I Am Joe’s Blog:

March 25, 2007 • 7:34 PM

Feed Readers A-Plenty

For some time now, Interesting Thing of the Day has used FeedBurner for its free, public RSS feeds. (Since we authenticate paid subscribers individually with usernames and passwords, they use a different URL that we serve directly.) Among its many excellent features, FeedBurner helpfully reports how many readers your feed has, but I never paid close attention to those figures because they always seemed to hover around 1,000–1,200. Then one day, about a month ago, the number suddenly jumped to over 83,000! That was the day FeedBurner began reporting how many people were reading feeds via Google Reader and the Google Personalized Homepage; previously Google hadn’t made those statistics available.

I assumed the new Google Reader stats would indicate some small increase, but I was completely unprepared for the jump of nearly two orders of magnitude. (Of course, it wasn’t really an immediate jump, it was simply an immediate clarification in the reporting of people who were already readers.) And in the last month, that number has continued to grow steadily. As I write this, the figure is 98,053 99,007, and I’m sure it’ll cross the 100k mark in a day or two.

A full 99% of those 98,000+ readers are coming through Google Reader, while other subscribers have barely increased at all. I have no explanation for the site’s seemingly over-the-top popularity for Google Reader users. I am utterly astonished that Interesting Thing of the Day could be among the top 10 most popular RSS feeds, if this post at franticindustries is correct (they currently have us at #4—wow).

Being a good capitalist, one of my first thoughts on learning this news was that I should figure out how I can leverage all those extra pairs of eyes to make more money. On average, the Web version of ITotD has been getting just shy of 7,000 visits per day recently. A certain percentage of those visitors click on ads, and that’s what generates the majority of the site’s income. Although the RSS feed contains ads too, they produce far less income than those on the site. So I thought: I should stop including the full text of each article in the feeds, because that gives readers no reason at all to click through to the site, where the higher-value ads are.

Thus, a couple of weeks ago, I changed the free feeds from full text to excerpts, and also removed the podcasts. Full text and podcasts are still available in the paid feeds, for which there’s an ad in the free feeds. I assumed this move would have one or more of the following effects:

  • More people would click through from the excerpts to read the full articles
  • We’d lose some subscribers from the free feeds because they were irritated at having to click through
  • We’d get more paid subscribers to the full feeds

In fact, none of that happened. Since the change, the average number of page views on the site has remained steady. The numbers of subscribers to the free feeds has continued its climb. Exactly one person complained about the change, and his complaint was essentially that the free feeds contained too long of an excerpt! And we’ve had only two new paid subscribers, which I can’t attribute to the change.

I truly don’t know how it is that nearly 100,000 people are seemingly very interested in reading the first two paragraphs of every ITotD article, but not at all interested in the rest. Not that I mind the exposure, but it’s weird. So I’m thinking about decreasing the excerpt to one paragraph and seeing what happens. If I get no results, I’ll scale it back further to just the synopsis—which is what it used to be, way back when. And if even that neither increases the number of click-throughs nor decreases the number of feed subscribers, I’ll be completely baffled.

But perhaps I’m missing something obvious. It wouldn’t be the first time! If you have any theories or wisdom to share, please do so in the comments.

Comments

  1. me
    April 2nd, 2007 | 3:02 pm

    “nearly 100,000 people are seemingly very interested in reading the first two paragraphs of every ITotD article”

    from google homepage. you will jump right into the full article. which is like 99% of the readers.

  2. me
    April 2nd, 2007 | 7:02 am

    “nearly 100,000 people are seemingly very interested in reading the first two paragraphs of every ITotD article”

    from google homepage. you will jump right into the full article. which is like 99% of the readers.

  3. April 2nd, 2007 | 6:56 pm

    me: The thing is, every “jump” to the full article should register as a hit on our Web site. But we’re not getting 100,000 hits a day; in fact, even 10,000 is higher than usual. I’ve sent in an inquiry to Google to see if they can help unravel this mystery!

  4. April 2nd, 2007 | 10:56 am

    me: The thing is, every “jump” to the full article should register as a hit on our Web site. But we’re not getting 100,000 hits a day; in fact, even 10,000 is higher than usual. I’ve sent in an inquiry to Google to see if they can help unravel this mystery!

  5. me
    April 2nd, 2007 | 9:29 pm

    I assume Google has their way to bypass your hit detection system. And as I have tested, both Google reader and Google homepage take you right into the full article. So it’s probably safe to say those 100,000 people are not just reading the first two parapraphs.

    btw, good job on the itotd articles.

