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New Feature: Custom Subscription Filters for your Newsletter

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

FeedBlitz becomes even more Tagtastic!

One of the major features we introduced in last autumn’s major upgrade was our tag-based filtering technology. As a quick reminder, the tag features we introduced back then were:

  • Publisher tag filtering: automatically include or exclude a post from your email based on its tags.
  • Subscriber filtering: Subscriber-specific tag filtering.
  • Diagnostics: Show the discovered tags (among other things) in your feed.

No other RSS or blog to email service offers these mechanisms to automatically select your newsletter articles.

Recently, we’ve added tag-specific article search and the ability to clone feeds. One use of cloning is to combine it with tag filtering to create multiple subscriptions for different audiences from a single RSS feed.

Of course, to use all this cool stuff you had to know what tags you wanted, and you had to go into FeedBlitz to set it up.

As of today, there is a better way. FeedBlitz now lets subscribers and publishers set up tag filters dynamically, at subscribe time, without having to know and configure a priori what the tags are or will ever be. So now you can simply and easily create subscriber-specific, dynamic email subscriptions for your readers. You can now give subscribers significant choice over how and what they subscribe to.

It’s also really simple to use and set up, and (typically) doesn’t require any additional interactions with the FeedBlitz web site.

How It Works

We have extended the standard subscription URL (which is of the form http://www.feedblitz.com/f?Sub= ) with some extra parameters: include and exclude. For a practical example, consider Tom Evslin’s blog, Fractals of Change. Tom’s been blogging recently about all sorts of things, from voip to electric cars. Here’s how you apply these new filters to a subscription:

You can mix include and exclude tags. If the same tags are associated with a single post, inclusion takes priority and the post is served. The URLs and tags are case insensitive.

How to use it

So for publishers, this is great news, because now you can give your subscribers choices. And choice is good, right? Right! By working with your blog template, you can create a subscription link that says “subscribe to all posts about <tag>” – where you get your blogging system to replace <tag> with the tag associated with the post, create the appropriate subscription URL, and it all just works. Pop the link into your article or the sidebar for that category, done.

Better yet, this new feature also works with standard subscription signup forms you add to your web sites as well as the link-based sign-up technique above.

If you want to hide the tag filters, you can add the following HTML before the </form> tag:

<input type="hidden" name="include" value="voip">

This creates a hidden tag filter that will only send voip articles to your subscriber. Simply add multiple <input> tags (or use a comma separated list of tags as the value) if you want to add multiple filters. To specify an exclude tag, change the name of the field from “include” to “exclude” – same deal, it’s that simple.

Using this you can give your readers an interactive choice. Simply make the fields checkboxes or selects instead, such as in this simple example:

<input type="checkbox" name="include" value="voip">VOIP</input>
<input type="checkbox" name="include" value="ceo view">CEO View</input>
<input type="checkbox" name="include" value="energy">Energy Policy</input>

This generates forms that look like this:

CEO View
Energy Policy

You get the idea. Advanced users will be able to have a lot of fun on their sites with client-side JavaScript or server-side form generation to construct these forms on the fly.

What your subscriber sees is the standard signup process - simple. If they log in to FeedBlitz and look at their subscriptions, they will see any tags filters displayed on that page.

Gotchas and Traps for the Unwary

One teensy gotcha is that FeedBlitz only lets subscribers subscribe to the same feed once. So if they subscribe to your voip posts, love the content and try to subscribe to energy posts, FeedBlitz will tell them that they’re already subscribing to that feed.

So, to help ameliorate this, we’ve extended that screen to now offer the subscriber quick links to your blog, their subscription edit page for your blog (so the subscribes can extend their filters if necessary), and to all of their FeedBlitz-powered subscriptions. In other words, it’s not the dead end this screen used to be (and we’ve added links back to your site on all our other subscription transaction pages too).

So tag and filter away. Using this approach you can simply and easaily create hassle-free list segmentation, serving only relevant content to your subscribers. Subscriber-driven customized emails from a single RSS feed. Only from FeedBlitz.


New Feature: Know Where your Readers Go with Automatic In-Post Link Tracking

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.
  • JavaScript 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!


New Feature: Article Tag Search

Monday, January 22, 2007

You’ve written a fabulous article. Your subscribers want more! And now FeedBlitz's latest feature, tag search, makes it easy for your subscribers to quickly find similar articles on your site.

