When I launched my personal/business blog I read a post by Chris Brogan in which he urged his readers to include a stat counter on their blogs -- no matter how few the subscribers -- as that even paltry numbers might entice other readers. I, like many others, chose Feedburner as they tend to have a monopoly on the blog subscriber analytics business. Installing that chicklet was even easier than counting to five on my own.
What was there to do after that? Obsessively check my stats, of course. In the beginning I would get excited when I'd see changes:
"Yes! Five subscribers."
"Alright, I'm up to 11."
"Oops, I dropped to two? What I say?"
This went on and on, and while I am less obsessed about it, I am generally pretty content with my reasonably small yet dedicated Mediaphyter readership that generally fluctuates between 110 and 125 on any given day.
But on one very dark day in August I noticed a significant drop to 61 subscribers. I gasped. What happened? Did I upset my readers? Am I not writing enough. Here's my drop represented in chart form:
Looking at that Thursday drop was so disheartening to me. Then I did my morning jog around the Web and found that even some very popular bloggers (i.e. Brogan) were having similar issues. There was some sort of Feedburner glitch causing subscriber counts to go awry, and shouts of "I want my subscribers back!" rang through the socialsphere.
But that one glitch isn't where the problems end. It's only a piece. I soon after found a perfectly headlined blog post by Dave Fleet discussing his Technorati and Feedburner woes (side note: don't even get me started on Technorati). Fleet writes:
Whereas I used to look to my Feedburner stats with excitement (I’m a big numbers geek) to see whether my posts resonated with people (hence my subscriber count would go up), nowadays I look more with trepidation, wondering whether the stats will work each day.
Hear hear, my brother. Fleet and I aren't alone in our frustrations, either.
There are other pieces of Feedburner that could be damaging to one's social media ego as well, i.e. the "reach" analysis. Feedburner describes this:
"Subscribers is a measure of how many people are subscribed to your feed. At any given time, you can expect that a certain percentage of this subscriber base is actively engaging with your content and this “Reach” measurement provides this additional insight.
Additionally, there may be people viewing your content beyond your known subscriber base. For example, they may view your content on a feed search engine or news filter site.
Reach aggregates both of these groups, providing an accurate and useful measurement of your true audience."
Really, Feedburner? Then how come my reach is...
That's right. Three.
I have 118 subscribers on Mediaphyter as of right now. I have a reach of three people. I have an average of five to 10 comments on my posts. My built-in WordPress.com statistics show a reach far beyond that.
Some people are taking the errors into their own hands and modeling Feedburner the way they want it to work for them. There are even a number of hacks available for people who want to significantly inflate their Feedburner subscriber numbers. Either to make themselves feel better, garner more readership or attract advertisers (I'm guessing the last two are the most prevalent reasons).
All of this said I still agree with Brogan that posting a Feedburner chicklet on your blog is a great way to track how your readership is growing, when you get bursts in subscribers based on what you write, and so on. Don't take it to heart and don't let a drop in numbers discourage you from continuing to blog. Just chalk it up to a Feedburner error -- as it will very likely often be the case.