Wake Up and Smell the Feeds!
(or, "How I got my RSS in gear")

by Peter A. Bromberg, Ph.D.

Peter Bromberg

With the proliferation of the major "My" Services all fighting for surfer eyeballs with customized "My Yahoo", "My MSN", etc. home pages, all of which accept customized content delivered via RSS, savvy marketers that want to promote their sites and get more traffic are coming to a realization that RSS has fast become a useful marketing tool.

According to MarketingSherpa currently at least 75 million consumers and businesspeople in the USA and UK use RSS on a regular basis. However, depending on which study's stats you believe, only 17-32% of RSS users actually know they're using RSS.

That's right -- roughly 50 million regular RSS users would say, "Huh?" if you asked them what RSS was!

What do they think they're using? And, how can you take advantage of this more-booming-than-expected RSS universe? The answer is that most of them are using "My Yahoo", "MyMsn", the Google customized home page, and similar services.

Travelocity shares their data on their RSS feed promotional campaign to their existing e-mail subscribers. What they did was to  simply break down their e-mail list into Yahoo! e-mail users and MSN e-mail users, and they sent them all an offer to subscribe to their RSS feed using one of these online services.



Guess what? Two thirds of the people that opened the e-mail actually subscribed. These are amazing statistics that show that people are in fact in need of the content consumption solution offered by RSS, provided that you can offer it to them appropriately.

Anyone sending out an email list has the list of email addresses -- and could easily sort out all the Yahoo and MSN email addresses and put a graphic My Yahoo! subscribe button or a My MSN subscribe button depending on the email address. It's so simple to do -- yet how many of us have done it? In fact, there is an even easier way to pre-generate the html snippet to stick in the body of your emails, and I'll point you to it at the end of this article.

Despite the fact that marketers still aren't aggressively promoting their RSS feeds, they are seeing their RSS readership take off big-time. USAToday.com told MarketingSherpa that their RSS traffic is "rising month after month by orders of magnitude", even though they are barely promoting their RSS feeds. This may be occurring partly due to autodiscovery, but more likely its happening from the easy "Subscribe" buttons that plaster the top of the subscribe page: http://asp.usatoday.com/marketing/rss/index.aspx?POE=FOOTER

Important to understand who the consumer is

RSS is now attracting the traditional online consumer. But this isn't the crowd you'll get with the 'orange RSS logo', it's the people that don't have a clue about RSS, but who will subscribe using the now familiar 'Add to MyYahoo' and 'Add to MyMSN' buttons.

It's now clear that you have to take your RSS promotion strategy to the next level and start using 'user friendly subscribe buttons' ... or face limiting your RSS accessibility only to the cutting-edge "techie" crowd.

RSS is a platform over which a webmaster can instantly deliver summarized information about the latest / most important content on their web site. This summary is usually a list of headlines and snippets; the headline will instantly inform the reader of what this new article or page contains and the snippet (usually the first few lines of the article) is to further entice the reader into visiting the web site, or to simply give the reader more information. RSS has evolved into an accepted XML standard, and many web sites now use RSS Feeds to publish updates about themselves. In addition, RSS is now an available format for well over two dozen search engines -- from news to blogs to Web search, which offers some interesting content aggregation possibilities provided terms of service considerations are observed.

From the webmaster's point of view, an RSS feed is meant to allow visitors and subscribers an easy way to keep themselves abreast of fresh content on their web site without having them visit the web site first. Additionally, an RSS Feed also allows the reader to preview this fresh content, thus letting them decide immediately if the new article / content is interesting to them or not. All in all, RSS Feeds have the main purpose of enhancing user experience. There is no question in my mind that RSS has changed the landscape of the web and how I accumulate and review information.

Using An RSS Feed

As an Internet entrepreneur, one of your most valuable tools can be an RSS Reader. This is essentially an aggregator that consumes a collection of RSS Feeds from different web sites that you are interested in. A typical RSS Reader would include RSS Feeds from news sites, sports sites, and perhaps a few niche sites (such as SEO forums, blogs on Adsense, etc.). The main purpose of this software is to keep you informed of the latest news and content on web sites or weblogs that you are interested in.

If you have used My Yahoo! (my.yahoo.com) or Bloglines (www.bloglines.com), you've probably used RSS Feeds already. These are online RSS aggregators where you get to choose from numerous web sites and within minutes you can have your own launchpad for knowing everything that's happening in your niche, in the world, business, or sports. I've experimented with at least four or five dedicated feed readers including ones that integrate into Outlook and Internet Explorer, but currently I prefer BlogLines over any of the ones I've tried. Even though Firefox and now IE 7.0 provide "in-the-box" feed managment, I still prefer the online service because it's available from any one of my PC's and offers more features.

Marketing and RSS

As a webmaster, you can use RSS Feeds to your advantage. Since blogging became hugely popular over the last two years or so, RSS Feeds have gone mainstream. No matter what your niche, there's a good chance that you'll be able to find a few authoritative sites in your niche that publish RSS Feeds syndicating their latest headlines.

How can you use this?

By providing your visitors relevant, self-refreshing content in the form of the latest news by using RSS feeds from niche-relevant web sites. Of course, you should not cover your whole web site with RSS Feeds. RSS Feeds are meant for headline syndication, not for content scraping.

