A Twitter Survey, RSS Feeds and Jethro Bodine: How to Use All Three to Increase Subscribers

A Guest Post by Duane Lester

I wanted more subscribers.

All over the Internet, I see Feedburner chicklets with more subscribers than my blog. I wonder what exactly makes a reader pull the trigger on a subscription? So I turned to a great resource, my tweeps.

Using Tweetlater I scheduled a Twitter survey — the same question day and night. For 24 hours, I asked what it took for them to subscribe to a blog.

Here’s what they told me:

  • sarahtymeson Guess it depends on what site has & what I’m looking 4… i.e they offer training in an area & I’m looking @ getting n2 that area.
  • readmylipstick Sites s/b related to my interests, well put together, recommended by friend, no pop ups, no noise / fluff / flash, good content
  • clarky07 for me its usually not that much. an insightful article or comment about something i’m interested in will do it.
  • OmegaSpreem If they have lots of new content on a regular (more often than weekly) schedule, I’ll subscribe to their RSS feed.
  • blogdesigner useful information and a feeling that doesn’t overwhelm me with "faceless blogger" personality is a must (coupled with useful in
  • my3boybarians sense of gaining something by reading it.
  • HighPlainsBlogr RE http://is.gd/crlI : Generally links to articles, etc. I enjoy. Frequency of "match" boosts odds – name recognition w/prev posts.
  • ppmartin Theres is no "rule" before I subscribe to a website, it all "depends".
  • EndTheRoboCalls Free, remarkable, useful, save time, save money
  • lynngg For a website? All over the place. For a blog, write like Hemingway.
  • crystalclear3 If a website has a topic I am interested in with good writers, then this makes me a subscriber to their RSS feed
  • lukegoossen value… the more value I find initially, the more likely I am to subscribe… to get more "value added" content
  • rinosafari For me, mostly interesting content. Good first impression is key, or I’m usually outta there.
  • rinosafari Also, regular updates are important, though it doesn’t have to be high volume. Visual site appeal comes in at distant third.
  • Mauricio_TN 1st, I would have 2b highly interestd in the subject matter, 2nd I would have to trust the owner/author is an expert in the field
  • redbloodedgirl To subscribe: consistently good content, good writing, unique perspective, original. Not "me too" or just agreement with me.
  • meanolmeany Strictly the content, on any topic. I read about 100 sites completely a day with Google Reader.
  • sharilee To subscribe, I need to see really rich content, something that will help me be smarter. Sadly, not much that compelling out there
  • RadioPatriot I want timely accurate info in user friendly format — HATE ads & widgets that slow up the download
  • InstructorG Re: answer to survey = immediately useful information
  • JesseNewhart cutting edge content
  • GrayRinehart I take RSS from blogs >> websites. If I go to a blog > 5 times, or know the blogger, or love it at 1st sight, I feed from it.
  • Jaustin intriguing content of which there has potential to consistently be more of. Like new software downloads or new commentary
  • infidelsarecool Constant fresh content, unique and interesting headlines, first-movers of news, content including multimedia [pics,videos]
  • chasrmartin mostly, the RSS icon. I put them in "possibles" and see later if I come back to them.
  • freedomist has to be something I need or want but can’t get elsewhere or has to offer me a chance or means of helping my own cause/bus.
  • lleger If I find myself continually checking a site for new content–because I know it’s good content–then it’s time to subscribe.

In order for a reader to subscribe:

“a website must offer lots of new, consistently good content, something I can’t get elsewhere.”

Really not a blockbuster surprise. We all know that content is king. The intriguing part of the survey came from the following responses:

  • Subscribe with money? Or just fill out the form that pops up?
  • not really sure how it works, if I knew how to do it and what it did I might subscribe
  • If you mean pay for it. I don’t believe I would.
  • Do you mean like newsletters? I sub’d to 1 recently; a site w/ supplies of interest to me. So I can see what’s new. That kinda thing
  • minimal info required – email maybe, zip code yes, real name no, address no, phone number no.

