Taking the Easier Route to Generating RSS Subscribers
by: Rok Hrastnik
RSS is certainly still far from being user-friendly, which is especially evident once you try and left-click on an RSS subscribe button.
In most cases your browser will simply display the XML code of the RSS feed ... which does not go far in making internet users comftorable with RSS.
Heck, if you didn't know what RSS was and clicked on an RSS button only to get a page full of code you don't understand, would that aid in turning you in to an RSS user?
Probably no. And much worse, you'd probably never consider clicking on one of those buttons again, at least not any time soon.
Consequently, if as a marketer you're trying to generate RSS subscribers, simply using an RSS subscribe button is the worst way to go for you and for the RSS industry as a whole as well.
So, what alternatives are there?
a] CREATE AN RSS PRESENTATION PAGE
If you're trying to generate RSS subscribers from your site and are targeting audiences that might not be farmiliar with RSS, you need at least a basic presentation of what RSS is on your site, and you need to link to that either directly from the RSS subscribe button or from a location right next to that button, like you can see on the MarketingStudies.net example.
On this page you should explain in easy-to-understand terms what RSS is, how your visitors can use it and how they'll benefit, and then provide links to some RSS readers and again links to your RSS feeds.
This page will be instrumental in telling your visitors about RSS and helping them subscribe to your feeds.
And of course, the feeds themselves and the RSS presentation page should be promoted in prominent locations on your website, especially directly below your e-mail e-zine subscription box and, if you're publishing topic oriented feeds, next to their respective topics on the site, just as Lockergnome.com is doing.
B] TRANSFORM AN RSS FEED IN TO XHTML
Having a link to an RSS presentation page right next to your RSS subscribe button does aid visitors in learning about RSS and helps them to subscribe, but it still doesn't solve the problem of a user actually clicking on an RSS feed button. That will still result in the visitor getting heaps of code he really won't know what to do with.
Going one step further, you can use XSL Transformations to make sure that the feed can in fact also be displayed in a browser (without making it useless for an RSS reader as well) ... and that with some additional information and instructions, such as a brief overview of RSS and a quick explanation on how the user can subscribe to this feed via an RSS reader.
I don't want to get technical here, so to see what I mean simply click on this link (via FeedBurner):
This is basically an RSS feed, which has been transformed in order to be displayed in a Web browser with some additional information, but can still be subscribed to via every RSS reader as well.
Some feed maintanance and publishing services such as FeedBurner already provide this functionality "out-of-the-box", without you having to do practically anything. All you need to do is register for their free service, enter your feed and then get this link, which you will place "behind" the RSS subscribe button on your site, as a link, instead of a direct link to your RSS feed.
If you don't want to use a third-party service like FeedBurner, you can actually do the XSL Transformations by yourself. More information on how to do this is available at Wikiedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xslt).
c] TAKING THE MIDDLE ROAD: SMARTER SUBSCRIBE BUTTONS
If you don't want to use a third-party service such as FeedBurner or if your RSS vendor does not provide this functionality or if you don't want to be bothered with doing XSLT by yourself, there is actually an alternative you can use.
David Battino at MacDevCenter.com (http://www.macdevcenter.com/pub/wlg/7821) just wrote a simple piece of code you can use instead of the typical link to your RSS feed behind the RSS feed subscription button, which will, after you click on the link, display a simple message saying that in order to subscribe to the feed you need to copy and paste this URL in your your RSS reader.
This certainly doesn't go very far in making RSS more user-friendly, as the notification really can't be used to explain what RSS is and why your visitors should use it, but it at least saves the visitor from getting the XML code in his browser and hating RSS before he or she even find out what it is.
Also, do not forget about using buttons like Add To MyYahoo!, since many MyYahoo! users for example dont know what RSS is, but they will use this button to subscribe.
d] TARGETING EXISTING RSS USERS
If you're targeting existing RSS users or at least users that won't be put off by a long list of names they won't be able to understand, using the free script from Methodize.org might be the solution.
When the user hovers his mouse above your RSS feed subscribe button, the script will display a long list of RSS readers that the visitors can use to directly subscribe to the feed. By simply clicking on the appropriate link, the user will quickly subscribe to the feed with the RSS reader he is currently using.
There's also a "What's this" link at the bottom of the list, but still many visitors will be put off by long list of RSS reader names they won't be able to understand, before even being motivated enough to click on the "What's this" link at the bottom.
But still, if you're targeting a more technical or internet oriented audiences, this just might do the trick.
And dont forget to replace the [ and ] characters with .
f] STRONG COPY
No matter how many times we write this, it still needs repeating. The best way to get your visitors to subscribe is to entice them to do so with strong copy that provides clear and valuable benefits, explaining to the visitor exactly why he needs to subscribe to exactly your RSS feed.
Copyright 2005 Rok Hrastnik
About The Author
Get more RSS marketing tips and tricks, and find out immediately how you can power your online business with RSS and use it in all of your marketing. Request the free 28-page Business Case for RSS report, with easy-to-follow instructions, examples and advice on how to get the most out of RSS in the shortest possible time. Get the free download here: http://rssdiary.marketingstudies.net/case/index.html?src=sa21