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FeedBurner Compatibility Mode for Easier Feed Migration

Monday, April 20, 2009

FeedBlitz's RSS service has added a "FeedBurner Compatibility Mode" option to simplify the migration process away from FeedBurner. When enabled, third party blogging extensions and redirects that are hard coded for FeedBurner should also work for FeedBlitz, minimizing configuration headaches for publishers and eliminating potential confusion for subscribers.


Many feed-based extensions to blogging software and services assume that, if a third party service is being used, it is FeedBurner. As such, they are often highly specific to FeedBurner, which can cause problems for publishers when they want to switch to a different service. Changing the settings can be a technical challenge (heck, even finding where those settings are managed can be something of an ordeal).

As the FeedBlitz RSS publisher base has grown over the least few weeks we have seen a number of issues related to this type of problem, and while it can be solved by changing configurations this can be quite a burdensome process for the 99% of bloggers not versed in web server arcana, HTTP protocols and regular expression syntax. Publishers and bloggers feel, rightly, that when switching RSS services "it should just work." FeedBlitz's FeedBurner Compatibility Mode brings that ideal another step closer to reality.

Dizzying Recursion

The primary issue is with plugins such as FeedBurner's own FeedSmith plugin for WordPress, and for hand built Apache-style mod-redirect statements (again, often with self-hosted WordPress sites). This class of web-server modification causes requests from an RSS reader to be redirected automatically to the publisher's FeedBurner feed, so all requests are served from the same location. This ensures that the publisher sees all their feed metrics in one place, and no matter which feed URL the end user tries to subscribe to, they always end up at FeedBurner, giving a consistent user experience.

When changing to FeedBlitz (or any other service) this becomes a problem. When FeedBlitz tries to access the blog's RSS feed it too is redirected by the blog's server back to FeedBurner. If FeedBurner is redirecting back to FeedBlitz a recursive loop is set up, and feeds don't update correctly as the RSS readers get sent running around in circles. Even if FeedBurner doesn't redirect back to FeedBlitz, FeedBlitz never gets access to the blog's original feed, and so is not only limited to showing what's available through FeedBurner, but also suffers from any delays that FeedBurner has in reflecting changes made to the underlying blog. Yuck!

FeedBurner itself obviously doesn't have these problems, even when such a redirect is in place. It clearly isn't being redirected. How does that work? It's simple: The changes made by FeedSmith and similar redirecting strategies specifically exclude FeedBurner from the redirection. As a result, FeedBurner can access the blog's source RSS feed without getting itself tied up in knots.

While it is possible to edit filters, remove plugins to enable FeedBlitz to work the same way, as observed at the top of this post the process can be difficult, burdensome and adds to the risk of human error breaking feeds for everyone. In short, it's complex work for most to do. It adds a lot of friction and risk to the process of evaluating FeedBlitz as a FeedBurner alternative. And that's just not right.

Making It Work

Problem solved. FeedBlitz's "FeedBurner Compatibility Mode" ensures that the exclusions these tools use for FeedBurner also apply to FeedBlitz - all automatically. No need to change filters, modify your blog's settings or learn regular expressions. It just works. For this reason alone, FeedBurner Compatibility Mode is enabled by default for all new feeds. It can be switched off (or back on) using the RSS / Settings screen.

Better yet, FeedBlitz's FeedBurner Compatibility Mode does not affect FeedBurner in any way, and so it is possible to view and test the two services side by side, allowing publishers full control over the timing and details of their eventual transition.

This new setting should work for any plugin or service checking user agent strings to decide how and when to apply exclusions. Even without "FeedBurner Compatibility Mode" being enabled, FeedBlitz will always break out of any recursive call it detects and return any cached data it has (if any).

The Exception That Proves the Rule

Once recursive setup that this can't help with is if a publisher sets up set up FeedBlitz as the source URL for FeedBurner, and FeedBurner as the source for FeedBlitz (this has happened a couple of times). While clearly circular in definition, FeedBurner and FeedBlitz cache feeds to serve to visitors. The recursion isn't in real-time; there are no HTTP redirects for FeedBlitz to detect, trap and break out of.