  6. me
    April 2nd, 2007 | 1:29 pm

    I assume Google has their way to bypass your hit detection system. And as I have tested, both Google reader and Google homepage take you right into the full article. So it’s probably safe to say those 100,000 people are not just reading the first two parapraphs.

    btw, good job on the itotd articles.

  7. April 2nd, 2007 | 9:38 pm

    me: So glad you’re enjoying the articles! Even if Google were caching the page somehow, which I doubt, those extra visitors would still show up in the form of AdSense impressions, but they’re not. (It’s in Google’s best interest to make sure people are seeing the ads, because that’s how they make money.) But the real mystery is where those 100,000 people came from, how they found out about the site, since other visitors account for less than a tenth of that figure.

  8. April 2nd, 2007 | 1:38 pm

    me: So glad you’re enjoying the articles! Even if Google were caching the page somehow, which I doubt, those extra visitors would still show up in the form of AdSense impressions, but they’re not. (It’s in Google’s best interest to make sure people are seeing the ads, because that’s how they make money.) But the real mystery is where those 100,000 people came from, how they found out about the site, since other visitors account for less than a tenth of that figure.

  9. April 4th, 2007 | 12:17 am

    […] of readers, before the rate of popularity began to increase significantly. Today, in addition to all those FeedBurner readers, the site is getting vastly more “ordinary” visitors than it did a year ago, and the […]

  10. DMW
    April 7th, 2007 | 7:34 pm

    Hi! I’m pretty limited in my understanding of how the internet works. And I can’t speak for the other 99,999 or so people. But here’s how I found your ITotD website: it was on the list of options to include on my Google HomePage. I would consider myself a “vastly ordinary” visitor if you need that for your demographic statistics! Ha! Ha! I love interesting and random information. The most valuable pieces of information I got from the website were the links to your wife’s Introvert website and from there to The Introvert Advantage. The other pieces of information just make my day more interesting. Unfortunately, I am not only an introverted lover of random things. I am also poor. So I apologize at this end of it for getting a cheapskate’s enjoyment out of your hard work, for whatever time you are able to continue doing it. All I have to give back is my Thanks.

  11. DMW
    April 7th, 2007 | 12:34 pm

    Hi! I’m pretty limited in my understanding of how the internet works. And I can’t speak for the other 99,999 or so people. But here’s how I found your ITotD website: it was on the list of options to include on my Google HomePage. I would consider myself a “vastly ordinary” visitor if you need that for your demographic statistics! Ha! Ha! I love interesting and random information. The most valuable pieces of information I got from the website were the links to your wife’s Introvert website and from there to The Introvert Advantage. The other pieces of information just make my day more interesting. Unfortunately, I am not only an introverted lover of random things. I am also poor. So I apologize at this end of it for getting a cheapskate’s enjoyment out of your hard work, for whatever time you are able to continue doing it. All I have to give back is my Thanks.

  12. April 8th, 2007 | 2:33 am

    DMW: So Google is actually suggesting ITotD as an option? Cool. (I didn’t see that in my own Google Reader account, but I’m not complaining.) That explains a lot.

    According to our logs, 73.8% of our visitors are “vastly ordinary,” so you’re in good company! ;-)

    Don’t worry about enjoying the fruits of our labors for free. I’m sure others with greater means will compensate.

  13. April 7th, 2007 | 7:33 pm

    DMW: So Google is actually suggesting ITotD as an option? Cool. (I didn’t see that in my own Google Reader account, but I’m not complaining.) That explains a lot.

    According to our logs, 73.8% of our visitors are “vastly ordinary,” so you’re in good company! ;-)

    Don’t worry about enjoying the fruits of our labors for free. I’m sure others with greater means will compensate.

  14. Rachel
    April 9th, 2007 | 5:14 am

    Same here, with what DMW said. I added ITotD to my Google Homepage, so each time I fire up Firefox, my homepage shows the last three ‘headlines’ from ITotD. From there I can click on a headline and read the full article on your page if I am interested.

    So, that’s where I heard of you, but like I said, I can (and do, frequently) click through to your page. Not sure if somehow that’s not getting counted for you or what, but I’d imagine there are a lot of us out there with the same scenario. Good luck figuring out what is going on with the numbers! And thanks for the interesting posts. :)

  15. Rachel
    April 8th, 2007 | 10:14 pm

    Same here, with what DMW said. I added ITotD to my Google Homepage, so each time I fire up Firefox, my homepage shows the last three ‘headlines’ from ITotD. From there I can click on a headline and read the full article on your page if I am interested.

    So, that’s where I heard of you, but like I said, I can (and do, frequently) click through to your page. Not sure if somehow that’s not getting counted for you or what, but I’d imagine there are a lot of us out there with the same scenario. Good luck figuring out what is going on with the numbers! And thanks for the interesting posts. :)

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