Instead, you could use headlines from the top 3 forums in the Movies niche to show the latest discussion threads on one side of the News page of your own Movies web site. The rest of the page would, of course, be covered with information about your own web site.

Or you could put a news ticker on your politics blog to not only give your blog a look of being updated but to also provide your readers with relevant, useful information.

There are many different ways you can use RSS Feeds to add value to your web site. Here is a partial list of some of the search providers that currently offer search results in RSS format:

Blogmarks
Search Url:
http://api.blogmarks.net/rss/search/

Reddit.com RSS Search
Search Url:
http://reddit.com/search.rss?q=

Digg.com RSS Search
Search Url:
http://www.digg.com/rss_search?search=
Url after search term:
&area=all&type=both&age=60

Google Blog Search
Search Url:
http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch_feeds?hl=en&q=
Url after search term:
&num=100&output=rss

MSN Search
Search Url:
http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=
Url after search term:
&format=rss&count=100

Yahoo News
Search Url:
http://search.news.yahoo.com/usns/ynsearch/categories/47/index.html?p=

MSN News
Search Url:
http://beta.search.msn.com/news/results.aspx?q=
Url after search term:
&format=rss

BlogDigger
Search Url:
http://www.blogdigger.com/rss.jsp?q=
Url after search term:
&sortby=date

Waypath
Search Url:
http://rss.waypath.com/query.xml?qs=
Url after search term:
&hours=72&mode=new

BlogPulse
Search Url:
http://www.blogpulse.com/rss?query=
Url after search term:
&sort=date&operator=and

FyberSearch
Search Url:
http://www.fybersearch.com/rss-search.xml?q=
Url after search term:
&n=50

Feed24
Search Url:
http://www.feed24.com/search.xml/

IceRocket
Search Url:
http://www.icerocket.com/search?tab=blog&q=
Url after search term:
&rss=1

Delicio.us
Search Url:
http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/

Furl
Search Url:
http://www.furl.net/members/rss.xml?topic=

Technorati
Search Url:
http://feeds.technorati.com/feed/posts/tag/

GoogleNews
Search Url:
http://news.google.com/news?svnum=10&as_scoring=d&ned=us&ie=UTF-8&q=
Url after search term:
&output=rss

Finding RSS Feeds

Finding RSS Feeds is easy; there are a number of RSS-specific directories and niche search engines you can browse through. However, the surge of blogging in the last two years has meant that any RSS search tool is inundated with blog spam. This makes it a bit harder to find RSS Feeds that you can actually use. However, you can implement "junk filters" as a programmer that can help cut down on the noise component.

Here are a few resources that can help you get started in your search for finding relevant RSS Feeds.

Once you've found the RSS Feeds of your choice, it's time to find out how to set them up on your web site.

Setting up an RSS Feed to Display on your Web site

Internet Marketers are a particular breed; we're always looking for an easier or quicker way of doing things; not necessarily shortcuts, but just ways to work smarter. It's the same with RSS. There are numerous tools to help you display feeds on your site, even if you aren't a programmer.

These tools are extremely simple; I suggest that you try some of them before venturing into learning how to display RSS Feeds on your web pages through code.

There are JavaScript alternatives available as well (in case your web site uses plain HTML).

Jawfish (www.geckotribe.com/rss/jawfish/)

Jawfish also has a free trial, which is once again easy to setup if you can follow step-by-step instructions.

FeedRoll (www.feedroll.com/rssviewer/)

Another JavaScript alternative is FeedRoll; this is perhaps the easiest to use, but it offers less flexibility and choice of feeds compared to the others.

If you want more options (or have ASP, ASP.NET, PHP, etc. on your web site), go to your search engine of choice and type in "How to display RSS Feeds on my web site" to get a quick listing of articles, tutorials and more tools to help you out.

Promoting your own feed

Adding the "subscribe" buttons to your site and feed is as simple as using one of the "Chiclet Creator" pages, such as this very nice one:

TwisterMC (http://www.twistermc.com/shake/RSS-index.php)

In the first two days after we added these "Chiclets" to our page template, the first of which was a Sunday, 118 people used them, with the biggest percentage (almost half) clicking on the Google chcklet. (I thought I was the only person who uses Google's customized home page!). Not a bad start, since we are now "in your face" with our latest articles and news, even though you may not be a regular visitor. After a few more hundred clicks, I did some stats from our site analyzer and the results of "whose Chiclet gets the most clicks" is interesting:

Chiclet % Total Clicks
google 40.58%
delicio
10.63%
yahoo
7.25%
rrsfeed (our main feed)
7.25%
newsgator
6.76%
aol
5.80%
furl
5.31%
rssXmlfeed
4.83%
eggMorefeed (to other feeds)
4.35%
bloglines
3.86%
rojo
3.38%

As can be seen, google is the clear winner with over 40 percent of the "ChicletClickers", followed by del.icio.us, and finally yahoo. Google doesn't surprise me as they are responsible for a lot of our search-created traffic here. However, del.icio.us, which is clearly the ultra-geeky social networking site, really does surprise me. Maybe we should think about developing a social networking with tagging site?

I hope these ideas and information help you to get your "RSS in gear"!

 

Peter Bromberg is a C# MVP, MCP, and .NET consultant who has worked in the banking and financial industry for 20 years. He has architected and developed web - based corporate distributed application solutions since 1995, and focuses exclusively on the .NET Platform.
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