The Implications of RSS in a Marketing Environment
The most tenuous moment in internet marketing comes when your audience is ready to leave your site. Will they come back? How will you keep in touch? The traditional answer is e-mail – a well-written newsletter is a powerful permission marketing tool that can inform, educate and remind your audience that you’re a valuable resource.
But in the age of spam and information overload, e-mail has limitations. First, audiences are often unwilling to sign up for one more piece of e-mail in their inbox. Second, even if they do sign up, overzealous spam filtering software may block your message. And finally, even if your message does get through, it’s lost in a sea of other messages.
Yes, well-written subject lines, good content and careful design can mitigate these problems, but we need an alternative permission marketing tool.
Enter RSS. ‘Really Simple Syndication’ is a very simple XML format designed specifically to let you share headlines and content from a web site. I’m not going to go into long technical explanations of RSS – you can learn more on webreference.com – the very short version is that RSS is a way that folks can actually subscribe to your web site, and receive a list of the latest pages, press releases and articles on your site.
How it Works
To view an RSS feed, a subscriber needs some form of newsreader (also called feedreaders, by the geek elite).
Some newsreaders run on your computer, like any other program. Examples include Shrook for Mac OS X, and Feedreader for Windows. These are my two favorites, by the way. A user can download and install these programs in a few minutes, and then cut-and-paste the address of an RSS feed (http://www.conversationmarketing.com/index.xml, for example) into the ‘new feed’ or ‘new channel’ window. From then on, their RSS software will automatically check for new content on the sites to which the user subscribes.
There are also many web-based newsreaders, such as feedly.com. These don’t require software installation, and are generally free.
Creating an RSS feed can be easy or hard, depending on how your web site is set up. If you have a static HTML site – one that’s not database-generated – then your webmaster will likely have to create your RSS feed by hand. He or she may curse you under your breath for that – hand-typing XML is no fun. But if your site is powered by a content management system or by blogging software, setting up an RSS feed is probably going to be very easy. Consult your documentation, or shoot me an e-mail if you’re not sure.
Making it Easy
RSS is still new, and the average site visitor won’t have a clear idea what RSS is, much less how to subscribe to an RSS feed.
Make it easy for your audience: Provide clear instructions, with links to recommended RSS newsreaders and to your feeds.
Here’s how I do it on this site: XML Feeds.
The Future: Integrated, Branded RSS?
You might even want to have someone (ahem) create a custom newsreader, just for your organization. Then you can provide very specific installation instructions and have a branded subscription tool that users can quickly and easily install on their computers. While more advanced users will want the flexibility of a configurable RSS reader, novices would be happy to receive a fast, easy subscription.
In the next year or two, though, RSS will become far easier. Rumors say that future versions of Mac OS X and Windows will include integrated RSS newsreaders, too. Once that happens, RSS will become a standard for permission-based marketing. Why not be ready now?
Make a Connection With RSS
Regardless of what the future holds, RSS is a great way to make a polite, permanent connection with your audience today. Completely opt-in, spam-free and easy to use, RSS is a tool any savvy internet marketer will include in their toolkit.