Tracking New RSS Subscribers With Google Analytics (To Understand Them Better)

Magnifying GlassFor a website, gaining RSS subscribers requires hard work as visitors prefer to subscribe websites with fresh/quality content & expect this to be continious.

On the other hand, RSS subscribers are very valuable loyal readers which follow the website regularly.

So, for a website, it is very important to analyze "how visitors become RSS readers" like:

  • from which websites do they reach to yours
  • which page of yours is the one that gains you most subscribers, etc.

Google Analytics, besides all the simplicity it offers, has a very functional event tracking method for analyzing custom events which we will be using to track new RSS subscriptions and see how to analyzing them deeper.


Part 1 – Applying Event Tracking Code

There are currently 2 different versions of Google Analytics tracking code used:

  • The standard tracking (gaJsHost)
  • Asynchronous tracking – beta (_gaq)

The asynchronous tracking code has a major advantage over the standard version's event tracking which is: it will be able to track the clicks even if tha page is not fully loaded.

Codes for both versions will be mentioned.

Google Analytics RSS Tracking

No JavaScript frameworks version

Standard tracking

The standard Google Analytics event tracking code uses the _trackEvent method as follows

_trackEvent(category, action, opt_label, opt_value)

The code added to our RSS link will look like:

[sourcecode language=’html’][/sourcecode]

You may have realized that we have used only 2 of the variables and didn't include opt_label & opt_value as it is optional.

Asynchronous tracking

The Google Analytics asynchronous tracking code uses the _gaq.push function to call the _trackEvent method:

[sourcecode language=’html’]Subscribe To Our RSS Feed[/sourcecode]

jQuery Version

Standard tracking

Let's assume that we have added the class="rss" to our RSS links for making it easier to find the clicked items:

[sourcecode language=’js’]
jQuery(‘.rss’).click(function() {
pageTracker._trackEvent(‘rss’, ‘clicked’);

Asynchronous tracking

[sourcecode language=’js’]
jQuery(‘.rss’).click(function() {
_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘rss’, ‘clicked’]);

MooTools Version

Again, we're thinking that the class="rss" is added to our RSS links.

Standard Tracking

[sourcecode language=’js’]
$(‘.rss’).addEvent(‘click’, function(){
pageTracker._trackEvent(‘rss’, ‘clicked’);

Asynchronous tracking

[sourcecode language=’js’]
$(‘.rss’).addEvent(‘click’, function(){
_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘rss’, ‘clicked’]);


Part 2 – Analyzing Events With Google Analytics

After we placed the event tracking as defined above, Google Analytics starts to collect that data and displays is under the Content>Event Tracking" menu.

We can easily see howmany clicks our RSS links gets everyday easily. It is even possible to use the optional values of the tracking codes and track RSS subscriptions with multiple labels like: mainRSSButton, footerRSSLink, etc.

In order to findout which visitors convert to RSS subscribers, "Custom Reporting" is exactly what we need.

Google Analytics Custom Report

Let's create 2 custom reports to see:

  • which content results in more RSS subscribers
  • visitors coming from which websites become subscribers

Which content results in more RSS subscribers:

  • Click "Custom Reporting>Create new custom report".
  • Select "Content>Total Events" as the metric.
  • Select "Content>Page Title (or Page if your page titles don't define the content)" as the dimension. A good idea would be adding a 2nd dimension like "Traffic Sources>Keyword" to findout the keywords that forwarded users to the page.
  • Give the report a name by clicking "edit" at the top of the "Create new custom report" & save the report.

Visitors coming from which websites become RSS subscribers:

  • Click "Custom Reporting>Create new custom report".
  • Select "Content>Total Events" as the metric.
  • Select "Traffic Sources>Source" as the dimension. A good idea would be adding a 2nd dimension like "Content>Page Title (or Page if your page titles don't define the content)" to findout the most popular contents from that referrer that ended up in a new subscribers.
  • Give the report a name by clicking "edit" at the top of the "Create new custom report" & save the report.

Both reports are very similar but they offer you the data from different point of views.

Now, you know which type of posts convert to RSS subscribers & which websites are referring you new RSS subscribers.

And, you got the point. There are 100s of possibilities in creating reports. It is totally up to what you are in need of.

  1. Reply Pieter December 16, 2009 at 3:23 AM

    Great tutorial, thanks a lot!

  2. Reply Padfoot December 16, 2009 at 3:25 AM

    Nice Tutorial!

  3. Reply Johan de Jong December 16, 2009 at 5:50 AM

    Hmmm… nice tutorial, although it doesn’t track you RSS feed itself. It only tracks the users who clicked on the “Subscribe” link (which doesn’t make them subscribers).

    You could use FeedBurner to do this, although you should be able to do this by yourself.
    I’m doing it replacing the logo (which can be send with the RSS) with a PHP generated image which also has the analytics tracker image inside. This way you can see who is downloading your RSS feed. It can even be adjusted to see who is reading which article in the RSS by inserting a small image inside the article itself.

  4. Reply Umut M. December 16, 2009 at 6:36 AM


    You’re right that it can only track users who clicked the RSS link. Although it doesn’t result in a 100% accurate data, it is still a very valuable info.

    Your method of tracking RSS readers is very cool. Just a question which always bugs me in RSS counts: how do you analyze the uniqueness of the requests and count the number of subscribers? By grouping them via IP, requesting URLs..?

  5. Reply Abhisek December 16, 2009 at 8:04 AM

    Nice thoughts. Thanks

  6. Reply Johan de Jong December 17, 2009 at 3:46 AM


    You are right, since it’s impossible to gain extra information from users who use a offline RSS reader (like Outlook).

    Although I don’t have an RSS feed myself, nor potential readers, I’m unable to test any real statistics, but grouping by IP is basicly the only “accurate” method.

    It might be possible to create unique url’s for each user (by adding an UUID) and send it as a custom tag to Analytics, but never tested it.

  7. Reply Brian Clifton December 17, 2009 at 4:34 AM

    Johan makes a good point – what happens with your RSS feed away from your site is not tracked.

    The recent Feedburner integration has gone a long way to fix this – for further background, see my related post:

    Best regards, Brian

  8. Reply Lee Hughes June 21, 2010 at 2:10 PM

    Nice article..

    I understood some tech stuff for once haha

    Could you apply the same method for email subscribers?

    Would there be a code change?

  9. Reply Lee Hughes June 21, 2010 at 3:01 PM


    Me again.. you mentioned that you can sort out which RSS is which like mainRSSButton, footerRSSLink.. How would you do this?


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