How RSS Makes Your Site Attractive to Search Engines: The RSS Bandwagon

By now web marketers should see the utility and reach of incorporating RSS feeds in their campaign. There are more possibilities for RSS than you may even realize, as Jennifer Sullivan explores in this article. This is the first of three parts, explaining many ways that RSS feeds can draw customers to your website.

I read blogs; lots of them.  In fact, I read so many, and lose track of time, that I’ve burned dinner a few times.  I subscribe to news feeds and joke feeds, and if I could find a recipe feed I liked, I’d subscribe to that too.  While reading on of my favorite blogs, I came across a statement that stopped me cold: 

If you do a marketing site and you don’t have an RSS feed today you should be fired.  I’ll say it again. You should be fired if you do a marketing site without an RSS feed.  Saying that RSS is only for geeks today is like saying in 1998 that the Web was only for geeks.

The statement was made by Robert Scoble of Microsoft.  If you’ve been around the internet for any length of time, chances are you’ve run across his blog: Scobelizer.  He is probably known as one of the most important bloggers on the internet.  Amusingly, he actually has a blog fan club.  In my opinion, his word carries a lot of weight in the world of search engine technology.  

Why is Scoble so adamant in his belief that RSS is so important in search engine marketing?  Besides being the new current of technology that will change the face of search marketing faster than any element we’ve seen yet, RSS is highly targeted; it provides a direct link from a website to the individual.  When someone subscribes to RSS, they want the information provided there.  There is no better captive audience than a subscriber.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, (or Rich Site Summary, depending who you ask), which is delivered in a format known as XML, which is then translated by an aggregate, or a reader.  RSS provides short descriptions of web content together with links to the full versions of the content similar to summaries, or digests.  This allows for the subscriber to track frequent updates to a site’s news, articles, or even product prices.

RSS received very little attention prior to 2003, even though it has been widely available since the 1990′s.  Now, according to JupiterResearch, 12% of online consumers use RSS feeds at home and in the office.  In a startling and quite disturbing report, JupiterResearch states that, “RSS will not have a significant effect as a supplemental alternative to e-mail marketing.

It goes on to say that 45% of marketers have no plans to implement RSS as a supplementation to email.  On the tails of that, they also report that most marketers don’t understand it, nor do they know enough about it to incorporate it into their search engine optimization strategies.  In a nutshell, almost half of marketers as a whole believe that it is either just a phase, or that it only pertains to blogging, and that blogs are unimportant.  Many also believe that it is impossible to target an audience with RSS compared to email marketing.

Poor understanding of RSS doesn’t give marketers an excuse not to be able to offer this amazing possibility to their clients.  Concept marketers anticipate that by 2008, RSS will be incorporated into everything we do online.  What does this mean to you as an SEO?

RSS is about delivering content to consumers, but more than that, it is also about driving traffic from search engines and directories directly to the consumer.  I like to think of RSS as a hotwire directly into the search engines.  Since the development of the new Google Sitemaps, it has occurred to me that there are many other methods of utilizing RSS to direct wire a site into the search engines. 

Here are ten really easy ways to plug a site into the search engines, while finding qualified traffic in the process.  And while most RSS is of value to the human subscriber, the first one is purely for the benefit of a search engine.

1.  Sitemaps

We touched on sitemaps briefly, but what we didn’t talk about is why they are important from an SEO standpoint.  Google’s Sitemap is an XML based sitemap that simply put is a list of all the URLs for a site that point Google to the pages that need to be crawled, and how frequently they get updated.  While not all sitemaps are in XML format, nor does all content in XML qualify as RSS, this can still apply to a Google Sitemap.  Without going into a lot of technical detail just yet (we’ll indulge that more in the next article), what I want to point out is that the sitemap can alert Google to what changes are made on your website, and how often, enabling that content to be indexed sooner than if you relied upon waiting for a crawl. 

There is still heavy controversy among SEO’s whether Google’s Beta Sitemap is worth implementing or not.  Some argue that only dynamically generated sites could find this of use.  Others think that it is simply a way for Google to receive content sooner and not have to crawl the multitude of sites out there.  Still others believe that only new sites need to speed content to searchers, while not being applicable to older, more established sites that get crawled regularly.  While all of these arguments raise valid questions in the minds of webmasters and SEO’s, and I believe that they are all true to an extent; these are general misconceptions that are held by folks that neither understand the importance of RSS, nor care to learn this new useful tool. 

In Google’s FAQ, they make it clear they this is a test program, not intended to detract from sites that are already established, but rather to work side by side with them to “help improve your coverage in the Google index. It’s a collaborative crawling system that enables you to communicate directly with Google to keep us informed of all your web pages, and when you make changes to these pages.”  This seems simple enough.  So why, if it seems that a faster way to get your web content to a search engine can really only help, even for an established site, would you not use it?

Some SEO’s argue that static websites have no need of this type of sitemap.  But every website is ranked according to how fresh its content is, and how it relates to other relevant sites.  Freshness is not just about new words on a page or changes in design, but its relevancy to the site as a whole.  Search engines place great significance on how relevant a site is in a search, and even how each page relates to another. 

Every website incorporates changes in order to keep content fresh, so I don’t understand this mindset on the part of marketers.  Essentially, a syndicated sitemap not only keys the search engines into a basic structure of a site, it can help a search engine anticipate where changes will occur, and place a higher priority on crawling these pages.  It doesn’t matter if the changes take place at the top level, or three directories deep; sitemaps can allow for faster crawls and speed positioning in the SERPs by letting the search engines know which pages change, and which ones stay the same.  This is why, in my humble opinion, syndicated sitemaps are for everyone.

Just as RSS allows a reader to track frequent changes in a blog or news site, so can it allow Google to track frequent changes to a website, just as if it were an actual subscriber.  Being able to deliver your content directly to Google has unlimited benefit for your site, and can only increase your position in the SERPs.

