RSS Marketing | Stephan Spencer

RSS Marketing Archives - Stephan Spencer

RSS adoption, what email vendors don’t offer, and what pushes a marketer to switch

By | Email, RSS Marketing, Search Engines | No Comments

For a summary and case study data on the state of RSS adoption, what other email vendors do or don’t offer, plus a round-up of the key issues that marketers need met in order to “switch, look here

Here’s a key snippet:
“A few track how many clicks the links sent through RSS get. Another few (often a separate group) track how many site visitors click on the RSS button to start getting the feed. Practically no one tracks anything else… and there’s zero sophisticated tracking we know of at all.

No deliverability, open rates, hard vs. soft bounces. No a/b tests, no usability tests, no offer tests, no recency/frequency tests, and multi-variable testing is not even on the map.

The kind of data that marketers and publishers rely on to make business, content, and marketing decisions for email campaigns is almost entirely lacking for RSS at this time.”

Screencast on how to optimize your blogs and RSS feeds

By | Blogging, RSS Marketing, Search Engines | 2 Comments

Since at least a few people seem to want me to expand on my presentation from the recent Search Engine Strategies Conference in San Jose, I have put a one-hour screencast together. In addition to covering all the slides in the Powerpoint deck, I also ran through an example of a corporate website that is powered by WordPress and that uses, in novel ways, a lot of the blog optimization techniques discussed in my presentation. The corporate site I am referring to is that of my company, Netconcepts.

Enjoy! And do let me know what you think of it.

Download or watch the video via streaming: Flash (10 MB) or WMV (22 MB) or Quicktime MPEG4 / iPod Video (59 MB)

Speaking today at DMA06 on blogs and RSS

By | Blogging, RSS Marketing | No Comments

If you’re at the DMA Annual Conference (DMA06), then I encourage you to check out the panel session I’m doing later today here in San Francisco at 4:30pm called Blogs, Podcasts and RSS: New Tools for Customer Acquisition and CRM. Hope to see you there!

I’ve been busy, so apologies for the lack of posting.

Last week I was in NYC speaking at the annual summit. I moderated the Vertical Search panel at the Web 2.0 bootcamp. If you want to download my Powerpoint, which is a short intro to vertical search, you can get it here.

E-commerce Best Practices Tip #7: RSS feeds

By | Ecommerce, Online Retail, RSS Marketing | No Comments

RSS feeds are your tether — your lifeline — to your prospects after they’ve left your site. Unless they’ve ordered from you, how else can you reach out to that nameless, faceless hoard? It used to be that your email newsletter served that purpose, but consumers are bombarded with so much email now that they are reticent to subscribe to many more newsletters. RSS to the rescue!

A-List blogger Robert Scoble from Microsoft has said: “You should be fired if you do a marketing site without an RSS feed.” I love that quote!

Don’t just offer one single RSS feed. One size does not fit all. I may only be interested in one particular product category and not your entire online catalog. (Here’s just a sampling of Amazon’s category-specific feeds.) I may be interested in your new product arrivals. Or just your best sellers. Or just your clearance items. Customers may want more than a feed of products; they may also want product reviews, coupons and specials, tips and articles.

Ideally you should allow your shoppers to create custom RSS feeds that are tailored to their interests. For example, an RSS feed comprised of reviews, coupons, and tips, but not tech specs or press releases, and for only 2 of your 10 product categories. See the screenshot below for a nice example of a custom feed subscription form.

RSS feeds offer more than just to a direct-to-consumer channel that bypasses spam filters. It also tends to boost your link gain (PageRank). Bloggers subscribe to RSS feeds, and bloggers link to items of interest found in those RSS feeds. Heck, if you’re really lucky you may get entire feeds syndicated (that’s the second S in RSS) onto other sites!

How etailers can make RSS work for them

By | Online Retail, RSS Marketing, Shameless Self-Promotion | One Comment

Got a new article out in the November issue of Multichannel Merchant… RSS Made Simple. The article is specifically targeted to online retailers. So if you’re selling online and thinking of using RSS to help you sell more, this is the article to read!

