Monday, June 25, 2007

The Top Five Reasons Why It's 'RSS or DIE'

The Top Five Reasons Why It's 'RSS or DIE'
by Jason Cormier and James Clark
May 22, 2007

"RSS" stands for "Really Simple Syndication." In a nutshell, it is the technology that is enabling blogs, podcasts, and all major online news rooms. RSS is rapidly displacing email and Web sites as the preferred method for distributing online content.

However, although the syndication technology may indeed be "simple," highly effective RSS deployments are not. Success hinges on a careful re thinking of content channels and marketing strategies.

To get RSS right the first time, companies need to understand the basic paradigm shift it represents, and how they should integrate it with overall corporate marketing and PR communications.

The RSS Paradigm Shift

RSS is a relatively straightforward technology that completely changes the model for distributing content online:

  • RSS is anonymous—subscribers receive your content without ever having to provide their name, email address, or other contact information.

  •  RSS is highly focused—it's easy and essential to create individualized content channels that let the consumers choose which content is of interest to them.

  •  RSS is instantaneous—new content is instantly delivered to the subscriber's RSS reader, without the need to "surf" or manually check Web sites for updates.

  • RSS is trusted—it goes straight to the subscriber, without having to run the gauntlet of corporate or ISP email/spam filters. RSS content feeds always reach subscribers.

  • RSS is "expert"—search engines (correctly) recognize RSS feeds as highly focused content and therefore give it a higher "expert info" weighting that boosts search rankings and overall credibility.

All of these characteristics are fundamentally superior to the current models of content distribution based on Web sites and email. However, without a fundamentally new strategic plan to capitalize on RSS's strengths, many companies will spin their wheels and squander any "first mover" advantage they may have had.

RSS Offers True Choices

Marketing guru Seth Godin frequently points out that "people simply want what they want"—in the exact form they want it, and exactly when they want it. Pleasing people is all about giving them an easier and faster to way to satisfy their desires. When something pleases them, they want more of it. And when they come back for more, they tell others along the way.

RSS creates an entirely new channel for consumers who want specific content but don't want to exchange their contact information for it. They subscribe (paid or free) to receive your content anonymously, according to their own preferences.

RSS equips companies with the power to segment content—written, audio or video—for any audience. This means no more cramming all manner of content into a single newsletter to please the masses. Instead, you can now create individualized content channels that let consumers choose what's of interest to them.

Content channels might include...

  • News
  • Product development
  • Sale items
  • Sales team programs
  • Corporate or employee blogs
  • Training
  • Departmental updates
  • Articles
  • Case studies
  • Research
  • Anything else applicable to your business

This deceptively simple shift in how content is organized and distributed promotes subscriber loyalty and interaction. You'll see the positive results in whatever metric you use—readership, listenership, or viewership.

No Barriers to RSS

As a marketer, relying on consumers to come back and check your site regularly for new content is an increasingly risky proposition. With the availability of search engines, desktop widgets, and RSS feeds, fewer and fewer consumers are willing to spend hours surfing the Web for information.

Likewise, an increasingly dying practice is relying on the spam-battered email inbox as the sole repository of key information. For example, if it's important for journalists to see your information, does it really make sense to expect them to create a folder for your specific information? Not likely.

RSS feeds offer the ultimate "opt-in" model of receiving content: Consumers can easily and immediately control their secure subscription (free or paid) to information.

Unlike email, consumers receive information through an RSS feed while remaining completely anonymous. Nothing—not even an email address—needs to be submitted to receive information via an RSS feed. There is no "request to unsubscribe" step, as in email. All the consumer needs is an RSS reader, most of which are freely available.

Once a user subscribes, previously published information becomes immediately accessible and new content is delivered as soon as it is posted. With Web-based RSS readers, that content also doesn't pile-up on the consumer's hard drive. Plus, email servers are bypassed, so the many frustrating problems associated with lost emails or spam filtering are completely eliminated.

RSS Content Is High Profile

Typically, your online content lives or dies by its search engine rankings. How can you use that to your advantage? Consider this: The mission of a search engine is to be relevant. The more relevant the search results, the more valuable the information is to the searcher. When people get what they want, they come back for more and tell others along the way. Google proved this years ago by creating a superior search algorithm, one that continues to evolve and gain market share to this day.

Google's current search algorithm recognizes RSS feeds as extremely relevant content vehicles, even to the point of indexing and presenting the feed content in a search results page. Publishing content through an RSS feed is like "pinging" the search engines, notifying the bots that new content is available. This drives search bots to Web pages to index the content. The frequency and relevancy of the content increases the number of pages on your site that are indexed by search engines. This results in higher natural search rankings for your content.

RSS boosts your online visibility in many ways:

  • Syndicates your content and creates one-way, inbound links from other Web sites that reference your site as the source

  • Notifies search engines whenever your content is updated

  • Increases Web traffic via deeper search engine indexing of your site and inclusions in RSS-only search directories

  • Improves search rankings for targeted keywords (search terms)

RSS Positions You as a Thought Leader

Google, Yahoo, and MSN search engines do not rely on human intervention to rank the importance of Web sites—yet if your Web site ranks high for certain keywords, it is perceived by most that the search engine has designated your site as an expert resource for that topic. Although expert resources may be found in top search results, there is currently no reliable process that assures top rankings go only to top organizations...

This raises an important question: How valuable would it be for your organization to appear as the No. 1 Google search result for a keyword relevant to your business? Or would even appearing anywhere on the first search results page be great for your business?

Top search engine rankings have a profound and positive impact on the perception of a business as an overall market leader. This may seem intuitive, but plenty are still unaware of this simple fact.

Consider these findings from the Middleberg/Ross Media in Cyberspace Study:

  • 98% of journalist go online daily...
  • 92% for article research
  • 81% for search
  • 72% to find expert sources
  • 73% for press releases

Now imagine that a journalist is going online today to conduct research for an article about your industry. Will your company be visible? Will your content be found and seen as relevant and timely? Will that journalist be able to access back data and read the conversations you've had with your customers? Or read articles that you've written? Or subscribe to your RSS feed to see what kind of trends you find interesting?

Let's face it—the company most likely to catch the journalist's attention is the one with highly visible, relevant, and timely content that positions the organization as an industry and thought leader.

This is exactly why an RSS content distribution strategy is vital—it's the fastest and most effective way to achieve a high-profile online reputation for expertise and leadership.

RSS Future-Proofs Your Communications

RSS is the future of communication on the Web. It doesn't totally replace email or static Web pages, but it radically changes everyday methods of communicating and connecting with consumers, partners, press, and employees via the Internet.

Some organizations have been lulled into a false sense of complacency by the presence of the word "simple" in "Really Simple Syndication"; but "simple" here refers to the technical structure of how your content is formatted in a feed.

It does not refer to the simplicity of...

  • Developing an RSS strategy
  • Integrating RSS into marketing, PR, and communications plans
  • Customizing the delivery and implementation tactics
  • Optimizing your RSS feeds for search engines
  • Effectively displaying and promoting your feeds
  • Measuring results

Here's the bottom line: Transitioning to the RSS model is not simple for most organizations. Success depends on having a solid foundation in search optimization, the ability to measure results, and a keen appreciation of the new tactics used for widespread RSS content distribution.

RSS marketing should not be approached as a standalone module or feature to be added to your Web site by the techies. It needs to be recognized as a serious communications tool implemented as part of an ongoing strategy to build community, search visibility, expert positioning, loyalty, leads, sales, and brand awareness.

buzz this