Instead, each service updates its cached copy periodically, each using the other as a reference. Your feeds will be served fine, but over time (several hours) they'll come with an increasing amount of baggage (e.g. an increasing number of flares in the same article) as they slowly update themselves. If you see this happening, it's not a bug, just a very slow infinite loop that has been set up.

Fortunately, assuming you are using both services to test / migrate to FeedBlitz while still temporarily serving your existing subscriber base at FeedBurner, it's also very easy to fix. Here's how:
  1. Go to RSS / Settings at FeedBlitz.
  2. Ensure that you have FeedBurner Compatibility Mode enabled.
  3. Update FeedBlitz to point to your blog.
  4. Save the changes.
When you save, FeedBlitz will automatically resync your feed. You will then have a junk-free version. Once done, go over to FeedBurner and resync your feed in the Troubleshootize tab, which will update its cached copy with your newly fixed Blitzed version. Since the circular relationship has not been broken the feeds should stay fixed as you update your site.

FeedBurner Compatibility Mode - It Just Works

With the introduction of FeedBurner Compatibility Mode, FeedBlitz has eliminated some of the more technically challenging steps a publisher may need to take to switch services.

FeedBlitz - It just works! Start a 30-day trial today.

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AutoPost Your Top Articles

Monday, April 13, 2009

Instant post, zero effort! FeedBlitz has now added a great way to keep your feed fresh and posts in front of subscribers - the "Weekly Top Posts" splice. Found at RSS - Splices, the "Weekly Top Posts" feature runs on Sunday mornings and pulls out the top 5 articles from the prior week based on click-throughs and views. The post appears as a list of the top 5 articles, with links back to the originals, and links back to the browser-friendly version of your Blitzed feed.

Check out the FeedBlitz News RSS feed for an example we ran as a test this weekend.

Talking of Splices, we recently extended splices to allow you to merge in photos from Flickr into your main feed.

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Send in the Clones (RSS Remix)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Today's new feed service feature enables FeedBlitz RSS publishers to easily duplicate their feeds using the same cloning approach that our email newsletter publishers have enjoyed for more than two years.

Put simply, cloning takes all of your feed's properties, including splice and flare definitions, and makes a duplicate. This is great for publishers who want to offer slightly different versions of the same basic feed and who don't want to have to step through the same screens settings the same options for each, time after time. If you're bringing multiple feeds over to FeedBlitz by hand this is a great time saver.

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On RSS Subscriber Counts and FeedBurner Metrics

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Yet again, Twitter is burning about funkiness with FeedBurner subscriber counts cratering. The situation has gone on for too long and I now feel I have to write something about this, especially as (a) nobody from Google / FeedBurner is stepping up to the plate, and (b) enough, already.

Full disclosure: Since we compete with FeedBurner, feel free to use whatever size pinch of salt you deem necessary as you read.

How Subscriber Counts are Calculated

First a backgrounder. When you read your feed, it's been fetched from the source (such as FeedBurner or FeedBlitz's new FeedBurner alternative) and delivered to you by a piece of software: your browser; your online RSS service (such as Google Reader or Bloglines or FeedBlitz's email service); your desktop browser (such as FeedDemon) or a search engine or something else. Think of these different pieces of software as vehicles loading up on newspapers at your newspaper's printing plant. Some, like Google Reader, are big trucks and take lots of newspapers for delivery to lots of subscribers; some are just individual subscribers (e.g. individual FeedDemon users) in their virtual cars taking just their own copy.

When these aggregators visit FeedBurner or Feedblitz, we have to decide a few things when figuring out your subscriber count. Firstly, is it an aggregator / feed reader at all, or simply a search engine? This matters because search engines aren't directly contributing to circulation, so they don't affect subscriber counts just because they're scanning your feed for others to find later. The hit is noted but that's about it.

