Looking Past the Subscriber Count

This article was last updated on May 22

One thing I used to do was judge the quality of a blog by was the subscriber count. My thinking was that generally the higher the subscriber count, as reflected in the Feedburner counter or the like, the better the site. Most blogs with more than a handful of subscribers tend to display their feed count somewhere on their blog as I do (see right). Why? Firstly, it gives a sense of pride and is little bit of showing off the fact that X number of people choose to read this blog. But more importantly it is a marketing tool that basically conveys the message that if X number of people are reading my blog on a daily basis then it must be something good. Generally this is true for blogs with 3,000+ subscribers like many of the Money Blog Network members for example. However below this number things can get a bit dicey (misleading) if you use the subscriber count as the only gauge to judge the quality of a site.

From reading around there are a number of ways folks can manipulate the “Feedburner count”. They can spend hours setting up dummy emails and subscribe to their blogs feed or some even outsource this service. There are quite a few services available on-line that are basically “feed farms” which are based offshore in countries like India and China that for a certain fee can over a week sign you up for a few hundred to a few thousand “subscribers”. They have hundreds of emails and users in their databases and because labor is cheap, they have dozens of people physically signing up to your feed (and entering the verification codes).

From what I could find, costs for this service range from $0.05 to $0.10 per subscriber. They then periodically go in and refresh the feed so that Feedburner keeps thinking that these are real unique users. So quite realistically for about $100, you can add up to 2000 subscribers to your site in a matter of days. Now the folks at Feedburner/Google have complex algorithms to try and stop these feed farms (and hence some of the normal variation you may notice in your feed counter), but it has to be careful not to be too strict otherwise real subscribers won’t get through. So even if you don’t get credit for all 2000 “subscribers” you will get quite a few.

Now why would some bloggers or web administrators spend the money and time to do this? Because the RSS subscriber count is an important metric used by a number of folks to sell/justify advertising on their site, or even to sell the site itself. And lets face it, first impressions matter, so seeing a high reader count tends to keep you longer on the site because of the perceived quality discussed previously. This is akin to the “herd mentality” where greater numbers tend to attract followers to the herd. In addition, the longer you are on a site the more chance you will click on an ad. The final hope is that with all these fake subscribers, they can potentially get some real ones. Though a poor quality sight won’t retain them long, and that’s why they try and sell the site before they are found out.

Having been in the blogging gig for awhile now, my personal view is that you need to take the subscriber count with a pinch of salt. It is off course impressive to see blogs with subscriber counts in the thousands, but there are other factors to consider when deciding at first blush if this is a “quality” blog which has attracted so many subscribers. The easiest way to check this is by comparing the blog traffic (easy if a public a Sitemeter tracker is provided – see mine on the bottom right of the page as an example) or using some of the following factors:

1. How long has the blog been around. Check the archives and frequency of posting. A blog that has been around for only 3 months and has 500+ subscribers is either exceptionally good or using some not-so-above board techniques to inflate subscriber count.

2. Does the quality of writing warrant the subscriber count? Well written and interesting blogs tend to attract subscribers.

3. What other blogs link to it. A blog with a decent amount of subscribers means it has been around for a while and has fans which include other bloggers. You should see links to or mentions of the blog in question at various other sites. If not, then this should raise a red flag.

4. Based on the blog and its subject matter, a blog with a large number of subscribers (3000+) should also have a good search engine presence. Pick some general blog titles from the recent archives and copy it into a Google search. The blog should come up near the top – if not, could be a bogus blog.

5. Check the Alexa rating and Technorati rating. Generally the lower the rating the better the blog. For example, Trent from the Simple dollar has over 38,000 subscribers and his Alexa rating is 85,000 (very good).

6. Comments. A blog’s comments count is generally correlated with the number of subscribers. I have yet to see a legitimate blog with 1000+ subscribers not receive multiple comments per post.

There are other factors too, but I found that the above are good indicators of a sites quality as opposed to just looking at the subscriber count. Given this though, I do think it is a great goal to grow your legitimate subcribers and my target is 300 by year end. What your thoughts on using the subscriber count as a reliable way to judge the quality of a blog? Does the greater number of subscribers have a direct correlation with the quality of the blog and would make you subscribe?

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Appearances this week

Thanks to the Personal Financier for hosting the Carnival of Personal Finance and featuring my article Ten Car Buying Tips to Getting a Great Deal. I also wrote a guest post at the tax guy’s blog titled Should I do my own taxes.

From the Finance Blog Network, Curt completes his series on business in the post Businesses I’ve Tried and What I’ve Learned – Part 5: Infopreneur. Kyle has an interesting analysis on the market events this week at Yesterday Was a Four Standard Deviation Event.

Tough Money Love brings us a sobering look at The Two Personal Finance Lessons We Should Learn from the Demise of U.S. Investment Banks. The smarter wallet brings us some good tips when Planning To Buy A Car? Car Buying Tips For The Used Car Shopper. Finally, Moolanomy writes a in depth piece on The Four Corners of Wealth Management in an Economic Crisis (GP)

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