RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is neither really simple nor really syndication. It is a powerful marketing tool. Like any new technology, it’s not without caveats. Here’s a completely non-techie, plain English explanation of what marketers need to know about RSS.
Essentially, RSS is a technology that allows website publishers to make their headlines and summaries of their content available through a syndicated “feed” that users can subscribe to receive. Users then view the feed with the help of an RSS reader like Bloglines or Feed Demon.
RSS provides a way to easily distribute a list of headlines, update notices, and sometimes content to a wide number of people. It is used by computer programs, called RSS aggregators, that organize those headlines and notices for easy reading.
RSS can help build customer relationships by increasing brand awareness. But like any opportunity, there are caveats. These include measurement difficulty, inability for the publisher to customize the message as with email and the fact that a database of users isn’t currently available to the publisher. Proponents say the benefits outweigh the problems.
Manually checking every site in which you are interested is incredibly time consuming. RSS is a better way to be notified of new and changed content on multiple websites. You receive the results in a well organized way, distinct from email.
Email is over-used and most of us are drowning in spam. Email is not a viable way to get all the news out to all the people you want to reach. RSS to the rescue.
It is likely that search engines will soon read RSS feeds, which could improve your ranking as content spreads faster and people link to your content.
Seth Godin and Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble are RSS evangelists:
Says Scoble, “if you do a marketing site and you don’t have an RSS feed today you should be fired.
I’ll say it again. You should be fired if you do a marketing site without an RSS feed.
Saying that RSS is only for geeks today is like saying in 1998 that the Web was only for geeks.
No one knows how long this ‘honeymoon’ will last. But ride the wave – and get into search engines quickly, inexpensively – by submitting your RSS feeds to them.”
Says Seth Godin: “A new Jupiter study shows that big time marketers aren’t excited about it. Which gives the rest of us more time to get it right. Hurry, before the spammers show up!”
No magic marketing bullets. Content is still king
Just having an RSS feed won’t generate traffic. Content is still king. To get people to opt in to your marketing messages, must-read content is essential. It has to be something the reader wants to receive.
How to subscribe to an RSS feed.
RSS readers, also known as aggregators, automatically check the RSS feeds to which you subscribe and note when new content is added.
There is not yet a standard way to subscribe. I use the free service from Bloglines, which allows me to subscribe to site’s RSS feeds through a button on my toolbar.
You can follow a topic, a company or a particular website through RSS feeds, which can be searched by items (keywords.) Your search results will include all the news articles and blog posts that have appeared in the sites to whose RSS feeds you subscribe. You can use items search to find a specific article or to identify feeds that cover a topic you’re interested in following.
Just clicking on the RSS button doesn’t get you the feed, anymore than clicking the “start” button starts a Windows computer. It gets you a bunch of code at a url that you need to copy into your feed readers — unless you have an aggregator, like Bloglines, that lets you automatically subscribe to the feeds you select.(Sounds more complicated than it is. Try it!)
Hundreds of thousands of sites have RSS feeds
Producing an RSS feed is very simple and hundreds of thousands of websites now provide this feature, including major news organizations like the New York Times, the BBC, and Reuters, as well as most blogs. It’s a matter of adding some code to your site, and the function is built into Moveable Type and other blog software.
You’ll know a website has an RSS feed when you see the XML or RSS feed in a little box, which is usually orange. Some say “Syndicate this”
Nooked.com has a directory of corporate RSS feeds, including:
IBM uses RSS feeds for product support, press releases, news, product support and corporate news
Greg Reinacker notes several problems with RSS:
** You can’t reliably measure exposure via RSS.
** You can’t control how RSS is displayed.
** RSS doesn’t build a user database.
** RSS is difficult to customize – as a response driver – the way email is.
Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome has a one word response to Reinacker, “bullshit.” That’s a little cavalier! But clearly, RSS is a tool, not a panacea. It’s one that marketers can’t ignore and that many are already using creatively.
Marketing Uses of RSS feeds:
Besides notifying you about news headlines and changes on websites, RSS has lots of other purposes.
Unleash the Marketing Power of RSS mentions such uses as:
** Notification of the arrival of new products in a website
** Listing and notifying subscribers of newsletter issues, including email newsletters
** Weather and other alerts of changing conditions
** Providing affiliates with RSS feeds to help them to better promote your products.
It is likely that search engines will soon read RSS feeds, which could improve your ranking as content spreads faster and people post discussions about your content. And Microsoft’s next version of Windows, due out soon, will include RSS.
How You Can Use RSS Feeds in Marketing
** Establish a constant connection with your newsletter subscribers and customers.
** Publish your own “podcast,” a special RSS feed, which carries audio and can be heard on iPods or other portable devices as well as on the Internet.
Podcasting is like having your own “radio station” for getting information to subscribers without worrying about huge e-mail attachments. Podcasting has quickly become so big that even huge corporations are using it on their sites. GM podcasts on its Fast Lane blog.
** Amazon.com is using RSS to announce their bestsellers and to help their users keep track of new book releases in their interest categories.
** Lockergnome uses RSS to provide visitors with their latest downloads and relevant software.
** Apple’s iTunes Feed Generator informs you of updates to their music library in genres you specify.
** Textamerica.com allows people to post pictures, videos and text from their mobile phones and then make this content available via RSS feeds. Textamerica’s photoblogging service also provides feeds containing photos you have uploaded.
** Flickr’s photo sharing tools provide all sorts of RSS feeds. You can get updates on new photos related to specific topics whenever anyone posts new photos with that tag.
** Basecamp, a web-based project management tool, allows you to monitor the latest updates, communications, deadlines, and other activities across your internal and client projects via RSS.
** A travel company could build brand equity by allowing frequent flyers to subscribe to an RSS feed for schedule updates when they travel and be notified only when airports they’re interested in have delays.
** Many Internet publishers are using RSS to deliver their newsletters.
** Notification of additions of new items to a database, or new members to a group.
Have an RSS Feed from Your Press Room
** All press releases should be part of your RSS feed.
When posting the press release to your blog, be sure to include target keywords in the post title. Link relevant keywords in the text to corresponding pages of your web site. Be sure to use Technorati tags with each post.
RSS Can Help Search Engine Rankings
RSS can improve your rankings for the most important search engines and RSS-specific search engines and directories can generate new traffic for your web site.
It can often get you listed almost immediately, even at directories like Yahoo!, and can help you get better positions for your most important keywords and phrases.
RSS is new, not to be ignored, and clearly has great potential. What could your business do with an RSS feed?