|To Feed or Not to Feed|
That is the burning question right now...
Let's say I have 10,000 subscribers under an older system that has been running for years and it grows daily. Up to this point, we've relied on email marketing and other resources to get the subscribers to the site and it works!
In performing my ongoing research into all things Internet marketing related, I'm now digging deeper into all this RSS/RDF stuff. Now I know where the "in crowd" has been hiding. Here I am fiddling with Metadata at the page level and meanwhile the rest of you are feeding XML files in addition to your Metadata. Ya, it finally clicked for me. Why am I one of the few who come late to the party? ;)
So tell me, should I Feed those 10,000 Subscribers? Do I want to interrupt a long standing email marketing campaign that has been successful in getting visitors to the site? I know, offer the Feeds and appeal to a larger audience. I fully understand that concept. But, I have some burning questions...
Let's say that 3,000 of the 10,000 subscribe to the Feeds. Prior, those 3,000 would click a link in an email which took them to the destination page, usually a promotional offer or updates of importance. That whole process has value for me from a variety of perspectives, especially from a traffic volume one. If those 3,000 are now following the Feeds, they may not click through as much, yes? No? You're going to tell me that it doesn't matter either way. They either click the link in the email or they click the link in the Feed, same thing, different technologies and concepts.
I want to talk a lot more about Feeds. I've invested quite a bit of research time into this and I feel I've become somewhat of an up and coming expert in this area. I've already researched all the technologies, formats, etc. My first feed validated out of the box, how cool is that? And, I have my own hand rolled feed generator...
<generator>MS FrontPage RSS Feed Generator ME</generator>
W3C: Feed Validation Service
Heh, I was really surprised to find some of the Blogs I visit daily who had errors in their feeds. How can that be? These things are very simple, how the heck can you have errors? Fix them now please?
Talk to me. Tell me how you're using RSS/RDF to your advantage. I'm anxious to learn everything I can. Which of the formats are you using? Or, do you blend different formats to achieve RSS Nirvana? I'm blending right now using RSS 2.0 with some DC mixed in.
^ Please do smack me if I'm using incorrect terminology. I'm new to all this. :)
How do you handle RSS Channels? I see lots of neat things that I can do with setting up Channels and I'm already working on that. We have such a diverse group of services that RSS Channels is only natural.
Feed me Seymour, feed me all night long!
I can hear some of you now. "Oh crap, P1R got into the RSS specs, just what we need!"
Oh no, P1R got into the RSS specs... ;)
|should I Feed those 10,000 Subscribers? |
In this day and age if you don't feed them you're doing them a disservice. What you're giving them is another way to consume the data on your site. I wouldn't really look at it along the same lines of a traditional e-mail campaign though. As you know it's more of a broadcast news function.
You're going to find people who will consume the data in different ways. You'll have the individuals who will use either the feed or the newsletter, but sometime it will be both. Some people may click through to your site less if provided a feed, but at least they'll still be keeping track of your information.
If a site offers me a feed I'm happy. There are very few sites I take the time to visit regularly, but I can always scan my feeds and get an update on a wide variety of sites. You're making it easier for me to aggregate your info in my own way.
If you don't offer a feed, but do offer a newsletter then your site had better be quite good. I'll subscribe to an RSS feed a lot quicker than a newsletter. Newsletters are a bigger commitment for me.
Silly question - but is there a way to show 'who' and how many are subscribing to your feed?
markd, Feedburner offers RSS feed analytics. Doesn't show you exactly who (like Analytics doesn't show you exactly who) is subscribing, but it shows you a wealth of information. Only issue is, Google bought FeedBurner. :)
pageoneresults, personally, I unsubscribed to all my email subscriptions a while ago. During that unsubscription processed, i looked for an RSS alternative for the email. If there was none, then I still unsubscribed. :)
We offer both ways to subscribe to our newsletter (email or RSS) using Feedburner. I'd say 95% choose e-mail, since most of our users are older, every day janes that don't use RSS readers, or even know what one is.
Bottom line, you can and should allow both. Plus, Feedburner does allow you to see "who" signed up via your email list, so you do have that information.
|Some people may click through to your site less if provided a feed, but at least they'll still be keeping track of your information. |
That's the part that concerns me. I'm losing the visitor to the feeds. I'm not too sure I feel 100% comfortable with that. I lose all that data associated with the visit which from my perspective may be a little more important than the feed. Ya, I know, just do it and find out. ;)
I don't use my reader as much as I should I guess. I prefer the old fashioned way of bookmarking, keeping a page of resources, etc., that I can easily follow links from. I like browsing websites and not a list of headlines and descriptions. But I'm learning, so as I get the hang of this, I'll probably feel a bit more comfortable with it all.
I just don't like the idea of losing potential traffic to the site. There are all sorts of things occurring when that visitor gets to the site. You've got the visual, core content and promotional stuff that they don't get via the feed. Ya, I know, I can do quite a bit with that feed to give it some dynamics, some interactivity.