If it's an aggregator reading the feed, however, then bulk aggregators will (usually) report the number of subscribers they're working on behalf of using what's called the HTTP user agent header. So, in a sense, what that tells us is how big the truck is that just loaded up at our virtual newspaper press and who runs it. If on any one day that aggregator truck backs up several times, we'll take the maximum reported number of subscribers that day as the number reported for your feed.

For other desktop aggregators it's a little more involved, but at the end of the day FeedBurner and FeedBlitz total up the numbers and ta-daa: your daily subscriber count.

Problem #1 - Sampling

The thing is, both services report a daily subscriber count. A day is midnight to midnight in the relevant time zone (for FeedBlitz it's US eastern time and for FeedBurner I believe it's still US central time). So, for example, say an aggregator checks your feed just once every 24 hours (ish). Say that one day this aggregator checks your feed at 11:59pm (i.e. just before midnight) on day 1, not at all on day 2, and then at 12:01 am on day 3. That aggregator has, more or less, checked your feed once every 24 hours. But because it was a minute "early" one day and minute "late" the next there's a whole "day" where the truck didn't show up at all for the purposes of calculating your circulation. Result: zero subscribers reported from that aggregator on day 2.

This is a sampling error, in that the aggregator in question wasn't present in the sample used to produce your subscriber counts for day 2.

What you see (at least, in FeedBurner - we do things a little differently at FeedBlitz and I'll get to that later) is a cratering subscriber count and a good business day for coronary emergency departments around the globe. (OK, just kidding about that part).

In practice, most aggregators check feeds once every 30-60 minutes, so this kind of thing actually doesn't happen very often in the real world.

Problem #2 - Broken User Agents

Sometimes aggregators don't report their subscriber count at all (this has been a problem recently with Google's FeedFetcher agent, which pulls feeds on behalf of Google Reader and iGoogle). Sometimes user agents misreport the subscriber count. Our very own FeedBlitz's email service was guilty of this (*cough*) for some publishers a couple of days early last year.

The numbers reported by the user agents are what RSS services use, for better and for worse, to derive your circulation. GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) holds true here just as it does anywhere else.

Why I believe this does NOT explain FeedBurner's recent issues

[If you want to hold your nose because we compete with FeedBurner then here's where you want to do it]

Belatedly FeedBurner reported an issue with FeedFetcher. Basically they're saying "it's not us (FeedBurner), it's them (Google Reader's FeedFetcher)" - or, in other words, this is a case of problem #2 above. Nothing to see here, folks, move along, it'll be fixed soon.

I don't buy it.

Don't get me wrong. The Google Reader agent (FeedFetcher) was hosed a couple of times recently. Here are the Google FeedFetcher numbers for http://feed.feedblitz.com/feedblitz from the last 10 days as reported by the FeedBlitz logs:

DateFeedFetcher Count

So what you see is that Google failed to report numbers to us on two days - March 30th and April 2nd. (The large jump on 4/5 is that we at FeedBlitz discovered that, because of yet another quirk in Google FeedFetcher, that FeedBlitz was actually under-reporting Google's numbers, which we fixed for reports from 4/5 forward).

Blaming FeedFetcher only cuts the mustard as far as I'm concerned for problems with subscriber counts reported for 3/30 and 4/2. Since numbers are reported the day after, FeedBurner feed subscriber counts should have burped on 3/31 and 4/3 and then bounced back on 4/1 and 4/4. All should now be well again.

But it isn't. They're apparently off - again (or should that be still?)- today. Which begs the question that Google has yet to answer: WTF is going on over there?

Beats me.

I suppose there could be a reasonable explanation for this. Here are a few I thought of.

Perhaps FeedFetcher is using some sneaky internal-to-Google route to get to feedburner feeds now they (IMHO completely unnecessarily) moved everyone to Google domains, are using different code than they are for external feed fetching and so the FeedBurner is missing subscriber counts that everyone else is actually seeing.

Feels unlikely, doesn't it?

