A follow up to my thoughts about the acceptability of inserting arbitrary markup into RSS feeds to measure usage. Some RSS “readers” just display headlines (such as the Radio and Manila RSS Box), meaning that the tracking code would have to be in the title element of the RSS to measure exposure successfully.
But Mark Pilgrim’s experiment last week has awakened the authoring community to the danger of arbitrary markup in RSS, and it appears the community has quickly decided that titles aren’t for markup.
Why did we go down this thought road in the first place? So we could track page views of RSS content. Why? To get clickthroughs (total clicks divided by total pageviews, for each RSS exposure). But we can’t get clickthroughs that way.
How about this: the most effective way to measure RSS usage is to put a tracking URL in your RSS feed, one that’s distinct from the one you expose through your navigation. This should be trivial with a good content management system (which all blogging engines are), and you needn’t even make the tracking URL hop through a redirect. On the landing page you can count unique users and all that fun stuff, and if the RSS link has been posted to other pages for discussion and people click through there you’ll be able to track the spread by watching referrers.
It can’t be that bad a system—after all CNet uses it. All links in their feeds include the parameters “part=rss&tag=feed,” and some even are directed to a special host, rss.com.com (oddly, the home page for this redirects to download.com).
In short, we don’t get reach and we don’t get clickthrough rates. But we get something that can empirically measure the effectiveness of RSS against other content promotion technologies.