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How to best use RSS

How to best use RSS

Executive summary

You’ve heard the buzz surrounding RSS.

It drives traffic to your site, customers love it, it helps with search engine optimization, it gets your content syndicated throughout the internet, it’s essential for affiliate marketing, and it’s spam and phishing free.

But is it right for your company?

How do you get the most of it? If you do have feeds, how do you know if they are working? And how does it work with email? In this white paper we will discuss RSS as a customer communications channel, how it complements your email programs, and best practices for its use.

Definition of RSS

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) “feeds,” are files on web servers that your customers and prospects can subscribe to using RSS readers. RSS readers check for new content in the feed at defined intervals and present the content to the subscriber in a portal and/or email interface.

RSS adoption

RSS is a family of syndication technologies originally used to push headlines from media companies to internet portals. RSS emerged from this niche in 2003 due to the explosion of blogs, which use RSS as a way to alert readers to new content. RSS got another boost in 2004 with the emergence of podcasting, which also uses RSS to alert listeners to new audio content.

In 2005-2006 every major portal (Yahoo, Google, MSN, AOL), browser (Internet Explorer 7, Safari, FireFox, Opera), operating system (Windows Vista, Mac OS X, Linux), and email client (Yahoo Mail, Outlook 2007, Thunderbird) incorporated RSS reading technology.

All of your customers and prospects will soon have the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds from your company. Further, subscribing to RSS feeds is getting easier. In 2005, 27% of MyYahoo users were subscribed to RSS feeds without even knowing it. In fact, it is expected that the term RSS will fade away and be replaced with “feeds” or “subscribing to a website.”

Because RSS use is often transparent to the user, research on RSS adoption varies widely. While some research houses claim RSS use in the single digits, others see RSS use in the 30% to 40% range.

The major factor in RSS adoption is the incorporation of RSS Reading into Microsoft Products such as Internet Explorer 7 (to be delivered as an “automatic update” for Windows XP and built into Windows Vista) and Outlook in Office 2007. RSS support in these products is excellent – and Microsoft expects to ship 400 million copies of Vista in the first two years of its release.

Why customers appreciate RSS

Since RSS readers pull in new, relevant content automatically, customers can quickly review your content and click through to your website if they find something of interest.

Thus RSS is often called “the TiVo of the Web” as it allows customers to subscribe to sites and have content downloaded automatically. This saves customers time and puts them in control.

Why marketers appreciate RSS

There are plenty of reasons why marketers find RSS to be an effective marketing medium. These reasons include:

Respectful Marketing - From a marketing perspective, customers are often more receptive to messages when received at a time that is good for them. Thus RSS is often called “respectful marketing” which helps “win the trust battle with customers.”

No Email Address Required - Customers and prospects are often more likely to opt-in as they do not have to provide an email address. RSS is a great way to start building a relationship with such prospects.

No Spam or Virus Filters - Because RSS does not use the email delivery channel, there are no
spam or associated spam filter issues.

Deliverability, No Phishing - Many industries struggle with the challenge of phishing (illegal attempts to fraudulently acquire sensitive customer information), which can be extremely damaging to a brand’s reputation. RSS feeds come directly from your domain and can not be spoofed or phished.

Syndication and Affiliates - Syndication allows other websites, such as affiliates and/or bloggers, to grab your RSS feeds and present them to their visitors. This provides you with the opportunity to reach your customers and prospects at sites that are not yours. It also provides bloggers and/or affiliates with a fresh source of content.

Organic Search Engine Optimisation - If your content gets syndicated as discussed above, search engines indexing these sites see an inbound link to your site. These links represent “high quality” inbound links, one of the primary drivers in search result rankings.

This phenomenon is particularly true of blogs, which tend to have very high page rankings. RSS also helps for search engine optimisation as the underlying XML structure of the feed is easier for search engines to read and understand than the related HTML page.

More Content - RSS readers are built for high volumes of content. With RSS, customers tend to accept a great deal of content, unlike email where frequent mailing can adversely affect open rates and unsubscribe requests. For this reason, RSS is widely used by media companies who send out frequent news articles.

Synergy between RSS and email

How Email and RSS Work Together

While email and RSS are different communicating channels, they work very well together. For example, new customers of yours may not be ready to provide an email address just yet – many customers who are presented with a registration page are unwilling to provide personal information.

Offering an RSS feed is an excellent opportunity to retain a prospect who is unwilling to divulge his/her email address. Similarly, if a customer is attempting to unsubscribe to an email list, presenting an RSS option to him/her may reclaim that customer.

Finally, RSS and email can be used to promote each other. For example, ad:tech, a leading conference for interactive marketers, uses its RSS feeds to promote its email subscriptions and vice versa.

Should I Use RSS or Email?

RSS content, like email, reaches the customer in near real-time, although users may check one medium more frequently than the other.

As a general rule, RSS is best suited for content such as product information, support information, or recurring promotions such as weekly specials.

As you develop your marketing content strategy, think about RSS as an opportunity to build a relationship rather than presenting an offer.

Ideal RSS content is information your customers can use to do their jobs or live their lives.

What Marketers should keep in mind about RSS

User Adoption - For many years RSS will be used by fewer people than email.

Customer in Charge - RSS is a pull medium. The customer can unsubscribe with a single click and the communication channel is severed.

Not Interruptive - Email lands in inboxes, where many users spend the bulk of their working day. RSS is usually not immediate. Many customer read RSS feeds through portals, such as MyYahoo, which check for new content as they see fit, typically every hour.

Content Presentation Challenges - Unlike the email world where there are only a handful of key email readers, there are hundreds of important RSS readers, most of which render content differently. This makes content presentation difficult.

Measurement Challenges - RSS is not tied to an email address, making counting subscribers difficult. Furthermore, RSS readers typically do not support cookies or javascript, the core of web analytics measurement technology. This makes open and clickthrough measurement challenging.

It takes Time to Build Scale - Since RSS is 100% opt in, it will take time to grow your subscriber base – you can’t buy a list and send out a message the same day.

© CheetahMail Inc. All rights reserved.

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