Perhaps it's sampling error combined with a broken agent then? That 1 hour difference between the FeedBurner and FeedBlitz "days." Perhaps FeedFetcher happened to stop reporting numbers after 1am eastern on all the FeedBurner problem days, so FeedBlitz saw them OK (between 12am and 1am) and FeedBurner didn't (because their day starts at 1am eastern), so there were more "days" when the count was zero for FeedBurner than for FeedBlitz?

I suppose it's at least possible. So I did a quick check. Looking at our logs, Google FeedFetcher reported susbcribers correctly on March 29th, obviously didn't on March 30th, but DID report numbers OK between midnight and 1am on the morning of March 31. So based on FeedBlitz's logs from the first incident I can't see the evidence for a sampling error problem either. (I didn't check the April date).

So perhaps it's just that FeedBlitz is new, and because we aren't hosting nearly as many feeds as FeedBurner (yet...). Perhaps the problem is not global to all servers running FeedFetcher but just to a few of the machines, and so we've merely been lucky to avoid seeing the problem. Well, OK, this might have some legs. But, OTOH if this is the case, it raises serious questions about FeedFetcher's QA and Google's roll out of new code into production. It's not as if the Google crew is short of money to fund these things properly. So, hmmm.

Perhaps someone from Google would care to comment here. For anti-spam reasons I moderate comments to this blog, but I commit to publish anything from Google here if someone shows up. I'll edit this post at noon eastern tomorrow (4/9) with any updates, errors or corrections based on these interactions, should they occur. If I'm wrong I'm more than happy to admit it and make the appropriate correction.

[Update: Noon April 9th - My update is in the comments to this post. Nobody from Google or FeedBurner has commented so far, and counts are broken again.]

Managing Sampling Errors and Bad Agent Strings Better

There's a more subtle question here, though. Knowing that sh*t happens, how can an RSS service avoid the yo-yo effect when subscribers come and go and user agent strings can get messed up? The goal here after all is to give you, the RSS feed publisher, the best insight into your readership.

I can't speak for FeedBurner but what we at FeedBlitz do is this:

1) In the reports we give you the unadjusted data for any given day. We report the readerships and so, if one of the "trucks" doesn't back up in that 24 hours timespan, it won't show up in that day's metrics.

2) But ... In the circulation chicklet we report a moving 3-day average. This smooths out any sampling errors, minimizes the impact of broken user-agent strings, and gives you a much clearer insight as to the true trend of your circulation. The dailies are always visible to you (see (1) above), but we believe that a moving average gives comparable accuracy with much better stability and, therefore, better results for you.

RSS Circulation, not Subscribers

Since we're on metrics, here's something else I believe that FeedBlitz does differently from FeedBurner. FeedBurner is an RSS company; they care about RSS susbcribers and that's what they report in the chicklets and on your dashboard. From what I've read it is my understanding (and, again, I'm prepared to be corrected on this) that FeedBurner does not count browsers in the RSS subscriber count.

In other words, if someone views your feed in their browser but does not subscribe (using either the browser's internal subscription mechanism or some other feed reader) then I believe that they aren't counted in your feed's total subscriber count from FeedBurner.

But, hang on a minute. These visitors are reading your feed content. So, if my assumption is correct, FeedBurner isn't counting them in your RSS subscriber count because they're readers, not subscribers. But because they're not on your web site (they're on FeedBurner's), your web analytics package isn't counting them either.

Yikes. There's a potentially significant population of "ghost" feed readers that nobody's accurately tracking. Continuing with my newspaper analogy, a subscriber who views your feed in their browser but doesn't subscribe is equivalent to someone who buys their copy of the newspaper at the news-stand, gas station, or the convenience store. They're not a subscriber to that newspaper, but they are part of the newspaper's circulation.

FeedBlitz tracks and counts these readers, because we're a social media marketing company. We care about all your readers no matter how they consume your content. Non-subscribing visitors are still viewing your content, getting your message, thinking about what you're saying. Such readers are therefore part of your feed's circulation too.

