The Unfolding World of RSS Advertising
Let's peek behind the curtain for a moment. RSS is a file format that Netscape first introduced in 1997. The common usage is to say "RSS feed," which incorrectly makes RSS sound like a push technology. It's simpler than that -- RSS is a way of publishing Web documents in two simultaneous formats: one for people, one for machines. The people version has the graphic layout you expect to see when you land on a Web page. The machine version is stripped down so that it is easier for search engines to "crawl" the page and index it. RSS uses the stripped-down version so that publishers can syndicate their content at a lower cost than if they used the "people" version.
A second reason for publishers to participate in RSS is lower content acquisition costs. Unlike getting syndicated information from content providers that charge for each story, the information generated by bloggers is generally available for free. These writers' voices are often unique and can provide an editorial mix that goes beyond what is provided by syndicated services.
There are a few ways to reach this growing audience. One is to contract directly with the blogger or Web publisher for your client's ad to appear on a particular site. There are networks of blogs where, with a single buy, your ad can appear within numerous blogs. Companies like ours aggregate blogs and RSS feeds to create a critical mass of audiences. I say audiences because ads can be targeted to different markets according to their interests. For example, we (and other companies) can insert an ad in just the technology feeds, or those that focus on travel, cooking whatever subject works best with client objectives. This assures a very high audiencecomposition, probably unmatched by any other medium.
Right now, the great strength that RSS offers advertisers is an audience of extraordinary composition. While there may be a good deal of random "surfing" of blogs and Web sites by users, a click to opt-in to a particular blog or RSS feed is a clear expression of sufficient interest to want to see updated information as it is published. This is the same principle that is driving behavioral targeting so successfully.
Ad-supported RSS feeds aren't new -- Yahoo! and Google have both been experimenting with ad-supported RSS feeds, and marketers like American Express, Continental Airlines and Verizon have started to take advantage of this trend. Just a few weeks ago Washingtonpost.com started putting ads in its RSS feeds.
RSS advertising is not "blog watching" -- using new technology to analyze blogs and other user-generated media such as chat groups to hear what is being said online about new products, old ad campaigns and aging brands. RSS advertising is appropriate copy, links and graphics designed to achieve a user response. It performs very similarly to search in hitting a self-selecting, interested audience, and generally is charged on a CPC basis.
This is fundamentally different from advertising directly on blogs. Your message is clearly intended and perceived as a marketing message, so you won't be seen as co-opting the blogsphere with commercialism. The user doesn't have to click through to the blog to see the ad; it's in his reader. Ads can be placed on RSS feeds that aggregate hundred of thousands of subscribers with common interests.