Here’s a small excerpt…

Key benefits of RSS to online merchants:

  • Bypasses spam filters
  • Encourages links and garners PageRank score
  • Serves as a content delivery channel to your affiliates, giving them something they can republish on their own Websites
  • Easy for your subscribers to manage communications from you without clogging up their inboxes
  • Allows you to change content midstream (no need to push an “unsend buttonâ€? as with e-mail)
  • Is the only way your blog can be included in Google’s new Blog Search (
  • Increases the likelihood of media coverage because RSS is a hot topic retailers are slow to embrace.

Read on…

What happened when etailers dove into blogs, podcasts, and RSS

By | Blogging, Podcasting, RSS Marketing | No Comments

I’m finally getting a chance to blog my panel session which took place last week in Las Vegas at the conference.

The session was titled “Alternative Marketing: What Happened When Etailers Dove into Blogs, Podcasting, and RSS”

(yours truly!)

Seth Greenberg, CEO, eHobbies
Pinny Gniwisch, Founder & EVP Marketing,
Steve Spangler, Founder & CEO, Steve Spangler Science

You can download the Powerpoint slides here.

My esteemed colleague Brian Klais, one of our VPs here at Netconcepts, graciously took notes for me which I am posting below:

– Gave an overview of RSS technology and blogs
– 439 million Google search results for “blog”
– RSS is not the same thing as a blog, it is a way to deliver / syndicate content to consumers
– Search for “trustrank” in Google for an example of how RSS builds inbound links = top rankings
– Retailers can deliver news alerts, specials, new resources that have been posted to the site
– VMware builds customized feed around my interests
– Highlights of podcasting, moblogging, and a new buzzword “vodcasting”
– You don’t have to blog to benefit from blogosphere
– Voltaic has a solar powered backpack, blogging friend Treehugger blogged it, then picked up by CoolHunting then Gizmodo and sales skyrocketed
– Negative buzz for Kryptonite = blogstorm
– The power of link text from the blogosphere that contain your brand names profoundly impacts your rankings in Google, Yahoo, MSN. Just look at what ranks in top 10 for “kryptonite”

– Blogs: and
– Seth admits this is a new pioneering area and wanted to experiment with the channel
– Was able to “dumb down” the sign-up for RSS: the link to the “Bestsellers RSS Feed” beneath the Best Sellers sidebar takes the user to an instruction page.
– Launched the feeds just a week ago, so too new to reveal results. Feels similar to email channel.
– Affiliates could be a great application of RSS technology.
– Goal for blog: build trust, keep customers coming back, build loyalty
– Ran a promotion that resulted in 5% of all purchases redeeming the blogged “coupon”
– In June, added “blog” to the header navigation. 5% of sitewide traffic touched blog. Conversion of those who touch blog is 2x non-blog readers.
– Their “male nurse” collectible doll blog post was indexed next day by Google.
– Summarized experience as the good, bad, and ugly. The good: organic search results very good, personality, good press, effective for audience. The bad: more of a diary than a dialog with customers (message boards still have a proper place), has to convey an overall company strategy, has to be nurtured. The ugly: new technology is hard to pinpoint when things go wrong

– Blogs:,,
– 10 commandments of corporate blogging
1) Editorial – uses blog for editorial to converse with customers on jewelry advice
2) PR – PR blog talks about charity events
3) Current – hired a writer to talk about the stars and current events, talks about style, and then promotes similar products available from
4) Promotions – targeting “ice discounts” etc to target discounted jewelry
5) Customer feedback – customers can provide feedback
6) Natural search rankings – links from blog improved rankings over 2-6 weeks time
7) Sales – low volume but acquisition clear
8) Company vibe
9) Being at forefront – press is good and easy to get
10) picture of him with Beyonce

– Blogs at
– Steve pulled out his flaming wallet
– Steve played a funny video clip showing Diet Coke + Mentos explosion, and later gave the recipe. Was an example of a video podcast.
– One of Steve’s products, “Instasnow,” got posted onto BoingBoing popular blog, and created a 3x sales outcome. Record high for that product sales.
– Steve was sold on blogs, and launched
– Steve had the audience rolling over with his stories of Instasnow and related fun science products.
– Sales spikes were directly related to blog posts.
– Played an experiment: Can I own a search market by blogging it? Tried it with “launching potatoes.”
– A blog post can be 3 sentences.
– Result = top 10 rankings.
– Steve says to blog best selling products, behind-the-scenes information, “Did you know?” product information, lets him voice his opinion and feelings on subjects.
– Podcast – can talk about what he is doing by speaking it, not writing it.
– Has learned the art of linking to other blogs, and filling his posts with links.
– 13% of online sales attribute to blogs
– Closing tip: 1 roll mentos, 2 liter bottle of soda for the explosion experiment!


