XKCD nerd sniping

The problem with RSS (aside from only being used by nerds) is that it is almost untrackable.

Sure there’s Feedburner and Google Analytics can tell you how many people came to  your blog specifically through clickthroughs. But when you’ve got the whole post right there in your reader, why would you ever want to clickthrough to the actual website?

You wouldn’t.

Feedburner tells me there are 925 people subscribed to my blog. Hooray!

Do they ever read a post? No idea.

Well, about 400 a month do clickthrough to the website … but who cares about that. I’m not an advertiser, all I want are readers!

On Tuesday I nerdsniped myself and spent the whole day trying to figure out how to do this – long story short, I didn’t find a single way. But I tried several things:

__utm.gif

If you didn’t know, Google Analytics uses a so called tracking pixelthat a javascript snippet injects into a site so it can then be downloaded by the browser. Because the gif is dynamically served by a server and there are a bunch of parameters in the request – they know who you are, what the site was, and voila – tracking!

Wikibooks-javascript

Wikibooks-javascript (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Add it to the feed with the right parameters and voila. You suddenly know how many people read your RSS feed! Hooray \o/

Well … no. Apparently Google Analytics ignore such requests. The referrer is probably wrong since it isn’t your domain, just some sort of reader url or something.

Javascript

Maybe the parameters I added to the __utm.gif request weren’t dynamic enough. The cookie stuff was certainly missing …

Okay, let’s use Google’s own javacript snippet. Surely that will work! I mean, what could possibly go wrong, a reader loads your article as html anyway, so javascript should definitely work. And I’m fairly sure I’ve seen javascript in certain feeds … how else would those ads get in there?

Nope.

Readers scrape away all traces of javascript, probably worried about hacking and silly stuff.

Iframes

Right, iframes then! Everything should work perfectly – the tracking pixel is inserted with javascript, the iframe actually loads your website so surely all the other parameters are correct as well.

Better yet, Slashdot‘s got an iframe in their feed and that works! Youtube embeds and others are also a combination of iframes and javascript. Surely we’re on to a winner here.

I even went so far as to make a special iframe-only look for my blog:

That’s right, add a ?track_page=1 to a URL and you get a bunch of sharing widgets and google analytics. Let’s make the iframe useful why not …

Didn’t work. Readers allow iframes on a per-case basis and apparently I’m not cool enough for them.

Well, poo

I’m very open to ideas for things to try here … all I want is to look at google analytics and have people reading the RSS counted amonst the normal reader population.

Sure, Feedburner does have some sort of hack to look at “reach”, but it bugs me that I have no idea what that actually means. And that it’s not included where I normally look for stats.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Learned something new? Want to become a better engineer? 💌

Join 9,400+ people just like you already improving their skills.

Here's how it works 👇

Leave your email and I'll send you an Interactive Modern JavaScript Cheatsheet 📖 right away. After that you'll get a thoughtfully written email every week about React, JavaScript,  and lessons learned in my 20 years of writing code for companies ranging from tiny startups to Fortune5 behemoths.



Man, I love your way of writing these newsletters. Often very relatable and funny perspectives about the mundane struggles of a dev. Lightens up my day. ~ Kostas

PS: You should also follow me on twitter 👉 here.
It's where I go to shoot the shit about programming.