Blog Conversion: How Do You Get People To Subscribe?


June 15, 2006

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