What Causes Subscribers to Read Your Blog’s Feed?

By Steven Snell

As you’re flipping through your feed reader, reading some feeds and skipping others, have you ever stopped to think about what influences your decision on which feeds are worthy of your attention? More importantly, have you ever thought about what makes your feed appealing enough to your subscribers that it actually gets read?

Most of us subscribe to more blog feeds than we will ever read in a single day. The decision to read, scan, or skip is determined in an instant. To have an effective blog you’ll need to address the issues that will cause your subscribers to read, or at least scan, your feed before moving on to the next one.

I looked at my own habits as an RSS subscriber and I found these factors:

1. Title

The post title is important for a number of reasons. You probably read a lot about the post title affecting your search engine rankings and your success with social media, but it is equally important for helping to get your feed read by more of your subscribers. Compelling and captivating titles will generate interest and intrigue while boring titles will lead to less interest. Other common methods include using questions and numbers in the title.

2. Timing

Timing can impact the readership of your feed in a few different ways. Many subscribers will not check their RSS reader over the weekends and as a result their feed reader will be overflowing on Monday morning. In this case, feeds are unlikely to actually be read. Knowing specific times that are likely to be good or bad for your readers and timing your posts according can be a big help.

Other aspects of timing will influence the reader’s decision but will be out of your control. Your post may come right after a vacation or at another time that is bad for a subscriber. On the other hand, the timing could be perfect if you address an issue in your post that the subscriber has been interested in recently. In this case, of course, your post is very likely to be read.

3. Pictures

Some bloggers use pictures and images very effectively in their posts and feeds. While pictures help on the actual page of your blog, they can sometimes have an even bigger impact within the RSS feed, which is typically pretty bland. Pictures are one of the best ways to help your feed quickly stand out from the others.

4. Reputation

This is a big one. All of us have our favorite feeds that we read on a regular basis. These feeds are unlikely to get skipped over. Likewise, most of us have feeds that we hardly ever read. We’re basically in the habit of skipping over these feeds, so it’s unlikely that they’ll be read. We all need to be striving to build a reputation that makes our feed one that subscribers look for and read every time.

5. Recommendations

Have you ever subscribed to a blog that was recommended to you by a friend or by another blogger that you trust? In these situations we tend to value the recommendation, which influences the reputation that the other blogger has in our mind. Although we have no personal experience or reason to appreciate this feed, we take the word of someone else. Successful bloggers benefit from recommendations all the time. Make your blog worth recommending and your feeds will be read by more people.

6. Topic

So maybe a particular blog post’s title isn’t especially attention-grabbing, but it gives you enough information to see that the post is on a topic that is of particular interest to you. Chances are, you’ll read. As a blogger you can benefit by knowing what topics pique the interest of your readers and writing accordingly.

7. Consistency

If your blog posts come in a regular and predictable pattern, readers will grow to expect and anticipate your posts. Daily Blog Tips is a great example of this. I know that Daniel is going to post something every day, and when I go to my feed reader I’m looking for it. Because of this there is a much better chance that I’ll read the post. While you don’t necessarily need to publish a post every day, some type of consistency can help.

8. Frequency

In some cases frequency can cause posts to be ignored. Although many of the top blogs post numerous times each day, many subscribers don’t have time to read that many posts. Each post individually is not that likely to be read by most subscribers. This works ok for news services like TechCrunch, but if you’re publishing the type of content that you want to be read by a majority of subscribers, don’t flood their RSS readers with too many new posts.

9. Full Posts or Excerpts?

Just about everyone has an opinion of whether you should publish full posts or excerpts in your feeds. I strongly prefer full posts because that’s what readers tend to want. Personally, I hardly read any feeds in my feed reader that use partial posts. The point of using a feed reader is to save time and increase convenience. Partial posts in feeds do neither. If you publish full posts in your feed you are more likely to be read.

10. Readability

The formatting of your posts can impact how many subscribers pay attention to your feed. Most readers want to be able to scan feeds and then read those that really interest them. You can accommodate them by using white space, bold text, lists, headers and sub-headers, etc.

11. Curiosity

Some bloggers are very effective at creating curiosity with their post titles and introductory paragraphs. The human nature of readers is to keep reading to satisfy there curiosity.

12. Colors

While most RSS feeds are black and white, there are some options for sprucing up your feed by adding some color. We already mentioned that pictures can help to get your feed read by more people, and one of the reasons is because of the color that pictures can add. Another option is to use color in the text. The latest version of WordPress gives users the option to add colored text very easily, which I think may prove to be a valuable addition.

13. Their Own Interests

You may be able to increase the readership of your blog by catering to the desires of your subscribers. For example, contests have become increasingly popular recently. One of the reasons that contests are effective is that they get your readers involved and lead them to read your posts. In this case they are partially motivated by a potential prize to read, but they are still reading. Another example is removing the nofollow tags from links in your blog’s comments. Readers who are interested in getting real links to their own blog may be more likely to read your posts and comment since they have something added to gain.

These are just some examples that I find to be influential. What other factors cause you to read a post or skip over it? And how do you address this in your own feeds?




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45 Responses to “What Causes Subscribers to Read Your Blog’s Feed?”

  • Caroline Middlebrook

    You can also help a particular post (or series) to get read by generating a little anticipation in advance. I’d been working on a Twitter guide for weeks before I eventually published it but I’d mention it now and then on the blog and other places so readers were on the lookout for it. Once it arrived, they clicked.

  • Daniel

    Good point Caroline, building anticipations in a nice technique indeed.

  • bmunch

    Oh, you stop at unlucky tip number 13.

    Let me add one more.

    An opening paragraph which summarize the key points of the whole article, while building anticipation for the rest of the article.

