In the next 5 minutes it will take you to read this post you will become an expert in all things related to RSS and how it can be used and leveraged for online marketing. Hold on to your seats.
What is RSS?
RSS originally referred to Rich Site Summary and more recently is dubbed Real Simple Syndication. Whatever it stands for it refers to the format in which content is published on a website (generally a blog or news site) that allows that content to be FED to outside sources or subscribers.
To technical? Essentially RSS is the technology or format in which EVERY news site and EVERY blog publishes their content. You've see the cool orange icon that looks like a wifi symbol on it's side all over the internet and now you know what it is for.
If you are using WordPress you can find your RSS feed by typing in www.yoursite.com/feed/. If you are the site of someone else you can generally find the orange icon somewhere to guide you to their feed. Some of the larger news publishers may give you multiple options to subscribe to the RSS feed of a specific content category (DenverPost Example).
Where Is It Used?
It is used everywhere online. Site publishers have a great need to be able to somehow automatically publish their newly published blog posts or news stories out via email, to social networks, or direct to RSS subscribers. The uses are endless and it is the standard format for the entire web. Different browsers read RSS feeds differently so depending on what type of browser you use you may have had different experiences with RSS to date. When you click on a link or icon to a RSS feed some browsers open up a page that looks like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Other browsers may prompt you to add the feed to your reader or subscribe to the feed.
What Are The Practical Applications?
The primary purpose of an RSS feed is to… well… FEED content from the published site to somewhere else. Some examples would include:
Direct to Subscribers Via RSS Readers
Many of the more techy folk online use RSS Readers to subscribe to the RSS feeds of all their favorite sites. A RSS Reader is a great way to stay up to date with lots of different blogs and/or news sources without flooding your email inbox constantly with new updates. Feedly is a good example of a popular RSS Reader. Offering, and making easy to find, a RSS feed for your site is going to make it easier for that type of user to subscribe to your content.
Direct to Email Subscribes Via a RSS Email Tool
Because a large number of internet users don't know a lot about RSS Feeds and Readers, a lot of site owners and publishers allow their visitors to subscribe to the blog or content via email. Email may be the primary way the content is delivered to the subscriber in these cases however the email is still fed from the site RSS Feed. Very few of the primary players in the email marketing space have a half decent RSS delivery tool (exception is MyEmailProgram.com) so most site publishers use Feedburner or Feedblitz. Feedburner (owned by Google) is a free tool that allows publishing RSS via email but there are rumors or concerns that Google may eliminate the product sooner than later. Feedblitz is a comparable paid service.
Direct to Social Media Via a RSS Syndication/Publishing Tool
Since the introduction and popularization of Social Media networks like Facebook and Twitter, many different products have hit the market to make it easy to automatically publish RSS feeds to social media. This saves some time when you publish a new blog post as a tool or app can automatically push out the new post to your social profiles. There are many native Facebook apps like RSS Grafiti and an even larger number of Twitter publishing tools like Twitterfeed.com. A lot of your social media clients like Hootsuite also have built in RSS publishing tools.
To an Aggregate Site
There is also a lot of growing popularity around building out aggregate content sites that pull in and publish content from other popular sites or blogs into a single site. These “dailies” or “paper” sites focus on a specific topic or event and serve the consumer as a place to find a lot of content around the desired topic without having to subscribe to multiple sources. These sites live on the RSS technology to help them pull in blog posts and other RSS feed items from other sites.
How Do Marketers Use RSS?
Marketers primarily use RSS technology as a method by which to distribute content to the internet. Great syndication content strategies help traffic directly by exposing a greater number of people to the content. It helps indirectly by supporting SEO elements. It helps engagement by encouraging social sharing. Above is a great overview of the various ways to syndicate content.
ECommerce & Affiliate Sales
If you run an online store RSS technology can make it easier for your affiliates to drive more sales to your store. Affiliates love programs that offer some sort of RSS feed for deals or specials because they can be setup to automatically feed to Twitter or to a website sidebar widget.