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.
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 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.