Tips for Publishing RSS feeds – Part 1

Over the past couple years, I’ve learned a lot about RSS feed publishing while running EvolvePoint. Since we operate on both ends of the feed spectrum (search and publishing), I’ve had the opportunity to examine many feeds and see what works and what doesn’t.

I’m starting to have enough data to have a good feel for what is working in feed publishing and what isn’t. Unfortunately, the publishing of feeds is all across the board.  We have technical specifications for the proper formatting of a feed, yet there’s still no consensus on feed publisher standards and best practices. There have been attempts, but I still see the same mistakes over and over. The RSS Advisory Board is trying, but we’re still not there yet.

So, with that said, here’s my attempt at helping the community publish better feeds. Some of my comments may be controversial, but where I believe that to be the case I’ve tried to add both sides of the issue and at least mention the opposing opinion. If you have differing views on any of the tips, please let me know. Additionally, if there are some tips you’d like to suggest, please comment.

I’ve come up with 12 tips (for now), so this will be a multi-part series starting with the just the first tip (it’s a long one). I’m also in the process of putting these tips into a white paper. When it’s finished (I’m hoping near the same time I finish this series), I’ll provide the link to download the full white paper.

1. Offer full text feed content

Letâ??s start off the publisher tips with one of the most controversial. I recommend offering your feeds as full text versus summary only content. If given a choice, most readers of feeds choose full text feeds. Why? Because full text capitalizes on the main benefit of feeds to users â?? convenience. Users of feeds become loyal readers of publisher content because it now becomes much easier to stay up to date and read all the content coming from their favorite publishers. In the long run, a long list of loyal subscribers and regular readers in much more valuable than the short term additional page views.

In todayâ??s environment, itâ??s unrealistic to think that your content is so important your readers will visit your web site every single day to check for new content. Letâ??s get real here. This just doesnâ??t happen. Most Internet users are suffering from information overload. RSS feeds can ease this and enable readers to stay abreast of many sources of content without having to visit the individual web sites. Just like Tivo, but for the web, feeds empower users allowing them to consume all their favorite content when they want and how they want.

Many publishers resist offering the full text of their content for two main reasons:

1) Unauthorized republishing of their feed content

Unscrupulous web operators have taken advantage of feeds offered in full text by using these feeds to populate content on their web sites (usually spam sites, aka splogs). This content is passed off as their own with no credit back to the original source. Some publishers are afraid that their content will be used without their permission on these types of sites. They have a valid point.

2) Desire to drive traffic to their web site (and increase advertising revenue)

Publishers have a web site for a reason, right? Whether itâ??s a corporate site, a blog, a newsletter, a web service, or an ecommerce site, the amount of traffic to the web site is a major factor in the overall success of the endeavor. If the amount of traffic is reduced to the site, then revenue must decrease, right?

Letâ??s look at each of these cases in a bit more depth. With republishing content, splogs are definitely a risk that is very hard to avoid if someone tries to do it. An effective way on monitoring this kind of abuse it to track the use of unique, key phrases in your content on the major search engines. Most offer the ability to receive RSS feeds on any given search phrase. The easiest way to maintain a general watch of your brand and content is to keep active searches on your company name or each product. In addition to the benefit of seeing when original content is written about your company, youâ??ll also be aware when a splog or other web site is using your content.

The other main concern for publishers with full text feeds is traffic to their website. In many regards, this concern is likely overblown. In reality, you will end up having a much more dedicated reader of your content with full text feeds. Users are more likely to read your content and remain a subscriber. This enables publishers to communicate their content to a much more loyal and readily accepting audience. Would you rather have a visitor who reads your content occasionally or someone whoâ??s reading (or at least skimming) everything? In the long run, full text feeds will help increase your readership and brand, thus increasing value.

Another option if youâ??re concerned about revenue is to insert advertising into your feeds. Feed advertising solutions have come along way and there are some great options available. Pheedo (http://www.pheedo.com) and FeedBurner (http://www.feedburner.com) both offer the ability for publishers to place ads directly in feeds items as well as inserting ads as alternating items themselves. Both are getting great traction from advertisers, so there are plenty of options for placing appropriate ads in your feeds. A second option is the recently released FeedVertising from Text Link Ads (http://www.text-link-ads.com/feedvertising/). With this service, publishers have the ability to place text link ads from advertisers or text links of their own making. The feed for this site is using FeedVertising to display ads promoting my company’s products.

This concept can be extended by adding a custom footer or small ad of your own to the bottom of every feed item. Any combination of text, images, and HTML is possible here. Publishers can add their own ads, logos and other branding, text-based messages, or other notices.

Full text feeds can actually increased your traffic as well as enhance your branding with just a bit of thinking outside the box.

If youâ??re still not convinced, there’s a second best option if you must go with summary feed content.  If you skip on full text, please give enough context so the reader knows whatâ??s contained in the full article on the web site. Most of the time summary content is a sentence of two that is truncated in the middle of a sentence. There is usually not enough content provided for the reader to know what the post is about. How can you expect someone to click through to the content on the website if the reader has no idea what original content covers? So, if youâ??re going with summary content in your feeds, make sure to craft these summaries with your readers in mind. Summaries need to be compelling in their own right to entice the reader to click through and visit your site.

Stay tuned for part 2 in the RSS Publishing Tips series.

Tom currently works in developer relations for IBM Watson. A serial entrepreneur, he's been the founder of numerous startups including Investify and StatsMix, a Techstars alumni company. Tom lives outside Boulder, Colorado and in his free time he's an avid rock climber, skier, and trail runner.

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