Okay, you have a website setup to promote your books, music, and other products you wish to sell. With a bit of Internet savvy, you have created an attractive design to catch the Internet user’s eyes, and with your expertise on the subject at hand you are able to provide thoughtful, provoking content. You are confident your site is optimized for good search results, with a good saturation of keywords in your content. Your site is simple to navigate, fun to read, and yet informative enough to be highly regarded by engines. You are ready for the world!
Yet, you feel as though what you are doing is not enough. Perhaps you enjoy a steady increase in traffic through traditional online marketing means, occasional tweaking of metadata and e-mail advertising. Offline advertising is not in the budget right now, and you want to try other, cheaper alternative before delving into pay-per-click advertising. What else is there to do?
Have you considered creating an RSS feed for your website? If you are in the business of promoting and selling many products and services, having an RSS feed attached to your website may be beneficial in attracting new visitors to your website. RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, and it is a specific format for aggregating news and information to other websites and Internet users who read news through special aggregators, or readers.
Think of RSS as a distant cousin of the news tickers you see on your favorite 24-hour news or sports network. As new information is made public, the wires pick up the story and syndicate the content to interested third parties seeking information to distribute. An all-sports network, for example, would select only the most recent sports news from various syndicates to put on television. RSS works in a similar way.
Not sure how? Next time you log onto the Internet, take a look at your start up page, if you use My Yahoo or My MSN or anything similar. What do you see? Maybe you have updated news bytes from Associated Press or Reuters, daily comic strips, weather and horoscope, and so on. You know, of course, that such pages can be customized to show only what you want to see. If you’re interested only in entertainment news, you would adjust your page so you only receive movie gossip and reviews, and news from the top entertainment magazines, right? All of this information is syndicated, and your start up page acts as an aggregator, collecting only the relevant information you want it to collect and display.
Now, stay with me, because here’s the fun part: by creating an RSS feed, you can become a syndicate! Say you are a romance author and offer a series of passionate stories you know romance fans will love. You can create an RSS feed using news about your books and information related to writing, the romance genre, and the publishing industry to create usable content for aggregators. With proper promotion and distribution, users interested in romance novels can either add your feed to their private readers, or even their websites, thereby increasing your exposure. This in turn can increase traffic to your site, and account for more sales!
Sounds like something you want to do to further promote yourself on the Internet? If so, great! But if you are new to the concept of RSS and are not sure how to start, don’t fret. Once you learn the basic of creating and promoting an RSS feed, you will find it is as simple as creating a website. Here follows a basic step by step for creating a simple feed. Once you get the hang of RSS content and wish to work with something more advanced, a good instruction manual on Real Simple Syndication can help you achieve much more for your books, music, and products.
For now, though, let’s get the basics down pat.
Before you even think about messing with RSS software or hand coding the proper markup language, you need to consider carefully the type of content you plan to use for your feed. Syndicated content in this context will differ from standard website content in that it needs to entice readers to click through to your website and buy your books or take advantage of your services. If you give too little, readers may not be interested enough to visit your site. Give too much, and readers may be overwhelmed, or think they don’t have to click your links.
Study RSS feeds that typify what you plan to distribute. Especially if you are trying to promote a book, a CD, or other items, you want to look at shopping RSS feeds in particular to see how they are executed. Think of your content as a 30-second commercial: depending upon the types of aggregators used to collect your feed data, users may see only a headline first, so think of one that grab attention. Use easy to understand language in your content: sharp, peppy and to the point. Emphasize the purchase links and any sales or discount incentives.
Some RSS aggregators accept code for images, so take advantage of that. Display your book or CD cover, a picture of your product, or your logo. For readers that don’t aggregate images, be sure to use the ALT option and describe the item.
Plan ahead for your feed. An RSS feed should be treated as a regular newswire. So if you feel you do not have enough content to necessitate a regular feed, consider supplemental information related to your site and map out when you plan to add new items to your feed. Once you have a working schedule, now you can into the work of creating your feed and having some real fun!
