Thursday, February 5, 2009

Remote Site Syndication: Get the Word Out (and In)

Really Simple Syndication (or Remote Site Syndication, your choice) has been around for quite a few years, though web site owners are just beginning to recognize the potential RSS has to increase site traffic and to spread their site news from one end of the web to the other.


RSS feeds  are simply the means of getting out the content to sites with visitors interested in what you have to say. And vice-versa: it’s a great way to deliver daily, fresh content to your visitors, increasing your site’s “stickiness” or ability to keep visitors returning regularly. Right now, all the big news outlets deploy RSS feeds to any site that wants to pick them up. Disney, CNN, Forbes, the BBC and other information outlets are distributing their content across the web via RSS feeds. Why? It’s easy, it spreads the costs of content development, and it works. It’s an effective marketing tool that can draw traffic from sites a far distance from your own.


Why Add RSS to Your Site?

Okay, first, it keeps your customer base up to date on sales, special promos and other news from your site. That’s how your site becomes sticky. You broadcast to your customers and, because they’ve had a good experience with you previously, they check out the new merchandise. It’s a great way to keep in touch with previous buyers – the best buyers any retailer could ask for.


In addition, RSS feeds are based on a streamlined XML. This enables your RSS broadcast to be picked up by just about anything digital – cell phones, PDAs, voicemail, e-mail accounts and so on. (No, not the microwave.)


Outgoing RSS

By syndicating (broadcasting) content from your site, you disperse your web presence to sites many times removed from your own. In fact, it may be picked up by site owners you would never have considered and read by a readership you hadn’t even thought about. An on-line store selling horse tack and other equestrian gear found one of its RSS feeds on a site for Therapeutic Horseback Riding – a whole new market for the source of that RSS feed.


Your RSS feed broadcast can be picked up by any site with visitors who might be interested in the latest news in your area of expertise or commerce.


Let’s just say that broadcasting information from your site, and allowing it to be picked up by any site owner, can only help generate more revenue because some readers of your contain, regardless of where they found your latest article, will visit your site to learn more about you, your opinions, services and products.


Incoming RSS

It’s not a one way street. Using an RSS aggregator, which collects feeds from other sites, is a great service you can deliver to increase site stickiness. Let’s say you publish a financial advice newsletter each day. You can collect (aggregate) RSS feeds from other investment sites, large and small, and deliver all of the financial news in one place for your now-daily visitors. So, the web user who once had to visit 10 sites can now get all the news of the day in one place – yours. It’s a time saver for visitors and it keeps them coming back for more.


What Do You Need to Start RSS?

There are three elements in the process, all available as OSS – open source software, as in free. It doesn’t cost you anything except some time.


The RSS Aggregator

This software is used to collect appropriate RSS feeds from other sites and it’s as easy as a mouse click to add a feed. Start by visiting competitor sites and look for the RSS logo (a small red box) or look for the site’s RSS hook up page.


When you find information that you believe your readers would enjoy, just click the “add” button and that feed is now hooked directly into your site. Simply move from site to site locating information that you think your visitors would enjoy.


A note of caution: when gathering RSS feeds for your site visitors, you’re, in fact, the editor. You decide which feeds to add and which to skip. Don’t add every feed just because you can. Be selective. Look for quality writing, solid research and topics that will really be of interest to your visitors. If you throw anything and everything at visitors, they’ll have a tougher time sorting out what’s useful and what isn’t, so collect the best and leave the rest.


The RSS Syndicator

Your web broadcasting antenna. The syndicator (also OSS) makes your feeds easily available for other site owners to grab and display on their sites. Keep your broadcasts short and use a lot of headlines to grab attention. Remember, your feed may be going to someone’s cell phone at a place where reading a 1000-word treatise on the importance of adjusting foot-pounds in running shoes won’t be possible. Broadcasts should be headline rich and employ lots of short paragraphs.


Keep the most important information in headers and in the first few paragraphs. If you haven’t captured their attention by then, you never will.


The RSS Reader

Another piece of OSS. This is the software site visitors need to sort through and read RSS broadcasts. Google offers a pretty spiffy RSS reader. All you have to do is download it and you’re ready to start enjoying the convenience that RSS delivers to visitors looking for a lot of information (good info) from many sources and on the same topic.


If you’re sending out feeds, offer an RSS reader free to your visitors to ensure they get the message.


Do I Really Need RSS?

You bet. In fact, RSS is only going to become more versatile and robust, increasing your ability to stay in touch with your market. We’ll start to see RSS categories like today’s headlines, what’s new in the arts or Dining in Denver. Further, broadcasting RSS feeds enables you to amortize the costs of content development over any number of sites that pick up your feed. It makes the most practical use of the most valuable web commodity – content. Your content.


It enables you to deliver content of interest to your visitors, keeping them coming back, and keeping your site on their bookmarked favorites list. It also provides more diverse content from the blogosphere. Yes, RSS aggregators read blogs so you can pick up small bits of useful information from experts.


Feeds from news sites, entertainment sites financial sites, blogs and more are being created each day and if you choose to ignore what called “…the most visible XML story to date” you’re (1) missing out on a low-cost opportunity to market your site (2) failing to provide fresh, useful information for your visitors to increase the stickiness of your site and (3) falling further and further behind the competition – and that’s not a good thing in the fast-paced, on-line marketplace.


So use all of the tools at your disposal. You can keep it simple or you can soup it up and even automate RSS feeds to keep your site dynamic and an active player in the W3 marketplace.


Finally, when shopping for a web host, make sure the host you select provides the tools you’ll need to syndicate your RSS feeds. You’ll need an aggregator and a broadcaster. And if you want to update feeds throughout the day, or if you want to personalize feeds, make sure the host offers PHP and MySQL – database software that enables your feeds to include the latest data and the latest information across the web – addressed to a named recipient.


You’ll also appreciate a robust CMS – content management system – to help keep track of where your content is and where incoming content is being generated. It’s simple, effective and, without it, you’re missing the best, low-cost marketing the start-up web owner has available.


Use it or lose it.

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