Tuesday, January 23, 2007
The Problem with RSS Link Tracking
As almost everyone knows, collecting metrics on your readers and visitors is essential to understanding and effectively managing your online presence. So if you're serious about blogging, your web site, your RSS feed and, yes, your email communications, you ought to be tracking the statistics that are relevant to those media. For email, the basic metrics to track are your raw subscriber count, open tracking, bounces and click-throughs.
Click-throughs are perhaps the most interesting. They show you which links (or calls to action) your readers clicked on from your article. So knowing what was clicked on, and (better yet) who clicked on them, tells you a lot about your readership in general and that reader in particular.
We at FeedBlitz (and similar blogging services, such as FeedBurner) have long offered link tracking. But here's the dirty little secret: we only track the links that are called out in your feed. These are typically only the address of the blog post itself, and maybe your home page. That's it. We use FeedBurner for our RSS feed and we have link tracking enabled for it. If you hop on over to the feed for this blog http://feeds.feedburner.com/feedblitz you'll see that the article title links are redirected (so FeedBurner can track them), but that the links within the article (such as this one: http://feeds.feedburner.com/feedblitz) are not.
FeedBlitz's link tracking also worked this way (until now), and the net result is this: limited insight into your readership's activity, because links inside your posts aren't being tracked.
Now, the tracking tools that work on your blog, if you have any installed, will tell you who arrived at or left your blog or web site, but if your link from an RSS aggregator or FeedBlitz email is to a third party site (think about the links in your posts to Flickr, del.icio.us, Google, CNN, YouTube, MySpace, whatever...) then you're in the dark. Why? Because those third party sites are not sharing their metrics with you, that's why. Moreover, the tracking technologies used on your web site won't work in RSS feeds and email, because the scripts these products use won't run in RSS or email: they're treated as potentially hostile content (e.g. maybe a virus) and (just to be safe) removed.
So you're basically in the dark on what's happening to the links inside your posts from RSS and email. Consider what you really want to know:
- Are your readers clicking through to that podcast, article, brochure, product page or video?
- Which one?
- You've spliced your del.icio.us links into your RSS feed, but does anyone care enough to click through?
- Are the links you add useful and interesting - or just a distraction?
You've no idea.
And this is a huge and growing problem, especially as more and more bloggers and RSS platforms move to "full feeds" - publishing the entire article to RSS and email (the rationale for this is that the more content you give, the more likely the subscriber will stay subscribed - anecdotally, the metrics seem to bear this out).
The more content you publish in your article, the less likely the reader is going to click through to your blog to read it again - so there's less value in tracking only the link back to the post - and the more likely they'll click on a link within the article itself. And when they do, you've lost them and the chance to learn something.
Track Every Link with FeedBlitz
FeedBlitz now solves this problem for publishers generating newsletters from their RSS feeds. The (awkwardly named) "Automatic In-Post Link Tracking" feature is now on for all publishers with link tracking enabled for their feeds (link tracking is off by default; go to www.feedblitz.com/f?lists and enable it in the "Tracking, Forwards and Comments" section of your Syndication Setup menu).
What does this mean? It means that now every link inside your post (with a few exceptions - I'll get to these in a moment) is now automatically tracked. When a user clicks on an internal link, we automatically and seamlessly add it to your link tracking database. When you access your real-time click-through analytics, you'll see these links reported. You can click them yourself to see where the user went (it's easy to tell which links are the automatically generated internal ones - the title of the link in the report is its URL (destination address)).
Better yet, if the same link appears in different mailings, you can see activity around that link in total, or for any one particular mailing. Premium customers can also see which user clicked on any one link; standard customers simply get the aggregate scores (another reason to upgrade!).
What don't we track?
A few links are deliberately not tracked. These are:
- FeedBlitz action links, such as the unsubscribe link in every email, or the forward to a friend / tag search / comment links.
- FeedBurner FeedFlare links, primarily because you can't tell what they do unless you click on them in the report, (which doesn't make the report useful), and when you click on them in the report to find out you might do something (FeedFlare items tend to be actionable).
- Email (a.k.a. "mailto") links.
We'll continue to review whether or not we should change any of these policies based on publisher feedback.
FeedBlitz's link tracking is - and always has been - entirely compatible with link tracking from other services. There's no penalty to be paid for enabling the extra insight we bring.Metrics Nirvana?
Not exactly - but a step closer to be sure. Now FeedBlitz uniquely fills in this missing information for you, automatically. Just check the box on link tracking and you're done. Now you can make real-time, intelligent, informed decisions about your email content and, by inference, your RSS and blog feeds too.
Don't be in the dark. Enable link tracking and let FeedBlitz automatically give you the insight you've been missing on your subscriber activity.
Oh, and if anyone comes up with a snappier name than "Automatic In-Post Link Tracking," please let me know!