2.  Article Feeds

Article writers all over the internet have many reasons for authoring articles.  But their goals for writing can basically be grouped into three categories, with obvious overlaps:  instruction, notoriety, and back links.  Getting your articles syndicated and recognized can be an easy way to get one-way links back to your site.  The fastest way to get your articles onto the internet is with RSS.  There are two ways of utilizing RSS with articles for search engine marketing purposes:

  • Providing fresh content for others
  • Receiving fresh content for your own site

Every webmaster and SEO knows how important content is in a website.  With syndication, content is delivered easily and conveniently to a targeted audience.  Many people are concerned with the duplicate content penalty assessed by search engines for using syndicated articles, so some feel that distributed content that appear on hundreds of other sites may get them into trouble.  However, this does not appear to be the case.

Many news sites, such as CNN and MSNBC offer articles that will appear everywhere, such as articles from Associated Press.  But they don’t receive these penalties because the content they offer is relevant to their site as a whole.  While it does appear to be true that the early bird gets the worm, so to speak, and a site that offers the article originally will rank higher; other sites that incorporate the same content will still receive high rankings. 

Let’s look at the duplicate content penalty for a moment.  Most duplicate content penalties are assessed when there is identical content over the pages of the site.  For example, if the same page is duplicated many times throughout a site, with a only a few words here and there changed to attain a high ranking in SERPs, this is considered duplicate content.  The other type of penalty is related to affiliate programs, or sites spawned from an original site for the sole purpose of manipulating back links and SERPs.  When an affiliate program offers its base content to other sites, and those pages pop up everywhere, this is an aggravation to the search engines, and seen as spam.  The pages all look the same, and offer the same products, and therefore offering no real value to the community, and therefore don’t get listed in the search engines.

Search engines love uniqueness.  Using distributed content that contains articles that are the same on your site as on another site can be still grouped together according to relevancy on your site, and therefore giving it a unique quality compared to another site.

3.  Blogs

Blogging is easily the most widely known use of RSS.  Anyone can write a blog, and it can be about any topic imaginable.  From hermit crabs to stock brokering, blogs cover a wide variety of subjects that may be of interest to any number of people.  This content is delivered directly to the consumer’s desktop, providing you with a direct link to your targeted audience.

4.  Forum Postings

There are plenty of forums out there that relate to any thing you are interested in.  While forums are mostly opinions of people, there are very valid questions answered in forums, and important information that is updated daily.  Syndicating a forum site can provide a search engine a direct look into the feelings of the community, while providing important advice and tutorials to searchers.

5.  News

There is nothing fresher than news.  News happens every minute, and syndicating news is a great way to obtain new content.  By displaying news pieces on your site, you can revamp content continually.  But considering it takes search engines a bit of time to crawl those news pages, RSS offers a speedier way to get your news to both the search engines, and the subscribers.

6.  Product Reviews

Product reviews are a great way to provide your customers a linear view into what your product has to offer them.  People like to know what others are saying about your products before they buy them, and by utilizing RSS in this way, you can give a face-to-face look at what you are selling, and updates on those items like no other way possible.  This will also help create brand loyalty, and help establish strong relationships with customers.

7.  Updated specials, sales and tech support tips

RSS allows for complete product interaction between a company and a consumer.  You can zap your deals directly to a person’s desktop, and guess what??  It’s not spam; because RSS is completely opt-in.  Many times, by the time your specials are spidered and indexed, it can be obsolete.  In contrast, with RSS these things can be delivered to your customer faster and with more reliability.  Providing a customer with a “line-in” to tech support will help them feel that your company is personable, and cares about them. 

8.  Events

It used to be that communities advertised events by word of mouth.  Today, RSS is just like word of mouth.  Websites rely upon the recommendation of other sites, such as with linking and shared content, to build their search engine ranks.  Community events can easily be syndicated and shared with those who will likely use this information most.

9.  Link Building

RSS is a wonderful method for link building. Search engines look at inbound links as part of determining a page’s ranking importance.  RSS provides the opportunity for this important part of SEO.  Link building strategies are all about sharing, and what better way to share data with other relevant websites than with RSS? 

Every SEO knows the importance of inbound links.  With articles, news, and other syndicated content, it is easy for websites to share links without going through the hassle of reciprocal linking programs and directory submissions.  Don’t get me wrong:  reciprocal linking and directory submissions are highly important, and RSS is not a full substitute for these, but it can certainly supplement your ranking results.

10.  Podcasting

Podcasting is a method of delivering media content through RSS.  It enables independent producers to syndicate radio, music, and other audio or video content.  Just as you can choose the stations you want to listen to in your car or watch on your television, podcasting enables consumers to choose the type of content they wish to hear or see.  Downloading new content is easy, convenient, and instant.  In the same way that written content can provide a direct link from a website into the search engines, so can audio and visual content, because the format used is RSS.

Conclusion

RSS provides one of the fastest ways to deliver fresh content to subscribers.  With as many websites as search engine robots have to crawl, it’s no wonder that it takes forever to get updated content out there.  With RSS, your information and content will not only be instantly accessible, but it will improve your search engine rankings, capture your target audience, as well as providing rich interaction with other, relevant websites.

Still think RSS isn’t for you?  I’m hoping that those 45% of marketers that don’t have any intention to use syndication for their clients will wake up and try to understand that this is the new wave of the future, and search engines are already incorporating the importance of RSS into results pages.  It may be just a phase, but when this bandwagon is ready to roll, I will be on board.  I suggest you climb on, too.

***Part 2 will more closely examine what it means to apply RSS in the ways mentioned in this article. It will use a few examples of what to pay attention to when integrating it into your clients’ websites.

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