If you are completely new to the idea of RSS and have only moderate skills where website development is concerned, you can still build an attractive, effective feed for your site. Before you do, bear this one thing in mind:
An RSS feed is a file hosted on your server, identified by either a .rss or .xml suffix rather than the .html extension. Most updates to browsers will allow visitors to see the feed as it is supposed to look should a link to your feed be clicked. Don’t panic, however, if somebody clicks on your feed link and claims to see “gibberish.” They are likely seeing only the raw code.
Now that you are ready to create a feed, it is highly recommended to use software designed for this purpose. An Internet search for “RSS freeware” or “RSS software” will point you in the right direction. I personally use RSS Builder to create my feeds. It is user friendly and simple to install. As you learn more about RSS, you may want to test a few programs before deciding on one to use regularly.
Choose a name for your feed that is indicative of your products or site. The romance author may want to use romancenovels.rss or romancebooks.rss, while a freelance consultant may want to try consultingnews.rss. There’s no guarantee having such a name will boost search referrals, but to have a relevant keyword in the filename may help readers in their search for content to aggregate.
Check your RSS program to see if there are options to input metadata, or your feed’s description. This is important, as the metadata in a published feed helps RSS spiders determine the relevancy of your feed against various searches. As the Internet grows, so does the ability for search engines to mine things like blogs and feeds for data, so you want to be thorough in this respect. If the metadata options ask for a URL and an image logo, provide them.
Now, depending upon your program, you have the options to add and delete topics, set times for their publication, and to order them by appearance. This is the heart of the feed, where the information goes. If you approach this part of RSS creation as would with a weblog, you will find it remarkably simple.
Each topic is a new post. Depending upon the volume of news you wish to distribute, you can create new topics daily or several in a day. Don’t give away too much information in your posts. Enticing text should prompt readers to click through to your main site, where the action (and point of sale) is. Use keyword rich text to attract those spiders that mine data from RSS. As your catalog grows, as you write more books or take on new projects, you will have more material for your feed.
Once you have a few entries in your feed, now you can upload your RSS file for readership and distribution. Depending upon the RSS building software you are using, you may be able to upload directly to your site using the software. Otherwise you may need to use an FTP program to do this.
Make sure you know your ID and password for your website, and make sure the file for the feed is correctly named with the .rss or .xml extension. Once it’s live on your site, check the file in an RSS aggregator or in a web browser that reads RSS to make sure it is working to your satisfaction. If so, congratulations! You have just published an RSS feed.
But, you are not finished yet. In order to help site visitors know that you have a feed you need to do things. First, you need to place links on your website indicating that you have a feed. You would do this the same way you would create a hyperlink to another URL. In the HREF anchor tag, indicate the full URL of your feed with a note saying “Subscribe to our RSS feed.” You may also want to use a small graphic to bring attention to your feed. Many sites use a small, orange rectangle with RSS or XML in white letters, to direct visitors to feeds.
To direct RSS aggregators and spiders to your feed, you will need to place a LINK REL tag in the HEAD section of your HTML code. It will look like this (just place carats before and after
link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”RSS” href=”Your RSS URL goes here”
This lets the spider know there is RSS content available.
Once your feed is active, you can actively promote it. A quick Internet search for “RSS Search Engines” will led you to many resources where you can submit your feed information. You would submit your feed the same way you would submit a website, just make sure to provide all necessary information.
In addition, you may want to consider some viral marketing of your feed. Include the feed URL in your e-mail signature, or contact other websites of relevant topics and let them know you have content for distribution in RSS. Websites similar to yours looking for material may wish to aggregate your feed and place the content on their sites. You, in turn, get free exposure and increase your chance for sales.
If you know where to look, there are websites and software available designed to notify, or “ping,” RSS directories and search engines when a feed is updated. This is believed to expedite the updating process on their end. The sooner they know new information is available, the sooner they will mine your feed for data. A quick Internet search for “RSS pinger” will lead you information on how to regularly notify users of updates to your feed. Some sources will let you notify several engines at once, and it can be a helpful tool in your promotion.
From writing content to publicizing your products, using RSS feeds to enhance your website can be very helpful in increasing exposure to your books and music, services and products. Syndicate your content and watch your site traffic, and sales, grow.