These responses reminded me of two things. The first a lesson I learned in military journalism school. The second was was an article at Copyblogger.

Write for Jethro

In military journalism school, we were taught to write our news stories for Jethro Bodine. (For those who don’t know who Jethro Bodine is — he was a character on a TV show, the Beverly Hillbillies who couldn’t add past 10.) If we wrote so Jethro could understand it, we were confident anyone could.

Pay attention. I am not saying that Twitterers are as dense as Jethro. I’m agreeing with Willy Franzen.

In this article from Copyblogger on how to increase subscribers. Willy Franzen at Copyblogger asks:

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?

In other words, are you writing for Jethro?

It’s a valid question.

I checked my site. I wasn’t. I had the square orange RSS logo in the top right corner. Savvy Internet users know this symbol for the blog’s RSS subscription. Would Jethro? No. Neither did some of my readers. Some who did, didn’t know
what to do with it.

To fix this, I added

  • a question the reader may have been asking: What is RSS?
  • and linked that question to

  • a page detailing the ins and out of RSS, including a video from Creative Commons.

Now when a person has a question about RSS or subscribing in general, this will lead them to the answer. And along the top are links to all our feeds so they can start right away with us.

Two small additions that could result in an increase in RSS and e-mail subscriptions. Are you inviting readers to subscribe assuming they understand what you mean, or are you writing for Jethro, ensuring you get maximum subscriptions?

Duane Lester writes for All American Blogger. He’s a friend, an SOB, and a Navy journalist who finds the answer to what he wants to know.

Thanks, Duane.

–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz!!


  1. says

    i’d say ‘nice’ but that will be a waste of everyone’s time, so let me add:

    everyone has their own reason to subscribe, but i think the best way to ‘get’ a subscriber is to give jethro the reason.

    all the best blogs I read do that, no surprise I’m subscribed =)

  2. says

    I hadn’t thought of spelling out what RSS is… that’s a great idea. After all, it might be my 70 year old dad looking at it! (who actually has a blog, btw! but I don’t think he knows how to use RSS yet) :)

    I subscribe to blogs because I am inspired by the posts, it won’t take long to read every day, I want to get to know the author, it gives me useful info.

  3. says

    Great insight – so true – you cannot afford to “assume” anyone knows anything – especially when it comes to the web an tech – How many people do we know that have no idea what Twitter is or RSS? I know a lot of them.

    Subscribing to a blog is a signal that the user has seen something of value, as you pointed out very well – I subscribe because that is one of the ways I keep tabs on many aspects of tech, my business and things that interest me.

    Now – the kicker question would be – once subscribed – how do you get them to actually come to your site again – RSS Feed readers are aiding in traffic not getting to your blog.

    I’m probably a rarity – I do go to the site, once I see something of interest.

    Great post – and again, great value as always!

  4. says

    Ming, the idea at first was to see why people subscribe, and I agree with what you wrote.

    The point of the article is that some readers don’t understand the whole “subscribe” thing.

    Let me give you an example. I work with people who spend a lot of time on the Internet. By a lot, I mean hours a day, just surfing.

    I asked some of them one day if they understood what RSS meant. They didn’t have a clue. I asked them if they knew how to subscribe to a website. Again, they didn’t.

    There are readers that visit your blog that really like what you write, but don’;t understand the idea of subscribing to a blog. As bloggers, we need to ensure that we make it as easy as possible to get that subscription.

    Adding a page like this provides a service to your less savvy readers, one they will appreciate and return because of.

    Big thanks to Liz for publishing this post. It’s an honor to be here.

  5. says

    I like the idea of writing for Jethro, and from a web design point of view, making things so simple even Jethro would understand how to use them.

    Of course, I generally use the Mom rule. If my mom can figure it out without me giving her instructions, it’s a go!

    (Love you Mom)

  6. says

    I’ve been blogging for almost a year, thanks to “Mother Earth.” My Blogging Goals for 2009 were to looking at the blogging experience from a new “learning” perspective and set aside a specific time to visit more blogs.I found many of comments insightful and helpful! Thank you!

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