Sunday, December 04, 2005

ADV: Advertising in RSS Feeds

The holiday spirit has come to visit me today! I just picked up my Christmas tree yesterday, and this morning I woke up to the first snowfall of the season. This is a great time of the year.

With the holidays or course comes shopping, so that I can buy gifts for family, friends (and of course my self). With shopping comes a flurry of advertising, so much that it can be difficult to extract the zillions of catalogs from your mailbox. And on this past Friday I had the pleasure of seeing my first RSS advertisement. Oh the joy!

I did a little digging, and found a couple of resources that helped me put this into perspective. The first is RSS Advertising Case Study, which compares, to a degree, RSS vs. Email advertising. The moral of the study is that a relevant ad placed in an RSS feed will outperform an email advertisement. There are several reasons for this.

1. RSS is 100% opt-in. You are pulling the feed, and not being pushed to. You have control over the relationship, and can break it at any time.

2. RSS has a 100% delivery rate. RSS isn't being blocked by spam filters, and is always delivered.

3. Email ads are annoying. Because anyone can send you an email, everyone does. The response is of course to block ads entirely, and if that means that some useful ads also get blocked, the n so be it.

But again, the key word is relevant. A good example of a poorly placed RSS ad would be the ad that I saw this past Friday. It was a Symantec feed, and the title of the top article in the feed was "ADV: Low mortgage rates". I like the fact that it was fairly unobtrusive by being clearly marked as an advertisement, but what does mortgage rates have to do with a feed about virus protection? Perhaps they would have been better off promoting some data security service, or maybe even one of their own products.

As a developer I understand that the reason for site, and now RSS advertising, is that it is used to pay for bandwidth, software, hardware, and people like me to maintain those systems. As a user I accept that I will see advertising on the sites I visit, in the same way that I accept the presence of commercials on television. Of course there is a limit, which is why many people run ad and popup blockers. The next site I visited discussed this in an article called, "Blocking RSS advertising".

In the article several RSS aggregator applications discussed the possibility of adding ad blocking to their software. For the most part it seems that the answer was no, they weren't going to add specific blocking technology at this time. Most of them though have filter support though, so in theory you could write filters to block ads from appearing. I'm not sure if there will ever be a strong need for this though, because if you don't like a feed, then you can turn it off. This single fact means that the feed producer now has something to lose if they abuse RSS advertisements, which differs greatly from the email model.

So, are RSS feeds a good thing? Yes, I think so, you need to pay the bills somehow. Will marketeers use RSS feeds the wrong way? Yes, I expect them to, but then we can just drop their feed.

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