Is RSS for you?

I will never cease to be amazed at the number of clients (and potential clients) who request that their web site be capable of RSS without even KNOWING what RSS stands for.   Usually, I find out later that some "internet marketing guru" has just held a free class where he/she exhorts class participants to be SURE their site is RSS capable. (For our purposes here, we’re going to deal with WRITTEN content and not podcasting.)

RSS stands for (depending upon who you ask) Really Simple Syndication.  According to Wikipedia:

RSS is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. An RSS document, which is called a "feed", "web feed", or "channel", contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text.

RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with their favorite web sites in an automated manner that’s easier than checking them manually.

RSS content can be read using software called a "feed reader" or an "aggregator." The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed’s link into the reader or by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. The reader checks the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for new content, downloading any updates that it finds.

First, notice the text in red above…. keeping up with a favorite web site assumes that a site’s CONTENT changes frequently.  

So, the first question which begs to be answered in the quest for whether RSS is for you is:

1) DO YOU MAKE REGULAR CHANGES TO YOUR WEB SITE?

If your web site is a BLOG then the answer is probably (hopefully) YES! 

There are other content management systems (because a blog is really just a simple content management system) which also offer RSS, but the question still remains of how often are you publishing new content. 

Still with me?  Great!  You’re making regular posts to your blog OR you’re making frequent content additions to your web site…. then it’s time for the next question:

2) IS YOUR CONTENT GEARED FOR TECH SAVVY READERS

Accord to Brad Hill over at RSS.Weblogs.com:

Ipsos-Insight, Yahoo! has produced a white paper (PDF file) entitled "RSS—Crossing Into the Mainstream.

The headline facts are interesting enough:12 percent of the Internet population is aware of RSS technology by that name, and a bare 4 percent claim to use RSS.

According to the blog post (and comments to that post) podcasting experiences a much higher "awareness" level but the buzz around that form of syndication has not translated into heavy adoption.

So the question which begs to be answered by you is: Are your readers part of the 4% who use RSS?

In general, if your target audience is LESS than "tech savvy" it’s entirely possible that you have a much LOWER percentage of readers who subscribe to RSS feeds.  If your target audience is EXTREMELY web savvy, it’s possible that you have a much higher percentage of RSS users.

In the end, if you’re providing a consistent flow of information for a technically savvy audience, then yes, be sure to include a prominent place for your readers to subscribe via RSS to your content feed.  However, since the vast majority of my clients are NOT targeting the highly technical savvy user, I STRONGLY recommend that my clients continue to rely on the tried and true email newsletter to stay in contactg with their audience. 

Again, as always, it’s a matter of knowing WHO the members of your target market are and how comfortable they are with technology.  Just because someone can use a browser and email doesn’t mean they’re RSS subscribers.

New rising stars… blogging FORUMS

Blogs are a great interactive medium where one person writes and then others comment on the article.  I adore blogs for my clients because it’s a cost effective way for bootstrapping entrpreneurs to get their marketing messages onto the web easily and effectively.

Jack Hughes has pointed out that the rise of blogging forums may be pointing to flaws in blogs….

If there is a "flaw" to blogging it’s this: creating content is TOUGH!  As Jack and other bloggers have found, staying motivated to blog regularly requires a hurculean effort, especially if your talents don’t lend themselves to writing.  A blog without posts is like a day without sunshine and blog irregularity is a common affliction amongst many blogs.

While blogs require consistency in effort… forums on the other hand don’t.  Forums are a "set it and forget it" option for many web site owners.  Start a thread, drive some traffic and soon you’ll find other people are generating content for your forum.  It’s no secret that search engines love forum threads and forums really don’t require a lot of effort on the owner’s part.

One client of mine launched a forum and she set it and forgot about it.  It didn’t take long for the forum to get active and popular.  That is when the problems began.  Once her forum posts began rising in the SERPs…. she began getting the seedier crowd nosing around.  Before long, a security hole was exposed and patched by the developer of the bulletin board software, except my client didn’t upgrade her installation.  It wasn’t long before the bad guys had gained access to her site through a back door.  When she went to check on her site one day, she saw there were 10’s of thousands of spam posts.  The board was dead.  Anyone wanting information on the original topic would find post after post advertising seedier sites on the internet.

If you want to launch a forum, it is truly the "easier softer way"…. but it’s definitely not a "set it and forget it" option. 

I would say the "set it and forget it" appeal is the reason blogging forums are on the rise.

Video Testimonials go Mainstream

For about 6 months now, I’ve been encouraging my clients to include video testimonials on their blogs/web sites, not only because it’s a powerful marketing tool, but also because of the "wow" factor.  After all, while streaming video is nothing new, the You Tube revolution has made adding video to any blog or web site as easy as adding a link!

Now, marketing genius Ken McCarty is advising his readers to look into Video Testimonials:

About 80% of consumers put more faith in advertisers who present customer reviews than those that don’t.  Over thee out of four customers say it is extremely or very important to read customer reviews before making a purchase.

