Tracing their Steps: How to track feed subscriber referrals with Google Analytics

people_walking.jpgOne of the most important measures of success for a blog is the number of RSS subscribers. There are many blog posts out there about how to increase your number of subscribers. They range from the use of bigger, more prominent and attention-grabbing RSS buttons, to offering bonuses for signing up. While you can use all sorts of tricks, at the end of the day it is really about the value you give to your visitors on an ongoing, consistent basis. Personally, I subscribe to any blog that sparks my interest, but as soon as I see the quality drop I unsubscribe just as quickly. So many blogs, so little time!

Let me introduce another way you can increase your RSS subscribers that I have not seen covered anywhere. It works by identifying your best RSS referral sources and focusing your marketing and networking efforts on those.

We all know that you need to network with other popular blogs in your field to increase awareness and potentially build up your readership. Writing thought-provoking comments (and posts, if the blog accepts them) is an excellent way for peers to notice you. For this blog, I’ve been gaining great success with my posts on Youmoz/SEOmoz as well as with the FeedFlare I created for Sphinn.

I’ve seen my RSS subscribers build up, but I wanted to know which of my efforts was producing the best results. I wanted to discover how each RSS subscriber found my website, what keywords were typed if it was via a search engine, what post led to the subscription, and so on. Those are metrics that I find critical for improving my subscription rate.

FeedBurner is an excellent service, but the stats are focused primarily on the type of feed reader my visitors are using. That might be important, it can’t help my marketing efforts. So here is the idea I came up while playing around with Google Analytics.

Google Analytics allows you to set conversions goals for your site. Normally you use them to measure leads or sales via thank-you pages. Why not set RSS subscriptions as a conversion goal and take advantage of all the magic that Google Analytics can do for you? Unfortunately your feed is an XML document and, if it is Feedburner-based, it is on an external URL. That prevents it from having the tracking script installed.

Digging deeper I found that Google Analytics lets you track downloads, external URLs, and can be used to track RSS feed subscriptions. This is how you do it:

Add this piece of JavaScript code to your feed link:

<a xhref=”http://feeds.hamletbatista.com/HamletBatista–InternetEntrepreneurDeveloperAndSearchMarketer” title=”Subscribe to my feed” rel=”alternate” onClick=”javascript:urchinTracker(‘/tracking/feed’);”>

For the e-mail RSS feed:

<form action=”http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/emailverify” method=”post” target=”popupwindow” onsubmit=”javascript:urchinTracker(‘/tracking/emailfeed’);window.open(‘http://www.feedburner.com’, ‘popupwindow’, ‘scrollbars=yes,width=550,height=520′);return true”>…</form>

For this to work, you need to place your Google Analytics’ code before any of these trackers. The best way to make sure that this is the case is to put the code right after the opening <body> tag.

For the URLs I used /tracking/xxx, but you can use anything you want. Those URLs are the ones you are going to set up as conversion goals in Google Analytics.

conversion_goals.jpg

After Analytics begins tracking everything, the treasure comes on the detailed reports you get. At a minimum you will be able to:

  1. Track where the subscriptions are coming from

  2. Tell which site or search engine and keyword referred the most subscribers

  3. See your subscription conversion rates by traffic source

  4. You name it!

Of course it is possible that someone might click on the subscription and not complete the process, but I think that knowing where the attempts are coming from should be useful at least. It will help you discover the blogs/sites/forums where you need to concentrate your networking efforts.

It’s crucial that bloggers actively encourage visitors to subscribe to the feed. Lately I have tried to focus on improving the overall quality of this blog too, and that is why I encourage you to leave comments and feedback. I want to make sure I am writing what you want to read. So let me know!

32 replies
  1. Jimson Lee
    Jimson Lee says:

    Thanks for tip!

    I used this trick to see who was downloading my *.PDFs or *.XLS freebies.

    I never thought about tracking RSS, as I relied on Feedburner all the time, even with their wildly fluctuating RSS stats!

    Reply
  2. Adam Taylor
    Adam Taylor says:

    Small point, it's generally better to put javascript at the bottom of the page, before the closing tag, that way the user gets the page content without the (minor admittedly) delay of a javascript include.

    It shouldn't matter where in your page the google analytics tag is in relation to the link tracking tag.

    Cool article though, I love Google Analytics :)

    Reply
  3. bkennedy
    bkennedy says:

    isn't it true that once the page loads all the javascript will be loaded, and so it doesn't matter if the javascript comes in the header since most people wait for the page to load entirely before they click on anything?

    Reply
  4. SEO Tracker
    SEO Tracker says:

    WOW, thanks for the tip! I have been using analytics for a while now and never really understood how this all worked. Your example is pretty straight forward and I am now tracking more efficiently.

    Reply
  5. Zé Cacetudo |
    Zé Cacetudo | says:

    An excellent article. I found it to be well-written and relatively easy to follow. I've followed your technique and so far it appears to be working fine (gotta wait a day or two to see if my own test clicks on the RSS links show up in Google Analytics though).

    One question, however: I'm also using FeedBurner's FeedFlare tool to create e-mail/Facebook/Digg/etc. links below each of my posts. The code for that appears to call a script that's hosted on FeedBurner's site, which (as far as I can tell) makes it impossible for me to add the onClick argument to the link.

