Google unveiled a new Subscriber Stats
section in their Google Webmaster tools last week. The new statistics provide site owners with figures on how many people are subscribed to their content feeds using Google tools.
Feeds have become an important way for website owners to push updates to internet users about new content and site changes. Feed subscribers are automatically notified of new content via their feedreader, which makes keeping track of your favorite sites much easier.
If your site publishes feeds of its content, this page will display the number of users who have subscribed to these feeds using Google products such as iGoogle, Google Reader, or Orkut. Because readers can use other sites and aggregators to subscribe to your content, your total number of subscribers from all sources may be higher.
Therein lies one of the issues with the new Subscriber Stats. The numbers provided might be only a subset of the total feed subscribers, which significantly hinders the value of the service. For people using feed services such as FeedBurner, you’re likely to get a more accurate idea of your total subscribers via their stats service.
So why is Google showing these stats when they’re not a true reflection of a feed’s subscribers? I think it’s a simple case of trying to increase the number of users for their feed aggregating services. Website owners are more likely to provide quick subscribe functionality for Google tools, when they can quickly see how many subscribers they have.
Since the launch, speculation has started that Google will use subscriber numbers to help determine its rankings. Should this speculation prove accurate, then the Subscriber Stats section will take on a far more serious role for site owners.
Subscriber numbers could prove to be a reasonable indicator of content relevance and importance, but until Google can expand the Subscriber Stats to include aggregators other than their own, I don’t think it will play a role in their ranking algorithm just yet.