My Social Experiment: RSS Numbers

My friend Vered DeLeeuw, of MomGrind, started this social experiment and I would like to continue with it.

Many people have read Darren Rowse’s, of Problogger, tips, on how to increase your RSS numbers by posting your chicklet number button.  Behold, look to the right of you. I now have.  Right under my RSS orangey button.  Why?

Darren alludes to the psychology of the matter – if people see your number button they will subscribe.  But is this always true?

I think Vered would argue no.  She posted her chicklet number button and her numbers started steadily decreasing.  Why?

Hunter Nuttal thought that if people perceived that a bloggers RSS number was higher than it actually was they might be disappointed and not subscribe to a blogger’s RSS feed.

Interesting.

And then Marelisa Fabrega, of Abundance, stated that she had posted her chiclet button when she had 110 subcribers.  She states that, “Then suddenly the growth practically stopped, and then when I got to about 130 subscribers (painfully, painfully slowly) it picked up again.”

So where am I starting in this continuum?

Like every good scientist I must have a hypothesis.

Hypothesis:  If an RSS subscriber number is higher or equal to the perceived public perception of what it is, then the number will increase.

I state this hypothesis because my RSS number has hovered between 110 and 120 for a few months now.  Will it increase if I post it?  Will it decrease if I post it?

I am betting that it will increase faster posted than if not.

What could affect this hypothesis? 

The very fact that I posted my experiment could affect the RSS numbers positively or negatively.

Different Blogging Topics – The fellow bloggers that I have listed here write on different topics than I do.

Posting Schedule – Hunter Nuttal and Marelisa Farbrega usually post five times or more per week. Vered DeLeeuw usually post three days per week.   I post twice per week.  Usually.

What do you think would affect RSS number growth if you posted your chicklet button?

Stay tuned to see what happens to my button.

Postscript:  At the start of this experiment my RSS number was 105.

Photocredit: © Ellen Wilson

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29 Responses to My Social Experiment: RSS Numbers

  1. Writer Dad says:

    I love this experiment. I’ve opted not to show mine, I think for a year, but I’m not firm. Good luck either way.

    Writer Dads last blog post..Poop. Put it in the Potty

  2. Now this is interesting. Everyone’s started posting their numbers lately, and now I’m seeing that everyone has a lot less subscribers than I thought. I can’t believe you have less subscribers than me–you get so many more comments! So what, am I supposed to unsubscribe to prove the hypothesis? 🙂

    I started showing my count at 250 subscribers, and it peaked the other day at 474. It looks like my subscriber count did start going up faster after I posted it, but it would be awfully hard to prove that it’s cause and effect.

    For one thing, the more subscribers you have, the faster you get new subscribers because there are more people to link and stumble. This is true whether you show your numbers or not. Plus, did I make any other changes after posting my numbers? Sure, I’ve commented and guest posted on different blogs, etc. What effect did that have?

    The hypothesis that I usually post five or more times per week is also interesting. Have you tested it scientifically? 🙂

    Hunter Nuttalls last blog post..Self Promotion For Wimps

  3. I agree with Hunter – this is interesting!

    In my case, I think that some readers reacted with “wow, her blog is smaller than we thought”.

    I am curious to see how it is going to work out for you. Good luck!

    Oh, and thanks for the link. 🙂

    Vered – MomGrinds last blog post..Quirky, Yet Boring

  4. Ellen Wilson says:

    @Writer Dad – Good luck you. I’m sure you will Rock the Casbah either way.

    @Hunter – Last part first. You USUALLY post five days per week, no? Of course to get really scientific about it, I would have to follow you for a longer time period and come up with an equation for it all within a specified time period. Ha! The Hunter Equation. I’m sure it could be done.

    With everything you added here, Hunter – Link & Stumble + Guest commenting + and all else could be added to some sort of equation rather than a touch and feeley thing.

    The more information people have the better they will be able to program their success. That’s what has worked for me anyway.

    Anyway, I think we get a lot of vague stuff from the big bloggers and it’s up to us to interpret it. Why can’t we sift on down for everyone else?

    Personally, I’m not a problogger or a copywrite blogger, so I’d like to get what info I’ve assimilated (digested) and pass it on down.

  5. I think this week might have been the first week I ever posted 5 times. I started out posting 1 or 2 times a week, but it kept creeping up and I just can’t stop it!

    I forgot to say thanks for the link last time. “Thanks for the link!”

