A Startup Lesson – Bloglines versus Google

Over the weekend FeedBurner, the wildly popular RSS feed statistics tracking package, started showing Google Personal home page and Google Reader stats among the FeedBurner counts. (If you have no idea what kind of feeds I’m talking about, stop and read Feed 101 before going any farther.)

Many blogs that use the FeedBurner service to monitor their RSS feed subscriber statistics, saw their numbers jump. Dan Dodge, a Microsoft executive, had such an experience. TechMeme has more reports.

So now it’s time for the obligatory FeedBurner statistics show and tell.

FeedBurner RSS Subscribers

Here at Small Business Trends, the change more than tripled the reported subscribers, from 4,675 to 15,843. It turns out that those of you who read this blog regulary through a feed reader do so primarily using Google, Bloglines, NewsGator and My Yahoo, in that order. (Lest you assume Google is just big among the tech crowd, consider that Small Business Trends tends to have a business audience closer to the mainstream than many blogs. Not a lot of Firefox bookmarks, for instance. We’re all business here.)

The reason so many are writing about the new Google feed statistics (aside from the obvious ego element) is that Google’s share of the feedreader market seems to have come out of nowhere. It’s a surprise.

Just a year ago, Bloglines was the darling of RSS feedreader programs. But it did not keep up. The Bloglines interface has not changed in two years. Today it looks old fashioned. New features have been few and far between. The features that have been implemented have had little “wow” factor to them. They tend to be oddly named (like “image wall” which sounds vaguely offputting, like the digital equivalent of the Berlin Wall) or inadequately marketed.

Google, meanwhile, has managed to create product advantage with features that seem like small nuances, but which obviously have a big impact on those who use feedreaders regularly. Consider TechEvangelist who went from praising Bloglines to switching to Google Reader in the space of just four months.

Sound familiar? This is beginning to sound like the classic story of a technology startup that starts with a novel idea and fresh approach, gets a head start, but can’t sustain its momentum. Small startups = fast out of the gate and early lead. Big competitors = slower to start but gain speed and momentum halfway round the track and easily take the lead toward the finish line.

When you are a small startup, competing in a field that looks attractive to Big Players, you can’t slow the pace even for a few months. Even though Bloglines was purchased by IAC, the company that owns Ask.com, compared with Google they’re still a small player.

The lesson in startups aside, what does all this suggest for the small business blogger or website owner? What’s the take-away for you?

  • At the very least, it suggests that you should have that “Add to Google” one-click button prominent on any site with an RSS feed published on it. Make it easy for users to add your feed to their Google home page or Reader. If you need information about how to add this button to your site, visit the helpful Google Reader Publisher Guide. Here’s the Add to Google button for the Small Business Trends feed. Add to Google
  • Pay closer attention to your RSS subscribers, and use a service like FeedBurner that will give you statistics to understand subscribers better. As these recent Google developments show, the numbers are beginning to matter, even for smaller sites. Your audience and loyal following can no longer be measured just by who actually visits your site/blog. Your community may be actively following by reading your feed in a feedreader daily or once a week.
  • If you advertise in blogs or sites with RSS feeds, consider that your ad also needs to be seen by those who read feeds, not just by those who actually visit the site you advertise on. You may be missing a significant part of the site’s audience.
  • Finally, don’t be discouraged when you read about other sites with large numbers of feed subscribers. Remember, every site started out with zero subscribers and built the numbers one by one over time. Persistence is the key.

Did I miss any take-aways? If so, please leave your suggestions as a comment below.


Anita Campbell - CEO

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

4 Reactions

  1. Anita, especially since “Small Business Trends tends to have a business audience closer to the mainstream than many blogs” I’m surprised by the numbers. The average appears to be a 30-40% increase, tripling only because of Google Reader is statistically unlikely .. perhaps a glitch like the temorary spike Netvibes gave some of us?

    I agree with your comparison of Bloglines vs. Google Reader. There’s one glaring omission in Google Reader, and frankly, being the search company it’s beyond comprehension to me: there is no way to search within my feed content in Google Reader.  Only for that, I still have to go back to … Bloglines:-( 

  2. In case you were unaware, you’re included in Google Reader’s “Small-Business” RSS bundle. Naturally, a large percentage of people will subscribe to that due to its accessibility.

  3. Zoli – as TPC points out, this blog is included in Google’s default feed bundle, so the number reported by Google is legit.

    As far as searching your feed subs in Google Reader, you can do this already. Details are at the Google Operating System blog.

    –Rick Klau
    VP, Publisher Services
    312.756.0022 x2012
    AIM/Y!/Skype: RickKlau

  4. Echoing Zoli – we saw about a 30 percent jump thanks to the Google numbers being reported now. Thanks for your take on this, Anita!

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