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Fearless FeedBurner Migration - No Login Required

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In yesterday's post about setting up your RSS properly I talked about the risk of getting trapped with a particular feed service because your subscribers are subscribing to their feed URL on their domain, not your URL on your domain.

That's bad enough. What's worse in FeedBurner's case is that people may have set up their feeds years ago (or their web folks did), and they can't figure out how to access their feeds and metrics. Or, from worse to worsest (?), FeedBurner users can migrate their account to Google apps and suddenly find out that a perfectly good FeedBurner login no longer works - and can't be recovered. Not only are you trapped at this point, you have no recourse other than abandoning your feed, its subscribers and starting over. There's no corporate support for FeedBurner at all (but it's free so that's OK, right? Perhaps not...). End up at this point and you're well and truly up the proverbial creek. You're by no means alone in your paddle-less adventure, but that's cold comfort, I know.

This is a tragic turn of events for what was once a fun, supported (and supportive) service. I've written on the topic before, but as I try and provide a little help to frustrated users in the FeedBurner forums, it's sad to see so many people disappointed and frustrated by the complete lack of engagement from FeedBurner's owners. They simply don't understand why Google doesn't care about them (another instance of digital share cropping - what would happen if FeedBurner went away? Yikes...).

Sounds like an opportunity for FeedBlitz, right? Well, not so fast. People frequently can't log in to FeedBurner to use FeedBlitz's migration wizards, so they're stuck. Often, that leaves their readers sitting out there subscribed to a FeedBurner URL, with nothing that can be done by the site owner to access that audience and its stats.

Which means, as I said yesterday, that site owners have to get all those readers to resubscribe. It's the only way to get their readers off that FeedBurner URL, and the only way for the publisher to re-take control of their feed, their readership and their RSS metrics. Even with the pain and frustration many FeedBurner users are now experiencing, the fear of starting over and "abandoning" their subscribers is just too much. They give up, and resign themselves to putting up with it.  The fear and lack of access put even major bloggers on the back foot, and prevents them from making a switch they'd otherwise be more than happy to make. After all, their subscribers are their most committed audience, and surely far too important to abandon to the free but unsupported service that FeedBurner has become. It's a shame to see such confusion descend into lost hope, day after day. But that's what's going on.

Good news, then. There is hope.

As I alluded to yesterday, FeedBlitz does now have a way forward for people stuck in this scenario. It ain't pretty, but it works. Our approach assumes that you have control over the original feed that FeedBurner is polling, that you can use your blog's redirect features, and that you're going to try FeedBlitz out as a premium FeedBurner alternative.
  1. First, set up your own feed on your own domain, like I outlined yesterday, if you haven't already done so.
  2. If that is different from your FeedBurner original feed (our tech support can help you identify the URL FeedBurner is accessing), set up a permanent redirect from that feed to the new feed you set up in step (1) above.
  3. Then set up your FeedBlitz feed at RSS | New based on the URL you set up at (1).
  4. Set up a temporary redirect from your feed (1) to your new FeedBlitz feed (3), making sure that you have an exception defined so that FeedBlitz can access your source feed OK without going around in circles.
At this point you have FeedBurner - and everyone using it - redirecting to your new canonical feed on your own domain (good!), and you are then having FeedBlitz serve it for you. Which means that FeedBurner (or whatever you use) is, in fact, accessing FeedBlitz for your feed. This is the key part.

(Note that at this point we don't have to log in to Google at all, so even if you can't get in, you're golden.)

The bad news is that all the people using FeedBurner will still have to resubscribe. No avoiding that without login access. Simply asking them to do it in a blog post is unlikely to have any effect; people are lazy and - hey - the FeedBurner feed's still working (although it's a lot cooler now it's using FeedBlitz's feed goodies).

So here's the kicker. FeedBlitz has a new feature in its RSS settings that will try very, very hard to FORCE all your FeedBurner subscribers - at least the ones who are actually reading your old FeedBurner feed - to change their feed settings and resubscribe.

How? Well, when you enable the FeedBurner migration option at RSS | Settings, you can edit a fairly loud and to the point message (lots of bold text and colors) that says: We've moved, update your settings, oh faithful reader! OK, not quite so Jane Austen perhaps, but you get the idea. When the setting is enabled and FeedBlitz detects FeedBurner accessing your FeedBlitz feed (courtesy of the redirects you set up above), FeedBlitz does NOT send your post to FeedBurner (and by implication, on to every subscriber using it).

