Web Strategy: Understanding Syndicated Feeds for your Corporate Website

If your website at your company doesn’t have Syndicated feeds on your website, please send this to your web team, I’m here to help.

What you should know about Syndicated Feeds for your Corporate Website
Yesterday, a respected PR professional asked me some excellent questions on Syndication deployment, usage, and tactics. Given her background is not web, this is an excellent question, and I’m glad she asked. This post is intended as a basic primer, and I’m going to avoid any technical discussions. As you hopefully know, I use this blog to answer questions that I get from prospects, customers, friends, and family about the web.

Syndicated feeds such as RSS, and Atom and other feeds are becoming increasingly popular primarily due to the blogging explosion, (Syndicated content is a default feature of nearly every blog) and is starting to take hold on non-blog sites as well.

How it works
Websites, blogs, and other tools offer syndicated feeds. Users can tell it’s available on the page as there are icons on the webpage, and some browsers indicate this (see orange icon on browser). Users can then subscribe to the feed from a feedreader or from their subscribe feeds section on the browser. This let’s the user be alerted when there is information changed on the website, and they can consume the content when they want, and how they want.

Why it matters
I already discussed how Web Marketing is not on two domains only (your website and google search results) the modern web marketer needs to start building the resources for users now that the information power is starting to shift to the users.

Adoption levels for those that are actively using a feedreader, but the adoption trend will continue to grow. Since the next version of Outlook (a staple of many corporations) it will have a built in feedreader in the Inbox. Feedreaders will be mainstream just like email, so please start your planning now.

You want your users to subscribe to your content, this means they are signaling they want more content, and an indicator they are a highly relevant, targeted audience, don’t let them down!

While at Microsoft, tech blogger Robert Scoble proclaimed some very strong remarks for Web Marketers that don’t have RSS on their site.

Modern Web Marketing is giving to users
If you run a website for a company or organization, I would encourage you to deploy an syndicated feed program for your site, it will give the visitors of your site the opportunity to subscribe (only if they want to) to your content so they can consume it when and how they please. In marketing, this is an opt-in model. For this to be effective you’ll want to keep the feeds updated.

Examples

The tech industry is often the testbed for adopting new technologies, and there are many companies that have RSS right on their homepage. You can see a prominent RSS icon on the Hitachi Data Systems site, and PodTech has quite a few.


RSS Strategies for your Corporate Content

Take a look at IBM, which has deployed RSS in a very advanced way, they’re providing a feed for what appears to be every product and offering in the entire company. Since different users have different needs, segmenting will provide a higher degree of relevancy and accuracy for the subscriber. It’s even broken down by language.

It makes sense to segment your content and cut it as many ways as possible, look for content that is frequently updated such as press releases, updated collateral, white papers, and even your email newsletter. Since it’s native to podcasts, blogs, and other social media tools, be sure to put all of these on one page, making it easy for users to select from the ‘menu’

Don’t have RSS on your Corporate Site?

It’s not hard to implement this, you can use a free blog (go to wordpress) and create this account. Then you can send the feed into feedburner which will provide you with metrics. Add the RSS icon to your homepage, and then populate the blog with updated content: news, new media, or to be as so bold as to blog. If you’re more technical, you can find an RSS generator which could be a way to deploy everytime your website updates. I’m sure all of the above recommendations are free, time and a bit of know how is all that is needed.

Costs
Deploying RSS on your corporate website, (say maybe one feed) should cost no dollars, it should primarily be labor, consult your developers for more details. Many of the tools I’ve suggested have zero dollar cost. Since content is already updated on your site (news, press, new collateral, etc) you don’t have to create new content, just use this as a vehicle for extended reach.

Getting Started
1) Get educated, I’ve provided some links below
2) Get a feedreader, There’s a ton here, I happen to use Google Reader, and have also used Google Homepage, MyYahoo, and Bloglines. My feedreader saves me time.
3) Subscribe to some feeds (start with mine)
4) Create RSS for your own site, test it out
5) Grow: Segment content, find better tools, make it part of your integrated marketing approach

What’s Next
I expect CMS systems in this year to be offering a wide multitude of RSS output features, and even create engines that allow users to create their own customized feed.

I also recommend you consider offering RSS on your site, as there are ‘scraping’ technologies appearing that will take your content off your site and convert into RSS, even if you don’t want it to. This may not be ideal for you, as the content that it’s scraping may not what you want to serve up to your highly relevant audience. A way to subscribe to content will eventually be on every single webpage whether the creator likes it or not.

Learn More
If you want to know more about RSS, (and want to first impress your IT guys how much you already know) I first recommend you check out Robyn Tippin’s RSS Marketing Blog, there are a ton of great resources, you can check out Wikipedia’s collection. Or see this google results page on RSS Marketing. Last but not least, we should all recognize the most major contributor to RSS is Internet Uncle, Dave Winer, learn up on him at Wikipedia, then see other resources. If anyone else has any other suggestions, please leave a comment.

If you’ve never subscribed to a website before, start by subscribing to mine!