE pageviews because RSS followers stick around and keep reading long after more casual readers might have moved on.

          I mean, it's a BIG DEAL to unsub from an RSS feed. Ammiright!? It always feels like serious break up times for me.

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          • Removing an RSS feed IS serious! I'm one of the "still not over Google Reader's demise" people who switched to Feedly. My perspective is skewed because most of my friends also use RSS, so the idea that it's a niche way to follow perplexes me. It's so easy!

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    • Yeah, I actually use my RSS feed just to be sure that I don't miss an article–I still click through (started doing that about a year or so ago actually when I learned that my views didn't count for you otherwise), and then I enjoy reading the comments, sometimes commenting myself. Sometimes, then, I'll click around the site to see followup comments on pages I found interesting earlier in the week or the week before.

      I might be an exception, but you still are getting tons of clicks from this RSS-reading reader. I basically just use it to make sure I don't miss any new articles (though there have been one or two times lately that I have discovered a post that never made it to my RSS feed, which was worrisome).

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  2. I use feedly, but I usually end up clicking through to comment so haha you still get your page views!

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  3. I love the whole Empire, but I would have a really hard time remembering to read it regularly if it wasn't collected in my RSS reader. I click through to about half of the posts to comment (or read the comments!), so I probably actually see the site as much as a random FB user does. And I get some warm fuzzies from Tugboating; I definitely don't miss the $5/month and I'm more than willing to pay to continue the awesomeness.

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  4. THANK YOU for not excerpting your posts; I totally hate that. I also love that hand-hack where I can glimpse a couple of the comments; I probably click through 70%+ of Offbeat posts just to READ the comments, because the community as a whole is awesome.

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  5. In 1998 when I first heard about RSS feeds, you could only get headlines. In 2004 I got the impression it was now more than headlines, but discovered it was still one-paragraph summaries–not even excerpts, they created MORE WORK for the RSS feeders. Even if it was simply coding which paragraph was the teaser. AND it sent me more email?? I gave up on it.

    I just stick with my hated but effective system of bookmarking pages I like to read, and clicking them regularly to see what's new. Young House Love posts daily, I make sure to check in a couple times a week. OBB and OBH are the same though I find recently I'm clicking through an interesting FB link to come back and see what else is new. My sisters' blogs I click every few months since they update once or twice a year.

    It's weird that the RSS feeds rob page views. I follow a lot of blogs where I lose out on content because it's only available to their RSS subscribers.

    I just wish there were an easy bookmarking system that actually worked AS A BOOKMARK telling you which blog entry you stopped at. Reading backwards on some blogs is dumb. Here it doesn't matter as much thank goodness. But YHL I have to change the URL of my toolbar bookmark every time I go just so I can read each entry in order. IT's OBNOXIOUS.

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    • In 2004 I got the impression it was now more than headlines, but discovered it was still one-paragraph summaries–not even excerpts, they created MORE WORK for the RSS feeders. Even if it was simply coding which paragraph was the teaser. AND it sent me more email?

      As someone who's used RSS for over a decade, I'm genuinely confused by what you're saying here. The content of the feeds (ie, titles only OR excerpts OR full posts) is dependent on each publisher's settings — that's not an RSS formatting thing. Also, I don't understand "more email"? You're describing no RSS reader I've ever used… :/

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      • Back when I first started seeing links for "add us to your RSS feed!" it was using some service (with a name like RSS manager or something equally unmemorable) that would send only the titles of the articles to your email in a daily digest or every-20-updates. Eventually you could also link it to your homepage, and for 8th grade & HS I had a Geocities page with an aggregate RSS feed widget that worked pretty well until I borked my site and was going to have to code it from scratch. Along the way I also had an RSS stream on my Yahoo home page, and that's when I found it had switched to being more than just titles and you could get excerpts too, but only if you switched to getting them by email again. I did switch a few of my titles over to Yahoo's RSS feeder but I didn't like their homepage layout and I found myself just clicking my bookmarks anyway so it was silly. By the time I had gmail I was over the RSS thing and the couple titles I did put on it would just stream the same title and excerpt in a single line at the top of my inbox over and over and over again so I had to turn it off. And all of these systems were things I found by clicking "RSS" or "Add us to your RSS feed!" links on people's webpages.

