There's a lot of buzz about RSS these days, and a lot of information and opinions about the reasons why we as marketers should be using it. It's a big subject, and in this article I'll try to give an overview of these reasons. First, though, I think we'd better start with some definitions.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Simply put, RSS is a file format (well, technically it's a range of file formats using XML-but let's not worry too much about the techie stuff) that allows online content to be syndicated via feeds. Sites using RSS feeds either produce their own RSS content, or use content syndicated by third parties.
RSS is already all over the Internet. Almost all the major portals use it in some form or another, and it's becoming increasingly common on websites and Blogs. Companies use it to stay in touch with their target audiences and keep them updated with relevant, timely information. CNN, for example, offers a variety of RSS feeds that visitors can subscribe to, including international news, business news and sports news. Have a look at http://www.cnn.com/services/rss/. MSN offers a similar service at http://rss.msn.com/.
Site visitors subscribe to RSS feeds using a tool known as an aggregator or feed reader. This scans RSS feeds and lets subscribers know when the feeds are updated, usually by displaying a headline. There are many different aggregators available. Google offers a good example, and it offers a preview before signing up. To have a look, visit http://www.google.com/reader/.
With the preliminaries out of the way, now let's get down to the top 10 reasons why we as marketers should be using RSS.
1. RSS is a very efficient way to deliver content to prospects and customers.
We all know how hard it can be to get permission from our customers to send them emails. But even when we get this permission we can't always be 100% sure our emails will actually reach them-Spam filters sometimes block perfectly respectable emails, and Inbox clutter can cause interested customers to delay opening our messages.
RSS helps us cut through the clutter. Subscribers actively request information, and use a dedicated tool (the aggregator) to check for updates of their selected RSS feeds. An aggregator will never block our content as Spam, and will not deliver any content that hasn't been subscribed to. This means there's no danger of our messages not being delivered, and far less clutter to contend with. So if we want important messages to reach core clients quickly and effectively, RSS presents a good complement to email marketing.
Have you ever had the experience of regularly checking a favourite website to see if it has updated its content? Perhaps you were looking for the latest news, special offers or simply interesting articles. It can take a lot of clicks. But with RSS all you need to do is check your aggregator to see which of your favourite sites have been updated. You'll even see what kind of updates they are, as aggregators display headlines. A great service for regular site visitors.
Now let's look at this from a marketing perspective. By adding RSS feeds we can let people know about new content in an incredibly convenient way. We can use RSS to distribute special offers to customers, news updates to media outlets, financial information to investors, incentives to distributors-as long as the content is relevant the possibilities are only limited by our own ingenuity.
3. With multiple RSS feeds you can deliver targeted content to different audiences.
By using several RSS feeds it's possible to deliver targeted content based on customer interests. The CNN feeds mentioned above do this very well. Some readers will be interested in football news, while others will find football painfully dull and only want to receive the latest business updates. CNN's multiple feeds allow visitors to choose only the content that appeals to them.
Let's extend this idea to an e-commerce site. Suppose a site sells multiple product types. By setting up multiple RSS feeds it's possible for customers to subscribe to special offers only for the types of products they regularly buy. And that's a powerful way of direct marketing to core customers.
4. Adding syndicated RSS content from third parties also adds value.
Using RSS to add value to web offerings doesn't have to mean committing resources to developing our own content. Many sites use syndicated RSS content to offer up-to-date information. The trick here is to be selective and only include content that fits the site. A good example here would be a hotel website including an RSS feed for daily weather reports (Yahoo offers this service for most cities around the world)-a lot simpler than checking the thermometer and making updates manually!
5. RSS syndication on other websites helps raise awareness and drive traffic.
We've covered adding third-party RSS content to our own websites, but what if our site provides syndicated content to other sites? There is a very definite advantage to doing this. Syndicated feeds typically include a link back to the site that provides them, and this can help raise awareness and drive traffic. And this kind of awareness can spread quickly. When visitors see our content on websites it is syndicated to, they might be tempted to add it to their own websites. In this way, syndicated RSS content advertises itself, and really compelling syndicated content can spread like wildfire.
6. RSS can improve search engine rankings.
the plethora of new media channels available, of which RSS is just one,
the majority of new visitors still come to websites through the major
search engines. But getting high rankings on search engines is harder
than ever. One very good way to do it is through non-reciprocated links
(i.e. when another website links to you, but you don't link back). That's
exactly what happens when a site includes syndicated RSS content, and
it's one of the reasons some popular Blogs manage to achieve such high
rankings in a very short time.
When looking at syndicating RSS content, we can cast the net a bit wider than just other websites. There are also dedicated RSS directories and search engines, such as www.feedster.com. Surfers use these to find RSS feeds on specific topics. This is yet another way that RSS can introduce new visitors to our sites-and pre-qualified sales leads to our companies.
8. RSS is an effective channel for public relations.
RSS is not only used for communicating with customers and general site visitors. It's a quick and efficient way to send out press releases to media organisations. Many media outlets now subscribe to RSS feeds to receive information from the companies they write about. Journalists receive more emails each day than almost any other profession (a lot of clutter!), so RSS can sometimes be a more effective way of communicating with them than email marketing.
9. RSS advertisements generate high click-through rates./tracking
Response to RSS is highly trackable, yielding a range of useful metrics, from the number of subscribers to each feed, to what content these subscribers read and how often they read it, and how many of them click through to our websites.
10. With RSS you can limit access and distribute content only to the right people.
So far I've talked mostly about getting as many people as possible to view content, but RSS can also be used to limit access by making feeds available only to authorised individuals. In this way, RSS can be used to quickly and securely communicate confidential information to staff, suppliers, distributors, privileged customers and affiliates.
These are just a few of the reasons for marketers to use RSS-there are dozens of others. And the number of practical applications for RSS is exploding right now, as marketers around the world and in the region get creative with this technology. In my next article I'll share many more of these practical applications and reveal the Top 20 ways you can use RSS for your brand.
Web Guru Asia are digital marketing specialists.
We help our clients use interactive media - web, email and mobile - as effective channels for building intelligent relationships with customers, both in Asia and worldwide.
Web Guru Asia was founded in 1997 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Web Guru Asia now operate offices in several countries across Asia and employ up to 25 people. We have worked with over 150 different clients in 15 countries, and we have a track record of innovation in generating results for some of the world's most recognisable brands.
In Malaysia, this includes organisations such as HSBC, BMW, Carlsberg, Sepang Formula 1, YTL, Malaysia Airlines, Tourism Malaysia, Microsoft and others. Outside of Malaysia, this includes brands such as Singapore Airlines, Hong Kong Disneyland, The Peninsula Hotels, Pepsi, Sony, Time Warner and more.
In Singapore, this includes organisations such as Singapore Airlines, Singapore Tourism Board, Sony, Ministry of Manpower, TimeWarner and other leading brands. Outside of Singapore, this includes companies such as Hong Kong Disneyland, HSBC, BMW, Carlsberg, Sepang Formula 1, Microsoft, Pepsi and many others.
ABOUT JEFF ZWEIG
Jeff Zweig is Chief Guru of Web Guru Asia, a regional Internet consulting firm specialising in interactive marketing and web solutions development. He is responsible for all of Web Guru Asia's activities in Southeast Asia.
Jeff has been responsible for the success of interactive marketing and
digital branding projects for clients such as Singapore Airlines, Singapore
Tourism Board, Ministry of Manpower, Sony, TimeWarner and others.
working with Web Guru Asia, Jeff worked eight years as a systems integration
consultant with Accenture serving clients in Houston, Texas and Kuala
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