feedburner-logoAs much as we all love visitors to our site and watching our Google Analytics tick up, RSS subscribers, for most blogs, are more valuable.

Not only are they some of your more frequent visitors, thus helping with your aforementioned traffic, but they are also your best community members, leaving the most comments and adding the most to your site.

Where a non-subscriber may visit your site once, once a week or whenever they remember to check out your blog, those who get your RSS feed interact with your content much more regularly, usually soon after you post.

So how do you turn casual readers or even repeated readers into subscribers? There’s no magic bullet and you certainly can’t win over everyone, but there are things you can do to encourage them to take that extra step and become more involved in your site.

Here are just a few.

When trying to get your readers to subscribe to your site, it pays to look at your own RSS reader (if you have one) to see what sites you added and why. Once you understand what it was that made you click, it’s easier to figure out how to draw readers to your own feed.

Beyond that, here are a few things to consider as a part of any effort to attract new subscribers.

1. Consistent Content

Blogs that have a variety of content tend to do better in search engines but do poorly with subscribers. On the flip side, blogs with consistent content encourage people who are interested in that topic to subscribe.

Work within a niche and grow inside it. If people feel they know what to expect from your blog and the signal to noise ratio is favorable, they likely will add you to their RSS reader. If that isn’t possible, you can always add a recurring column to your site that readers can depend on and expect.

If you do that, you’ve giving them something that they might miss if they don’t follow your site more closely and that’s a powerful motivator in subscribing.

2. Full RSS Feeds

This one really doesn’t need too much explanation, but offering a full RSS feed is important as they are strongly preferred to partial feeds by subscribers. Even better, partial feeds do not dramatically increase the number of clikcthroughs the feed sees, meaning that readers are not likely to “avoid your site” by getting the full feeds.

There are risks associated with full feeds, one of the bigger ones being content theft. But as you can see in the article above, there are ways you can protect your content from spammers without truncating your feed content. Those methods are much less annoying to readers than having to click through to your site to read the full content.

That, in turn, gives readers a good reason to subscribe to your feed, making it much more valuable to them.

3. Clear RSS Icons

If you want RSS subscribers, you have to make them a priority on your site and that means modifying your site’s theme to include prominent and clear RSS icons.

Though you don’t want to go overboard, it should be clear at a glance where and how users can subscribe to your site. The easier you make it to subscribe, the more people who will do so.

Whatever you do though, do not rely on feed autodetection alone to get your users to subscribe, not only do many people not know how to use it, it also doesn’t work well with many of the most popular subscription methods.

4. Add an Email Option

Many people aren’t comfortable with RSS readers and don’t wish to use one just to read your site. However, nearly everyone has an email account (or seven) and most subscribe to some email newsletters.

If your site caters to a tech-savvy audience, this may not be very crucial, but if your readers are not the type to have a Google Reader account handy, it can be a major boost for your RSS subscriber stats. However, even on Plagiarism Today, which does cater primarily to other bloggers, about 10% of all subscriptions are via email. More than double the people get my feed via email than Newsgator.

Even if it isn’t the main way your readers get your feed, it can provide a great boost to your stats.

5. RSS-Only Content

Given how easy it is to edit your RSS feed, especially with WordPress plugins, it is trivial to add content to the feed that is not available to readers of your Web page. Whether it’s a link to a free eBook, a hidden Web page or a free article, if you add content that only your feed readers have access to, it provides an extra motivation to join, even if just for curiosity.

This method comes with two risks. First, it can alienate non-RSS readers and it can also turn your feed into a novelty where people subscribe just to get the content and then immediately leave.

If you decide to try this, make sure that there are enough reasons for your readers to stay subscribed to your feed independent of this additional content. In short, make sure it is a bonus, not the sales pitch.

6. Consider FeedBurner

FeedBurner, which is now owned by Google, can be very useful for attracting new subscribers. Not only does it allow you to do things such as show your subscriber count publicly, which encourages others to subscribe by showing them that others are reading, thus making them a part of a community, it also makes it is a trusted name and it improves your feed’s reliability by keeping your feed alive even when your site goes down.

However, there are reasons to be wary. You’re handing over one of your site’s most important assets to a third party and FeedBurner is not flawless. It limits what you can do with your feed, especially in terms of blocking unwanted subscribers, such as spammers, and can be difficult to leave.

That being said, it has a variety of promotion tools/features and can help you simplify your feed experience for your users. It’s not right for every site but it is worth looking at.

Bottom Line

In short, there’s no magic formula for encouraging subscriptions to your site. You just need to remember these steps.

  1. Create Content That People Want to Subscribe To
  2. Promote Your Feed to Your Readers
  3. Remove Barriers to Subscription

If you can do that, your subscriber numbers will, almost inevitably, begin to tick up. However, the work does not end there, you still need to continue providing quality content and giving existing subscribers a reason to not delete you feed. In short, keep the signal level high, keep your posting reasonable (not too fast or slow) and keep up your promotion.

Growth is more than just adding new subscribers, it means keeping your old ones and, over the long term, that is actually the greater of the two challenges.