RSS feeds, which automatically deliver updated digital content to subscribers, are gaining popularity with e-tailers. They're particularly well-suited for marketing activities that involve loyal customers checking for updates in fares, prices, availability and new items, says Charlene Li, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Feeds allow customers to simply subscribe to an alert that notifies them when information that meets their criteria is available--and [they] do so without cluttering the inbox," she says.
Marketers have become more interested in RSS since the release of Internet Explorer 7. "IE7 makes it easy to bookmark the page and voil�--updates automatically appear next to the bookmark without making the user return to the website," says Li. Previously, she says, users had to right-click on the RSS link and copy the URL, go to their aggregator and start a new feed, paste the URL, and return to the aggregator every time they wanted to read their feeds.
"We have seen an increase in RSS usage," says Mark Carlson, CEO of SimpleFeed, a Los Altos, California, provider of on-demand RSS publishing and analytics services. "IE7 has had a large impact. Customers are also getting ready for Windows Vista and Outlook 2007, which will have excellent RSS-reading capabilities. Customers are also using feeds to drive traffic and improve search engine rankings in the face of increasing search marketing costs."
Now that RSS feeds are becoming more popular, Carlson offers these best practices for RSS marketing.
1. Make subscription easy. RSS is new to many customers, but companies still make the mistake of linking an orange RSS button to an XML page, hoping their customers will figure it out. Develop subscription pages that explain RSS feeds and how to subscribe in plain English.
2. Offer relevant content. This is the key to retaining subscribers. Use a content preferencing page to ensure subscribers get the content they want. Popular e-commerce content includes special offers, new products and blogs written by merchandisers.
3. Measure. "Due to the ease of unsubscribing, per-subscriber analytics are especially important to assess the performance of your RSS program," Carlson says. By judiciously analyzing your customers' interests and making appropriate changes in your content, you can build your active subscriber base.
Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in New York City.