No. Instead, FeedBlitz serves the "resubscribe" message. Just to FeedBurner and its subscribers; everyone else gets your regular content. As long as you have that setting enabled in FeedBlitz it will continue to (loudly, persistently, consistently) urge your remaining FeedBurner subscribers to switch over. Not for only 15 days, but for as long as you have the FeedBlitz feature switched on. So people taking long vacations, sabbaticals or whatever will still get it. Everyone accessing your content via your old FeedBurner feed will know, in no uncertain terms, what they need to do. And they will be reminded, every single time you post, until they change.

So, although it's not as smooth as you might like, there's no need to access your old FeedBurner account to switch, which is a huge win. (If you can log in we have wizards to help expedite setup and email subscriber transfer). With this capability, FeedBlitz can basically push every one of your subscribers with a pulse over to your new core feed living at your URL on your domain. You don't need to delete your old FeedBurner feed either, which means all the old links in aggregators will work too. But everyone paying attention will quickly switch because they want your content and NOT an annoying message from the likes of us. As I said, pretty it is not. Effective, though? You betcha.

Sure, not everyone will come over. You're going to have a proportion of abandoned subscriber accounts, and so at the end of the day your numbers will start off being lower here at FeedBlitz than at FeedBurner. But what you gain is:
That first point is important. You can (should!) configure the message we send to FeedBurner subscribers to direct readers to the feed on your URL (remember we still serve it, because of the temporary redirect).  But you own those readers on your URL on your domain. Don't care for FeedBlitz later on? Well, switch the redirect off - done! They're still yours. They won't need to resubscribe again, because as far as they're concerned they're subscribing to the same feed.

At the risk of harming FeedBlitz's future revenue growth, you could in theory start a trial with us for the sole purpose of rescuing your feed from FeedBurner, and then cancel before the trial ends, planning on the migration message having moved anyone who cares across back to you by then. Obviously, we hope you'll stick around, but it's certainly something you could consider if you want to make that move and take back your feed. Our RSS only prices are just $1.49 a month anyway, so if you don't use our email services you're not going to break the bank if (when :) ) you choose to continue with us.

I hope this helps someone get out of the quagmire. Know that, if any of this resonates with you, at least you're not alone, and there is a way out.

If you're interested and would like help getting control of your RSS feed and your subscribers back, please tweet me @phollows or contact us via support at feedblitz dot com. We're happy to hear from you and will help as best we can, client or no.

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The ONE THING to do to Get Your RSS Right

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RSS. It's an essential technology underpinning much of the modern web's content, social or otherwise. But, like email subscriptions, it's often poorly implemented. Worse, decisions can be made "because everybody else does it this way" that can really mess things up for you later as your blog grows.

And it boils down, in many ways, to just one thing.

So here it is:

Have your feed on your own domain.

In other words, if your web site is on example.com, then your feed should be something like: example.com/feed or feeds.example.com/example or example.com/posts/default/feed or whatever. The point being, as far as any aggregator or end user is concerned, it should be hosted on YOUR domain, example.com, not SomeFeedService.com

Note that this doesn't mean your feed should be SERVED from your domain. You can easily use third party services like FeedBurner or FeedBlitz to serve your feed (and gather metrics about its readership) using a variety of different and (usually) easy to implement things called redirects. This means the feed is hosted on your domain (i.e. its web URL is on example.com), but delivered by your feed service. How? Well, there are plugins for wordpress, .htaccess files for Apache servers, fields on Blogger, CNAME DNS switches for this, depending on how you're set up. And, as a feed service vendor, I think you SHOULD use a third party service for this job because it's the only way to determine subscriber counts and reach.

But I'm not talking about RSS serving here. I'm talking about the URL your feed is found at.

Assuming you own your own domain and have a hosting package (and, if not, for crying out loud spring the $5 / month for a hosting service and get a deal on annual domain pricing, otherwise all you're doing is helping wordpress.com's or blogger.com's SEO and not your own) ...

... where was I? Oh yes, assuming you have your own domain, you need to have your feed URL on your domain too.


Because then you control and own it, that's why. It generates SEO goodness for you (since it is the canonical source), that's why. It enables you to serve your feed yourself, or use a third party service, or switch back and forth without losing subscribers, that's why.

And if you don't? Let's say your feed is exclusively hosted at SomeFeedService.com, and that is the URL that all your RSS subscribers have in their RSS readers. You decide later that SomeFeedService.com isn't cutting the mustard any more, and you want to move your feed. Some feed services have tools to enable permanent redirects, but others don't.

Without a permanent redirect option, guess what happens if you switch, which means changing feed URLs? All your RSS subscribers have to resubscribe. All of them.

That stinks. You're caught between a rock and a hard place. Stay - trapped - with a service you don't like any more, or lose a portion - possibly significant - of your subscriber base in any transition. Most people become stymied by the fear of losing subscribers, and end up unhappily tolerating the legacy service (the one "everyone else is using" most likely).

