If you log into Feedburner today, you might have noticed that your Feedburner subscriber numbers were showing zero.
Not a big surprise, you might say.
Feedburner is notoriously flaky and frequently shows random subscription numbers. But we think there’s more to the story. Here’s what we know (and some of what we guess):
Geeks Love Feedburner, but Google Doesn’t.
Feedburner is great because it lets publishers (like bloggers) create one version of their RSS feed that will work on any device or platform – integrating the multiple feeds your blog might publish, such as Atom and RSS. Feedburner also lets you add funky extras to your blog post in its RSS version like share buttons, as well as providing a nifty email subscription widget that lets you easily gather email subscribers. With Feedburner, you can change your underlying blog address and feed, but keep the same RSS address – so you don’t lose subscribers if you move sites. Pretty cool!
Not everyone uses Feedburner – it’s something you have to sign up to, so if you don’t know what it is, chances are you don’t need to read any further. You may go and eat cake. Off you go…
As you may know, Google acquired Feedburner a few years back and has pretty much ignored it ever since, gradually shutting down support and features with a view to closing down the Feedburner API in October 2012 (an API is the bit of a software programme or service that third parties can plug into with their own code to create new services).
Hardly surprising – Feedburner doesn’t generate any revenue, is a bit unreliable, and Google wants to push people towards other platforms and services that are more profitable. Google might Do No Evil but it doesn’t have to continue offering free services if it chooses not to.
It Might Mean Trouble – but it Might Not
One of the challenges this situation presents publishers is that Google isn’t really talking about Feedburner, or its plans.
The service might continue to limp along unsupported. It might be shut down, but with redirects so that feeds continue to function. Or it might just be shut down completely, with no redirects. Nobody really knows. You could just sit tight and wait to see what happens – but our motto is Be Prepared (while secretly hoping that nothing much will change, obviously)
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
The worst case scenario for bloggers would be Feedburner shutting down completely and feeds being deleted, meaning your Feedburner subscribers stop receiving your blog completely.
If this happens, we suspect Google would be incredibly unpopular – if you’ve spent years building up an RSS community, to lose it overnight is not fun for anyone. And if your feed’s deleted, you’ll lose all your subscribers, and the only thing you can do is hope they come to your blog and still continue to read. It COULD happen. If it does – frankly – there’s not much you can do after the fact. So a bit of preparation would be wise.
So what we can we do?
Step 1: export your email subscribers NOW.
Feedburner lets you export the email addresses of your subscribers into a spreadsheet on your computer. If you do this, you have the option of using an alternative email service to share your blog posts in future. So you won’t lose those subscribers.
Step 2: Create a new Feed
It’s time to think about what sort of Feed will best replace your Feedburner feed. If the Feedburner debacle shows anything, it’s the downside of relying on a free, third party service that can be withdrawn at any time.
So you might want to consider Feedblitz, which does the same sort of thing as Feedburner, but in return for a monthly fee. You will only pay for email subscribers and Feedblitz looks quite affordable – for most Tots100 bloggers you’re looking at around £7 per month, tops, and there really are some cool features bundled with the service – we love the email alert, and the weekly update option for email subscribers. Unsurprisingly, Feedblitz is very keen to help people migrate from Feedburner to their service at the moment – visit the site and a pop-up offers a free migration guide. Once you’ve signed up there’s an option to drop an alert into the Feedburner feed with a link asking people to subscribe to your new service – which is handy.
If you don’t want to spend any money, then you have two options.
- Option 1 is to redirect your Feedburner URL (which looks something like feeds.feedburner.com/myblog) to a new, custom URL based on your domain (something like myblog.com/myfeed). To do this, you first need to activate something called MyBrand in Feedburner (you can find this by clicking ‘my account’ in the top right corner, then ‘my brand’ in the left sidebar) and then you’ll need to modify the CNAME record on your domain account, and enable MyBrand. Once you’re all done, subscribers visiting your Feedburner feed will be redirected to your new, custom URL. And if, in future, you do want to create a new feed, you can point your custom domain at THAT feed instead of Feedburner. This isn’t a venture for the light-hearted, but if you want to have a go, there are instructions here. (You’ll need to do this before signing up for Feedblitz, incidentally)
- Option 2 is to bite the bullet and just move to a new feed now – either based on Feedblitz, or (if you’re not planning on changing domains any time soon) your blog’s native RSS feed. Some blog themes in WordPress will come with a pre-coded widget that adds a ‘subscribe by RSS’ button to your site, but if not you will need to find your RSS address (it’s usually something like myblog.com/feed) and create a button on your site that links to the new feed address. Whether you delete or archive the old Feedburner feed really depends on your preferences – but there’s a 30 day redirect service if you DO decide to delete the feed.
Step 3: Ask your readers to move. Ask them again. Then again.
Now is the time to start planning for a move or change. Use a plug-in like Greetbox to add a box to each new post reminding readers to subscribe to your blog using a new RSS button linking to your new feed, or the address your feed now redirects to. Greetbox is a WP plug-in but there are Blogger equivalents to be found if you search online.
Write a whole new post asking people to subscribe. Write two posts. Tweet the link to your new feed. Share it on Facebook.
Do everything you can to move as many of your readers to your new feed NOW, while it’s still easy.
Over the coming weeks, there may well be lots of noise and panic about the demise of Feedburner. It’s an inconvenience, but it’s not a catastrophe. Yes, you will probably lose some subscribers, but
- In these days of Twitter, StumbleUpon, Facebook, forums and networks, RSS is less and less important as a source of audience
- The only people who definitely won’t subscribe to your new RSS feed are people who aren’t regular readers to begin with, or maybe aren’t even active on the same account any more. Meh. Forget them!
- People who value your content WILL re-subscribe.
- If Feedburner feeds stop updating, it will prompt lots of people to refresh their RSS readers, looking for new blogs and new feeds – like yours! So now’s the perfect time to have a big “Subscribe Now!” button on your blog sidebar!
feedburner and tots100 scores
The Tots100 looks at RSS subscriber numbers as part of your score – so if your RSS feed is based on Feedburner, and your subscribers disappear, so will your score for that metric. Our best advice is to move to a new feed, and place a link to that feed on your blog home page so our software picks up the new feed rather than the old, Feedburner feed. Remove any links to your Feedburner account from your blog home page.