The FeedBurner Deception
FeedBurner is the #1 service for tracking blog readers through RSS. If you have a FeedBurner account, you can log-in and track how many readers you have, and whether your readership is growing or shrinking.
You can even publish a widget on your blog that dynamically displays the number of blog readers you have. For instance, Michel Fortin’s FeedBurner widget says he has 22,838 readers today.
Once you’ve got a sufficient number of readers, displaying a FeedBurner widget becomes a good form of social proof, and could possibly encourage more people to subscribe to your blog. (“Hey, if he’s got 250 readers, it must be a good blog!”)
But FeedBurner’s numbers are not always a good indicator of the value of a blog. For instance, FeedBurner says my old Typepad blog has 169 readers today… even though I haven’t posted to that blog since early January!
And for this blog, FeedBurner only reports 13 readers today. (I know those numbers are low based on traffic statistics and my Aweber email subscribers, which FeedBurner doesn’t track.)
So if not the number of readers, how should you judge the success or value of your blog?
I suggest it’s not about how many readers you have; rather, it’s about how loyal and responsive your readers are.
On a secondary level, it’s also about how many people of influence you’re reaching.
When I write a blog post, my aim is to provide value, spark critical thinking, and encourage interaction. And if some readers decide to link to what I’ve written, so much the better.
I would much rather build loyalty with a few influential and connected readers than gain exposure to thousands of disconnected readers with little or no influence.
Said another way, exposure is meaningless, but loyalty is priceless.
The same principle is at work in advertising.
There are many headlines that will grab a reader’s attention. But a headline’s job is not only to get attention. It’s also to drive the reader into the advertisement.
So in the case of an ad, getting attention is meaningless, but getting a sale is worth something.
When I write a blog post, I’d rather attract 15 people who actually read and respond than 100 people who read the headline and leave.
And when I write an ad, I’d rather attract 5 people who actually read and buy than thousands who read the headline only.
I share all this because it is far too easy to become obsessed with meaningless numbers. To place importance on statistics that are of little import.
As you write articles for your blog, adopt a proper mindset. Don’t try to get the most readers or a bunch of transient traffic from Digg. Simply focus on developing a loyal and responsive readership. The rest will fall into place.
-Ryan M. Healy