    You know, we could do a test by making it so that when someone subscribes, they get this survey to complete:

    WHY ARE YOU SUBSCRIBING? PLEASE CHECK ONE:

    __ You have good content.
    __ The subscriber count is high, so your blog must be good.
    __ I like your theme.
    __ You get a lot of comments.
    __ I arrived here from StumbleUpon.
    __ I liked your guest post on another blog.
    __ I liked your comment on another blog.
    __ Someone I trust linked to you.
    __ I have low standards.
    __ I don’t want to subscribe anymore because of this survey.

    Hunter Nuttalls last blog post..Self Promotion For Wimps

  6. Okay, so when I go into my feedburner account I have 27 subscribers. I am thinking woo-hoo, that’s not bad after 5 months. But with all these posts I am finding out people have 100, 200, 300 and they are complaining when they gain or lose 10. If I lost 10, I’d lose half my readership! I honestly don’t understand what is to be gained by posting your numbers. Is it ‘Hey, look at me! I’m obviously worth reading!’? I was so depressed when I found out that Vered has been posting only 1 months longer than me but has hundreds of subscribers to my 27. What was I doing wrong? What was she doing write? Self-doubt set in. It set up a horrible feeling of Blogger Competition in me, and made me feel all icky. Afterall, I really like Vered and her posts. So, I reminded myself that I am following the path I set for myself, and I am happy with that. I do not look at other people’s numbers, and I barely remember to check my own. I like it that way. End of rant.

    Urban Panthers last blog post..To poo or not to poo, that is the question.

  7. HA! What was she doing write?….Freudian slip?

    Urban Panthers last blog post..To poo or not to poo, that is the question.

  8. Marelisa says:

    Ellen: First, great experiment. Second, I write three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), although my posts are so long it might seem like I post every day 🙂 Third, there’s a lot of people who don’t understand RSS, so depending on your target market, you may have a lot of people “subscribed” to your blog meaning that they’ve bookmarked it and check often to see what you’ve written, but not subscribed in a way that is picked up by feedburner. I have a feeling that Hunter tends to attract blogger types that have knowledge of RSS feeds and related topics, but this blog might attract people who would rather bookmark. I see that there are people who actually type in the name of my blog into google (abundance blog at Marelisa Online) to find me.

    Do you know what I noticed lowered the rate at which people were subscribing to my blog? I have two banners for affiliate programs which I had below the fold, and then I had a drive-by from the Men with Pens and they suggested that I put these ads above the fold, which I did. Maybe I’ll conduct an experiment and place the banners below the fold again to see if my rate of subscription goes back up. I like experiments!

    Marelisas last blog post..How to Make Decisions

  9. Karen Swim says:

    Hi Ellen, this is a great experiment. I have heard so many people ask this very question. Everyone wonders at what point do you post your numbers? I would tell brand new bloggers to just post from day one and get it over with (hmm must do that now for my other blogs) then you can watch it grow. As for how the numbers grow well that’s tricky and varies for each blog. Some do a fine job at SEO and get Google traffic, others have used aggregator sites to drive numbers, some have won in the social bookmarking arena. I know of no blogs by “unknown” people that have grown without any marketing. I do believe that people do respond to numbers, because they offer social proof (very important in selling). Think of bestselling novels or hit movies, they are credible because others have purchased. With that said, I will not be posting my own numbers any time soon (except on the new blogs). Way too scary! LOL!

    Karen Swims last blog post..Your Choices Determine Your Results

  10. Ellen Wilson says:

    @Vered – I think 300 is a large number. Especially since you have been blogging for only what? Three or four months.

    I’m hoping everyone can learn from all of this. But there are a lot variables that you can’t really cover in a social experiment like this. Everyone has to judge their own experience with the limited information that is available out there.

    @Hunter – That is an excellent idea! Now I’m thinking where could I put this on my blog? I wonder if you can get a plugin for a questionaire like that?

    @Panther – Thanks for your rant! I appreciate it. I often feel like that too. I know people post their numbers for a variety of reasons and I’m trying to figure out why so people can market themselves better. I just had my numbers decrease from 120 to 105 before I stuck my button out. I don’t know why.

    Maybe your right. Maybe I’m contributing to the competition factor. I don’t want to be competitive with my blogger friends. I want us to be able to talk about what works and what doesn’t and how to help eachother out if need be. Someday maybe I can market my novel from my website! And maybe the number button would come in handy. But maybe not. I guess I’m looking at it from a long term business perspective, but not as a comparing myself to others perspective.

    Urban, you and your Freudian slip! You’re an excellent writer. I admire writers who can pump out entertaining blog posts every day! I’m not one of them.

    @Marelisa – That is interesting that people bookmark according to the ads. And maybe you could also determine if a certain type of ad attracts people. But we can’t do too much with Google ads. We get what we get. Sorry, I thought you and Hunter post more than you do. I guess you have the same schedule as Vered.

