Bill Flitter and Eric Enge Talk About Feeds

Podcast Date: March 25, 2008

Bill Flitter Picture

The following is a written transcript of the March 25, 2008 podcast between Bill Flitter and Eric Enge:

Eric Enge: Hi, this is Eric Enge. I am the President of Stone Temple Consulting. You can see our website at www.stonetemple.com. I am here today with Bill Flitter, the CEO of Pheedo RSS Marketing Solutions. You can see their website at www.phedoo.com. How are you doing today, Bill?

Bill Flitter: I am doing great Eric, thank you, and yourself?

Eric Enge: I am doing great as well.

Bill Flitter: Wonderful. Well, thank you for having me today, I appreciate that.

Eric Enge: Sure, definitely our pleasure. We are going to get to dive into RSS in a little more depth than the average person does today, so that should be fun. But, let's start by talking about some of the common way people use RSS and feeds in general today.

Bill Flitter: Yeah, sure absolutely. The definition of that is always expanding and the use of RSS is expanding specially with the growth of widgets, and things like Facebook and Friend Feed. It's the idea of content syndication and aggregation. As more and more information is being created, we are going to need an efficient way to stay abreast of all the updates. Think about Facebook, and if you think about the feed of all your friends data that's a one great use of RSS or even Friend Feed that aggregates all of the conversations that you and your friends maybe having on Twitter, or a multitude of social networks.

Then there is a whole another use of RSS really maybe from machine to machine, if you look at Discovery Channel for example they are using RSS to power the different sections of a website page even. So, the left section is powered by RSS, the right section of the page is powered by RSS or XML. So, it makes it easy to update those pages, and the editors can easily update those in real time, you don't have to do a website rebuild.

More and more, web developers RSS will see different tools being developed for its use. I see a lot of numbers being quoted from some old reports back from 2006, and less than 10% online users are consuming feeds. Well, that number has grown significantly over the last two years, and some new readers might be surprised.

For example, we are finding that 56% of consumers are using RSS feeds, 62% of the enterprise sized organizations use RSS feeds in some manner, either again putting it on their site for people to subscribe to content, or using it to power their websites. And, 60% of consumers actively customize their start pages using feeds or widgets.

For many of the top publishing websites, 50% to 75% of their traffic originates from outside of their website, really kind of the ideal syndication model driving traffic. That's one of the trends we are seeing right now, where content is being removed from websites, and is subscribed to and consumed in great numbers outside of a particular publisher's website.

Eric Enge: Now, there are also a lot of these kinds of feeds which aren't strictly speaking RSS, that are being used for exactly that same website-to- website, or website-to-widget type purposes as well.

Bill Flitter: Yes, absolutely. RSS has kind of become the Kleenex, and is more of a generic name than anything else meaning syndication.

Eric Enge: Given how rich the environment is in terms of information on the web and the number of places that people want to integrate it, you can see that there is just a demand which probably is far from being satisfied as yet.

Bill Flitter: Right exactly. The media business is becoming so fragmented, because there are so many sources of information. We might snack on a few things from publisher A, and publisher B, and create our own custom publication by bringing in all of these different sources of this information. If you think about a Netvibes start page, that's essentially an online newspaper customized to my likes, and that type of idea is being duplicated across the web.

Eric Enge: Right. So, are there some types of feeds, that are being undercapitalized upon on the web?

Bill Flitter: That's a great question. I mean one of the other trends that we are seeing is things like RSS to email. Those publishers who have large email databases, and are still sending out an email newsletter, they are converting a lot of the creation of that newsletter over to RSS. If you think how it was done before, either it was done manually by taking a recap of everything they publish in a period of time, and then creating that newsletter, sending it out to the database, right? That was pretty labor intensive.

They have already created RSS feeds as another tool for users to subscribe to, and they are realizing, "well why don't we use RSS to actually create our emails automatically"? We are seeing that trend increase merely from a management perspective, the end user doesn't know. They still get the content, and they don't know how it was created, and obviously nor do they care. But, publishers are looking to building more efficiencies into their processes, so that's one way that they are leveraging RSS.

Eric Enge: Right. I imagine just there are a lot of emails that people put together which are just really just daily or weekly recaps. If you could automatically extract the data from other feeds, perhaps with a little program doing some processing on the data on those feeds, just to put them in your emails format, you would be a happy camper.

Bill Flitter: Oh, yes absolutely, right. Then, of course if you can find a way to monetize that, and still do exactly what you were doing before, but speed up the creation of that, that's what RSS can do.

Eric Enge: Right. Are there any more really advanced applications that you can talk about, that go even further?

Bill Flitter: Well, I think one that I would circle back to here is really the powering of the websites. It's all about efficiency, so another trend we are seeing is demonstrated by the Discovery Channel, where you think about breaking up a webpage into four quarters, and using RSS to fill in that webpage with data that they are creating on the backend. This way it stays fresh, it stays updated, and it's updated in real time. It's about getting the information, and especially if you are a publisher, getting the most recent information out into the hands of the user as quickly as possible.