I have a feeling this could have a negative impact on the traffic analytics portion. But, if I'm using GA and FeedBurner, I'm almost certain they can tie the two together and see; "Oh, the site implemented feeds hence the reason for the drop in traffic. Take the two stats and combine them for traffic analysis." Ya, I know, me Tin Hat is beaming right now.
For those of you using Feeds, what namespaces are you using and which elements within that namespace? Do all of your feeds validate? I can tell you that of the top ten blogs I visit, there were more than a few that did not validate.
I gave up trying to do my feeds long ago. I replaced them by burning them through Feedburner. It works nicely and those who aren't familiar with RSS use email. It chugs along nicely until Google came along and really messed things up. Stats have worked intermittently. There have been outages.
If it keeps up, I will have to go back to serving my own feeds. Also in some areas, news aggregators are picking up on my feeds and driving traffic to me. You wouldnt see that with an email campagain.
I think the email campagains and rss feeds can co-exist. Let the people choose. Also though I havent done it, you can slip promotional stuff in a feed.
If it ain't broke don't try to fix it.
|I just don't like the idea of losing potential traffic to the site. There are all sorts of things occurring when that visitor gets to the site. You've got the visual, core content and promotional stuff that they don't get via the feed. Ya, I know, I can do quite a bit with that feed to give it some dynamics, some interactivity. |
It depends on your web site. Bottom line is the bottom line. How can this make you money? If the RSS feed is killing traffic, it can be a problem. You will find all kinds of thinking on this and there is no one answer. My thinking is, don't give it all away. Create a feed that shows something is available.
One idea is to offer a high-end widget that YOU control and you can sell ads on, using something like Adobe AIR.
I know I have subscribed to hundreds of RSS feeds (mostly blogs). And out of those 95% to 98% of the time I never visit the site again since I get all the information I want from the rss feed. The ones I tend to actually visit the websites are the feeds that tell me they have release a new update to software/service I use or only provide a small teaser text which gets my attention. And depending on the content of your feed you may lose a great deal of visits to your pages, or it may just provide a additional way for your subscribers to get there information.
|And out of those 95% to 98% of the time I never visit the site again since I get all the information I want from the rss feed. |
That concerns me! They must be giving away "too much" information in the feed, yes?
|The ones I tend to actually visit the websites are the feeds that tell me they have release a new update to software/service I use or only provide a small teaser text which gets my attention. |
That would be similar to the approach in this instance.
We utilize a very strict approach to CMS and have an area that is defined as the IPW paragraph. That is the first one or two lines from the content that is of the most importance. That is all we plan on including in the <description> of the feed along with the <title>. I can't see giving away too much more information. I'm already losing someone to a Feed, I don't want to lose the potential click through and revenue that may be generated.
|And depending on the content of your feed you may lose a great deal of visits to your pages, or it may just provide a additional way for your subscribers to get there information. |
Ya, that's a concern too and one that I am mulling over right now. We definitely need to make sure the feeds are designed to generate click throughs to the site. Without those, we lose the potential of upselling.
There's a bit to consider in all of this.
Did you know that RDF was or is the proposed replacement and/or next step in metadata? I could never fully grasp the RDF specification until recently and it all clicked. I'll be damned! Here I am chasing metadata and I could be chasing RSS/RDF too. Woohoo!
Can I promote other people's feeds? I mean, is it okay to provide RSS links to their feeds if I feel they are of value to the audience? What is best practice in this area?
|Can I promote other people's feeds? |
Short answer: from a technical standpoint, yes. There's lots of pre-build widgets out there to put "inline feeds" into your site.
|I mean, is it okay to provide RSS links to their feeds if I feel they are of value to the audience? |
That's entirely up to you, from both a content, and traffic shaping viewpoint.
The upside: If you do it right, then the landing pages you have the inline feeds, or aggregated feeds, become a destination point for your visitors. A lot of "average" users have no idea how to use RSS, so your page becomes a convenient, one stop shop for headlines relevant to a particular subject. You can really "shape" this in a lot of different ways to ensure that you're providing relevant info that won't send your users to the competition. In many ways, easier to control than AdSense.
The downside: Outclicks. But if you did the upside correctly, this isn't a huge concern.
|What is best practice in this area? |
Rule #1: Check the TOS for the RSS feed you're planning to include. Some websites are pretty explicit about an RSS feed being "For Private, Non Commercial Use Only." Big, old school outfits (think newspapers and TV stations) are the most likely to send a flock of lawyers to pound on your door if you publish their feed without permission.
Rule #2: Carefully craft the inline feed to suit your visitors. And by this, I mean go a step beyond just picking which feeds to display. Select what parts of those feeds you want to display. There are countless custom aggregation outfits around, use them, and use them wisely. It will allow you to get pretty specific. "Check Feed X, for keywords A, B, C, D, and E, but only if in combination with A or B." It really is possible to put that fine grained a control on things. Have the aggregator generate a custom RSS feed from your parameters, and then use that for your inline feed.