    I looked through the relevant groups to see if there's something already out there on this, but found nothing. If you have any thoughts or ideas, I'd appreciate hearing them. Cheers.

    Reply
  6. C. August
    C. August says:

    Thanks for this, but have you tried it with Google's new tracking script? They are moving away from the Urchin.js, and it's not immediately clear which function to call in the OnClick event ga.js script.

    I think it might be pageTracker._trackPageview(); because at least I don't see any javascript errors. But I have yet to see anything come through in the reports.

    Reply
  7. Tim Weichman
    Tim Weichman says:

    Howdy,

    Just thought of a way to get an exact number of active subscribers (or even a cumulative total)… but it requires using your site's raw logs.

    A normal feed URL might look something like this:
    http://yoursite.com/podcasts/feed.xml

    Instead you could generate a random identifier each time the page loads and make the URL look like this:
    http://yoursite.com/podcasts/{RandomString}.xml

    This would ensure every user get their own feed URL.

    You drop a php file called podcasts (no file extension) in the root directory and use it to build your xml page. You would use Apache's .htaccess file to force the phantom /podcasts/ directory in the feed URLs to be processed and treated as a php file of the same name. Apache would then disregard the random_string.xml part and just send the request to the 'podcast' php file for processing.

    So now in your site's raw logs you'd see a bunch of different URLs in the format:
    http://yoursite.com/podcasts/UNIQUE_ID.xml

    The number of unique URL's is equal to your number of subscribers… well, the number of active subscribers for that time period.

    As for the number of subscribers who are subscribed to your old feed URL, you could use the stats from your new style URLs to get a very good approximation of the number of subscribers subscribed to the old URL.

    Just take the total number of hits to all of the unique URLs and divide by the number of unique URL's (unique subscribers). This gives an average # of hits per user for your new-style URLs. Then take your total # of hits to your old generic URL and divide it by the # of hits per user from the new style and you'll have a good idea of the number of active subscribers to your old URL.

    Tim

    Reply
  8. Bill
    Bill says:

    Hi Hamlet, Bill here again. I'm really loving the articles on your blog.
    Google Analytics is a truly amazing tool. I installed it a while ago on my sites but never really looked at it closely. Only in the last month have I sat down and really started to play with it. I see they have a new feature now (I think called 'intelligence') that shows you what people actually did on your website. It shows you an image of your homepage and then shows you what activity took place where. This is a brilliant feature which I am loving. It has shown me which links people are clicking on and which ones people are not clicking on. I could ramble on about Google analytics for hours, but I'll stop here :)
    Thanks again for the post
    All the best
    Bill

    Reply
  9. Tabita
    Tabita says:

    Hi, just for clarification, if I have a url livesimplyenough.com/feed that points to the feedburner page, that's the URL I would use where you have …/tracking/feed?

    Also, is this still the right way to do it?

    Reply
  10. Cormac
    Cormac says:

    Excellent post Hamlet.
    I'll implement this technique on one of my blogs to test it out.

    I have to agree that Feedburner's stats package is fairly useless. But hopefully some change will be brought about fairly soon with Google's recent purchase of FB.

    Reply
  11. Tina
    Tina says:

    Hi…

    Looks like a great idea….I wanna track my subscribers. I really didn't get a picture of how and where to place the Javascript,Kinda confused about how to do it.I tried something and it's not working…Could you please help me out with that???

    Reply
  12. Hamlet Batista
    Hamlet Batista says:

    Tina – Thanks for your comment. You need to place the Google Analytics Javascript first. Follow their instructions for this. Next, you place the onClick code in the link to your feed.

    If possible, please provide the URL and I will check it out and tell you what you need to fix.

    Reply
  13. Tina
    Tina says:

    Hey… Thanks a lot :)
    I wonder if I have just put everything right…
    URL: http://www.flowerofparadise.blogspot.com

    I have one more uncertainty. In my feed burner Live hits section; there are these user agents’ lists I can find something new there. Google feed fetcher, I guess it’s something which crawls over the content in my blog…Could you please explain what that is!!! And is that something harmful???? Also there is something called Technorati search Bot and Feed burner Feed Insurance. Are these spiders???Or subscribers visit???Or something else!!! I found this recently…Kindly explain this it would help me a lot. I’m lacking in knowledge..

    Reply

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  1. [...] How to Track Feed Subscriber Referrals in Google Analytics [...]

  2. Rootix Blog says:

    [...] Analytics die Subscriptions als Conversion Goal zu konfigurieren. Ein gutes Tutorial findet ihr hier in englischer Sprache. So seht ihr wieviele Leute den Feed abonnieren. Dies bedeutet aber nicht, [...]

  3. [...] Hamlet Batista dot Com provides a very interesting article on tracking feed subscribers with Google Analytics. [...]

  4. [...] How to track feed subscriber referrals with Google Analytics set RSS subscriptions as a conversion goal in Google Analytics: discover how each RSS subscriber found your website, what keywords were typed if it was via a search engine, what post led to the subscription, and so on (tags: RSS feedburner googleanalytics feedstats feedstatistics analytics conversion rssstats howto) [...]

  5. [...] How to track feed subscriber referrals with Google Analytics [...]

  6. [...] Tracing their Steps: How to track feed subscriber referrals with Google Analytics † Hamlet Batista… Como medir os acessos ao site via RSS no Goolgle Analytics (tags: analytics google tracking feed blogging howto) [...]

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