If you look at MSNBC for example, syndicating a lot of their content, and providing that to websites to add to a publishers website, a third party publishers website to really enhance the third parties content. That might be an obvious one, what we are seeing is the true syndication model is picking up in popularity, putting someone else's content on your website to supplement what you have already created.

I think the idea of Friend Feed is pretty ingenious aggregating old content from these different social networks to make it easy for me to keep abreast of the activity of my friends. But then, also being able to respond to those feeds in that feed data right from the Friend Feed website, I think that's pretty ingenious.

Eric Enge: Right. What about strategies for promoting your feeds once you have them, do you have any suggestions?

Bill Flitter: Yes. One of the things that our publisher is finding, that's pretty effective is converting people from, who are opting out of your email newsletter. Lots of times, people opt out for reasons other than they don't like your content, that it maybe they just don't like your email, right? They are receiving too much email, or in my case I have opted out of 99% of email newsletters to get the feed from that publisher.

The opt out page presents other opportunities for that user to subscribe to information, and we are seeing upwards a 5% conversion on people who decided to opt out of the newsletter, but then take the choice of subscribing to the RSS feed.

Eric Enge: Right. Inbound email feels like a TV commercial. It's an intrusion, even though you don't have to deal with it if you don't want to, it still feels more like intrusion, whereas in a feed reader, it's when you want it, it's on demand.

Bill Flitter: Yes. When you introduce someone to the idea or the concept of receiving feeds, their reaction is always the same. It's "oh, my gosh, well why didn't I know about this sooner?"

Just because it simplifies their life, you can do scanning very quickly, get the information you want. Put it in a separate bucket away from your email, right? I mean I don't know about you, but getting hundreds of emails everyday is no fun.

Keeping my personal and business email in one bucket, and having my newsletters and RSS feeds in another, for me it's a better way to manage that data.

Eric Enge: Right. Well, my email is by design very transactional. And, we don't necessarily want to read things inside our email package. We just want to see if it's a meeting time, and just respond quickly. If it's a document you are supposed to look at, then you will open it up and you read it in the thing that created the document. But, you really don't want to read a lot in your email.

Bill Flitter: No. If you look at, well maybe the idea that users are very in tune with the feeds that they are reading. What I mean by that is if a publisher's feeds are not updating for whatever reason, either maybe the aggregator is slow in getting it updated, the users that are on top of that saying, where is the content? So, the RSS user is a pretty active person, and they want to receive those updates.

I was a little surprised by that thinking, well it's information, it's content, it's the daily headlines for example. And, a lot of their content is not necessarily life threatening if I don't receive it, and but to some, the latest news on Britney Spears, or the financial information is pretty important to them that they want to receive and get those updates immediately. And, if there is any delay in receiving that information, they are emailing the publisher, asking them what's going on.

Eric Enge: Indeed, so any other strategies?

Bill Flitter: Yes, absolutely. Some ideas are pretty straightforward, put it in your e-mail signature file, we do that here at Pheedo. We have our RSS feed in our signature file, people can grab that, subscribe to our feed. I have seen people actually leveraging, again going back to Friend Feed to promote their feed.

People can see your latest headlines, I see a lot of publishers actually now starting to advertise their feed. They might either do a house ad on their own website, or use an ad network to drive subscribers to their feeds. Make sure it's obviously indexed with all of the aggregators like Bloglines, or Google Reader, My Yahoo, an easy way to do that is just subscribe to your own feed in those services.

Create a Bloglines account, subscribe to your own feed, then Bloglines will start indexing that RSS feed immediately, same thing with Yahoo.

Eric Enge: There is a nice side benefit to that too which is, you can get competitive data from Google Reader and Bloglines and things like that, because they will show you how many people are subscribing to your competitors feeds.

Bill Flitter: That's right. That's a very good point.

Eric Enge: So, you can get a sense as to how you are making progress in terms of developing your readership versus competition.

Bill Flitter: Yes. A few folks I read recently are doing that, having a competition of how many subscribers they can get to their feeds. And, just a simple give away of, I forgot but it was an Xbox, or iPhone, or something, they were doing to an RSS subscriber and trying to grow their list pretty quickly. But, the other thing to keep in mind is, the subscriber count you see there is about the number of subscribers. That's a point of pride for a lot of publishers, but what a publisher really has to keep in mind now is how active is that feed.

It's about active users, not just subscribers, because depending on what the publisher's goal is, if it's to monetize, more activity will increase the revenue. Is their goal traffic? That's pretty important to look at your active subscribers. One obvious thing is to continue to create good content and create what you feel is the right amount of content. So, meaning it is once a week, fine for your readers?

Is it once a day, is it multiple times a day? Is that the right combo? That's what you really have to look at as far as, does your activity increase or decrease by the amount of content that you are producing?

Eric Enge: Right, yeah. I do know that there are tools, FeedBurner has one that allows you to see the consumption levels. That's a very, very helpful thing to do. I agree it's great, you could have a million subscribers, but if only one of them is actually coming to the feed and reading your content, it doesn't do you much good.

