Will Google’s FeedBurner Scorch Organic SEO?

Last Friday, Google announced it was acquiring FeedBurner for an undisclosed sum, rumored to be approximately $100 million. Just before that announcement, Google’s acquisition-in-progress of FeedBurner had generated some speculation among SEO professionals.

I’d like to discuss the possible implications of Google’s latest acquisition, acknowledging that we can’t predict all the ways in which Google will utilize the popular RSS feed management company.

We expect Google to take advantage of FeedBurner’s analytics and advertising capabilities. People using Google Analytics can look forward to the likely merger of FeedBurner’s RSS feed analytics and Google Analytics. This would centralize all Web site performance analytics into one convenient interface. This would add the extra benefit of knowing which pages and information your subscribers are more likely to visit, should you wish to cater to those who have taken the time to subscribe.

As exciting as that centralized dashboard would be, the more interesting story lies in speculating how Google will incorporate FeedBurner statistics into its organic search ranking algorithm.

Google Ranking Factors

Some industry commentators have been wondering what will happen if the all-important inbound link will be replaced by RSS feed subscription count as the most influential ranking factor. I want to respond to this concern and address a few reasons why subscription count is unlikely to overrule the power of the link.

Links are often traded and purchased by professionals hoping to increase their search engine rankings. This obviously doesn’t go over well with Google, which considers links as the most powerful evidence of popularity, authority, and relevance. If Google had its way, webmasters everywhere would be reporting each other to the paid link police.

This is likely the reason why anyone would worry that Google might someday remove the importance of links in the Google algorithm. But links are too valuable, and RSS feed subscriptions, though similar to the inbound link, lacks universality. Let’s look at the reasons why our Google search results aren’t likely to be hampered by feed subscription counts.

  1. Backlash Possibility – Should Google decide to incorporate RSS feed subscription count to the algorithm, there would be the inevitable backlash. Buying and selling feed subscriptions would suddenly generate millions in revenue for those attempting to secure a high ranking. The RSS subscription count would become worthless overnight. While there would still be people legitimately subscribing to feeds, the inflation would be so extreme as to ensure that search results are completely unreliable.
  2. FeedBurner Supremacy – The second problem is one of FeedBurner supremacy. While FeedBurner may indeed be the most popular feed reporting service, many sites use Pheedo, or they rely upon a simple RSS system based on a WordPress or other blog software theme. I can currently subscribe to most RSS feeds using my Firefox browser. Even if a site uses FeedBurner, I don’t have to click on the FeedBurner button to subscribe, which means that the FeedBurner counter is inaccurate. With this in mind, Google would be penalizing every site that uses Pheedo or simple RSS systems.
  3. Static Web Sites – The third problem with relying on subscription numbers for authority is the simple truth that there are thousands of static Web sites that do not offer a single RSS feed. Too many static sites exist with no blog, no press release section, and no regularly added content. While we obviously don’t recommend static Web sites to most clients, their continued existence is inevitable. Some of the oldest sites on the Web with 11 or 12 years under their belts have no RSS feed.

While Google Blog Search results may be affected by the RSS feed count, the standard Google search won’t be able to take subscription counts into consideration unless Google decided its priceless reputation was suddenly unimportant.

No, we can continue to expect the value of the inbound link to remain. The SEO speculators will have to find another conspiracy to adopt. Google isn’t going to do anything radical to damage its popularity or preeminence in the realm of search.

About the author

Mark Jackson is President and CEO of Vizion Interactive, a search engine optimization company. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000. His journey began with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL/Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front (learning that working for a "large company" does not guarantee you a position, no matter your job performance), Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.

Vizion Interactive was founded on the premise that honesty, integrity, and transparency forge the pillars that strong partnerships should be based upon. Vizion Interactive is a full service interactive marketing agency, specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing/PPC management, SEO friendly Web design/development, social media marketing, and other leading edge interactive marketing services, including being one of the first 50 beta testers of Google TV.

Mark is a board member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM) and a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) and is a regular speaker at the SES and Pubcon conferences.

Mark received a BA in Journalism/Advertising from The University of Texas at Arlington in 1993 and spent several years in traditional marketing (radio, television, and print) prior to venturing into all things "Web."

Read more of Mark Jackson's columns at ClickZ.