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Using RSS Feeds for advertising and marketing

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 01 Sep, 2008
Essential Essential topic

Bill Flitter, Pheedo

I find many articles are cynical about the value of RSS feeds for marketing their own services or for advertising in third party sites. But what about those in the know - the Feed marketing specialists?

In this interview I talk to Bill Flitter, CEO of Pheedo who pioneered RSS advertising back in 2003. Today, Pheedo are a major provider of in-feed RSS advertising services for publishers like Wired and Ziff Davis and are used by clients such as Cisco, Ford and Microsoft. As well as explaining why feeds are important and the feed advertising options, in this article, Bill has some great advice on using feeds for marketing too.

How does advertising in Feeds work

1. Let"€™s start with the basics. How does advertising in RSS feeds work for the Feed subscriber? What are the typical options for creative?

Bill Flitter, Pheedo:

RSS is the plumbing that connects users to the content they like and has provided the freedom to aggregate content anywhere on any device. This streaming of content, or lifestreaming, is a compilation of one"€™s interests aggregated in a central experience preferred by the consumer.

The outcome in today"€™s distributed media world is fragmentation of both the content and the consumer. Stitching together and making sense of the user behaviour with the content off the site poses new challenges.

Brands successfully leveraging RSS and distributed media understand the power of the medium.

They realize RSS is about people not the amount of page views. It is not a tonnage buy but micro-targeting.

My advice is this:

  1. Create great content that is relevant to the user you are trying to attract.
  2. Virally-enable the content for easy sharing
  3. Create the content so it is digestible in micro-chunks
  4. Determine the right amount of content flow to keep users engaged
  5. Consider the whole experience when evaluating success (vs. just clicks)

I encourage brands to create a lifestream (a.k.a brand stream) of their own. A brand is a living, breathing organism. A brand is about the people who make up that brand. So therefore, a brand has life. Content in a brand"€™s life might include press releases, product reviews, blog postings, pictures of the company picnic, whitepapers "€“ mostly likely all the things they already have but not centralized.

Cisco is leveraging brand streaming as a lead nurturing technique. They created a feed of content that includes video, press releases, customer stories and product updates as a way to connect with their potential customers.

Marketing Effectiveness of Feeds

Q2. And now marketing effectiveness. Which audiences will this work for? Is it true that it"€™s mainly for business-to-business audiences "€“ say advertising in a feed or an IT trade publication? What about response rates "€“ with display advertising averaging 0.1% for traditional formats can RSS feed ads perform better? Any success stories from your clients?

Bill Flitter, Pheedo:

Advertisers who are truly taking advantage of the RSS architecture want to keep their success a secret.

We see engagement rates as high as 10%. Engagement is a compilation of the number of clicks on the content, word-of-mouth activity created, subscriptions to the content, and post subscription activity stitched together into a digestible metric.

As the users taste for content consumption evolves so to does how marketers evaluate success. We need new standards of measurement. Only measuring CTR tells a partial story. Marketers should ask questions like:

  • How valuable is it for a user to recommend a product?
  • How do you measure that physical action of forwarding a piece of content to someone else?

We virally-enable all our content assets to increase the possibilities of sharing and report that activity back to the advertiser. We also provide the same analytic tools to advertisers that we provide publishers. This gives advertisers a detailed look into how their content is being consumed.

Advertisers range from what you would expect, IT to consumer technology companies. However CPG companies, auto makers, and movie studios who target moms and general consumers are taking full-advantage of the benefits of on-demand content tailored to the individual.

What about the lack of RSS feed adoption? What are the growth figures

Q3. What"€™s your view on the adoption rate of RSS feeds? It still seems to be a niche for me "€“ great for journalists replacing press releases or web savvy types keeping up with developments, but it"€™s still at an early stage of adoption isn"€™t it?

I only see 1 feed subscription for every 10 email newsletter subscriptions on my blog "€“ and that"€™s for a reasonably tech-savvy audience. How does expenditure on Feed advertising stack up against display ads or paid search response volumes? Surely response volumes are too small for it to be worthwhile for most companies?

Bill Flitter, Pheedo:

I find many articles are cynical about the value of RSS feeds for marketing their own services or for advertising in third party sites.

Last year, our publishers realized a 250% growth in their distributed traffic. 2008 is the year of syndication and aggregation. It is the year, where RSS realizes its inflection point. Advertising in RSS feeds will become a necessity as the feed becomes the main interaction point with a publisher.

For example, some of our top consumer tech and news publishers see more traffic in their feeds than on their site. That is amazing. An Avenue A study indicated 53% of online users are consuming RSS. Universal McCann found that RSS grew 153% between Q2 "€™07 and Q2 "€™08. That is faster growth than social networking and video consumption.

Publishers are not the only ones who need to create feeds. Brands who want to participate in a user"€™s lifestream will need to create feeds to stay stop of mind with their consumers. And many are. According to AvenueA/Razorfish, 40% of Marketers used or piloted RSS feeds in 2007. This up from 10% in 2006.

Q4. Comparing feed advertising to email marketing, what can you offer for targeting against subscribers"€™ individual preferences and profiles "€“ isn"€™t the problem that 99% of feeds don"€™t require opt-in and profiling before sign-up?

Bill Flitter, Pheedo:

Prior to starting Pheedo, I had a successful email marketing company that I sold in 2001. But we saw response rates drop and legal issues making it difficult just to communicate to customers. I thought there had to be a better way to get consumers what they want. Pheedo was born out of this need. It was the best of both worlds. Brands received a communication channel and consumers had the control they desired.

Advertising in RSS Feeds is still considered new media. The average CPM in 2007 was $5. Rates have increased 28% in 12 months as media buyers have come to understand and appreciate the potential of reaching the content aggregators and broadcasters. Because RSS is a more personalized medium and therefore highly targeted, expect rates to be competitively priced and more inline with premium inventory rates.

Future predictions for feed advertising

Q5. A brief, single, but not simple question to end. How do you see feed advertising evolving over the next 1 to 2 years.

Bill Flitter, Pheedo:

From a publisher"€™s perspective, RSS has gone through three macro stages.

  1. Awareness (2005) "€“ what is it and why do I need it.
  2. Analysis (2006/07)"€“ now that I have it, how much do I have
  3. Monetization (2008) "€“ wow, I have a lot if, I need to create ROI

The 4th stage will be ROI Impact. Publishers/Brands we are working with today, are just now sitting at the table and realizing they need to put together a strategy around distributed media. They want to understand the full RSS ROI impact for their business.

Over the next few years, the user experience will become more "€˜rich."€™ RSS will be their main connection with the content they like. It will include social features and medium-specific advertising. Rich media ads will be redefined in RSS.

One of the nuances of RSS and the reason Pheedo exists is standard ad delivering techniques like iframes/javascript are not included in the RSS specification. This also leaves out flash and rich media ads as we know them today. We are developing new RSS specific rich-media ad types that achieve the same end result but are constructed differently. For example, our proprietary FeedPowered "€˜rich-media"€™ ad platform delivers real-time information to RSS feeds based on some targeting criteria. Users can interact with the ad beyond just clicking on it and landing on the advertiser"€™s website. They can subscribe to the content, share it or save it for later. It delivers text, audio or video feeds.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. Dave is editor of the 100+ templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ digital marketing experts. Our resources are used by our Premium members in more than 100 countries to Plan, Manage and Optimize their digital marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is a keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. My personal site,, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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