    @Karen – Yeah, it is kind of scary. But it’s a number. I have to remember I’m not a number. This whole blogging experience can get a little surreal.

    From a marketing perspective everything you said is true. And I like the way you say it. Honest and upfront. I had no idea you had other blogs.

  11. Ellen Wilson says:

    @Marelisa – I just had a look at your blog trying to figure out what “above the fold is.” I think I got it now. I had my affiliate ads at the top, too, and then I moved them towards the bottom. I’m going to move them back now.

  12. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Ellen – It will be interesting to see what happens. I don’t post my numbers, cos a lot of folk who have a similar amount of traffic to me claim to have ten times the amount of subscribers.

    I think it would make my blog look bad in comparison and I might lose subscribers. I also think they’re either fiddling their numbers, or they have a lot of subscribers who don’t bother visiting their blog anymore.

    Cath Lawsons last blog post..47 Brilliant Blog Marketing Resources

  13. Friar says:

    Oboy…I’m so out of it.

    I don’t even know what a feedburner account it. I don’t even know how to make one up, or how to access it. I have no idea how many subscribers I have.

    One day I’ll probably figure it out..but it’s not a priority for me right now (though maybe it should be?). I have no idea what I’m missing out on.

    Maybe I’ll buy Brett a beer, and have him show me one evening.

    Friars last blog post..How to be a Tortured Intellectual

  14. Wendi Kelly says:

    Friar, I wish you would let one of us help you set up a feedburner account to I could subscribe to you instead of having to make a mental note to jump on to your site from someone else’s. I NEVER want to miss a new Friar post!
    Buy Brett a Beer!

    Ellen,
    This whole thing sends me into the orbit land of confusion. I read Vered’s Post so many times my head spun off trying to make heads or tails of it. My feedburner account one day will say I have one number of subscribers…lets say 40…then the next day it can be 32, then the next 40 again…What happened? Then, There is the little *show Details* button she mentioned we can click on. It says I have 7 subscribers. Where are the rest of mine? I KNOW I have more then that signed up as email subscribers. Do they count?
    Even when feedburner said in one spot that I had X amount of subscribers on the graph, the little chiclette would have a different number. WHy isn’t it consistent.
    And…I am more interested in knowing how many READERS I have then subcribers. I would be more impressed if there was a way to show how many readers showed up and actually read your/mine post yesterday. Not how you went out and did a phone campaign to all of your great aunts and uncles and said “Please subscribe, it will look good for my numbers, you don’t actually have to ever read it or anything” ( I’m sure know one here would do anything like that of course)

    I know I am very ignorent about all of this, I just don’t get it.

    Wendi Kellys last blog post..The Power of Your Secret Weapon

  15. Lance says:

    This is an interesting experiment Ellen. I’m still working to understand what gets counted as a subscriber. I don’t post the chiclet. I’m curious, though, what you find out from doing this…

    Lances last blog post..What We Learn From Winning

  16. Ellen Wilson says:

    @Cath – I remember you mentioning that about the blog traffic comparison in one of your posts. How do you check on another blog’s traffic? I would have to agree with you about fiddling with the numbers and having the same amount of traffic. Of course, as you mention to, maybe the RSS was added and then it was never checked after a time. But from what I’ve noticed people are pretty willing to clean out their readers.

    And I just gained 5 readers after I changed the ad position on my blog. And then I start to wonder are they real people or robots? Is it possible for a bot to subscribe?

    @Friar – Just go to http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/home

    You can sign up and watch the numbers go up and down. It’s nothing to worry about either way. It’s just a number that shows you how many people have RSS subscriptions to your blog.

    @Wendi – I think that would be a better thing, yes, to see how many people are actually READING your blog than just subscribing to it. And no, the email subscribers aren’t counted in you RSS total. The number is always a little off. I don’t know why. It seems to usually fluctuate at a difference of around 10 for me. When Google acquired Feedburner the numbers actually DISAPPEARED on many people’s blogs (mine too) and that caused quite a freak out.

    I think Vered knows a lot more about ranking and stuff then I do. And so does Cath.

    @Lance – I believe the only subscribers who are counted in your RSS number count are the ones who actually sign up via your RSS orange button. I think I will leave the button and chicklet in its place for awhile (one to two weeks). And then I will move the RSS button and chicklet down the right column near my meta buttons.

    I was curious to see what happened after Vered posted her experimental findings, and then Marelisa spoke about what she had found out. Since Marelisa’s numbers were closer to mine, I thought I’d see if I could get the same results, or not. If yes, and RSS numbers increases are perceived as a positive thing, maybe people can replicate my results.