Q: How do you calculate ROI?

Pinny: Don’t look at blogs from ROI perspective. Low cost. Took time to get system in place, difficult to calculate actual cost and therefore ROI. Looks at it as free money.
Steve: Maybe 30 minutes per post, tries to blog a few times per week.

Q: Are blogs being commercialized?

Seth: They tend to be more informational
Pinny: Not done for sales, more for info.
Steve: Blog is a soft sell, a sense of authority, people enjoy it

Q: Do you need special skills or expensive software to blog or just use Typepad or similar?

Stephan: Advocates just download software (eg WordPress) and install on your webserver – free, functional.

Main takeaways:

1 – Have the proper motivation of trying to provide useful customer information and sales follow – often with dramatic though unpredictable results.
2 – Experiment with the technology and gain some learnings
3 – Check out Steve Spangler’s funny science videos!

Will RSS overtake email as a marketing channel?

By | Email, RSS Marketing | 4 Comments

RSS seems unlikely to stage a takeover anytime soon, according to panelists at a MarketingProfs Thought Leaders Summit on email marketing held earlier this year.

Rok Hrastnik, owner of and author of the seminal e-book on RSS, “Unleashing the Marketing and Publishing Power of RSS had this to say:

Given the relative maturity of email marketing compared to RSS, you would be hard pressed to find the same level of marketing functionality, targeting, personalization, and metrics capabilities that “come standard” with most email marketing packages in RSS.

“RSS technology is progressing rapidly, but email technology is not standing still either,” said Neil Squillante, president of Landing Page Interactive. “Much is being done to eliminate the spam problem. Mainstream media continues to report that the amount of spam being sent is increasing, but what they are failing to report is the amount getting through is decreasing. What the recipient is experiencing matters, and a lot of recipients are experiencing less spam than they used to.”

Forrester analyst Shar VanBoskirk added that in the end, it is all about user choice. “Just as we have seen with email, some consumers simply won’t want to embrace RSS. But as Yahoo! rolls out RSS and MSN makes it available, consumers will have more exposure to RSS, and marketers will be looking for an additional tool to distribute the marketing messages they couldn’t maneuver past spam filters.”

I agree with all these guys on this. Email marketing isn’t on its way out, not by a long shot. I’m not unhappy about that either, since my company (Netconcepts) owns the email marketing service provider GravityMail. With that said, however, I think it would be foolish to ignore RSS as a marketing channel. It’s about to enter a huge adoption phase.

NOTE: Don’t miss Rok’s webinar on marketing through RSS, this Thursday at 12pm Eastern, on Sign up HERE.

Call for case studies on SEO’ing RSS feeds

By | RSS Marketing, Search Engines | 2 Comments

A plea for help! I am contributing a chapter to the soon-to-be-released 2nd edition of Rok Hrastnik’s e-book “Unleashing the Marketing and Publishing Power of RSS”. The chapter is on SEO and I am on the hunt for examples to incorporate on RSS feeds being used successfully to garner better search engine positions and traffic. Have you or any of your clients been able to leverage RSS in a way that benefits your search engine rankings? If so, I would like to hear how and what your results were.

I am particularly interested in examples:

  1. where you can show that a lot of inbound links came about because of your RSS feed, or
  2. where you were able to influence or control the link text used in those inbound links by incorporating good keywords into your RSS item titles and those item titles were used as link text, or
  3. where you are clicktracking your links but still getting credit for the link as a vote (i.e. it contributed to your “PageRank” score). Specifically, if you are using 301 permanent redirects instead of 302 temporary redirects on your clicktracking script, then the PageRank from that linking site will get passed on to you, but not if it is a 302. In other words, I would like to hear from anyone who is doing clicktracking w/ permanent redirects in your RSS feed.

I am on a pretty tight deadline, so your responses soonest would be absolutely fantastic! Thank you very much!

When will Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves start indexing RSS feeds properly?

By | RSS Marketing, Search Engines | 5 Comments

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:

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, 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 — filetype:rss, filetype:xml, or filetype:rdf

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 — 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 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’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 — 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.