The internet in the 90s introduced a diverse group of technologies that were widely used but are now utterly unknown to entire generations. I remember using Gopher in college to access files and using Usenet to post and download whatever I wanted. Today, Gopher is all but extinct while Usenet remains on life support. However, there’s one technology, in particular, that’s stood the test of time, and that’s Really Simple Syndication (RSS).
RSS was created in the late 90s and was a way for websites to organize and syndicate their content. In the mid-2000s, it started to become the de-facto standard for syndicating blog posts. It also spawned entire services, including feed management apps like FeedBurner and RSS readers like the now-defunct Google Reader.
Over the last decade, RSS seemed to fade into the background as social networks became the preferred method for how most people discovered and consumed content. However, RSS didn’t go away. It continues to be a potent tool that savvy digital marketers use to stay competitive and influence their target audience.
Marketing with RSS
RSS is a grossly underutilized tool by most digital marketers. The power of RSS for marketing is that it can be used to:
- Monitor competitors
- Subscribe to competitor feeds
- Subscribe to Google Alerts
- Subscribe to related topics
- Generate custom competitor feeds
- Discover insights
- Distribute content
- Automate social posts via RSS with IFTTT
- Automate social posts via RSS with Zapier
- Automate email newsletters via RSS with Tidings
- Create custom RSS feeds for different content types
- Analyze RSS feed statistics
There are three main ways to monitor competitors using RSS. You can subscribe to your competitors’ RSS feeds, create and subscribe to Google Alerts, and subscribe to other publications that write about your competitors. Since the RSS reader Feedly makes all three of these easy to do, I’m going to use it for all of my how-to examples.
How to subscribe to competitor feeds
In most cases, you can visit a competitor’s website and get the RSS feed from a link on their site or from their source code. However, Feedly makes it easy by removing that step. In Feedly, you can simply click on Add Content and type the competitor’s name to find their feed, which is typically associated with their blog. Alternatively, if you know the feed URL, you can enter it into the input field.
Once you select a feed, you have the option to follow it and add it to a group (Feedly calls their groups Feeds). I recommend creating and adding it to either a group named after the competitor or simply to a catchall group named Competitors.
How to subscribe to Google Alerts feeds
Google Alerts is an excellent resource for competitor monitoring. Feedly has integrated Google Alerts into their app. However, you can also create and manage them independently on Google Alerts’ own site.
If you do create them on Google, you can copy and add the RSS feed in Feedly by clicking on Add Content and pasting the feed address.
How to subscribe using topics
Feedly also makes it easy to subscribe using topics. When you click on Add Content, include a hashtag in front of the competitor name. Feedly will display related sources and will also provide a list of related topics to help you find more sources to follow.
Keep in mind that if you follow related feeds that aren’t explicitly related to the competitor, you may get a lot of unrelated stories.
How to make an RSS feed when your competitor doesn’t have one
In some cases, you won’t be able to find an RSS feed for your competitor (or whatever topic you’re wanting to track). Fortunately, there’s a way around that thanks to a service called FetchRSS. FetchRSS makes it easy to generate an RSS feed from just about anything online. You can create a feed for their blog if one doesn’t exist or a feed that keeps track of changes made to their marketing pages.
There’s so much publishing noise on the internet that it’s easy to miss relevant information and ideas. That’s especially true if you rely on social networks to stay informed. Even if something useful does gain traction in a social post, there’s still a good chance you’ll miss seeing it in your social feeds. You also can’t entirely rely on industry sites anymore. A lot of what gets published today isn’t very useful and mainly exists to sell advertising and conferences.
Bottom line, RSS feeds offer one of the best ways to stay informed and learn new insights before anyone else.
That’s why I started the practice of subscribing to RSS feeds from the blogs of brilliant people that very few people know. I find these people through researching topics on Google, following links, and perusing posts. Every time I find someone that impresses me, I add them to a group on Feedly.
It’s how I found and got to know AJ Kohn of Blind Five Year Old. It’s also why I subscribe and follow Ryan Siddle’s company blog for his monthly Technical SEO Roundup.
There’s another benefit to being one of the first people to discover these insights, influence. If you regularly share the ideas you find, you will become known as a reliable and respected source. As a result, you’ll see your followers grow and your network of industry contacts expand.
RSS is a two-way street. Not only can you subscribe to content, but you can also use it to distribute your own content. Through the use of services like IFTTT and Zapier, you can automate publishing your latest posts to social networks. However, before you start automating, you’ll want to make sure your blog posts are optimized for each social network.
If you’re using WordPress, the best way to optimize blog posts is with the Yoast SEO Premium plugin. The Premium plugin allows you to customize the title, description and image for social networks like Twitter and Facebook. That way you’ll have full control over how your automated posts appear.
Once you’ve optimized your blog posts for social networks, use either IFTTT or Zapier to automate your social posts.
Automated email newsletter creation
You can also automatically create and send email newsletters using an RSS feed. Tidings makes it easy to connect your RSS feed and send beautiful emails messages to your subscribers.
Create custom feeds
We generally think of an RSS feed as something that’s magically created by a CMS. However, with tools like Feeder, you can create and manage feeds for anything you want.
Feeder makes it easy to create and publish a podcasting feed and gives you complete control over every detail. It also lets you create a general purpose feed for any type of content you want.
Having the ability to create custom feeds allows you to host them on any server. It also makes it possible to password protect them so you can use them with a paid subscription.
Get feed statistics
Getting subscriber numbers and details about how people are consuming your RSS feeds used to be a mystery until FeedBurner launched in 2004. FeedBurner was so popular that Google acquired them in 2007. Unfortunately, Google never made the service a priority, and they eventually abandoned it in 2012 after several years of neglect. Fortunately, a newer and better service was available named FeedPress.
I’ve personally used FeedPress since they first started and still use them for my sites. Some of the features they provide include:
- Accurate subscriber stats
- List of RSS readers are used by subscribers
- Automated email newsletter
- Social network integration for automated posting
- Custom domain support
- Diagnostic tools
I encourage you to use RSS to get more out of your marketing efforts and to also find new ways to use it. If you do, please let me know about it.