    I think that for marketing purposes, in a snapshot, RSS numbers are a postitive thing, for they represent what Karen Swim mentions as social proof. How valid the proof is is a matter of debate.

    But like Cath said, people do judge your blog according to a number.

    And it is interesting what Hunter said, that he thought my number would be higher according to how many comments I had. Some days I have more time to be on the computer checking comments.

  17. I also decided to experiment with the chicklet after reading through Vered’s post and comments. It’s too soon to really have any significant trend (down then up, so far), but I love that so many people were inspired by Vered.

    I hope readership goes up, but either way, I’m kinda convinced at this point that I need to take a break from stats and focus on writing and brainstorming and figuring out what info people want to know.

    Sara at On Simplicitys last blog post..Fiddle-dee-dee! The Art of Scarlett O’Hara Optimism

  18. AxeCity says:

    For me, I think there is no relation between posting the RSS number and the increase in it. I believe that the main reason for getting a high RSS number is actually the content and how much they appeal to the readers.

    Why should I subscribe for an RSS feed because of just seeing that it got a high number while in fact I don’t feel attracted or interested in what is published.

    But, I can say that the RSS number can have an effect if the visitor is already interested in the content, so in this case the RSS number might push him to subscribe and choose a blog of high RSS number against another one of a low RSS one.

    That’s just my personal hypothesis!

    I still get new readers without posting my RSS number 🙂

    AxeCitys last blog post..How to design a blog header?

  19. Evelyn Lim says:

    Interesting question you have here. The reason why I don’t post mine or bother to check my feedcount so much is because I’m trying to practice what I preach: non attachment to results. I’m not saying that all the rest are losers for keeping a close track to their stats. I’ve been there before and it does help to know if one is writing posts that appeal to readers or not.

    However, in terms of my own journey at this stage, I’ve been intuitively “advised” by my guides to just focus on loving what I do. The numbers will come eventually. In any case, my true desire is not to have a fat number to show but to know how many lives I have helped change or that I have attracted like-minded folks.

    Vered’s numbers may not look that many. But her conversion rate is high; that is many of her readers do read her posts. We know this because her readers are not able to comment if they don’t read them. I’d say this is a great achievement! We have a thing or two to learn from her as well!

    I may have subscribed to some of the bigger blogs but the blogs I really read and helped support are the smaller ones. I find that I don’t stumble or comment as much on the bigger than the smaller ones. So rss feed numbers have an opposite effect on me.

    Evelyn Lims last blog post..My Abundance Mind Movie

  20. Jenny says:

    Sometimes I don’t want to know how many subscribers I don’t have! Good luck with your experiment though!

    Jennys last blog post..Don’t Laugh At…

  21. I’m a stats junkie – I look at them at least once a day. I’ve decided, however, that as long as I’m more or less moving up (however slowly), then my blog is doing its thing.

    For me the really important number is how much of a percentage of my visitors are new. If my visit numbers are the same but my new visitors for each day are high, then my blog isn’t sticky enough, but if my numbers are the same and most are return, then my blog is sticky but I’m not doing the right sort of marketing.

    It’s all so confusing!

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Discovering a Passion for Blogging: Urban Panther Interview Part 2

  22. I have given this some thought and feel that the higher your subscriber number is, the more likely people will subscribe. Readers see a low number and think “If nobody else is subscribing, why should I?” It’s a sheepish mentality, I know, but from everything I’ve read and seen, that’s the way it works. I’ve also noticed that whenever I publish a post that gets tons of comments, my subscriber count goes up, so I think people stopping by see all the comments and subscribe because they want to get in on the action.

    This leaves the question “What is a low/high subscriber count?” That, of course is subjective 😉

  23. Ellen Wilson says:

    @Sara – It sounds like you have a good plan. Focusing on writing and saying what you need to say should always come before stats. I don’t rely on stats to dictate what I want to write. Although I must say that I have noticed an increase in my traffic starting in September, all with blog titles that I would term very straightforward, very SEO (search engine optimized). I sort of did this unconsciously – I wonder if? But I also know that traffic does increase in fall. I think I need to do this for a few more years to figure things out. But by then the rules might have all changed! Who knows.

    @Axe City – That’s a good point, about the content. To test that I could hide my button and publish what I think is excellent content. But that’s all subjective. Now, I could publish excellent content and leave the button out and see what happens also. The problem is, just having the button there, I think, will affect results. It’s kind of the conundrum physicists have when they do experiments on a quantum level. They find they affect reality just by viewing it. But how could it be otherwise? And of course, at this level it gets even more sticky, more difficult.

