RSS-Marketing

SEO, Blogs and RSS Feeds: A Magical Combination

August 2nd, 2005

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Originally published in DM News

The major search engines – Google, in particular – seem to love blogs, which are the personal or professional diaries that number in the millions online. Search engines favor blogs because …

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Leveraging the Explosive New Blogging Trend in Your Integrated Marketing Mix

Frost and Sullivan: Sales and Marketing East — Boston

July 21st, 2005

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Blogs can be an immensely powerful marketing tool in the right hands, establishing the blogger as a widely-read, oft-quoted, trusted authority in their field of interest. Blogs can also wreck havoc on reputations (just ask Kryptonite) and careers (remember Dan Rather and “Rathergate”?). Welcome to the new, conversational Internet. It’s time to join the “blogosphere” – hopefully before your competitors do!”

  • Successful applications of blog and webfeed (RSS) technology
  • How blogs and RSS can and should fit into your marketing plan
  • Best practices to emulate, pitfalls to avoid
  • Case Studies and Examples: Lessons Learned

Interactive Marketing: Reaching Customers in an On-Demand World

University of Wisconsin Executive Education - Integrated Customer Communications — Madison, WI

June 30th, 2005

Workshop by

Technology continues to revolutionize the sales and marketing efforts of firms worldwide. Businesses must either adapt or put themselves at risk. Companies and customers communicate and interact with each other in substantially different ways than 10 or even 5 years ago. Direct and interactive marketing are converging, financial metrics are increasingly mainstream, and customers expect channel “silos” to be broken down. Learn how to benefit from the new tools and thinking in managing customer relations to increase sales, improve strategies, and reach online and offline markets.

Search engine marketing

  • Make your site “search engine friendly”
  • Explore “Pay-per-click” search advertising
  • Analyze benchmarking, competitive intelligence and ROI
  • Identify trends in contextual, behavioral and local advertising

Create a buzz – viral marketing

  • Explore blogs, RSS feeds, forums, wikis and more
  • Harness “word of mouse” to enhance your brand
  • Discover the “sneezers” who will spread your viral message

Control your RSS URLs; the right way to move to and away from Feedburner

June 28th, 2005

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I’m guest blogging over at Problogger.net, and my recent post Are you letting Feedburner hold you hostage? generated some interesting discussion, including several comments from Feedburner itself. In fact, Eric Lunt from Feedburner formulated a thoughtful response within his own blog.

To summarize my points: Don’t publish to the world an RSS feed URL that you don’t own. I see it as no different from handing out thousands of business cards with an @earthlink.net address proudly printed on it — rather than one @ your own domain name. Cuz then, you’re married to Earthlink (or in the case of your RSS feed… Feedburner). If you switched services, your existing subscribers would all need to update their feed URLs in their news readers. And what’s the likelihood of that happening! I suggest, instead, one of the following two options:

  • Use a URL from your own domain then having your webserver redirect everyone to whatever your feeds.feedburner.com/[your-feed-here] URL. I found that some newsreaders (like NetNewsWire) choke on a “301” permanent redirect, so for the time being you should stick with the standard “302” (temporary) redirect, even though a 301 would be ideal from a SEO standpoint.
  • Alternatively, you could set up a DNS entry of feeds.yourdomainname.com (or whatever it is) to be an alias (a “CNAME”) to feeds.feedburner.com. Then, if you switch from Feedburner, you’d update the CNAME to point to the hostname of the new service. Note that the rest of the URL has to match exactly. I’ve set up my feed to work at http://feeds.stephanspencer.com/scatterings. (Note that this only works if you’re paying Feedburner Pro subscriber.)

This then got me thinking about moving to, rather than away from, Feedburner. Feedburner is a great service — particularly their Pro version. It has a lot to offer in the way of tracking subscribers, clickthroughs, and so forth. If you already have people subscribing to your RSS feed and you want to start using Feedburner, then you’ll need a way to drive those pre-existing subscribers to your Feedburner version of your feed. The way I’d suggest you do this is through a 302 redirect from your old feed URL to your new Feedburner feed URL, ideally with your domain name in the URL (using the above-mentioned CNAME approach).

When will major search engines start indexing RSS feeds properly?

June 17th, 2005

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I find it a bit unbelievable that the major search engines — Google, Yahoo!, MSN Search, and Ask Jeeves — still don’t offer RSS feed searching combined with RSS search results feeds as part of their Web search. Specialized RSS feed search engines like Feedster, PubSub and Technorati have risen to the occasion, filling the void left by the major engines’ inaction. Bloglines, the AskJeeves-owned company, has announced a blog/RSS search engine service that’ll compete with Feedster, PubSub, and Technorati, but still that’s a far cry from embedding RSS search right into the Web search box.

