It's clear that RSS and e-mail in fact need to be used together, as opposed to either one replacing the other.
While RSS might not be used by as many people as e-mail, you can be sure that those that do use it and subscribe to your feeds will get your content without fail. In addition, many already prefer to receive information via RSS instead of e-mail, making RSS an absolute must as a supplement to e-mail delivery.
Let’s now take a detailed look at exactly how RSS and e-mail can work together.
1. ANNOUNCING YOUR E-ZINE VIA RSS
What’s the use of an excellent e-mail e-zine if it’s blocked by spam filters or lost in the recipient’s mailbox? No matter how high quality content you prepare, if it’s not received it can’t be read and then acted upon to drive sales your way.
Namely, you need to stop thinking of your e-zine in terms of e-mail delivery, but rather consider it as a vehicle to present relevant and related content in a specific context of an individual e-zine issue, which can then be delivered to your recipients in multiple ways.
Just consider newspapers, which are delivered in print format, on the Web, via e-mail and RSS as well, all this to assure optimum delivery according to end-user preferences.
While most e-zine publishers will never consider presenting their e-zine in print format and delivering it via traditional delivery services, you need to explore all available means of online delivery. After e-mail, RSS is the first that comes to mind.
Using RSS to announce your e-zine via RSS is the simplest and least expensive way to get started with RSS and it will help you make sure that your valuable content in fact does get delivered, at least to the audience using RSS.
A) THE PROCESS: E-MAIL E-ZINES
What is the process behind traditional e-zine publishing?
-> The publisher provides an e-mail e-zine subscription box, in which visitors enter their e-mail addresses, thus giving consent to the publisher to receive his communications and at the same time building his subscriber database.
-> The e-mail address is saved in the publisher’s subscriber database.
-> The publisher prepares an e-zine issue, usually creating an HTML document with either full-text e-zine issue articles and news or summaries of articles with links to full-text articles on his website.
-> The HTML document is packaged as an e-mail message by the publishers’ e-mail publishing solution and then sent to his subscriber database using e-mail as the delivery channel.
-> E-mail messages “travel through the internet” and are either stopped on the way by various spam filters and other “barricades” and are then either deleted automatically or delivered to the subscribers’ e-mail accounts.
-> Subscribers download these e-mail messages when they log-on to their e-mail account and can then manipulate them, either deleting them, moving them to another folder or reading them.
How can we now transfer this process to publishing your e-zine via RSS as well?
B) THE PROCESS: RSS CONTENT DELIVERY
We first need to understand how RSS content delivery works.
-> The publisher creates an RSS feed, basically just a simple XML file structured in a specific way, and provides a link to that XML file on his website and through other sites, search engines and directories. The file needs to first be created and then uploaded to the server, before a link to it can be provided. Fortunately, there are many tools available that will do this for you easily.
-> The visitor to the website subscribes to this RSS feed, by easily importing the link to the RSS feed in to his RSS Reader/Aggregator, instead of giving the publisher his e-mail address. In terms of subscriptions, the process is reversed. Instead of the visitor giving his e-mail address to the publisher, the publisher rather provides the visitor with a single URL, which then the visitor “puts” in his aggregator.
-> The publisher now prepares a new story or article to include in the RSS feed. Usually, he first publishes this new story on his website and then simply prepares a summary and puts it in to the RSS feed/file. In this case, the summary in the feed simply notifies the reader of new full-text content being made available and pulls him to click-through to the full-text article on the website. Alternatively, the publisher could also provide full-text content of the story in the feed.
-> As soon as the publisher updates the RSS feed with the new story, the subscriber can retrieve it and read its content. The feed content is immediately available to the subscriber, without having to face any spam filters on the way.
All of this might sound complicated, but it really is not. Let’s now take a look at the process from the e-zine publishing point of view.
C) THE PROCESS: RSS E-ZINE DELIVERY
-> The publisher creates an RSS feed intended to specifically notify subscribers of new e-zine issues and promotes it on the website. The feed should be promoted directly below the e-mail subscription box, serving simply as an alternative to e-mail delivery. Visitors have the choice of subscribing either via e-mail or RSS.
-> The publisher now takes the HTML document he already prepared for the e-mail version of the e-zine, and puts it online like any other webpage. What you basically need to do is practically take the same presentation and format that you already prepared for the e-mail e-zine and place it online for anyone to see.
-> The publisher then creates a new story or content item in the RSS feed, which is basically just a short summary of the e-zine and links it to the webpage he prepared earlier.
-> Once subscribers retrieve the feed, they see a new content item with the e-zine title and its description. After clicking on the title they are taken to the web version of the same e-zine that was also delivered via e-mail.
D) THE TECHNOLOGY
As you can see this is a simple process and it only takes about 5 minutes more to do than just doing an e-mail version, and it will ensure that your content is now accessible to all those that prefer RSS to e-mail, it will generate additional exposure for your content by being included in RSS search engines and directories and it will generate more search engine visibility for you.
The best part is that the technology to publish an RSS feed in such a way is widely available and there are quite a few tools to choose from.
If simple e-zine delivery via RSS is your starting goal, a desktop solution should work very nicely. Just try out http://www.feedforall.com, which is the market leader in this category, or the less advanced but free http://www.usablelabs.com/productFeedSpring.html.
Keep in mind that only using RSS for e-zine announcements is the simplest way to go and that there is much much more you can do with RSS.
In the next article of the series we’ll take a look at how you can measure the readership of your RSS e-zine version and then take on other ways RSS and e-mail can work together.
Copyright 2005 Rok Hrastnik
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