    @Evelyn – Maybe I can learn that too – non-attachment. And I understand what you are saying. I also like smaller blogs that feel more like a neighborhood. I don’t feel lost. Like a number. Which I guess, is the point of all of this. What do numbers do? When are they functioning for us, and when not? I say use the RSS number to your advantage. And if it is bothering you, or not working for you, put it away. I think I need to look at this factor in terms of my own growth – mentally, spiritually, etc. I can no longer shut myself away from the outer world. Unfortunately. But, I can share what I find.

    @Jenny – The experiment is for everyone. If you keep at your blog you will notice an increase in subscribers. It’s the forward momentum thing, I think. I know Barbara Swafford had an interview with Lorelle VanFossen, who said that she thought the biggest thing that readers/subscribers were looking for is continuity. It makes sense when you think about it. Because we are all creatures of habit.

    @Alex – I feel the same way. I’m in it for the long haul, so no matter how small of a positive change, I view as a movement forward. I do think that all blogs will reach a stasis. Who knows when this will happen. But things cannot continue to grow forever.

    Interesting ideas on stickiness. I was wondering that myself on return versus new visitors. Then, should it be 50/50? That would seem like the perfect world for sticky. Most of my visitors are new. I think I get like 20-35 return visitors, averaged over a week. That’s a rough estimate.

    @Melissa – I’ve only read the two accounts I’ve mentioned, Darren and Vered, so I wanted to take it from there. I had the opposite effect when I have a lot of comments – I had my RSS numbers go down. Yes, and it is subjective – a high or low subscriber count. But I was wondering if some people view a large comment section as proof of high RSS numbers and a medium/low proof of lower RSS numbers. Maybe I will find out. But maybe not. There is a lot of subjectivity involved.

  24. steph says:

    Coming in late, here, but I feel the same way as Urban Panther. I have no clue how many subscribe to me, and I don’t even know how to find out. It just makes me all competitive and pressured, and I have discovered that as long as I have the few people commenting whom I’ve come to appreciate and know, I don’t care if my numbers go up or not. It’s only a personal blog, and while it is lovely when I get new readers, it’s not essential. I don’t want to get to the point at which I can’t keep up with readers, either.

    stephs last blog post..Finding Your Voice – And Sticking with It

  25. Hi Ellen,

    This is an interesting experiment. I’ll be curious to see how it turns out.

    While researching RSS numbers, I remember reading how they can be manipulated, so I don’t put much weight on them. I had my comment count on my blog, but then when I was working on making my blog load faster, I removed that, too.

    In some ways I think it’s great to see how many readers/comments a blogger has – as it is something to be proud of, but often I think there are those who use the numbers so they have bragging rights (and flaunt them).

    As you can tell, I don’t know know what to think, so I don’t post them at all. However, that’s subject to change.

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..You Have The Whole World In Your Hands

  26. That was like reading Chinese for me… Duhrrr, what? This kind of stuff boggles my mind.

    I hope you numbers go up!

  27. Ellen Wilson says:

    @Steph – Good reason not to post your RSS button then! I think the number count is not an exact science for sure. I am starting to think there are too many variables to figure this out. That, and I feel like I’m destined to have an RSS count of 110 forever. Until I die. Ha! Oh well. I bet if I sold a book or got rich and famous some how my count would go up to 50,000. Now, that, I know for sure. After today I will move it and then I might pack it away after a month.

    @Barbara – Yes, this is what we have been discussing on your blog and I hope people don’t think that I would do this. I think it’s unethical to present yourself as something your not, even with a little number button. Yes, I agree some people like to brag about their number.

    @Jaden – Yeah, to tell you the truth I’m getting sick of the whole stat thing. But I’ll keep it up for people to check on if they want for awhile.

  28. Karen Swim says:

    Ellen, I like the experiment. We can all learn from it and it makes me even more anxious to share your talent with the world. For anyone who is interested in Google analytics, there is a WordPress plugin that my SEO guru friend (truly he is an expert in this field), Jon Rognerud recommended. It is wassup and here is the link http://www.wpwp.org/ If you plan to write a book, sell writing services or anything business related even if it is not related to your blog, traffic driving strategies are beneficial. Even if you are an auto mechanic who has a personal blog, you can win offline customers by blogging.

    Karen Swims last blog post..A Day of Rememberance

  29. Ellen Wilson says:

    Karen,

    Thanks. I hope everyone realizes I don’t monkey with my numbers! I think it’s unethical, as I have mentioned previously.

    Thanks for this link.

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