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10 Things to Consider Before Getting Started with RSS

This week's Publisher's Note is not written by me. It is written by my "go-to" person for RSS, Amanda Watlington. I strongly suggest you not only read her pointers on how to approach RSS, but also download her white paper , "The RSS Advertising Debate: Is It Just Commerce vs. Credibility?" You can download it at www.searchingforprofit.com/rssads.html. -Larry Chase

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So, you've heard the buzz about RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and think you should consider adding RSS feeds to your site. Well, join the crowd. Many marketers are just now exploring the potential of RSS. Before you don your explorer's pith helmet and gear, you need to prepare yourself for entering this new terrain. RSS is part technology and mostly marketing. It is more a challenge of marketing imagination than technical implementation. Here are ten questions that you should answer before you begin to offer feeds.

1. How often do you add new content to your site?
RSS facilitates the syndication of content from your site to readers and to other sites. If you do not regularly add new content to your site, you may not have adequate content to provide a steady flow of new information to readers who have subscribed to your feed. If your feed is infrequently updated, your subscribers will lose interest and unsubscribe. Typically, the most frequently changed areas of corporate websites are the news/press information and career/jobs section. If you post just a few news releases per year to your site or offer only generic information about careers, you may not want to offer RSS feeds until you can provide more regularly updated information.

2. How many feeds will you need to offer?
Most sites have multiple audiences. For example, reporters may be interested in your press information and not in your career or job offerings. A job seeker will subscribe eagerly to a feed on career information and may have no interest in your press information. If you are releasing a regular stream of new products or updates, you may want to consider having a separate feed for each new product. If you have multiple product lines, a separate feed for each may best serve your audiences. There are no set rules as to how many feeds you should offer. You will simply need to think about what is best from a marketing standpoint and proceed.

3. How frequently will you update your feeds?
Most feeds are updated whenever new information is made available on the website. As you plan to offer feeds, you will need to consider how often and when you make updates to your website. Are they made on a regular schedule? Is it an ad hoc effort? Since the success of your RSS effort depends on a regular flow of information, you may want to smooth this by creating a schedule that actually plans for regular updates.

4. What format or version of RSS will you use for your feeds?
Before your technical team creates your RSS feeds, you will want to decide what format or version of RSS you will use. Typically, the choices include RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0. There is a third choice: Atom. Although it has a different name, Atom performs the same basic functions as RSS. You will want to decide if your feed format must be able to support enclosures such as image and audio files. This is an important functionality that RSS 2.0 feeds provide.

5. How much will you syndicate in your feed – a headline, a teaser, or more?
Once you have determined which topics you will include in your channels, you must decide how much content you will offer subscribers. If you are a content provider, you may want to only offer headlines so that readers will need to come to your site to read the entire article. On the other hand, partial or headline-only feeds can be annoying to readers who expect or want to receive the entire article or piece of content in their RSS reader. This is another instance where RSS implementation requires the marketer's touch. You know your audience and your site's goals so you should decide how much content to provide.

6. Do you want to encourage others to syndicate your content onto their site, or is your RSS feed just a convenience for readers?
If you would like to expand your readership dramatically, consider offering a feed syndication tool that will enable other site owners to create a customized feed of your headlines for inclusion on their site. Properly constructed, these feeds will drive traffic to your site and add valuable links for search marketing.

7. Will you include advertising in your feed?
The role of advertising in RSS feeds is quite controversial, and there are cogent arguments both in favor of carrying advertising and for creating feeds that are completely advertising free. You will want to take a stance on this during the planning process.

8. How will you measure success?
RSS performance measurement is still in its infancy. The metrics are slightly different than for websites in general. There are three key metrics: circulation, readership and clickthrough rates. Circulation measures the number of subscribers that your feed has; viewership measures the number of readers who viewed your feed in their RSS aggregator, and clickthroughs measure the number of readers who click from the feed to your site. You will need to determine how aggressively you want to measure feed performance, set benchmarks and put tools in place that will enable you to get the data you need to measure success.

9. How will you let your audience know that you have added RSS to your site?
Will you simply put an orange XML or RSS button prominently on your site, or will you provide extensive explanations and assistance to your readers so that they can easily subscribe to your feeds? You may want to make special press announcements about the availability of feeds on your site. This is yet another marketing decision.

10. How and who in your organization will monitor the rapidly changing RSS landscape for additional uses and improved technology?
RSS is rapidly changing. The uses are expanding, and new tools are being offered that make it easier to implement RSS on sites. You will want to be sure that someone in your marketing organization is monitoring the RSS landscape on a regular basis to ensure that you are as up to date on this evolving technology as possible.

Just remember that RSS is a marketing solution, not a technical problem. If you approach getting started in RSS from this perspective, you will find RSS an exciting new marketing communications medium.