FeedBlitz therefore adds these readers to build a circulation (not a subscriber) metric. It turns out to be statistically significant. For the Feedblitz News feed yesterday (4/7/09) some 2% of FeedBlitz News' total circulation were in this non-subscribing category. If you exclude the FeedBlitz News subscribers managed by our email delivery service, this casual count is in fact the same order of magnitude as RSS subscribers from other (not FeedBlitz email) aggregators. That's an important number to understand and not to miss.

The $1.49 Question

So. If you're reading this far you probably care a great deal about your RSS subscribers and how they're reported. Perhaps you're really hacked off with FeedBurner's persistent volatility and unresponsiveness. Perhaps you're really, really annoyed with yo-yo metrics and, like me, don't understand why this should be so.

OK. How pissed off are you, exactly? If you thought about it in monetary terms, is your continuing annoyance and frustration greater than our minimum $1.49 /month fee? Or, more positively, is it worth at least $1.49 / month for you to have reliable, trustworthy metrics and a supported service?

Really? It is? Then start our 30-day trial at http://www.feedblitz.com/ (click RSS - New) so you can focus on what you do best and stop worrying about your metrics. I think we have a better service, but if metrics are what really get your blood boiling then, like I said at the beginning of this post:

Enough already.

Do something about it.

Switch to FeedBlitz.

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RSS and SEO - Raising the Bar

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

When I announced FeedBlitz's FeedBurner competitor last week, one of the claims I made was that, as a FeedBurner alternative, FeedBlitz's RSS service offered better SEO (search engine optimization). A commenter asked me to back up those claims, which I'll do here.

For those who aren't sure, SEO is all about getting pages form your site to appear as close to the top of the search engine results pages (aka SERPs) as possible. The closer to the top you are the more visitors you get to your site because people tend to only visit the top few sites on the first page. The key to SEO is, first and foremost, writing good content. Without that you're sunk. But with good content you can then start to focus on keyword targeting and links, which are the bread and better of any SEO exercise.

And it's here where FeedBlitz's RSS services can really make a difference when compared to FeedBurner or the standard feed sent out by your blog.

Smart Linking

When FeedBlitz manages your RSS we collect data about your readers and can track what they click on. This gives you reach and activity metrics which are essential to better understanding your audience. To do that, however, FeedBlitz and FeedBurner (with click through tracking enabled) need to alter the links on your feed so we can track the visitors as they click. And the problem from an SEO perspective is that the links look like something like this: http://feeds.feedblitz.com/~/10655/0/feedblitz - mostly codes and numbers bearing little relationship to your original post. Yuck!

That's crummy for SEO, unlike the typical link on your blog, which often has keywords in it because of the way blogs work. For example, the ultimate address for the tracking link above is actually http://blog.feedblitz.com/2009/04/rss-and-google-analytics-integration.html

How then to track metrics (which is a good thing) and be SEO-friendly?

FeedBlitz to the rescue. Our links now include the post title in the tracking link. The link that appears in the FeedBlitz feed for the analytics post above is not the one I gave you a couple of sentences ago. It's actually this: http://feeds.feedblitz.com/~/10655/0/feedblitz~RSS-and-Google-Analytics-Integration This is great for SEO - your post title is in the link, and titles are keyword rich environments that search engines like, but you get the benefits of our tracking it and building RSS subscriber metrics for you. So now you don't have trade tracking for SEO - with FeedBlitz you get both, automatically, with zero effort in your part.

These SEO-friendly smart links appear in your RSS feed, its browser-friendly version, and the mobile version. They're completely compatible with our unique Google Analytics integration, CNAMEs and any other redirection strategies you employ on your own site.

Better yet, since your RSS feed is the source for resyndication out to third party sites, you get the downstream SEO benefits of when the post is linked to elsewhere by folks reading it in their feeds.

Better Browser Friendly

When a person hits your feed they'll get a "browser-friendly" version - it's HTML, not XML, and is much more accessible for humans than for computers. FeedBurner has this too, but by default it isn' t HTML. The data format matters, and I'll get to that in a moment.