Here’s how each of the majors handles RSS feeds:

Google:
screenshot of search listing of an RSS feed in Google
another screenshot of search listing of an RSS feed in Google

  • has URLs of valid RSS feeds in its index (due to links that point to those feeds)
  • doesn’t recognize the XML file format of RSS feeds (as you can read on the excerpted screenshots above)
  • only rarely indexes the feed (I base that not just on the fact that nearly all RSS feeds are shown in Google results with no title or snippet as in the first screenshot above, but also because, out of 64,000 RSS feed files hosted by feeds.feedburner.com, only 19 are shown to contain the word cheese, the last 2 of which show up in the results only because cheese appears in links pointing to the feed; yet the same search on Yahoo! shows over 400. So clearly a lot of files that should have matched are missing from the Google search results.)
  • only rarely caches the XML (see example) with most caches being blank (like this)
  • associates words in links pointing to the page (as demonstrated with this search)
  • doesn’t allow refining of your query with the operators ?Ä® filetype:rss, filetype:xml, or filetype:rdf

Yahoo:
screenshot of search listing of an RSS feed in Yahoo!

  • has URLs of valid RSS feeds in its index
  • indexes the feed (Evidenced by above screenshot, which was a match for a search on text contained within the feed. Also, ResearchBuzz found this to be the case too.)
  • caches the XML (see example)
  • doesn’t display the “Add to My Yahoo!” link for RSS feed listings (this is a disappointing omission, as Yahoo! displays this link on listings for HTML pages that have an associated RSS feed but not for the listing of the RSS feed itself)
  • associates words in links pointing to the page
  • doesn’t allow refining of your query with the operators ?Ä® filetype:rss, filetype:xml, or filetype:rdf

MSN Search:

  • doesn’t have URLs of valid RSS feeds in its index (Evidence of this: not a single feed out of 64,000 feeds at feeds.feedburner.com is displayed, even though there are links that point to those feeds. Note that the couple feeds that are displayed are not valid feeds but error pages outputted in HTML.)
  • doesn?Ä´t recognize the XML file format of RSS feeds (file type is displayed in the search listing after Cached link when it’s a recognized non-HTML file type)
  • doesn’t index the feed
  • doesn’t cache the XML
  • doesn’t allow refining of your query with the operators ?Ä® filetype:rss, filetype:xml, or filetype:rdf

Teoma (Ask Jeeves):
screenshot of search listing of an RSS feed in Teoma

  • has URLs of valid RSS feeds in its index
  • indexes the feed
  • (View Cached feature not supported by Teoma)
  • associates words in links pointing to the page
  • (filetype: operator not supported by Teoma)

As you can see from my little comparison, MSN Search is the farthest behind when it comes to RSS feed indexing. Hopefully Scoble will read this and tell the MSN Search team to get on the ball. 😉

Even though the major engines have been slow to make RSS an integral part of their indices, I predict that the engines will, within the next year or so, wake from their slumber and overtake and even acquire their specialized RSS feed search engine competitors.

What that will mean for web marketers is that search engine optimizing RSS feeds will become a science unto itself (currently it’s limited mainly to optimizing the item titles for purposes of link text on syndicating sites) and that the feeds that are not optimized will get drowned out by those that are.

RSS: Hot or Not for Marketers?

April 3rd, 2005

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DM News covered a controversial new JupiterResearch report on RSS. The blogosphere was quick to respond. Some of the marketer-bloggers that I hold in high regard ?Ä® Seth Godin, Bill Flitter, Rok Hrastnik, and Rick Turoczy ?Ä® weighed in with their thoughts. Others chimed in too, as chronicled here. Some even trashed DM News, like in this thread at Threadwatch.org ?Ä® unfairly in my opinion (Remember the expression “Don’t shoot the messenger.” DM News after all, is only reporting on the JupiterResearch study and its conclusions.). Here’s my reaction to some of the points made in the article/study:

“RSS is not well suited to promotional-offer-oriented content because it does not offer the targeting and personalization capabilities of e-mail, the report said.”

