Understanding the Follow-by-Email gadget and Feedburner

The Follow-by-email gadget uses Feedburner's email-subscription service.   It's very easy to add to your blog, but there are some things that you need to think about if you are using it to deliver blog-posts to your followers by email.

The Follow-by-Email gadget is a very simple way to give your readers access to blog-updates by email: it delivers a message in their inbox every day that you post.

But to decide if it's a good thing to use, to get good value from it, and to troubleshoot any problems, you need to understand a little more about how it works.

And, since it uses Feedburner, this means understanding how Feedburner works, too.

What is Feedburner

The Follow by Email gadget uses a product called Feedburner to manage the list of people who have followed, ie subscribed to your blog. 

Feedburner was originally a tool to enhance the RSS subscriptions that website-owners delivered - see Why RSS / Subscribe to Posts is important for your blog  for info about RSS.   Very roughly speaking, every time a website publishes a new item, Feedburner adds that item to a "feed" or summary of the site, and tells all the subscribers about it, without the subscribers having to visit the website.

One option that Feedburner added was subscribe-by-email:  website owners who use Feedburner for this have to turn the service on, and then put "something" on their website that offers the service to people who want to get emailed updates.   To start with, Feedburner just kept a list of emails addresses, but now it's more sophisticated:   it checks with addresses that they really do want to be subscribed before adding them to the list, and offers an un-subscribe option with each subscription email.

Adding the follow-by-email option to your blog sets this up for you.   It:

  • Sets up a feed, 
  • Turns the email service "on", and 
  • Puts an email--address request box onto your blog.   

What is set up when you add the follow-by-email gadget

The Follow-by-email gadget can be added to your blog the same way you would add any other gadget.   Doing this this means that, you are logged in to a Google account at the time.

If that Google account already owns an entry (ie a "feed") in Feedburner for the blog you're adding the gadget to, then the gadget just uses this feed.

But if the Google account doesn't currently have an entry from the blog, then a new feed is created, and the email service is turned on for it.:
  • The Feed Title is based on the blog's name.  
  • The feed address appears to be fairly random (eg I created one for a blog called "Another test blog", and the feed name is    http://feeds.feedburner.com/blogspot/meaUW

Advantages of the Follow-by-email gadget

This gadget makes it a lot easier to offer a follow-by-email option:  you don't have to set up the feed yourself, or use a HTML-gadget to provide a subscribe-by-email form.

And because it uses Feedburner, you have full access to Feedburner's statistics, and a number of other things that are included in Feedburner's features, including:

Disadvantages of the Follow-by-email gadget

There are some disadvantages of both the gadget, and the approach that Blogger has used to implement it:
  • Google / Blogger have mixed up the words "subscribers" and "followers".  It used to be that subscribers used RSS gadgets (from Feedburner or other feed-providers), and followers used Blogger's own following-tools.   But this new gadget is called "follow-by-email", and it's possible that mixing up the ideas will make some people very confused.
  • Using the gadget, you have very little control over the look and feel of the  follow-by-email option on your blog.  

    Compare this to the "Get updates by email" option which is in the top of the sidebar on this blog:  I've put a lot of effort into getting the wording "just right" so potential subscribers know that they will be getting a please-confirm email.   This on-screen wording means that even if they don't act on the email immediately, they get another reminder about if they come back to the blog again in the future.
  • You have no control over the message that potential follow-by-emailers are shown to tell them to verify their subscription.  It looks like this

    While this message is fine for the tech-minded people who are likely subscribe to an RSS feed, it will probably bring a glazed look to those of your visitors who need a very simple subscribe-by-email option!  
  • People who subscribe to your blog by email don't see any of the widgets on your blog, or any advertisements.   (Unlike regular RSS-feed subscribers for whom you can set up AdSense for feeds).  Despite the options mentioned above, ou have very little control over how they see your messages, especially if they happen to be using email software that shows your messages in plain text.

Related Articles

Customizing the "click the link to subscribe" message
Getting a list of all your email subscribers

Why RSS / Subscribe to Posts is important for your blog

The Follow-by-Email gadget:  a very simple way to give your readers access to blog-updates by email

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