But first, you need to know one of the things that can influence a page's rank in SEO is where the content - and the keywords that the search engines are looking for - appear on the page. Usually, the closer the content to the top of the page, the better. If you look at a browser-friendly version of a feed (try this one about Barack Obama: http://feeds.feedblitz.com/barackobamaradar&x=0 ) you'll see that the page is all about the content; the only part that specifically mentions FeedBlitz is at the very bottom of the page. Great for SEO. Compare and contrast that with the FeedBurner equivalent (here's social media mega site TechCrunch's feed: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/techcrunch ). It's pretty much all FeedBurner up top there, above the fold, not Mr. Arrington's content. Great for FeedBurner; less so for you, the content owner.

Or, in pictures, using TechCrunch to Blitz a demo feed for an apples to apples comparison, with the "noise" added by each respective service highlighted using a 1024x768 window:

FeedBurner browser friendly:

FeedBlitz browser friendly:

As you can see there's much less noise from us (and no mention of FeedBlitz at all in the stuff we add), and we add the feed's description. The other browser-friendly version pushes the content down and, the title at the very top aside, most of the text where the reader's eye falls first is all about the vendor not TechCrunch.

Search Engine Friendly

FeedBlitz's browser-friendly version also goes further than what's visible in the browser. The browser-friendly version is always served as HTML (i.e. as a web page), so it can be indexed by ordinary search engines (most, including the main Google search engine, avoid feeds in feed format, which is what FeedBurner serves browser-friendly as by default). It also includes meta tags, pulled from your feed and your post tags, for the description and keywords. Meta tags help search engines understand your content better, so having them there is a big plus. It automatically adds a feed autodiscovery link pointing back to your RSS. All while using the Smart Links I mentioned earlier. Here's the browser-friendly version of the FeedBlitz RSS feed: http://feeds.feedblitz.com/feedblitz&x=0 - use the "View Page Source" in your browser to see the SEO tags we added if you're interested.

(Plus I think it just looks better for people. You know, those carbon-based life forms you're ultimately trying to reach).

Better Partial Feeds

For those who use partial feeds, FeedBlitz is way ahead of anything else out there. Take a look at the browser-friendly version of this blog's feed again. I have the browser-friendly version set up to offer partial text, but if you look at the content of the posts there you'll see there are links that work. Bold text in places. Bullets. And all the flares are there. Working links is vital for SEO, because links help boost your ranking. if the links are removed then neither people nor search engine crawlers (like Google's) can get to the content you're trying to get them to. Without FeedBlitz partial feeds are literally a dead-end; a link-free wasteland that stops SEO bots and people alike.

With FeedBlitz, a partial feed or browser-friendly display is suddenly a nicely presented, keyword-rich environment that that both search engines and people will appreciate. The flares all work (and they're not mangled either; they use your URL too, which is good for SEO). It's both better looking and more functional for people and machines alike.

Finishing the Play - Custom Footers

Finally, you can add a custom footer to all your articles with FeedBlitz (can't do that with FeedBurner). That can be an SEO-friendly link to your site. It can be a link and a copyright notice to help reduce RSS-scraping revenue theft. We use it on our feeds to point people back to this blog; any safe and valid HTML can be added.

Advanced Users - NOINDEX

FeedBlitz.com has a Page Rank 8 home page and as such that strength can sometimes distort SERPs. For advanced users who don't want our versions of their content to be added to indexes we offer the NOINDEX option on the RSS - Settings page. It's off by default, though (i.e. no noindex, or (that is to say) yes: please index this content).

FeedBlitz RSS - Better SEO

So there you have it. If you care about SEO and want a better feed solution that will help, not hurt, your search engine optimization activities, all with next to no effort and without sacrificing metrics, choose FeedBlitz.

[Reposted to address broken tinyurl]

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RSS and Google Analytics Integration

Sunday, April 05, 2009

FeedBlitz's new RSS service now enables bloggers, social media marketers and publishers to track RSS-driven click-throughs in Google Analytics (and also Omniture's Visual Sciences enterprise web site analytics solution). Further, FeedBlitz has made this feature available to our email marketing newsletter service as well.

