Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Web marketing using RSS


In my earlier writing, I had described about using permission based emails as a marketing tool. Emails are effective and have earned their place in the marketer’s tool kit. Internet has evolved rapidly and has grown beyond email. Advances in technology has opened new channels for marketers: Blogs, RSS feeds and Podcasting have emerged as a viable marketing tool for customer communication. In this article, I will concentrate on RSS and its use as an effective communication tool.

RSS as a communication tool

As an alternative to email, RSS is becoming an increasingly important content delivery channel that allows marketers to deliver all of their content, fully upgrade all of their marketing initiatives and establish lasting client relationships.

Whether direct marketing, PR, e-commerce, internal communications, online publishing, SEO, traffic generation or customer relationship management, RSS brings the power of delivery back to the hands of marketers.

Rising use of various Intranets, customer portals, secure web services etc - have created several new customer touch points. Communicating uniformly through all the touch points is a marketing challenge. The need to monitor and develop content for all the web based customer touch points takes a lot of resources. RSS makes it simple to manage and control customer communication through various web sites.

RSS feed for company news, customer updates, employee news/updates etc has to be created first. Once the feeds are created, it can be used in various websites and Intranets. Thus creating uniformity across various websites.

Here are some of the benefits marketers are missing out on by not marketing with RSS:

  • 100% delivery of their marketing, relationship building and educational messages to their subscribers, customers, prospects and partners. E-mail isn’t getting delivered, but with RSS you will achieve 100% delivery.
  • Increased search engine rankings and quick content indexing, and increased traffic from other RSS-enabled online sources.
  • Getting your internet content published on other websites.
  • Generating new subscribers more easily and quickly.
  • Track how popular your communication messages are. Tools are available to track how many people are reading your messages from the RSS feed. This will help you customise and improve your company communication program

However, companies are slow in using RSS. Being a new technology, The next section talks on how to use RSS for marketing.

Using RSS for marketing

Most marketers still do not know how to actually get started with RSS, especially when trying to take its power beyond basic blogging. Here's a seven-step plan to help get you started. It includes a personal RSS marketing checklist to help you get the most from RSS marketing.

Step 1. Start using RSS as an end-user
The first step to getting started with RSS marketing/publishing is getting your own RSS aggregator, subscribing to other RSS feeds and just seeing and understanding how it all works. There's a variety of RSS aggregators to choose from, including the following:

Web-based RSS aggregators:,,,

Desktop RSS aggregators (software): , ,

Integrated RSS aggregators (integrate with IE or Microsoft Outlook): (browser with integrated RSS features), , ,

To find feeds of interest to subscribe to, cruise RSS feed-specific search engines such as

Using RSS feeds to get information will help the marketer to get a basic understanding of how it works and how RSS can be used in the marketing plan.

Step 2. Plan your RSS feeds

Planning your RSS feeds might be the most important thing you do for RSS. It's the one factor that decides between RSS marketing success and failure. Start by identifying the different target audiences that you might want to reach with RSS, especially these:

  • Prospects, segmented by prevailing interest
  • Existing clients, segmented by prevailing interest, business topic or existing products
  • Business partners, segmented by partner type, such as suppliers
  • Internal audiences, such as employees, owners and investors
  • The media
  • Web site syndication partners, segmented by their existing content
  • Search engines and directories

Depending on how complex your business and online content strategies are, you might need to plan for different feeds for each of the target audiences you identify. Of course, this also depends on your marketing goals with each.

After identifying the key target audiences for RSS content delivery, the next step involves actually planning what content type and topics you are going to deliver. These might include the following:

  • Product feeds
  • Podcast feeds
  • News feeds
  • Articles feeds
  • Direct communication feeds
  • E-zine publishing
  • Autoresponder content
  • Forum content
  • Latest downloads
  • Product support information & updates

Step 3. Create a list of RSS marketing/publishing requirements

Then create a list of requirements for the RSS marketing/publishing solution you will obtain to publish your feeds. The list should answer the basic questions, such as these:

  • Do you want to integrate RSS publishing with your existing content management system?
  • What RSS metrics you'll want to watch? For example, are you satisfied with just a rough idea of how many people are reading your RSS feed, or are you interested in more precise subscriber counts, clicks and even individual content-item popularity?
  • Do you need feed personalization, such as personalizing your RSS content with the recipient's name and other details?
  • Do you want to provide your subscribers with the ability to precisely select the content they want to receive in your RSS feed (customization), such as by content topic, keywords, authors and so on?
  • Do you want the RSS feeds to be hosted on your own server?
  • Do you need the ability to target promotional messages or other content to your individual RSS feed subscribers, for example based on their previous clicks and reading habits, or even their subscription data?
  • What's your budget?

