Is anybody reading this? Tweak WordPress RSS settings to get better traffic data. [Part 1 of 2]

This is part one of a two-part series on improving WordPress blog traffic statistics.

If you blog for any reason beyond self-reflection (i.e., talking to yourself), you’re probably interested in how many readers you get. You may be a professional blogger looking to gather data to garner sponsors or advertisers or you may blog on a social enterprise platform and are looking to “demonstrate an ROI” for your blogging efforts (these are the folks I work with). Either way, one simple tweak of the WordPress subscription (RSS) settings can dramatically improve your website traffic statistics.

“No one reads my blog.”

“How do you know?”

“Because no one ever leaves a comment.”

I frequently encounter blog authors on our social enterprise platform who think that the number of comments accurately reflects how well their blog is doing. However, only a small percentage of blog readers actually comment; most just consume the content and move on. So how do you know how many people are actually reading your posts and what they find valuable?

Website traffic can be a deep and mysterious territory for the uninitiated, but there are many excellent plugins for WordPress that take the guesswork (and legwork) out of the equation. However, one confounding factor might be getting in the way of accurate website traffic data collection: RSS subscriptions.

RSS feeds are a problem because while subscribing to a site is incredibly useful for users, it poses a challenge for blog owners who want (or, in our case, need) to demonstrate impact via readership numbers. Just because a specific post has been downloaded by an RSS reader doesn’t mean it’s been read. This issue came up recently with a recent work assignment to look into site metrics for a multiuser WordPress installation we use as part of our social enterprise platform.

We have basically two options: count the RSS traffic or ignore it. The first option artificially inflates the traffic metrics, while the second seems to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” since at least some of the RSS subscriptions represent actual readers.

The answer to this problem came to me when I noticed a recent trend for blogs I’m subscribed to. More and more, blogs are publishing only a snippet of the post in the feed, forcing me to go out to the blog website to read the rest of the article. Even though this isn’t some sort of “pay wall” (a la, The New York Times), it bugged me since I prefer reading full posts in my RSS reader.

Upon thoughtful reflection, however, this technique solves the “RSS problem.” By forcing a user to click through to the blog post from her RSS reader, your blog can then capture the user’s hit for each specific post they choose to read.

To turn this on in WordPress, this can be as simple as changing a setting. In the admin panel, under Settings > Reading, choose the radio button for “Summary.” When you next publish a post, only the first few sentences will be sent, ending with a […] indicating that the full post contains more content. Users will then need to click on the title of the post to read the full article.

If you want to create a more professional RSS feed, however, you can go one step further. The post editing page in WordPress contain a oft-neglected field called “Excerpt” whose sole purpose is to create a customized summary for the RSS feed.

I have gotten into the habit of taking the opening paragraph of my blog, tweaking it to form a summary of the post, then adding a custom “Read more” link at the end using traditional HTML link tags (see below for details).

In case you’re wondering where to get the post’s link before you publish, WordPress is thoughtful enough to provide this directly under the post title in editing mode.

What other tricks have you come up with for accurately measuring your WordPress site traffic? If you find this tip helpful, let me know in the comments!

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Is anybody reading this? Tweak your WordPress home page to get better traffic data. [Part 2 of 2] | mrmerlot.com
  2. Michele · September 29, 2010

    Adam,

    This was a very helpful post. I changed the RSS setting to “Summary” as you described above. (Not sure if that will help. My blog seems a bit “backwater” right now.) 🙂

    I may take a look at the methods you suggest in part 2 of this series. I can “retrofit” my relatively few blog posts to include a Summary.

    Michele

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s