FeedBlitz is now the only RSS service to enable publishers to view their RSS-driven activity in these two popular web analytics packages.

It's trivial to set up. For RSS feeds, go to RSS - Settings, and choose the click tracking service you want and save. For email newsletters, go to Newsletters - Settings - Content Settings - Tracking and More and pick the tracking option you want, and save. That's all you have to do. Well, ok, that and wait for the metrics to appear in your web analytics results.

For the FeedBlitz RSS service, changes are immediate. Email service click-through changes are reflected in the next mailing. It's OK to specify the click through settings in both locations if you use both services; a click-through from an email based on a FeedBlitz feed will properly identify itself as being email, not RSS, driven.

Looking at the results in Google Analytics

All the results are visible in Traffic Sources - Campaigns in your Google Analytics dashboard.

For clicks that originate from your RSS feed, Google will record "FeedBlitz" as the source, "FeedBlitzRss" as the medium, and the feed path (the part of your url after "feeds.feedblitz.com") as the campaign. Pick these options from the "Dimension" drop down on that page the campaigns page.

For clicks that originate from an email newsletter, "FeedBlitz" is still the source, but the medium will be "FeedBlitzEmail", the campaign will identify when the mailing went out (e.g. "Nightly 2009-04-04") and the content will identify the feedblitz list ID.

Now you can easily review the effectiveness of your email newsletters and RSS feeds and determine what changing settings will do (such as switching between full and partial content, for example).

Omniture Visual Sciences

FeedBlitz adds the "From" parameter, enabling you to differentiate between RSS and email clicks, and similarly varies the parameters on the email side to enable you to tell which mailing led to which click through.

RSS Service Recap

With this feature announcement, I want to briefly revisit our original posting announcing the service. In it I said "You'll see that the FeedBlitz RSS feed service will rapidly evolve over the coming weeks." A bold claim. How are we doing? Since that launch, about 10 days ago, this is what we've added:
Commitment fulfilled. FeedBlitz is keeping its promises and not letting our RSS publishers down. If you can't say the same about your RSS service, then please register for a 30-day free trial. Tune the Blitzed version of your RSS feed and then, once you're happy, make the switch.

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How to Migrate your FeedBurner Feeds

Friday, April 03, 2009

Here's a simple "how-to" for those wanting to leave FeedBurner and switch to FeedBlitz's RSS alternative:

  1. Set up your first feed in FeedBlitz at RSS - New.
  2. If you have an OPML file, then go to RSS - Import and browse for the file. Pick the feed you configured in step (1) to act as a template so that all your imported feeds get your settings immediately (flares, splices etc). Great timesaver.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Correcting the prior version of these instructions, the FeedBurner OPML export will not work here as it exports the FeedBurner URLs not the feed sources (which is what you actually want). If you use the FeedBurner URLs you will end up creating a circular reference and that will make a real mess of the result.

At this point you have all your feeds set up in FeedBlitz. Now you have to start the process to leave FeedBurner (FeedBlitz is in the middle of this right now - it works as advertised).

For each of your feeds in FeedBurner:

  1. Pick it from the FeedBurner dashboard;
  2. Click "Edit Feed Details..." at the top, just above the tabs;
  3. Update the URL there with the corresponding FeedBlitz feed URL;
  4. Save, rinse and repeat.

At this point all your FeedBurner subscribers will be reading your Blitzed feed. You have to make this change before you migrate away from FeedBurner as the "Delete Feed" process sends subscribers to the URL FeedBurner has as the feed source; if you don't go through the above steps the readers won't be sent to FeedBlitz and they won't see all your new goodies and FeedBlitz won't see any readers to report.

OK, feeling brave? This is it.