Avoid the feed trapSet up your feed correctly, on your own domain. Use a redirect / plugin / CNAME to have a feed stats service serve it to your subscribers and analyze its use, by all means. I recommend that! Just make sure they're subscribing to the feed on your URL, and not somebody else's.

But what if you ARE caught in this trap? What if you are stuck on a free feed service URL that is unsupported but effectively holding all your RSS readers hostage? It's another twist on "digital sharecropping" and ceding control to third party sites.

Turns out, we at FeedBlitz can help you with that. So from this important general advice to the specific, tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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See you in L.A. at BlogWorld - Video!

Monday, October 24, 2011

I'm speaking about (surprise!) email marketing - and, more importantly, how to use it to improve your ability to monetize your site - at BlogWorld next week in Los Angeles. It's going to be a fun and informative and practical session; I guarantee you'll leave it with some easy changes to up your earnings. If you're going, I hope to see you in my session at 3:45pm, Thursday, November 3rd. There's a short video here:

Video not working? Click through to my speaker page: http://www.blogworldexpo.com/2011-la/conference/speakers/phil-hollows

If you can't make it, you should know there's a virtual ticket option that lets you stream all the sessions live and, I believe, have access to the video recordings too. Tickets are still available, so find out more using the big friendly buttons front and center on my speaker page.

P.S. If you want to buy either a real or virtual ticket for the event, use the code BWEVIP20 when you purchase for 20% off the full freight price. Not too shabby, right? Right! See you there...



New Ad Campaign Launches Tomorrow for Ad-Funded Mailings

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Update October 14th - The campaign's been moved to Novemeber.

A quick heads-up to bloggers grandfathered in on our free service from before 2009 and who are not using their own graphic design template for their mailings.  We have a new ad campaign going live soon, maybe as soon as tomorrow, and for up to about 10 days thereafter.

If you're not paying FeedBlitz to deliver emails to your subscribers, and you have not changed your template (i.e. you're using the FeedBlitz default), the ads we serve in lieu of payment are going to be more intrusive than usual during this campaign. Hence this heads-up.

If you don't like these new ads (or the prospect thereof) you have three choices:
  1. Wait it out; it will be all done in about 10 days;
  2. Go to Newsletters | Settings  | Easy Email Design Editor and customize your mailings with your own logo and more, in which case the standard banner ads you're seeing now will continue to be served instead;
  3. Upgrade. All ads placed by FeedBlitz will disappear altogether. Upgrade here: https://www.feedblitz.com/f?NewsUpgrade  pricing here: http://www.feedblitz.com/f/?Newsletter/pricing - we have deals for grandfathered accounts and annual payment plans; contact support for information about what we can do for you.
Remember, this only applies to publishers on our free service who haven't customized their layouts. If you're paying FeedBlitz a monthly fee, or you have customized your mailings, this won't affect you at all.


Facebook New Design Fallout: Your Traffic?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

"What if Google went away?"

It's one of the things I like to say when I speak about the importance of email marketing and list building for bloggers. It's a deliberately attention-getting phrase, and it matters. Still, too many people ignore it, though, because, LOL, no way Google's going away, right? What could possibly go wrong?

It matters because if your traffic (and therefore your dependent downstream revenue) depends on Google, and your search engine ranking changes, or you're dropped from the index, your ability to get new traffic is slaughtered. Without a solid list, your ability to continue to monetize your site and grow your business can be crippled, overnight.

So. In a post about Facebook, why the hell am I talking about Google? To illustrate this simple point: Facebook just "went away" for many blogging businesses. The new design has dramatically reduced Facebook referrals - and subsequent revenues - for many bloggers. Sure, Facebook.com is still there; it just isn't bringing most people nearly as much traffic and business as it used to.  It's the same idea, different web site. And prior to last week, I bet nobody would have thought that Facebook would "go away" either. Silly Phil, suggesting such a thing.

Yet here we are.

If you're relying on a third party site - Facebook, Google, Etsy, whatever - and building your business on it, last week's Facebook changes shows the real risks you are running. I'm not saying don't use, sell or manage your communities on Facebook; far from it. But pay more attention to bringing your traffic from third party sites to yours - the only one you actually control - and pay MUCH more attention to keeping visitors there and turning them into subscribers. 

Remember: Google, Facebook, whatever site you're "share cropping" on, don't know you, don't care about you, and are not in business to help you. They are there to help themselves, and if your business takes the hit while they take care of their business, it is not their problem. It is yours. What are you going to do about it?

Google's never going away?

Facebook just went away for many small businesses.

Who's next?

Are you ready?

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