Step 4. Choose an RSS marketing/publishing tool and start generating feeds

After you've prepared a list of requirements, start searching for the appropriate tool. These come in a few general categories:

  • Desktop feed generation tools. Desktop software you can use to inexpensively, quickly and easily generate RSS feeds, but that doesn't allow for more advanced features such as content targeting.
  • Basic hosted online RSS publishing solutions. These work quite similar to desktop tools, but generally allow for a more streamlined publishing experience. Their key problem is that they usually require the publisher to host the feeds on the vendor's server, thus decreasing the SEO impact of RSS.
  • Advanced RSS marketing solutions. These will cover more advanced RSS marketing capabilities, such as metrics, scheduled autoresponder messages, database building capabilities and similar features.
  • High-end email integrated solutions. Email integrated solutions are the most recent newcomer to the RSS industry, being provided by some of the best reputable email vendors, and providing marketers with full integration with their existing email marketing solutions.

Other options. There are other options as well—for example, using your existing content management system to publish RSS feeds, or using a blog publishing solution, which allows for some basic RSS publishing features but not much in terms of RSS marketing.

Step 5. Promote your RSS feeds through your own channels

Create an RSS presentation page to explain to your visitors what RSS is; how the visitor will benefit from using RSS; where they can get a free RSS aggregator (recommend one yourself!); how they can subscribe to your RSS feeds; and why they should subscribe to your own RSS feeds.

Then, on this same page, include the links to all of your RSS feeds. In addition to the standard orange RSS button, also include direct links for subscriptions via My Yahoo and other relevant services, such as Bloglines.

Promote the RSS presentation page as much as you can using all of your available channels.
Promote your RSS feeds directly below your e-zine subscription box, and always "above the fold." Promote your RSS presentation page (telling your visitors that's where they can subscribe to your feeds) on the most prominent locations of your site.

If you're publishing more than one RSS feed, or a couple of focused-topic feeds, promote each of them next to their topics on the site.

Promote your RSS feeds in all of your email messages and e-zine issues.

As for the content, don't just say "Subscribe to receive news from my site." Instead, prepare compelling copy to show your visitors why they need to subscribe to your content in the first place, and why they should subscribe specifically to your RSS feeds.

Enable auto-discovery to allow browsers with integrated features to easily discover your feed upon visit, and help search engines locate it on your site.

Step 6. Promote your RSS feed through external channels

Submit your feeds to the appropriate search engines and directories.
Ping the RSS aggregation sites each time you update your online content, letting them know that new content is available to be indexed.

Step 7. Other key RSS activities

  • Measure and optimize your feeds.
    Tools are available which will help marketers track how many people are reading the RSS news feeds. This will indicate which articles, news items are popular and which are not - thus help you improve/optimize your RSS feeds.
  • Syndicate your feed content to other Web media.
    Allow third party websites to carry your RSS feed only if that is an appropriate place for the message you are trying to communicate. The best place is often your company’s partners, associates and collaborators.
  • Display third-party RSS feeds on your site.
    RSS feeds from your partners, colloborators can be displayed in your website. In return, make them carry your RSS feed on their website. This increases your message coverage and builds a brand reputation.

Big Guys Join in

Microsoft recently announced that the upcoming Longhorn operating system, as well as the next version of Internet Explorer, will include the ability to read RSS feeds. Google has gotten into the picture as well by supporting the addition of AdSense advertising into RSS feeds. Finally, Yahoo! has given you the ability to add RSS feeds onto your "My Yahoo!" homepage, where the headlines are updated automatically. All of this indicates that RSS will not only continue to live, but that we are on the edge of an RSS "explosion"

What does this mean for marketers?

A) By being integrated in IE and other Microsoft software, RSS will achieve mass penetration. For marketers this means that RSS will finally become one of the standard tools of mass communication and content delivery. Furthermore, internet users will start to expect RSS from marketers, probably even more so than e-mail newsletters.

B) Marketers will no longer (eventually, of course, when most of the world starts using the latest software versions) need to explain how to get an RSS reader, but will be able to focus only on presenting their business and benefits to the end-user.

C) Broader RSS integration in Microsoft's tools will enable for additional RSS uses, far beyond basic content delivery in the form of stories, podcasts and products. Marketers and developers will be able to deploy rich interaction applications to make communication and business/personal interaction more fluent, easier and more effective. In essence, for many advanced marketers the capability of marketing with RSS will mean they're either "in" or "out" of the game.

D) This is now official.
Marketers need to start taking the lead and implementing RSS feeds across all their communicational initiatives, from PR to direct marketing and sales.

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