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    • YoungHouseLove is one of the ones that posts their whole post in the RSS feed. I get it in feedly too.

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  6. I love my RSS & I was amazed to discover that it is such a niche thing to use! I am no techy but I consider my RSS feed to be a magazine of which I am the sole editor. I hate excerpted feeds, but I really like the highlighted comments thing you have going on & I often do click through if it looks like an interesting discussion.

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  7. I use feedly but I also frequently click through to the sites I'm reading . Some sites don't include pictures in the feed. Or I want to skim through the comments.

    I do all my blog reading on my desktop ( big screen, fast Internet ) so I don't hesitate to click through when I feel the urge. I suspect it would be different if I used feedly on my phone or iPad. I do have feedly installed on those devices but so far I really haven't gotten used to using them for blog reading. ( It took me a long time to adjust to feedly on my PC so I'm not expecting my mobile habits to change any time soon… )

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  8. Thanks for the video! I learned a LOT from it…. like, everything since I knew nothing about readers other than they existed and are a big topic of discussion here.

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  9. As another loyal Feedly fan, I will say this- I click over to the Offbeat blogs to read/post comments waaaay more than just about any other blogs that I follow, and I almost NEVER bother clicking through to read a truncated post unless it promises to be something I am super, super interested in. I suspect you probably do get a lot of those pageviews in the end anyway.

    I can't understand following by FB- I guess I'm just neurotic, but the idea that I would miss the opportunity to read one of the posts on "my" blogs absolutely makes my skin crawl. Feedly is great because it makes it really easy to see at a glance if I want to skip a particular post (with all the blogs I follow, that's pretty necessary or I'll never get anything done) but I at least want the OPTION.

    Twitter too- I used to actually read all the post on my twitter feed, but nowadays I can't keep up.

    1 agrees
  10. What, only 3K of users on Feedly? Wow. I'm a Feedly user (previous devout Google Reader fan). Those are crazy stats! Hard to believe. I guess a lot of RSS readers stopped and didn't bother to switch it to a new provider, like Feedly or BlogLovin? It would be interesting to compare past Google Readership to new RSS readers.

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    • I think Offbeat Bride had about 7k followers on Google Reader before it shut down. People follow via RSS when they get engaged, and sometimes stay on to follow even after they're married… we had 6 years of these accumulated follows on Google Reader, and have only had a year or so to build up an already-married following on Feedly.

      1 agrees
    • I'm sad to say that I took the Google Reader loss so hard I'm still in the grieving process and can't bring myself to even give Feedly a chance. I had so lovingly crafted my Reader categories and had so many subscriptions, when my initial port-over to Feedly failed, I gave up. And now I mostly hang out on Reddit and wonder why the internet sucks so bad. Totally my own fault.

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      • I'm not going to lie: Feedly has had a few stumbles over the past year (as your port-over failure demonstrates), but as I've settled into using it, I've actually grown to feel like it's a better tool than Google Reader. Certainly it's under very active development, while Google Reader had languished for years. I like Feedly enough that I paid for a Pro account… I figure if it's my window the world, it's worth supporting the development directly.

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  11. I love RSS, but I prob. use it unlike it's intended — I consider my RSS feed more of a big bookmark list of 'what's cool to read today.' I always click-thru bec. I prefer to see blogs in their native habitats, not what some mean ol' RSS reader overlord reformats them as. For Offbeat, I only have OBHL on Feedly & then click around to Bride & suchlike when I'm in the mood or have time.

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  12. I'm a fan of RSS too and, actually, I was charmed by the shiny, new thing that is Facebook way back when. And then I slowly noticed fewer and fewer updates from my favorite blogs and sites…just like you said.

    I found this post today by happenstance. I'm trying to set up all my blogs and favorite sites on RSS again because I'm tired of the Facebook man getting me down.

    Thanks for this one. Totally relevant for me.

    0 agree

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