Rule #3: Refer to rule #1
Rule #4: Display only the headlines from outside feeds. Don't go overboard and do "Headline plus intro" or "Headline plus the whole dang article." Just give a headline and let the end user decide from that alone if it's worth pursuing.
Rule #5: Refer to rule #1
Ocean1000 is right about never visiting sites again once people subscribe to the feed. Many feeds, if not most, throw the whole article out through the feed. From a user standpoint, I find this great. It allows me to completely avoid the train wreck of bad design/user interface that IS the average website for an old school newspaper. Heck, it even allows you to avoid the train wreck of usability of sites that should know better (Wired comes to mind - it gets worse with every redesign).
On the other hand it really works in favor of sites that do it right. Webmasterworld is a really good example of this. Sure, WebmasterWorld pipes a good chunk of the thread down it's feed, but only so much. Basically the first page of posts. Beyond that, you have to click through to read the rest of the thread, and in the case of WebmasterWorld, participate in the conversation.
The key thing here is to provide the user with a compelling reason to click through and visit your site. Given the attention to detail that you seem to show about most things, I'm pretty sure that's within your ability.
You can also build advertising right into the XML of the RSS feed. Sure, people like me aren't going to see those ads because we'll have a feed reader that will allow us to block out advertising. But people like me aren't going to see the ads on your Website anyway, because I'll block all the ads there, as well.
Great question, P1R, and something I wrestle with often. For my primary blog, I publish just an excerpt in the feed. I periodically get feedback from readers (you know who you are!) berating me for doing so. At the same time, I get told that these readers don't want to ever visit the website.
The upside of publishing a full feed is ease of consumption. If you are primarly publishing for branding (or personal branding) purposes, maybe this is OK. The problems I see are:
1) A less rich experience - careful layouts, good illustrations, useful sidebar content, etc., can be degraded or lost entirely when only the feed is consumed.
2) Loss of ad impressions and/or clicks if ads are present. Feed ads strike me as less effective for a variety of reasons.
In my case, #1 has kept me with the excerpt approach for now, but it bothers me that I'm forcing users to view the posts the way *I* want them to vs. the way they would prefer. I may well change my mind at some point.
|I just don't like the idea of losing potential traffic to the site. |
This mindset holds a lot of people back. It's the old 20th century website mentality. Keep everything on my site so I can control everything. That's limiting your potential reach and possibly costing you control of how your information is dispersed.
We're all broadcasting information via our HTML pages, but there are many other ways our information can be disseminated. RSS feeds are just another way of getting our information out to a wider market. You just need to track that usage of your data in different ways. FeedBurner became popular as it allowed any webmaster to track the uptake and use of their feeds. The challenge is to find a way to effectively track this data.
What happens if I don't provide a feed? Well, there are plenty of services available that will take sites with no RSS feeds, and create a feed for the user. If your site doesn't have a feed I could use one of these services. However, you as the webmaster then lose all control over format, tracking, and potential ad revenue from the feed.
|I know I have subscribed to hundreds of RSS feeds (mostly blogs). And out of those 95% to 98% of the time I never visit the site again since I get all the information I want from the rss feed. |
I've done the same with many feeds, but my percentage is probably lower. I see a lot more partial feeds these days that force a visit to the site (if there's a compelling enough title and description). The flip-side to this is that I've started to unsubscribe from feeds that are not full or that are too limited.
When I was a real feed consumer, and I had finally found a great aggregator program to sift through them all, I had a feed list that was approaching 10000 feeds. It was a bit too much, I admit. ;) However, my aggregator could sift through it all and pick out the keywords and phrases that I was interested in, from thousands of sites, and I could whittle that information down into a reasonable selection for consumption. The quality sites would always rise to the top.
|Did you know that RDF was or is the proposed replacement and/or next step in metadata? |
Really? I was using RDF syntax back in 1999 on the old My Netscape Network (MNN). I was one of the first 300 people to have a feed up there. Is the W3C trying to push their own standards for syndicated metadata to supplant RSS and Atom?
I only ever provide a snippet, rather than the full article. Bear in mind that your feed will tend to be republished on other websites and could turn up in the SERPs. You don't want to be competing with your own feed when it comes to duplicate content.
Some people prefer it in email format and some in RSS format. I won't find 2 to 3 quality information sites in email format but if I am already down with the emails then RSS allows me to read at my own time and read many blogs at the same time.
I have many rss feeds syndicated to my rss reader.
My suggestion will be to publish 80% of the content on RSS feed with ads, and to read the rest 20% people will have to come to the website.
Some points to remember:
1) People read emails daily not RSS (on a regular basis), so email-rss both works together.
2) Without RSS it becomes a lot difficult for many of the web properties to cover you on a daily basis. This will certainly increase the reach.
Say with emails 80% people visited your site. So for 1000 readers 800 people visited your site. With RSS only 20% people visits your website but it speads much faster than email subscription, say within an year 10,000 subscribed to your RSS, then 2000 people will be coming to your site than 800 + 10,000 people spreading your word.
RSS is a Good thing for sure :)
Consider ending all articles that are sent out in the feed with explicit recommendations and 2-3 short links out.