I received an e-mail this week telling me that a new service has launched that enables you to buy feed subscribers to increase your RSS count.
The e-mail was received by a number of other bloggers and what has gained the most attention in the blogosphere so far is the fact that the owner of the site stupidly decided to fill in the ‘From’ field as “John Chow” and is using testimonials from other bloggers without their permission.
What the owner did was obviously quite stupid but debates about his credibility seem secondary to the fact that a service is being offered that actually enables you to increase your feed count.
RSS is the new PageRank
With Google making efforts to render PageRank worthless (and it will be in the future..but not just yet) and the fact they have taken over Feedburner, it’s pretty obvious that the number of RSS subscribers that a site has is slowly going to work it’s way into the search algorithms.
I doubt that it will have a heavy weighting, but when Google released their Blogsearch patent, the number of feed readers was definitely shown to be an emerging factor in their rankings. Whether it will also form a part of the general algorithm remains to be seen.
Regardless, there is definitely a shift in the amount of advertisers viewing RSS subscribers as a measure of a site’s value and it is no surprise that someone has come up with the idea of a paid service that increases your feed count.
Disregarding stupid promotional tactics, the service is filling a need that most bloggers looking to make money online have - to increase their feed count.
How it is done
It’s pure speculation, but I have to assume that the service is merely offering to sign-up to your feed under a bunch of different e-mail addresses.
The Feedburner chicklet only counts subscribers who view through a Reader when the feed is actually accessed but e-mail subscribers are counted whenever an e-mail is sent (regardless of whether it is read or not), so the only way to realistically “fake it” would be through fake e-mail subscribers.
I doubt that it would be very hard to do theoretically, but with Google controlling Feedburner I’m pretty sure that there will eventually (if not now) be checks in place to prevent this type of feed fraud.
And it is fraud
Paying to increase your feed count crosses a very fine line where being unethical and not afraid of a few “black hat” techniques suddenly becomes being fraudulent and illegal.
And that’s a line that nobody should cross.
If you’re selling any form of paid review or sponsored post, most advertisers will consider your feed count when purchasing and if they subsequently purchase a review based on that count, you’ve broken the law in almost every country.
If you get caught, chances are that you’ll have every advertiser on your site hunting you down for refunds. And an advertiser who wants a refund is someone who can completely destroy your future earnings!
Furthermore, if someone actually buys your site based upon your subscriber numbers, you’re entering a whole new world of illegality with very serious consequences.
As the admittedly evil John Chow says, “you don’t always have to tell the truth, but you can’t lie“.
You can’t fake it anyway
Essentially, faking RSS subscribers isn’t a new phenomenon and it’s something that has actually already been happening for quite some time through various methods.
Not surprisingly though, it’s incredibly easy to spot. You wouldn’t believe the amount of sites that I’ve seen with 200+ subscribers that don’t have a single comment in the posts.
When you have 200+ subscribers - you get comments - and fake e-mail addresses don’t leave comments. You can spot the fakers a mile away which makes the whole faking exercise quite pointless.
Expect more of this junk
Forums are filled with people who will happily pay to work towards having their PageRank increased and as less value is placed on PR, the value will most likely shift to RSS subscribers and that means that people will start offering a service to increase it.
It’s unavoidable - every offline business has a blackmarket equivalent and when RSS subscribers become a part of a blog’s business, a blackmarket will rise.
Fortunately, those who work to gather real real readers will always make more than those with fake readers. Fake subscribers don’t buy products, don’t sign-up to services and don’t buy advertising.
You’d probably get more real RSS readers by spending your money on well placed advertising rather than this service.
And real RSS readers are some of the coolest people that I know. Click here to become one.