WTF Blog Clutter: Feed Clutter

Filed as Guides on August 4, 2008 4:58 pm

In How to Increase Your Blog Subscription Rate by 254% on Copyblogger, author Willy Franzen had a light bulb moment when he realized that by asking our readers to subscribe to our blogs, we were actually asking them for money.

A week and a half ago I had a sudden realization. Subscriptions generally cost money. Think about that for a second. It’s jarring, especially if you’ve spent the past few months or even years incessantly asking your readers to subscribe…

Are you being completely clear with your word choice? When you ask your readers to subscribe, are you asking them to do the virtual version of writing their name underneath? Or are you asking them to agree to pay you a sum of money?

This is a great example of the WTF Blog Design Clutter. The words you use to entice someone to “buy” your free service can confuse readers. By changing the words, Franzen saw a huge increase in feed and email subscriptions.

Most people still don’t know what a feed is. By asking them to subscribe, they may think you are asking them for money. However, everyone understands what email is. Given a choice, most will opt for an email subscription to your blog because the other is an unknown, if they are unfamiliar with feeds. Add the word “subscription” or “subscribe” to your subscription – you may be giving your visitors a reason to think WTF. It’s something to consider.

Are you overfeeding on the feeds in your blog’s design? Do you have a lot of feeds from outside your blog coming into your blog’s sidebar? Why? What are they there for? Do you offer a lot of feeds for your readers in a way that is helpful or overwhelming?

The issue of dealing with feeds comes in two flavors: in and out. Outgoing feeds are the ones you encourage your readers to add to their feed reader. Incoming feeds are the ones you highlight in your blog’s sidebar or other areas of your blog’s design, showcasing the work of other bloggers and websites.

Outgoing Feed Clutter

Outgoing feeds on WordPress blogs by default consist of all blog posts, all post comments, and individual post comments. You can add feeds for specific categories, tags, authors, and combinations thereof.

There are many ways of featuring outgoing feeds within your blog design. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of consistency, though some styles are becoming more standard. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • The RSS orange icon displayed in the header or top of the sidebar is the feed link. Users right click or click to add the feed to their feed reader.
  • The RSS icon is a link to a Page displaying a list of all the different types of feeds for the visitor to choose from.
  • A Subscribe or RSS icon which links via Plugin to a page that invites the visitor to subscribe using the feed reader of their choice with a drop down menu. This page is usually limited to only the full post feeds.
  • A list of all the feeds available in the blog’s sidebar, header, or footer for the visitor to click on and add to their feed reader.
  • A list of the core default feeds in the sidebar, and the categories list features a feed icon or (RSS) in the category link title to allow subscription to that specific category.

A problem with many of these feed offering design styles is that they involve multiple clicks to add the feed to the feed reader. The more clicks, the more likely visitors are to get distracted or lose interest. There are many more options, but let’s look at how people subscribe to blogs.

First, we have to assume they understand what feeds are and how to subscribe. This means you need to understand your blog’s demographics. Are they feed savvy or not? Do you need to educate them to use feeds, or just encourage them to add your feed to their feed reader? If you have to educate them, then start including tutorials, or have the link to your blog’s feed contain information on what a feed is and how it works. If you don’t have to educate them, you then have to motivate them.

To motivate people to sign up for your blog’s feed, make it prominent, right? That’s what the pros tell you. Make your blog’s feed a big billboard that shouts “Hey, look here! Choose me!”

What about people like me and you who use feeds on a daily basis? We’ve been doing this a while. What ticks us off are sites without feeds. We don’t need motivation. We expect every site to have a feed. If we see a site that has the information we want to track, we use our feed reader bookmarklets or toolbars to get that site into our feed reader. We don’t need reminding. We just need the feed. You don’t have a feed, you lose us completely.

A lot of people believe you have to “see” the feed link in order to find it. With a feed reader bookmarklet or toolbar, it finds it without any help. I use the RSS+ Atom Feed Subscribe Button Generator from Userscripts.org. I wrote about it recently, along with another fantastic Greasemonkey Script, Google Reader Preview Enhanced Greasemonkey Script (GPE), which allows you to preview a post from within Google Feed Reader and comment. The Feed Subscriber Button Generator features a row of feed icons for each of the feeds found within the web page. I can choose which feed I want and add it to Google Reader, or any feed reader you use. I don’t have to look for the feed link. It comes to me.

With huge sites with a diverse collection of content and multiple bloggers, I do prefer the feed link to take me to a Page that lists all the different content categories and authors so I can choose which feed I want. For example, on a site that covers a wide spectrum of news, I might only want to follow posts in the Science, Medical, International, or another specific category.

On the , you might only want to subscribe to a specific author like articles by me, Jonathan Bailey, or Chris Garrett. The easier it is to get the information you need, and only the information you need, into your feed reader, the more loyal a feed reading customer you have.

With more people understanding what feeds are, how prominently should you promote them? Again, it depends upon your readers. If they see the feed icon and think WTF, then bigger is better and let it come with an education. If they know what feeds are, why bother? Put the links in your footer or sidebar discretely and use the space for something more important.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover the incoming feed clutter which often overwhelms our own blog content.

WTF Blog Design Clutter Articles Series

Articles about Feeds and Feed Reader

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  1. By j. noronha posted on August 4, 2008 at 7:12 pm
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    This question always crossed my mind, how people may think “subscribe” involves money. Now I have one more good reason to think of some changes.

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  2. By Kenney posted on August 4, 2008 at 11:15 pm
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    That was an interesting find. I am also going to change the words…. finally I am convinced.. words do matter.

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  3. By Rob posted on August 5, 2008 at 11:38 am
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    This blog needs to practice what it preaches ;)

    No Rss icons and you’re still using the word subscribe. LOL.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the advice to change your wording from subscribe to something else, but nobody tells you what that something else should be. I’ve typically used…”Get free updates”, but I’d be interested to know what others are doing.

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  4. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on August 5, 2008 at 1:42 pm
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    @ Rob:

    Sorry, only a contributor to this blog. Not the designer. Talk to the editor/designer on that one, but I’m sure he’s watching closely to this discussion. :D

    What to change it to? There are a lot of things, but this is also very personal and specific to the blog. It could be “add this site to your feed reader”, “Include this blog in your feed reader”, “Free subscriptions”, “Alternative Access”…if your readers understand what feeds are, then the icon is enough and you need no words. If they don’t, then you need to educate them if you want them to add your feed to your feed reader or get your blog content (typically through feed services) in their email inbox.

    Many are treating their emailed feeds as newsletters, so “free email subscriptions” is no different than treating your blog as a newsletter. The content is pushed to the client via email rather than having them come visit your site directly.

    If you want to encourage them to visit directly, to log more traffic and clickthroughs for ads and such, then you need to customize your blog email versions accordingly to encourage them to visit. The same applies to those with feed reader. You don’t get the clickthroughs and direct traffic if they only read your site through their feed reader.

    So your choice of words is dependent upon your end goals and demographic needs. What words will they understand best? Or do you need to say anything?

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  5. By Matt posted on August 7, 2008 at 8:12 am
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    “Add the word “subscription” or “subscribe” to your subscription – you may be giving your visitors a reason to think WTF. It’s something to consider.”

    Yeah, and then I look directly to the right and see, “Don’t miss out: SUBSCRIBE to our blog!”

    WTF indeed. Something to consider. ;-)

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