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Spying on the competition with Google Reader

If you’ve got a blog then you likely provide an RSS feed for your readers and you likely track said readers through a variety of different methods, from website analytics (on page), to feedburner – or some other RSS platform’s – metrics (process), to mentions, tweets, etc (off page). And you know that you should pay attention to your own metrics, compare only to yourself, improve based on past results. You know that you shouldn’t be worried about the metrics of other peoples sites.

But, gosh darn it, that’s just no fun.

John showed me this one the other day:

Google Reader has a neat little metrics feature built right into it (and has had it since 2008, colour me surprised). Subscribe to some one’s RSS feed, open it in Google Reader, then in the right hand corner hit “show details”. This gives some basic stats on the feed, such as the time of day that most items are posted, posting rate of the last 30 days, and days of the week that most items are posted. Further, it tells you the number of subscribers to the feed:

Now you can go compare your blog to your competitors right?

Well, as is often the case with metrics, the answer is: kinda… First off, it really only counts subscribers to Google Reader and iGoogle, so it’s not counting Joe Techjob down the street with his iPhone watching your blog through an RSS reader, or the kazillion people over at netvibes who keep inflating our feed numbers. It’s also somewhat finicky, sometimes reporting different numbers depending on what login you use. Finally, I’ve compared the numbers in it to Feedburner and quite simply I have no idea how they’re coming up with them. On Friday Feedburner registered our Reader/iGoogle subscribers 40% higher than Google Reader did. On Wednesday, 90% less. The numbers just don’t match.

So yeah, you might be able to look at, say, Avinash Kaushiks blog and know that he has a lot more subscribers than you, but there’s no telling if those numbers are at all accurate. Still, for the competitive it does let you measure up against other sites, which – while not too useful in the long run – may give you a nice ego boost.

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