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RSS: What's in It for Marketers?

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Bill McCloskey, founder of the Internet One Hundred Club, seems to be taking a lot of heat for a few articles he wrote a while back about claims that folks have been making about the penetration of RSS feeds and the ability of RSS to replace email.

Bill was right when he talked about how people are reaching when they talk about the penetration of RSS. He was also right to remind people regarding PointCast ("RSS feeds are nothing more than the old PointCast model dressed up for the 21st Century. PointCast didn't work then. And I remain skeptical that for the foreseeable future, RSS will work now. ").

I don't believe RSS will replace email altogether, but I am working on a project to use secure RSS feeds as a replacement for email to circumvent phishing concerns for a client who is NOT sending out email. I do think RSS will move Web site traffic, because people can use RSS readers to receive content without having to visit a site. That's how I pound through my feeds.

OK, before I lose you, here's what RSS feeds are... and here's why you should care about RSS.

What Is RSS?


RSS stands for really simple syndication. It was invented sometime ago by Netscape. In its simplest form, it was a news-clipping service that provided a header and few lines of text. It has evolved, however, to look, resemble, and act like email. Most major news sites (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, YahooNews, etc.) allow you to tag a section and grab an RSS feed. That way, instead of having to go visit a Web page, you can receive a feed.

For example, the RSS feeds list on my Web site, the MarketingProfs Web site, or on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog, will allow you to get the RSS feeds of my recent articles or posts and access them through your favorite reader (Yahoo, Google, Bloglines, etc.).

To read a feed, you need a Web-based provider like MyYahoo or Bloglines, a desktop version that most likely adds on to Outlook, or a browser such as Firefox, IE 7.0 (which is in beta), or Safari for MAC. No busy executive should be without one.

What Is the Penetration of RSS?

As reported by Bill in his article, Yahoo and Ipsos ran a study that was released in the fourth quarter of last year that showed 4 percent of Internet users are aware of RSS. Another 27 percent use it but without knowing they are (Huh? Apparently, a lot of your added content onto MyYahoo is coming from RSS feeds, but you don't know it). My estimate is that the penetration is now around 8 percent.

Why Does It Matter to Marketers?

RSS is simply another form of communication that makes it very easy to push out information to clients. Plus, it is very simple to create, and also simple for someone to opt in to receive it. Since the feeds themselves are not personalized, you theoretically don't have the one-to-one communication power of email, but there is nothing simpler than signing up for a feed and gaining access to the feed.

I have a lot of feeds set up for my own use. They have not decreased my email usage, but they have decreased my site visits.

For example, I set one up for a few eBay products that I like to watch, so instead of going to eBay and searching for them, I just access the feeds. RSS is also great for getting breaking news and staying on top of your favorite sites in a matter a minutes. Again, in this case, think of them as a news clipping service.

So, if you own a site, you should start thinking about providing RSS feeds of frequently updated pages—perhaps news, research, PR releases, job searches, etc. That way, people can grab them and read them very quickly.

There are other uses for marketers, but that is for future articles.


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Eric Frenchman is an online marketing and advertising consultant in New Jersey and chief internet strategist for the online political agency Connell Donatelli (www.connelldonatelli.com). He is a frequent contributor to the daily MarketingProfs blog, the Daily Fix (blog.marketingprofs.com), and writes his own marketing blog (www.ericfrenchman.com).

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