RSS feeds: Publishing an excerpt? You’re doing it wrong.

A website whose feed I have in my cooking category only publishes a picture and a couple of sentences in their RSS feed. A lot of people do that. If this was 2004, that would be the standard industry practice. In 2012, it’s outdated and counterproductive. I recently contacted the webmaster asking why they only published a summary rather than the full feed. The representative explained in lengthy detail that moving from a full feed to a simple summary increased their click-through rate and page views. My internal response was, “of course it did.” If you make people go through an extra step before giving them what they want, then that new step will see more activity. But, to borrow a phrase from Sherlock Holmes, you’re ignoring the dog that didn’t bark.

Adding steps to your customers’ purchase process will almost always result in less activity. If all you’re monitoring is the number of people who walk through the door, so to speak, then you’re ignoring the number of people who turned away because of the extra step. More importantly, you’ve effectively lost the unknowable number of people who didn’t hear about your product from the people who didn’t enter because of the added hurdle. Extrapolate further and the numbers increase exponentially. And that’s not even counting the number of people who ignore summary feeds as a point of habit.

Webmasters are obsessed with using feeds to pull readers to their sites. There’s nothing wrong with that; the website is where the shopping cart and the ads are. But only using a a snippet of content is a method of pulling readers over a hurdle to reach your content. And you lose otherwise-engaged readers with every hurdle. Comments, community, and related links should draw readers from the feed to the main site. Baiting people just teases them and does nothing to strengthen your offering. When done poorly, it can seem like a bait-and-switch. I can’t express how bad that is for brand value.

As readers skew younger and more tech-savvy, marketers will lose share as media consumers opt to have content delivered to them, where they are, in the form they want it, which will likely be through feeds on portable devices. Those who put hurdles between themselves and their readers may revel in short-term traffic spikes, but it’s at the expense of larger long-term growth.

RSS feeds: Publishing an excerpt? You’re doing it wrong.
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