And not just any old reviews. They want customer reviews and prefer them 6 to 1 over "expert" reviews. 44% of online shoppers say that consumer ratings and reviews are the most useful e-commerce  feature.  No other eCommerce shopping feature came even close.

I’ve talked often with my clients about the power of testimonials.  I’ve even included a lot of testimonial gathering tactics in my book Beyond the Niche.  However, when it comes to a selling tool that carries the POWER of a testimonial, well… it shouldn’t surprise ANYONE that some people will actually create FRAUDULENT testimonials and place them on a web site. As a matter of fact, testimonials are so powerful, (and their power is definitely "decreased" by fraudulen tuse) that  there’s even a company that offers the service of AUTHENTICATING your written testimonials on your web site.

Which is why I encourage MY clients to feature VIDEO testimonials on their blog/web site.  Video testimonials are much tougher to "fake" than written testimonials.  Simeon Pollock’s Wholistic Blog features a collection of video testimonials.  Take a look at them and ask yourself, isn’t this more powerful than words appearing on a page?

Two types of business bloggers

There are two types of business bloggers… those who are posting to their blog with the intent on establishing credibility with potential clients and colleagues and those who are hoping to "break into" the top 50,000 weblogs who, according to University of Texas, Dallas in a study sponsored by Chitika , earn in excess of $500 Million a year!  (Click here to read why Dave Taylor thinks that number is actually low!)

shutterstock_154410.jpgBLOGGING AS YOUR BUSINESS.

The "blogging as your business model" tool seems to be the newfound darling of the "get rich quick from home while you do nothing but cash the checks" crowd.  While blogging is old news, it’s recently been vaulted into the spotlight and embraced by those who want to earn huge checks with a minimal investment of time and energy.  Unfortunately, blogging offers neither.

The "top" blogs are usually the work of more than one person.  Micheal Arrington’s Tech Crunch (which earns a reported $200K per month) maintains that blog using a staff of 10.  That’s right, it takes TEN people to maintain the Tech Crunch blogging enterprise.

Which is something most people don’t realize:  It (usually) takes a village to create a mega-blog!  Blogging is time consuming.  Not only do you have to write, but you have to research as well.  Maintaining the level and pace of the mega blogs usually requires more than a single individual can provide.

I’ve seen more than one "farewell" blog post where the author decides that it’s JUST too much to keep up the pace on the road to the Technorati hot 100. 

BLOGGING AS A BUSINESS COMMUNICATION TOOL:

There are, bless their hearts, business owners who recognize that blogging is a GREAT business communication tool. These business bloggers who are using their blog to communicate with their customers.  They are posting regularly because they understand the importance of communication with their potential customers.  Those whose strong suit isn’t writing are using other means of communication to communicate and they’re using their blog as a tool to deliver these alternative means of communication.  Whether it’s via the written word, audio or video, these business owners understand that communication is the key to building business relationships.

Not only do these brave souls find that they are connecting with potential clients through their blog, but they’re also recognizing the "path" they need to take in building their business. 

I have one client who discovered her "niche’ through blogging.  When she began the process, she "thought" she was a career coach.  However, when she signed up for a blog and tried to get blogging on the subject of career coaching, she struggled to the point where she couldn’t create an ABOUT US page. 

I began working with her one on one and it turns out her real passion is not career coaching, but instead providing SUPPORT FOR DIVORCED WOMAN OVER 50!  Now THAT is a niche market, one which she is a PIONEER!  It’s SO exciting to watch her business "bloom".  The blog has not only provided her with the direction for her business, it’s also an INCREDIBLY effective tool to reach women over 50 who are trying to find a new life after divorce. 

These business bloggers recognize that there is a signficant investment required to achieve success.  Blogging does not require a significant investment of CASH but it does require a significant investment of time and energy.   However, the payoff is not in the form of "passive" income but rather in increased business opportunities in the form of

  • new clients/customers
  • new collaborators
  • speaking engagements
  • prestige amongst peers

Oops… there is a third category and that is blogging amongst the "employed".  Yes, even those who are "traditionally" employed (a.k.a. have a "real" job with vacations and benefits) are finding value in blogging.  Some savvy career builders are using their blog as a virtual resume to highlight their strengths and accomplishments.  In addition, their blog is serving to help them make connections, land speaking gigs and establishing themselves as a thought leader amongst their peers.

 

 Whatever your business blogging goal, blogs are the wave of the future for business communications. 

Creating a “pretty” email newsletter isn’t very pretty….

The request from my client was simple:

Kathy, how do I make my email newsletter pretty?

My response….

Speaking of pretty…. this isn’t going to be.  <grin>  (Remember, my clients are VERY tech challenged….)

The key you to creating "pretty" email newsletters is known by the name H-T-M-L. Basically, you’ll have to create an HTML page on the web and then "reference" it in your newsletter. Then, when you’re creating your newsletter, you’ll have to remember to use FULL urls (Dreamweaver will assume you’re creating a web site and will make the links relative).

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