Understanding RSS & Stats

Squarespace offers a number of important components, but one of the most important is the journal module. The journal module is used to create a blog and offers many important features. One of the most useful and hardest to understand features is the automatic publishing of xml feeds. These feeds are also known as Atom, RDF or most commonly RSS Feeds.

As soon as a journal has been created and your users have been alerted to the feed URL, Squarespace will begin tracking subscribers for you. This number is referred to as the subscriber count. It can be located in the Admin area under Traffic > Subscribers.

To fully grasp the concept of the subscriber count, you need to understand something about web feeds. They are an anonymized piece of technology and therefore are not easily trackable. People don't subscribe to a feed in the same way that they subscribe to an email list, so the only record that is present of feed subscribers is the list of which IP addresses downloaded the feed. A further complication is that feed readers may check for content multiple times a day, showing that reader as a multiple-occasion visitor. This is remedied by only counting unique IP addresses, but unfortunately as a result subscriber counts are not known absolutely accurately until the day is over.

Feed aggregators like Bloglines, NewsGator and GoogleReader give additional information to help Squarespace in providing an accurate subscription count. These aggregators download feeds for multiple users, so when a feed is grabbed by an aggregator from Squarespace, they report the number of subscribers that they have for that particular feed.

Squarespace is able to take the number of people reported by Bloglines and add that to the subscriber count. Unfortunately, not all aggregators provide this information and thus Squarespace must count them as only one subscriber.

The subscriber count is reported on a daily basis, which is common. It combines the aggregator numbers and unique feed downloads from the day and that is the daily count. If the subscriber stats are viewed in weekly mode, then the average number of subscribers per day is calculated, not the sum of views for the week. The monthly view functions in the same way, as a daily average for the month rather than a lump sum.

Now that we understand the basics of the subscription count, let's address the most frequently asked questions about subscriber stats:

  1. What is the total number of subscribers?
  2. Why have my subscriptions increased/decreased?

Unfortunately, the first question is not a very good question to ask. Due to subscribers being anonymous, we are unable to truly check how many people are subscribed on a daily basis. The number changes frequently, which is why it's called a daily subscriber count rather than a total. This shows the answer to the second question. The subscriber number is not a true subscription count each day because if, for example, a reader doesn't open their RSS reader that day then they won't be counted as a subscription and the count will decrease. This is important around big holidays, because most readers will take a break from their RSS subscriptions and your count will naturally drop. This is normal, and it's important to keep this in mind when viewing daily count fluctuations.

In the grand scheme of things, if you're checking your subscriber count every day, you should relax. The count is merely an estimate, and due to fluctuations it's better to track long term averages. This provides a more accurate view of the readership of the blog. Don't worry about the daily subscription counts, especially in the beginning of the blog, and instead utilize that time for producing quality content for the blog.