    Because there is too much feeds to read, sometimes I just need to scan through my feeds. If the opening paragraph interest me, then I will read on or even clickthrough to read the article onsite.

  • Codrut Turcanu

    Yes, Caroline. That’s why I recommended on your blog to make that article in 3 parts, remember?

    hint – it reduces info-overload 🙂

    In my marketing tests asking a question in the title, headline
    or your subject line is one, if not the best way to boost your
    response rate.

  • George

    Captivating titles is the most successful method I use. It is also what draws me into clicking on a post (like this one).

    Nice post Daniel.

  • knupNET

    TIMING! Thats a big one. Think about when you read feeds and try to write when your users will read!

  • Stephan Miller

    Thanks for the tips. I am slowing going through my blog piece by piece trying to make each part better than before. I will be back when I get to feeds.

  • Advice Network

    Full versus partial is a major deal for me. I have stopped reading Guy Kawasaki because he recently went from full to partial. And I’m reading SEO book a lot more ever since they went from partial to full.

    My blog needs photos. That is the next thing I need to get to.

  • Sheila @ GoVisitHawaii

    I’d just like to echo that your points on full vs. partial feed and post frequency can make or break me as a subscriber. I prefer full feeds. It would be interesting to run a poll to find the optimal frequency of post. For me, I’d say three posts or less per day.

  • Daniel

    I am also all for full feeds. Currently I do not subscribe to a single partial feed, in fact.

  • Antique Mommy

    I agree with the people who prefer full feeds but I understand that with full feeds that sites like Bitacle can scrape your content – so I felt like I was forced to go to partial when I didn’t really want to.

    Also bloggers who are running ads need the page hit to get the ad revenue, so the partial feed forces the reader to click over to the site. I don’t run ads, but I certainly understand why those who choose to do so.

  • Steven

    Antique Mommy,
    I don’t think it’s safe to assume that partial feeds leads to more visits on the page. I haven’t done research on this myself. but I’ve read other places that surprisingly full feeds have just as high or higher click through rates. I think most people, like me, tend to ignore partial feeds altogether.

  • costa

    Good points that I will definitely take note on my on going quest to increase subscribers to my blog. Thanks!

  • Patricia Müller

    I agree with Steven on full vs. partial feeds. I can only speak for myself, but partial feeds discourage me to even start reading (I don’t think I subscribe to a single partial feed myself), never mind clicking on a post to keep reading.

    What makes me click to go to the blog in most cases is:

    1. If I want to comment
    2. If it’s interesting enough that it makes me curios to read what other people are commenting

    I think it’s a myth that partial feeds force the user to go to the blog/website to finish reading. If people feel they’re being “forced”, they plain and simply feel annoyed.

    With that in mind, I suppose the best way to encourage people to go to the blog is to write compelling posts that will trigger one of the above mentioned actions – commenting themselves or reading the discussion.

    The whole point of using a feed reader is to keep everything in one place. If you need to go to the blog/website to read the full article anyway, what would you need a feed reader for in the first place? That’s why partial feeds don’t make much sense, in my opinion. Users don’t want to be “forced” to do anything.

  • Dave

    I think the key point can be the title. Make it short and snappy. Also its no use sending something out at 8:00am on Monday morning when people are swamped with stuff.

  • Mark

    Your #9 tip resonates with me. I just started using your Homepage Excepts plugin. And so far it looks like it’s going to do what I was hoping for. Could you please confirm something for me though?

    1. For the posts I’ve used the “more” tag on, it looks like that is removed by the plugin. Is that right? Just trying to decide if I should go back and edit all my posts with that tag.

    2. When using the plugin, does this still provide full posts in feeds?

    Great stuff here! Thanks!

  • Daniel

    Mark, thanks for using the plugin.

    1. The plugin is not compatible with the more tag yet. We’re working on this.

    2. It should not affect your feeds.

  • Young

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/DailyBlogTips CAN NOT BEEN CONTACTED WITH, WHAT IS THE MATTER?

  • msn chats

    Ya catchy titles helps alot.. thats what i do try to put real shockers or conterversal news 🙂

  • Jermayn Parker

    Pictures in the rss feed, sounds good. How do you do it though?

  • Daniel

    Jermayn, I guess Steve’s advice was referring to pictures used in posts that will subsequently appear in the RSS feed as well.

  • Jermayn Parker

    @Daniel – Yeah I know Steves advice BUT what I was after was how do you get the picture in the rss feed??

  • Patricia Müller

    @Jermayn: if you use a picture in a regular post, it will automatically show in the feed. In other words, you don’t have to do anything to get the picture in the feed, just use one in your blog post.

  • Joanna Young

    I’m with you on partial feeds. I only subscribe to one because it’s someone I feel I need to follow, but I only dip in to read about 10% of what she writes.

    I was a bit surprised by your comment on colour – I find colour (esp if there’s a mixture) off-putting, adding to visual clutter, and making it harder for me to read the page.

    Give me clear headings and white space any day!

    Joanna

  • Young

    Thank you for your great post, which was translated to Chinese in my blog:
    http://www.essentialblog.cn/what-causes-subscribers-to-read-your-blogs-feed/

  • Reverse Funnel System Blog

    I think that headlines of your pots are very impotant to attract more clicks from your subscribers.

  • Michael Aulia

    Do you guys think a blog that doesn’t fall into a particular niche will get subscribers? (mine is only 3-5 subscribers at the moment even though I got hits around 50-100 a day)

  • Cremation Guy

    Some great advice, I am going to apply this to my current feed, and try get people revisiting our feed.

    Also I love the top forums page – help me out a bunch when I was starting

  • Proinvestorsblog

    Great article – Going to revise my feed to draw people to read my feeds.

    Thanks

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