Tips for Marketing with RSS

Whether you're just getting started with RSS marketing or have been in the game for a while, you probably know that RSS is unlike the other online marketing fish in the sea. Out here, the consumer runs the show.

And this consumer control, while a bit scary, also happens to present some interesting advantages and, if given the appropriate consideration, can help lead to more than respectable results for your RSS campaign. In the Pheedo network, RSS feeds have garnered about an eight percent clickthrough rate, outperforming most other online advertising mediums. But reaching this number takes some strategic planning and effective execution due to the fact that the consumer is in control.

Getting started in RSS marketing is nothing to be afraid of, but you need to know what you're getting into. Following are five tips that will help you leverage the control of the consumer in RSS and ensure smooth sailing for your RSS marketing campaigns.

1. Identify feed characteristics
All feeds are not created equal. There are many variables when it comes to content delivery with RSS feeds. For example, My Yahoo! only displays the headlines of feeds while Bloglines can show as much as the entire feed item with its full content. And while some publishers offer the full text of their content in feeds, others only offer partial feeds, forcing readers to click through to their website to read the full contents of a news item.

What does this mean for marketers? Before being able to effectively market to a consumer, you need to know how content is being presented. What will the marketing message look like? Without first knowing the characteristics of the feed, RSS marketing is too much of a shot in the dark. Only by understanding the distribution method, and how consumers receive the feed, can you make the most informed marketing decisions, and ultimately optimize the advertising creative and strategies in RSS.

One important example worth examining is the full versus partial text feed issue. Let's say an online publication has 20,000 people subscribed to its RSS feed. The publisher offers the first two paragraphs of each article in the feed and the reader must click through to the website to view the rest of the content. Many readers will quickly skim the content provided in their feed, using the feed as jumping point to click through to the website for the rest of the article. Any ads in the feed may go unnoticed and will not receive clicks as the consumer is spending more time on the website. Although the readership is high, this publisher may not be a good option for advertisers. A content provider with lower readership but offering full text feeds could prove to garner more clicks on an ad.

Evaluate the feeds in which you are advertising carefully. See what the consumer sees and determine whether or not the feed lends itself well to advertising.

2. Tell a story. Don't sell a product.
RSS consumers want engaging content. Readers want to learn about the specific topics discussed in their chosen RSS feeds, and this experience should not stop at the publisher's content, but should extend into your advertising as well.

Let's say you're running a campaign for a new hybrid car. You target environmental publications and blogs for your RSS advertising campaign, and you know that readers are interested in environmental issues and helping the environment. With such a targeted audience, it's key that your advertising fulfills their desire for relevant, rich content and keeps them engaged.

The ad needs to tell a story. Present interesting facts or quotes from recent news about the benefits of hybrids, or, end the copy in your ad with an intriguing environmental question that you answer on your website. RSS advertising is much different than search advertising, and the same creative will have a much different effect.

3. Keep the creative fresh and new
Once you have established a strategy to communicate a story in your campaign, this format must be maintained and built upon. Consumers and content providers continually update their RSS feeds, and the enclosed advertising is most effective when it is updated at a similar rate as well. A simple rule of thumb is to change your creative for every six new posts in the feed.

In an update-oriented medium like RSS, having the same ads in feeds will hurt clickthrough rates. Take our hybrid car example. No matter how interesting the content of the ad is, if it is not periodically refreshed with new copy, the ad will lose its effectiveness and will often be overlooked. Update your creative, and keep it fresh.

4. Build a relationship with the potential customer
RSS advertising provides advertisers with a compelling platform to build a relationship with the RSS readers they are targeting. An RSS feed is a pure opt-in medium that consumers return to on a regular basis and this gives advertisers the ability to communicate with them on a deep, consistent level and eliminates the problems posed by spam filters in customer email communications.

With the content-heavy creative I mentioned before, companies and advertisers can really speak to the interests of the reader and know that many in their target audience will attentively read their content. Serial story-telling works well. Selling is a turn-off.

5. Choose and define your audience wisely
This tip may seem obvious, as it applies to many forms of marketing, but with RSS, where the audience is small but extremely targeted, executing well in this step of the marketing process is imperative. With email marketing, it's about reaching a mass audience while competing with spam filters and trust issues. From a targeting perspective, RSS could not be more different.

Going back to the hybrid car example, there are several types of online publications we could target for the best results, such as automotive, environmental and renewable energy. When advertising across multiple categories, the creative must change based on the audience you are trying to reach. For example, readers of the automotive publication might want to know about the performance comparisons of a hybrid engine vs. a traditional engine; while the environmental publication readers might prefer to hear more specifically about environmental issues.

RSS is still in its growth stage, and thus RSS audiences are generally small, well-informed early adopters. In RSS, hitting the mark with targeting by specifically defining your audience is of the utmost importance, and should yield high clickthrough rates and conversion rates required to deliver a great return on your RSS investment.

These tips for a successful RSS advertising campaign come back to two key ideas: First, RSS is about rich content, and second, the user is in complete control. Whether you are thinking about launching your first RSS ad campaign or want to optimize existing ones, following these five steps will help you get the most results per dollar you've spent and will leave a lasting impression of your company and products on your audience.

Bill Flitter  is founder and chief marketing officer of Pheedo. Prior to Pheedo, Flitter founded Email Shopping Network and directed its sales and marketing activities until its acquisition by eUniverse in 2002. In addition to Pheedo and Email Shopping Network, Flitter has started and helped build numerous early stage companies, developing hundreds of innovative products and services. He is also cofounder of Fastlane Ventures, a boutique management consulting firm focused on early-stage investments. Flitter is the chairperson for the Blogging and RSS special interest group of the East Bay IT Group (eBIG.org).

 

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