Is RSS for you?

Back in the mid 00’s, I was amazed at the number of clients (and potential clients) who requested that their web site have “RSS.” What was really frustrating was few if any KNEW what RSS was.  I later learned that many “internet marketing gurus” were holding free classes exhorting 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.)

2019 edit: RSS has been declared “dead” many times as mainstay RSS readers such as Feedburner, Google Reader and Digg Reader have been shuttered.  However, RSS is a protocol not a product, so despite the demise of feed readers that allowed subscribers to follow the latest updates to a website, the protocol remains viable even though it is virtually ignored.

Danny Crichton writes in his article RSS is undead “At its core, [RSS] is a beautiful manifestation of some of the most visionary principles of the internet, namely transparency and openness.”

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 highlighted above.  “RSS makes it possible to keep up with a favorite web site.”  This makes the assumption that your 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: 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.

2019 edit: rss.weblogs.com is no longer operational.  Smash.VC has an article that looks at the history of Weblogs Inc, and what happened to the site as well as  They distilled 6 Lessons Learned from Weblogs Inc and Jason Calacanis.   It’s a great read.

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.

money making businessIn 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 contact 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 potential RSS subscribers.

2019 edit: Your WordPress powered website still offers RSS  protocol.  However, to access that information consumers need to use software that displays the content in an easy to read manner.  That’s why when the various tech giants shuttered their RSS readers,  many declared that RSS is dead.  However, don’t count it out entirely.  Somewhere, someone is probably trying to figure out a way to harness the power RSS offers in a new and exciting way.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I guess I’m one of those “Internet Marketing Gurus” so to speak, at least on a local level. I speak on the subject of RSS:Blogging and Podcasting – Syndicating your message to the web and beyond to quite a few local business groups.

    However I am more than an Internet marketing person part of my job is working on the development of web sites as well as portable media (mainly podcasts) for small businesses and organizations. I do however drive home the following points;

    1.) I hate the un-userfriendly term of RSS. I’d rather is be a back end technology that people don’t have to worry about but can subscribe right in the browser in much the same way they can subscribe to Podcasts via iTunes (for all practical purposes that is an RSS reader with audio and video files attached)

    2.) I make a point to say their site should be RSS “capable” not that they have to know about it or write to a blog but it really helps to have the tech already in place. Thankfully modern content management programs do have it built in.

    3.) I make a big point of telling others is more than blogging while that is good RSS has many other uses that are just now being explored.

    4.) There is no reason NOT to give potential customers and/or site visitors a way to subscribe to information and have it come to them. It’s very presumptuous to assume people will come visit a site on a regular basis without some kind of notification of new content.

    5.) While RSS may hold a small percentage of the user base now their is no reason not to be prepared for the future.

    6.) I would have not known about this post on your blog had I not been subscribed to your RSS feed.

  2. Kathy says

    Patrick,

    I’ve seen your work and you are DEFINITELY not included in my derogatory definition of “guru”.

    Second, admit it! You too are a tech savvy user.

    I ADORE blogs and one of the things I ADORE about them is the “built in” RSS capability. However, if you’re launching a blog JUST because it offers RSS …. without the dedication to creating CONTENT for syndication….well, that’s putting the cart before the horse.

    You make a GREAT point…today a small percentage of us are using RSS… tomorrow may be a different story.

  3. says

    Of course I am a tech savvy user but I’m exploring ways to offer clients and their customers tools so the non-tech savvy can easily use those tools I’m all for it.

    True, I would hope someone starting a blog would not do it just because of RSS but would write about what they are passionate about. One byproduct of writing is the writer forces themselves into an expert mode because they have to read and research more.

    I can definitely tell when someone is writing out of passion and when they are attempting to be big bad marketer with their suit and fake smile.

    I do however follow some “marketing gurus” and their writing like Seth Godin because I can tell he is real and passionate about his work as opposed to the other kind (hard to describe but you know them when you see them)

    Sorry if I just got on a high horse but a hot button just got pushed. Not by you directly but things that just popped into my mind.

    Thanks for your perspective you make some good points!

    We are actually working on some new initiative to address some issues we were talking about.

    I look at it this way. A static web site is like a business card or brochure. That may be fine for some. A blog or rather section of updated content is like the newsletter companies will send out monthly, etc. Except it can be a lot more frequent depending on the needs and thankfully with don’t have to pay huge printing cost with web updates.

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