Having been part of the team that developed an email marketing service (namely, GravityMail) from the ground up and honed it over a number of years, with extensive targeting and personalization capabilities built-in, I argue that you CAN target and personalize RSS to the same or similar degree. In fact, you can personalize/customize based on each subscriber’s demographics, psychographics, clickographics, or a combination of all of the above. In order to do so, of course, you’d need to be providing unique feed URLs to each subscriber, not a generic feed URL like www.mycompany.com/myrssfeed.xml. There’s no reason why you can’t collect information from each subscriber before and/or after they subscribe, and then use that information to deliver laser-targeted promotional offers. It’s also feasible to collect data on viewing and click behavior, then use that information to fine-tune the offers over time. You can measure the encoded content reads in RSS items like you would measure HTML opens in email campaigns (both done using “web bugs”), and you can measure the clickthroughs through clicktracked URLs embedded in the feed. More on this here. As Rok notes, out-of-the-box solutions for RSS personalization and targeting already exist: e.g. ByPass, RSS AutoPublisher, and SimpleFeed.

“However, even for use as a supplemental or alternative e-mail broadcast tool, the adoption of RSS for marketing purposes will remain low during the next 24 months.”

My instinct tells me this prediction is going to be waaaay off the mark. RSS adoption of poised to explode. It will be driven by popular web browsers like Internet Explorer and email clients like Outlook shipping with support for RSS built right in, which in my opinion isn’t just inevitable but also imminent. Robert Scoble, technical evangelist at Microsoft and A-list blogger, riffs on his blog: “if you do a marketing site and you don’t have an RSS feed today you should be fired. I’ll say it again. You should be fired if you do a marketing site without an RSS feed. Saying that RSS is only for geeks today is like saying in 1998 that the Web was only for geeks.” Strong words coming from someone in the Microsoft camp as influential as Scoble.

“However, RSS publishing still faces many hurdles: measuring traffic at least on a subscriber level is nearly impossible to do, which will relegate RSS to a broadcast marketing tool in the near term.”

This claim from the study floored me. Measuring traffic at the subscriber level is anything but impossible. Again, simply provide unique feed URLs to each subscriber and you can track track viewing through web bugs and clicking through clicktracked links. Rok points out some services that offer traffic measurement on a subscriber level: SyndicateIQ, RSS AutoPublisher, SimpleFeed, Nooked, and Feedburner.

“RSS could possibly become as cluttered and confusing to consumers as the e-mail marketing channel is currently”

Not sure where the authors of the study are heading here. I presume they are referring to the spam problem. But email and RSS are quite different technologies in regards to susceptibility to spam. RSS is unspammable: no spammer can infiltrate someone else’s RSS feed, and no spammer can cause an RSS feed that’s full of spam to appear on a user’s subscription list. Perhaps they are referring to advertising in RSS feeds? I’m no fan of ads in RSS feeds, but that’s not spam. RSS is opt-in. If a content producer wants to subsidize the costs of producing that content by taking on advertisers who then add unwelcome noise to that content producer’s RSS feed, well removing the feed from my reader is just a click away.

I do think the overriding message from the article and the study is valid: when it comes to RSS, marketers (including your competitors) just don’t get it, and probably won’t, anytime soon. This comes through loud and clear from Jupiter’s survey findings that 45% of marketers have no plans to deploy RSS to supplement e-mail, and only 5% are currently doing so. So, ponder how you can best leverage this opportunity as the giants in your industry sleep!

Traditional Vehicle, New Channel – Internet Word of Mouth Marketing

Strategic Branding — Auckland, New Zealand

March 30th, 2005

Seminar by

  • Where consumers gather and messages propagate: personal emails, discussion forums, chat rooms, blogs, RSS feeds, wikis and search engines.
  • How to harness “word of mouse” to enhance existing relationship marketing programmes and your brand.
  • Tips for facilitating the spread of viral messages about your brand.
  • Who are the “sneezers” who will spread your viral message?
  • Handling input and feedback from your consumers, the public, the media and analysts.
  • Success stories and flops: what’s worked and what hasn’t.
  • How can Internet word of mouth enhance existing relationship marketing programmes and your brand?

Talkin ’bout RSS… on the Chris Pirillo Show

March 11th, 2005

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Want to listen to me rant and rave about the power of RSS as a content delivery channel for search marketers? That was a rhetorical question. Frankly, who wouldn’t! 😉 So now you get your chance, on my interview on the Chris Pirillo Show, which was just podcasted today. Chris interviewed me last week at Search Engine Strategies. Have a listen.

RSS and SEO: Implications for Search Marketers

March 2nd, 2005

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Hello from Search Engine Strategies in NYC. Yesterday I spoke at the Webfeeds, Blogs, and Search session. My talk was focused on on implementing RSS feeds as part of your search engine marketing strategy. I’ve made my Powerpoint deck available online at www.netconcepts.com/learn/rss.ppt.

