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.