For each of your feeds at FeedBurner you want to migrate away:

  1. Check you set up the feed URL to point to your new Blitzed feed.
  2. Click "Delete Feed..." just above the tabs.
  3. IMPORTANT: check that the "Use 30-day redirection" box is checked on (it is off by default).
  4. Click the "Delete feed" button.
  5. Breathe :-)

For the next 15 days FeedBurner will automatically send all your subscribers and visitors to your new feed. After that, people who still have not updated their RSS readers will get a simple, single post from FeedBurner telling them the new URL to use. 15 days later - poof, gone, readers will get a 404 file not found error. Anyone at that point who hasn't changed wasn't a real subscriber in the first place.

So you basically have 30 days to get the word out (don't procrastinate!). Once you delete the feed at FeedBurner there is work you need to do to find and update links to the old FeedBurner URL. In no particular order, then, here's what you have to do:

  • Post about the change and tell everyone the new URL they should subscribe to.
  • Update email forms and RSS links on your site with your new feed address.
  • Update third party services such as FeedBlitz, FriendFeed etc. with your new RSS feed address.
  • Update any widgets and plugins you have with your new feed URL (get FeedBlitz widgets at RSS - Promote your feed).
  • Update your blog bios, Twitter profiles, email signatures etc. with your new feed address.
  • Change your blog and web site's RSS autodiscovery links (info on this vital step at RSS - Promote your feed).
  • Update any CNAMEs and redirects.
  • Update any old blog posts that mention your RSS feed.

If you do switch to FeedBlitz we're happy you're here. You're not locked in; we have a similar process if you want to stop using us as your RSS provider. Remember that you do not have to use FeedBlitz RSS in order to use our email services. But we'd sure be happy if you chose to do that anyway!

Any questions on the process add a comment or tweet me at @phollows

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Own your RSS

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Sometimes an objection to using a third party RSS service to help promote and improve your blog's native RSS feed is the fear that that you might "lose control" of your content, as well as losing the SEO (search engine optimization) benefits of your RSS feed.

This really isn't so, even if you use FeedBurner or the new FeedBlitz RSS service. There are a couple of ways to ensure that your feed always appears under your own domain while you use FeedBlitz to run your RSS for you. Using FeedBlitz and your DNS settings (or redirects) this is a pretty simple process. Here's how:

1) Blitz your RSS feed at FeedBlitz using RSS - New to get all the branding, splicing and reporting goodness we add to your RSS feed. Let's say your blitzed URL is feeds.feedblitz.com/example

2) Let's say you want to your feed to always appear at feeds.example.com/example so that it always appears to come from you. The first part of that URL - feeds.example.com - is the host name. Enter that as the host name at FeedBlitz in the RSS - Settings screen. FeedBlitz will now serve your feed at both feeds.feedblitz.com/example and feeds.example.com/example, retaining any existing subscribers to the feeds.feedblitz.com address. Your reports for any given feed cover subscribers to all of its URLs.

3) Edit your DNS settings to so that feeds.example.com is a CNAME for feeds.feedblitz.com

That's it! Your feed is clearly yours, but when your subscribers visit feeds.example.com/feedblitz they are actually being served your content by us. We'll make sure the subscription links map correctly, and - should you ever choose to leave - you don't have to worry about losing subscribers. You simply map or redirect feeds.example.com to another service, or host it yourself. There's no risk to you when you outsource to us this way.

Using CNAMEs you can map multiple feeds to the same hostname that you own (so you can have feeds.feedblitz.com/topic1 map to feeds.example.com/topic1 and feeds.feedblitz.com/topic2 map to feeds.example.com/topic2 etc.) and it will all work, provided you update the hostname field for each feed you want to map in its FeedBlitz RSS settings.

Alternatively, if you don't have DNS access but use webservers or systems like wordpress that allow redirects, you can also redirect your feeds (such as www.example.com/feed) with a temporary (302) redirect to feeds.feedblitz.com/example - this keeps your site as the "main" feed but tells aggregators and visitors to visit us for the content (for the time being).

Whichever way you choose to do this, your RSS readers remain yours on a URL that is yours on a branded domain that is yours; yet your feed can be easily delivered, serviced and managed by us. You retain SEO and brand value while delegating RSS management and reporting to a service like FeedBlitz.

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