Based on our tag analysis technology, FeedBlitz extracts the tags from each post and creates a link at the foot of each article (near the forward to a friend and comments links if you have them) to a custom, article- and site-specific Google search box. When the subscriber clicks the link in the email, the search is pre-filled with the tags in the article. The subscriber has the chance to edit the search criteria and then submit the form, or to go straight to your site. Google then serves up the results based on the tags.

What’s neat about this is that, by using tags as the search criteria, we’re linking the search engine technology to the semantics you had in mind when you wrote the article. So the search results are really relevant, and should help your subscribers access more of your content more quickly.

Bottom line: More repeat visitors for you.

The more tags you use, the more likely the Feedblitz tag search results will be really focused and relevant to your subscribers. Your readers will quickly get to the see search results for your site, making them much more likely to click through to another of your articles.

If you use tags, the best way to check out this feature is to log in to your FeedBlitz account and use the “Preview” facility. For publishers, the preview is on the diagnostics menu found at www.feedblitz.com/f?Lists; for subscribers it’s on the popup menu at www.feedblitz.com/f?feeds.

Better yet, if you have defined a link to any of the ad networks we support (currently Google AdSense and Pheedo), relevant ads from those networks will displayed on the search form and search results pages. You therefore stand to benefit from any search activity we generate for you.

That said, just to be right up front about this, the search results may also have Google ads presented with them as part of the results display (it depends on the search tags and whatever other criteria Google applies). Let’s face it, that’s true of pretty much every other search engine on the planet, where the ads benefit the search engine. And so it is here: the ads that appear in the search results benefit FeedBlitz. If that really bothers you, simply disable the feature for your publication (it’s in the Syndication Setup Tracking Forwards and Comments section of your feed’s popup menu). It’s your call.

By default, tag search has been enabled for all standard feeds, and will show up in mailings from now on. Of course, if there aren’t any tags, the search link won’t be added.

Pro users need to specifically enable the feature. If used, the search form and the results are displayed using your Pro template, retaining your branding and any graphics or sponsorships you may have added to the template.


FeedBlitz Maintenance, Thursday, 9:30pm eastern

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FeedBlitz will be offline briefly on Thursday evening for some routine TLC.


Email notifications added to forward to a friend

FeedBlitz has just extended its existing email notifications to publishers for subscribes and unsubscribes to our email forwarding capability.

Starting from tonight's updates, if you have email notifications enabled (the default setting) you'll be sent an email whenever one of your articles is forwarded by a subscriber. You'll be told how many friends the article was forwarded to, so you'll have a better idea of how viral your emails are being.


FeedBlitz Subscriber Count Fix

Saturday, January 06, 2007

We had a report yesterday evening that our metrics seemed to be out of whack for some feeds, suddenly jumping by significant percentages in some cases.

This was an issue related to a change made recently to enable feeds with no active subscribers to behave better; unfortunately an unnoticed side effect was that when a new reader activated their subscription on other feeds, all subscribers were reported, active or not. So metrics were inadvertently boosted by unsubscribed and pending readers. Those affected will have noticed a significant spike in FeedBlitz subscriber counts reported to third parties in the last couple of days or so.

So. FYI:
  • The issue was fixed at approximately 11:30 am today (Saturday) and subscriber counts are now being correctly reported all over.
  • The FeedBlitz dashboard number and our real-time subscriber tracking reports have always been correct (and it's always real-time too).
  • Depending on the service you use, you'll likely see the numbers settle down tomorrow or Monday (e.g. Sunday will be the first day with everything right, so Monday will be the day to check that the metrics you see in a service like Feedburner correspond to the subscriber counts you see in your FeedBlitz dashboard).


Send in the Clones

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Today's new feature enables publishers to make an exact copy, or clone, of an existing syndication*

* Subscribers are not moved except for you, the publisher, nor are any premium settings**
** Well, ok, if you're a Pro Plus account using Master Template, clones will be formatted using the Master Template.

Why is this useful? Because FeedBlitz works really hard to stop any one publisher from publishing the same feed twice; otherwise things can get pretty confusing for publishers and subscribers alike. You basically can't publish the same content in the same account, and normally that's just fine.

But there are times when deliberately creating a copy is not only handy, it's essential. Here are two examples.

Enabling Multiple Delivery Schedules

We have several publishers who want to publish a real time (Turbo Express), daily (standard) and weekly (Turbo) version of the same feed. Until today, it wasn't possible to do that using a single feed in a single account.

