Do RSS subscriber figures always go up?


Neville’s celebrating reaching a milestone in his RSS subscriber numbers – he’s hit the big 1000 subscribers for the first time.

Such a large number of subscribers is a great achievement that can inspire the rest of us to keep blogging, reading and interacting in the blogosphere.

Although I’m nowhere near Neville’s number of readers, my RSS subscriber figure (tracked through Feedburner) has been on a pleasingly upward trend since last September:

Simon Wakeman - RSS subscriber chart

However I sometimes wonder if there’s a natural trend for RSS subscriber figures to grow over time? Does anyone have an example of an RSS feed that has seen a real decline in subscribers?

That’s not to take anything away from a healthy growth rate in RSS subscribers, but once someone subscribes to an RSS feed they will need to make an active choice to unsubscribe – by taking it out of their subscriptions list.

Aside from a very infrequent housekeeping exercise on my subscriptions, I tend to not remove feeds that I don’t read any more. I just skim over them or ignore them completely, but this would of course show as an active RSS subscriber in Feedburner, as I am still downloading the feed.

This could represent a natural inertia meaning that RSS figures will have a stronger tendency to be static or grow than they would to decline.

There is, of course, an underlying growth rate from developing an audience for a blog and increasing use of RSS, but this could be overstated by people downloading but not reading a feed instead of just deleting it from their feed reader.

The real point here is that RSS subscribers, page views or unique visitors don’t give you a necessarily accurate view of who’s actually reading your content.

They can tell you who’s receiving it, but it’s a lot more difficult to know who’s actually reading it.

You can get a feeling for who’s reading your content by seeing who responds, for example through emails, comments, blog posts or trackbacks.

But this doesn’t give you a complete measure of who’s actually reading your content – and I’m not sure such a measure exists. The best a blogger can do is use a variety of ways to track the performance of their blog – and be aware of the limitations of this approach.