Tracing their Steps: How to track feed subscriber referrals with Google Analytics

by Hamlet Batista | July 24, 2007 | 32 Comments

people_walking.jpgOne of the most important measures of success for a blog is the number of RSS subscribers. There are many blog posts out there about how to increase your number of subscribers. They range from the use of bigger, more prominent and attention-grabbing RSS buttons, to offering bonuses for signing up. While you can use all sorts of tricks, at the end of the day it is really about the value you give to your visitors on an ongoing, consistent basis. Personally, I subscribe to any blog that sparks my interest, but as soon as I see the quality drop I unsubscribe just as quickly. So many blogs, so little time!

Let me introduce another way you can increase your RSS subscribers that I have not seen covered anywhere. It works by identifying your best RSS referral sources and focusing your marketing and networking efforts on those.

We all know that you need to network with other popular blogs in your field to increase awareness and potentially build up your readership. Writing thought-provoking comments (and posts, if the blog accepts them) is an excellent way for peers to notice you. For this blog, I’ve been gaining great success with my posts on Youmoz/SEOmoz as well as with the FeedFlare I created for Sphinn.

I’ve seen my RSS subscribers build up, but I wanted to know which of my efforts was producing the best results. I wanted to discover how each RSS subscriber found my website, what keywords were typed if it was via a search engine, what post led to the subscription, and so on. Those are metrics that I find critical for improving my subscription rate.

FeedBurner is an excellent service, but the stats are focused primarily on the type of feed reader my visitors are using. That might be important, it can’t help my marketing efforts. So here is the idea I came up while playing around with Google Analytics.

Google Analytics allows you to set conversions goals for your site. Normally you use them to measure leads or sales via thank-you pages. Why not set RSS subscriptions as a conversion goal and take advantage of all the magic that Google Analytics can do for you? Unfortunately your feed is an XML document and, if it is Feedburner-based, it is on an external URL. That prevents it from having the tracking script installed.

Digging deeper I found that Google Analytics lets you track downloads, external URLs, and can be used to track RSS feed subscriptions. This is how you do it:

Add this piece of JavaScript code to your feed link:

<a xhref=”–InternetEntrepreneurDeveloperAndSearchMarketer” title=”Subscribe to my feed” rel=”alternate” onClick=”javascript:urchinTracker(‘/tracking/feed’);”>

For the e-mail RSS feed:

<form action=”” method=”post” target=”popupwindow” onsubmit=”javascript:urchinTracker(‘/tracking/emailfeed’);‘’, ‘popupwindow’, ‘scrollbars=yes,width=550,height=520’);return true”>…</form>

For this to work, you need to place your Google Analytics’ code before any of these trackers. The best way to make sure that this is the case is to put the code right after the opening <body> tag.

For the URLs I used /tracking/xxx, but you can use anything you want. Those URLs are the ones you are going to set up as conversion goals in Google Analytics.


After Analytics begins tracking everything, the treasure comes on the detailed reports you get. At a minimum you will be able to:

  1. Track where the subscriptions are coming from

  2. Tell which site or search engine and keyword referred the most subscribers

  3. See your subscription conversion rates by traffic source

  4. You name it!

Of course it is possible that someone might click on the subscription and not complete the process, but I think that knowing where the attempts are coming from should be useful at least. It will help you discover the blogs/sites/forums where you need to concentrate your networking efforts.

It’s crucial that bloggers actively encourage visitors to subscribe to the feed. Lately I have tried to focus on improving the overall quality of this blog too, and that is why I encourage you to leave comments and feedback. I want to make sure I am writing what you want to read. So let me know!

Hamlet Batista

Chief Executive Officer

Hamlet Batista is CEO and founder of RankSense, an agile SEO platform for online retailers and manufacturers. He holds US patents on innovative SEO technologies, started doing SEO as a successful affiliate marketer back in 2002, and believes great SEO results should not take 6 months



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