Cloning (a new option on your syndication's popup Action sub-menu at www.feedblitz.com/f?lists ) solves this problem. You syndicate the feed as per normal (or use an existing syndication), and then clone it for (say) the Express version, and then clone it again for the weekly. Sign up for Turbo for each (or, at this point, the Turbo Plus flat rate upgrade), edit the description in FeedBlitz slightly to tell them apart, and you're done.

List Segmentation

Cloning is also really useful for list segmentation. Using tags or categories when you post, you can create multiple predefined email subscriptions. Take your syndication, add the "widgets" tag and voila! A widgets-only email subscription. Clone it, change the tag to "Sprockets" and bam! An email newsletter just for your sprocket buyers. Clone it again, change the tag filters to "My music" and bingo! From the same source, same feed, subscribers can now sign up to hear your opinions on new music.

So you can now offer distinct email subscriptions and newsletters on multiple topics from a single source, even if your underlying blogging platform or RSS service doesn't natively do that for you. If you're a power user, cloning and filtering can become one of your most valuable techniques.

Pulling it all together

Having cloned your feeds and finessed the filtering, delivery schedules - or both - you can offer the usual individual signup forms, or provide a neat a la carte option using this technique.


Vote for FeedBlitz!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

You know, last year I was nice and subtle about this. Polite, even.

Didn't work.

So, time to be more direct.

Please go to the 2007 bloggies award site and nominate FeedBlitz to be a finalist in the "Best Web Application for Weblogs" category (that's the first one on the page). Just us, *cough*, no need to add anyone else :-) You have to nominate in at least 3 categories, (them's the rules, folks), so add your own favorites in the categories you follow. Don't forget to confirm your nomination in the email they send you.
  • If you're a publisher using us, vote.
  • If you're a subscriber and like these email newsletters, vote!
Thanks :-)


P.S. Still here? Go vote already! FeedBlitz. http://www.feedblitz.com. Best Web Application for Weblogs.


760% growth for FeedBlitz in 2006

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

With this first post of the new year, instead of the usual monthly update, here's a look back at all of 2006 and how FeedBlitz, the leading RSS to email service, changed during the year.

The Metrics

Looking back at December 2005's update, FeedBlitz had an active circulation of 154,621. As 2007 started, we had an active circulation of over 1,331,600 - that's over 8.6 times larger than a year ago, for an annual circulation growth rate of over 760%.

At the end of 2005, this blog, FeedBlitz News, had 4,600 subscribers. There are now over 45,000. Back in 2005, feedblitz.com saw 64,000 visits and 277,000 page views in December. By contrast, December 2006 saw over 410,000 visits and nearly a million page views (things got pretty quiet between Christmas and New Year, with site traffic running at around 20% less than a typical week; this kept both metrics slightly lower than expected). Still, December's 2006 circulation rose just under 15% from November's 1,160,000. That leap of over 170,000 new readers means that in December 2006 FeedBlitz grew by more in one month than it did in all of 2005. For 2006 as a whole, feedblitz.com saw 3.2 million visits and 9.4 million page views.

The Market

FeedBlitz achieved these numbers, in a dynamic business environment, with new competitors arriving (and some leaving). Competition is good - it keeps us focused, spurs innovation, and it demonstrates a healthy market. We raised capital in May, strengthening the company's management as well as its balance sheet. Thank you, Tom.

So we've been successful in 2006 - why? There are several reasons (in no particular order) why I believe FeedBlitz continues to excel as the leader in the RSS and blog to email space.

  • Business Models Matter. Ours is real, using the freemium approach, easily understood, easily used, easily justified. We keep it simple and effective.
  • Email Matters. Email is so, what, Web 0.2? Yet it's the only reliable, resilient, relevant way to get your messages to any reader anywhere, any time. And email can dramatically boost circulation.
  • It's not about RSS. Heresy? Maybe, maybe not. RSS is an enabling technology, maybe the enabling technology of the moment. FeedBlitz succeeds not because of RSS, but because of our application of RSS - and the value we add in the process - to simplifying newsletter generation.
  • Focus. Message delivery is what we do, and we try to do it the best. From simple things, such as the automatic table of contents in every email and self-categorizing updates, to the complex, such as having the industry's only integration API, we try to make everything we do go further than you expect.

The Future

More of the same? We're planning for it. Continued rapid subscriber growth, new features, upgrades to existing functionality, and a couple of fun new projects in the works to keep things interesting.

But mostly, whether you're one of our publishers or subscribers, whether you've been here since the early days or just signed up, or even if you're just passing through, I just want to thank you. Thank you for your time, and for allowing us to be part of your online lives in some way, shape or form.

Here's wishing you the very best for 2007.




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