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Tracking and Measuring RSS Feeds
 by: S. Housley

Measuring and tracking RSS while a fairly simple concept, is really anything but. Unlike websites, RSS have the added caveat of potential syndication, making accurate tracking a challenge to anyone but the extremely tech savvy.

It is not unrealistic for marketers to want to know how many subscribers they have, which items in their feeds attract the most interest, or how many click-throughs are generated as a result of an RSS feed.

There are a number of 3rd party providers who focus on tracking the consumption of RSS feeds. Some solutions are rudimentary but likely sufficient for a small business testing the waters with RSS. Other RSS tracking solutions are more complex and while they can come close to being accurate, with syndication there is no solution that tracks with 100% accuracy.

Techniques Used to track RSS Consumption

Small businesses can view web logs to provide information on how many times a specific file (RSS feed) is requested. The logs and information is rudimentary but will give a basic sense of a feeds success. Many 3rd party tracking options have additional tracking information available.

Hosting

The most common method to track the number of feed accesses or individuals accessing a feed is to use a 3rd party feed host. Companies like FeedBurner essentially track feeds based on accesses. The downside to using a 3rd party like Feedburner, is that the url is a FeedBurner url and any PageRank or popularity associated with the url will benefit the feed host rather than the feed creator. Additionally, no distinction is made between unique views or syndicate feeds.

FeedBurner provides a free no frills service to host RSS feeds and they have been proactive in circumventing user concerns. Recently implementing a service that eases users concerns about migrating from FeedBurner. There is a 3 step process for users interested in migrating from FeedBurner's free service, implementing a permanent redirect, and url forwarding.

Details can be found at: http://www.burningdoorc.om/feedburner/archives/001251.html

Some publishers, who were concerned about lock-in or wanted to retain control of the domain and feed urls often resist a hosting service. The new program FeedBurner Partner Pro is not free, but allows for users to point to their own domain, retaining complete control of their feeds without sacrificing statistical tracking.

The downside to using a service like FeedBurner is that some filtering applications used on corporate proxy servers block feeds residing on FeedBurner or other free hosts.

Redirects

Companies like SyndicateIQ have more complex tracking solutions that generate unique urls for each subscriber. The tracking benefits to such a customized solution is obvious. Individual user habits can be monitored and any users abusing their access and inappropriately syndicating a feeds content can have their feed turned off. The downside of course is that the success of RSS is in a large part due to the anonymity. Users don't want their personal habits tracked.

Considering the venture capital interest in these 3rd party hosting services. It is important to note that their value is in the data that they collect. As with any 3rd party service, it goes without saying that publishers should read the privacy policy carefully, be aware of who owns the rights to the collected information, and how that information might be used. It goes without saying that the value in many of the free services currently available lies in their aggregate data.

Uniquely Named Transparent Images

Uniquely named transparent 1x1 graphics can be added to the description field of an RSS feed. Users can use standard web logs to see the number of times the image is viewed and determine the number of times the feed was accessed.

Companies Specializing in Tracking and RSS Metrics

Pheedo - Pheedo creates tools that enable individuals, organizations and corporations to promote, analyze, and optimize their weblogs and content.

http://www.pheedo.com

SyndicateIQ - SyndicateIQ's position in the content distribution chain provides clients a set of analytics.

http://www.syndicateiq.com/

FeedBurner - FeedBurner offers a full range of services to help you build awareness, track circulation, and implement revenue-generating programs in your feed(s).

http://www.feedburner.com

Each individual using RSS needs to make a decision of the extent and importance of the analytics they require. Realizing that any system they employ is not going to be perfect.



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