A lot of people mistakenly lump blogs and RSS together, but RSS has infinitely more applications beyond just blogs! For example: news alerts, latest specials, clearance items, upcoming events, new stock arrivals, new articles, new tools & resources, search results, a book’s revision history, top 10 best sellers (like Amazon.com does in many of its product categories), project management activities, forum/listserve posts, recently added downloads, etc.

There are some important tracking and measurement issues to consider when implementing RSS:

  • You should be tracking reads by embedding a uniquely-named 1-pixel gif within the <content:encoded> container. This is known as a “web bug.” Email marketers have been using web bugs to track open rates for ages.
  • You should be tracking clickthroughs by replacing all URLs in the <link> containers with clicktracked URLs. You code this in-house or you could use a hosted ASP service like SimpleFeed to do this for you. (Incidentally, Feedburner offers imprecise counts based on user’s IP not on clicktracked URLs)
  • You should be tracking circulation (# of subscribers). Again, you could use a service like Simplefeed… Feedburner, which categorizes visiting user-agents into bots, browsers, aggregators, and clients. Bots and browsers don’t generally “count” as subscribers, while a single hit from an aggregator may represent a number of readers. This number is usually revealed within the User-Agent in the server logs… for example Bloglines/2.0 (…; xx subscribers). Today, tracking readership from clients is an inexact science. Hopefully in the future, RSS newreader software will generate a hashcode from the subscriber’s email address and this hashcode would then get passed in the User-Agent on every HTTP request for the RSS feed.

I consider personalized RSS feeds to be “best practice.” As of yet I’m not seeing much yet in the way of personalization within RSS feeds, but that will come I’m sure. It has to. Having only one generic RSS feed per site is a one-size-fits-all approach that can’t scale. On the other hand, having too many feeds to choose from on a site can overwhelm the user. So how about instead you offer a single RSS feed, but it’s one where the content is personalized to the interests of the individual subscriber. Yet if the feed is being syndicated onto public websites, you’ll want to discover that (by checking the referrers in your server logs) and then make sure the RSS feed content is quite consistent from syndicated site to syndicated site so that these sites all reinforce the search engine juice of the same pages with similar link text. Or simply ask the subscriber his/her intentions (personal reading or syndication on a public website) as part of the personalization/subscription signup process.

IMPORTANT: An oft overlooked area of RSS click tracking is how to pass on the search engine juice from the syndicating sites to your destination site. Use clicktracked URLs with query string parameters kept to a minimum, then 301 redirect not 302. This is important! 302 redirects, also known as temporary redirects, can hang up the search engine juice. Search engines recommend you use 301 redirects, also known as permanent redirects. Surprisingly, Feedburner and Simplefeed both use 302 redirects. Tsk tsk!

Sites using your feeds for themed content to add to their site for SEO purposes could strip out your links or cut off the flow of the search engine juice using the nofollow rel attribute or by removing the hrefs altogether. Scan for that and then cut off any offenders’ feed access.

Some more “gotchas” if you don’t set things up right:

  • You should own your feed URL (unless you want to be forever tied to Feedburner or whatever RSS hosting service you are using). Remember the days long ago when people put their earthlink.net email addresses on their business cards? Don’t repeat that mistake with RSS feeds.
  • You need to proactively ensure your listings in the Yahoo SERPs display the “Add to My Yahoo!” link; don’t just assume it will happen. To do this, subscribe to your feed from your own My Yahoo! page (so you know you have at least one My Yahoo! subscriber), then set up your blog to automatically “ping” Yahoo! every time you post a new blog entry (I recommend using Pingomatic.com to do this because then it will also ping Technorati etc. for you too, all in one fell swoop, every time your make an update to your blog.)
  • Configure your website to allow subscribers to subscribe easily using your home page address if they don’t know your RSS feed address. That means putting <link> tags in your HTML. For example:
    <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="http://www.stephanspencer.com/index.rdf" />
    Also add buttons to your web pages for 1-click adding to the most popular RSS newsreaders / aggregators, such as: “Subscribe in NewsGator,” “Subscribe on Bloglines,” and “Add to My Yahoo!”

RSS is great for link building. Any SEO worth his/her salt should be making use of RSS as part of a link building strategy, or at least making plans to use it soon. In addition to RSS, there are some other effective blog-related link building strategies, like:

  • Getting onto bloggers’ “blogrolls” (the list of their favorite blogs that they post on their site for all to see)
  • Getting links through “trackbacks” (excerpts of your blog posts that appear on other bloggers’ blog entries in a way that you initiate rather than them)

Web Feeds, Blogs & Search

Search Engine Strategies — New York

March 1st, 2005

Panelist:

This session explores how search engines are dealing with blog and webfeed (RSS/Atom) content and why providing such syndicated content can drive new search-related traffic.