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Question of the Day: Does using an RSS/XML feed lower a weblog’s hit count?

By August 25, 2003web-tech

Increasingly, more sites are using RSS/XML feeds, which is good because I don’t have time to visit all of the sites that I like. But, even among the sites that have XML feeds, I notice that a large number of them have abridged feeds that include only a snippet of text. Sometimes the feed doesn’t have enough information to adequately convey what the post is really about. And often the links aren’t carried over in the truncated feeds.

I ask myself: why would anyone use a truncated XML feed? The only reason I can think of —other than ignorance about how to enable the full feed— is that the weblog’s author doesn’t want people to read their posts in news aggregators. But they provide an abridged feed to tantalize people who are reading in an aggregator and entice them to visit. In short, the only logical reason for not giving a full XML feed is to keep up their hit count.

But, admittedly, I’m making some assumptions here. And the major assumption is: does it count as a hit to a site when a news aggregator picks up the XML feed? I’m sure it depends on a lot of things, but I really don’t know. Personally, I don’t care much about hit counts so I’m perfectly satisfied to provide a full feed and to let people read my posts in their aggregators. But I would like to know how RSS/XML feeds affects hit-count statistics. And, more importantly, I’d like to see more sites provide full feeds.

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  • Bob says:

    Whoops… everywhere above where I’ve said CDATA know that I meant content:encoded tags….(except my explanation of what CDATA tags are for).

    I’m not sure what the problem is. And I’m certainly not sure the problem has anything to do with the RSS version. (But I won’t rule that out.)

    See for a similar, but not identical issue….

    Your best bet is to bring the problem to the attention of Typepad’s tech support. They may have heard this before….

  • Ernie says:

    So, from what you are saying Bob, this isn’t a function of the fact that my feed is an RSS 1.0 feed? I believe there is a way to make it an RSS 2.0 feed, but I haven’t gone through the hoops to fix that. But maybe there is more to this than just version 1.0 versus 2.0.

  • Bob says:

    In order to test my hypothesis above, those of you who aren’t getting the full feed, press Ernie’s xml button above, download the file, and see what tags enclose the portions you are not receiving….

  • bob says:

    It might be your cdata and description tags, Ernie. Part of your content is in description, and part in cdata. Why make the distinction if you want sites to show your whole content? Just put it all into description and see what happens…

    (Normally, CDATA is used when you have a mass of data you want escaped, while in the desacription tags you have to individually escape each element that needs escaping.) It may be that some readers are ignoring the cdata material.)

  • Marie says:

    One possible consideration in whether to provide full or partial feeds, is if the blogger wants to or is running Google AdSense ads (or similar) on their individual archive pages. If the partial feed is enticing and enough people click on the individual archive link from their newsreaders, the blogger stands to rake in some bucks. Generally, Google doesn’t permit blogs to take part in their AdSense program, despite the fact all those free blogs are running the ads. However, it’s my understanding they will consider certain topic specific type blogs, such as tech or law. Ernie, your PDF blog would definitely qualify. (I think.) Whereas my blog would not, despite the fact all the free blogs….

  • Bob says:

    Ernie, not sure how long you’ve been looking at the RSS controversies, but the original purpose of RSS feeds was to distribute headlines for display on other websites — not in desktop readers. The reason to syndicate headlines was, of course, to give potential audience members a taste of your content and draw them to your site. Just look at the RSS 0.91 spec… basically it includes 1) Title, 2) Description, and 3) Link…… It was not intended to deliver full content. More “sophisticated” specs for rdf and RSS 1.0 and 2.0, prefab blog software which automatically produces feeds, and most especially the desktop reader creators who would like to see their products replace browsers, have made a wider “market” for RSS.

    The point is, previously the hits could be counted by incoming readers to your website from other sites carrying your headlines, but as pointed out above, there’s really no way to accurately measure the readers of your RSS file….. (though you can count downloads if you’re scripted right….)

  • Leah says:

    Like Jenny, since you’ve switched to Movable Type, I only get your feeds in abridged format. I used Radio as my aggregator. Could that be the problem.

  • Dave Stratton says:

    One concern I’ve seen raised is that news aggregators could burn up excessive bandwidth, e.g., if they are set to download all the RSS feeds on a site every 10 minutes. And that could result in surcharges by the hosting service, at least for weblogs that are wildly popular. I don’t know if that is a valid concern or not, since I don’t know enough about news aggregators and how they work. Has this been an issue for you, Ernie?

  • Ernie says:

    Jenny, that’s strange that you don’t get the full feed. I subscribe to my own site in NetNewsWire and it shows up as a full feed. I’m gathering that Rick gets the full feed with whatever aggregator he’s now using. Which one are you using?

    In TypePad there is a choice to not have a feed, or to have a 40 character truncated feed, or to deliver the whole feed (which is what I opted for). I’m interested in knowing if anyone else has trouble getting the full feed. Please E-mail me or, better yet, leave a comment here describing which Computer OS you use and which aggregator you are getting the feed with. Thanks.

  • Jenny Levine says:

    Um, Ernie…

    The feed I get in my aggregator for your site is, um, abridged. I’m subscribed to – is there another one I should be using for full text? ‘Cause I so totally agree with you on this one!


  • Rick Klau says:

    Ernie – Any third party monitoring service (like SiteMeter) will only monitor pages that include the javascript code that references; consequently, unless you rewrite your RSS template in MT or TypePad (or monkey around in Radio) then you’re not going to see RSS feed “reads” reflected in your traffic stats. (Ditto for any community monitoring sites like Userland’s Radio Community Server.)

    I think including RSS feed hits is misleading, though, because aggregators read them automatically – many read at least once per hour. So even if I never read your stuff in the aggregator (which, I promise, isn’t the case), I’d show up as twelve individual page reads (or more).

    As far as your first point – truncated feeds drive me nuts. The fact that MT makes the truncated feed the default for RSS and RDF is asinine; at least with TypePad they seem to have made it simpler to include the full feed (perhaps it’s even the default?).

    Fortunately, there are numerous templates on the web to swap out your default MT RSS template with one that will render a full feed in lieu of the 40 word teaser that shows up by default.

  • Like Jenny, I only get the abridged feed for your site. I’m using Feedreader on Windows XP. I am able to get the full feed for other sites that offer it.

  • Kevin Heller says:

    Since my host uses AWstats they can keep track of the number of hits to my RDF feed which records 20x as many hits as my blog. Part of that reason is probably because I do offer the entire text of the post along with the hyperlinks. It also typically uses much less bandwidth for example 25,000 hits on the rdf feed is 6.55kb while 1,000 hits on the site utilizes 50.0kb.

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