Bill Flitter: Yes. That's one of the services that we provide. We measure the worth of that feed from a revenue perspective, just to set some expectations for the publisher. We can tell them "look if you want to make more money, you need to publish more often". Or, we can tell them that they need to create more active users, and sit down and talk about how they create more active users. I think what you will find again, earlier we talked about the growth of feeds.

Publishers are obviously realizing the growth of feeds, and that they need to do something about that, right? They are noticing that a lot of their content is consumed off of their site, so how do publishers make money? They make it through advertising back on their website. So, how do they create revenue strategies, and that's really what I think 2008 will be about as far as RSS is concerned. How do we create meaningful revenue strategies for syndicated content?

Eric Enge: This is a topic that you know just a little bit about I suspect?

Bill Flitter: Yeah, that's true. That wasn't a lead in by the way, that was just something that is real.

Eric Enge: No, let's pick up on it. What typically have people been trying to do to monetize their feeds, and what do you think they should be doing? Where do they get critical mass, I mean obviously if you have ten readers a month, you don't really have critical mass.

Bill Flitter: Yeah, exactly. I mean it's really what your expectations as far as revenue is concerned. But, when it comes to monetization, it's not necessarily about the size of the feed that matters. It's really again about the activity, but also the content plays a big role in that. You might find something like EE Times, who has a very niche audience, and their website doesn't necessarily generate a ton of traffic. But, all their traffic that goes to EE Times is very interesting to some advertisers.

They may get a higher CPM than the average website would, and they may do double digit CPMs, or even triple digits CPMs for that particular content. So, it's not necessarily size that matters. How well it does in terms of readers is what will definitely drive the revenue.

Decide what activity means for you and look at your data that supports that activity level. But, we have to start thinking about is, where our feed is consumed, meaning some feeds are consumed online with online readers Bloglines, or Google Reader. Some are consumed through widgets, or start pages like Netvibes. Some are consumed on bookmarks like Firefox, some are consumed through phones.

Our challenge at Pheedo is, we have all these different environments to worry about, and look, and feel, and displays to consider.

If you think about a website in DoubleClick, or any ad network, they really have one display to think about which is the website, right? That's why there are standards there, we are going to buy 250, or 468/60 etc., right? Well, there is no standard view for RSS in the consumption points for RSS, and that's a challenge and an opportunity all in itself. So, publishers have to realize, and as well as advertisers that. This audience by the way is, they are high income earners, they are active users. Bloglines for example states that their users come back three times a day, and stay twenty minutes in each session, that's a lot of time, right?

They are consuming content with one particular vehicle. There is a very good audience to reach for a lot of advertisers.

Challenge is we have to look at the displays of those ads, and how they might display in these different environments, and be fluid on how we change our advertising to fit. Then, I think because it's easy to subscribe, it's also very easy to unsubscribe, right?

So, if a publisher wants to advertise, we have to think about that end user. They are absolutely in control, it's just one click away from unsubscribing. So, we have to look at the weight of advertising in that feed, we have to consider better targeting techniques for the ads in that feed. We do have data on what people consume within the feed, so that helps us determine what ads to place in front of them.

Eric Enge: Right. That's the big key, how you manage that targeting, so that you do get their focus. So, the EE Times is showing the right high CPM ads without a lot of manual labor to figure out what goes where, right?

Bill Flitter: Exactly. That's absolutely one of our challenge, and the placement within the feed itself. For example, MyYahoo only displays headlines as their default, and that's how most people are viewing feeds through MyYahoo. So, how do you display ads in that environment?

You can't do a banner ad in there, so you have to think about doing a headline-type ad within MyYahoo environment. It's still early in figuring out the monetization scheme of things, and you can't just take your DoubleClick ad code, and plug that into a feed, and hope that's going to go into work. Obviously, that's why we exist just to figure out those hard problems in serving ads into feeds.

Here are some numbers, which I think will show the growth and emphasis advertisers are placing on syndicated content. If you look at RSS, and podcast, and blog ads, that spend is to increase to 21.1 billion in 2011, which is about a 70% annual growth.

That's becoming a sizeable market, one billion dollars in advertising is pretty sizeable. 40% of US Interactive Marketers are using or piloting or have piloted RSS in '07. It's up from 10% in '06, so look at that jump from 10% of marketers considering doing something with RSS in '06 to 40% doing something in '07.

That's a huge jump, and then this is the one that I found was fastening. 74% of the top TV networks included RSS in their media mix in '07. 74%, another very large number, so you can see that not only is the user base growing, publishers and marketers' use of RSS is also growing, it's matching the user growth.

If you look at even our organic growth in feeds, so meaning feeds that we are managing for publishers, the average was 250% last year growth in new subscribers, large right? A huge difference.

Eric Enge: Right. And, that's a big thing as you highlighted before. Services like Facebook are part of this, but it's just getting people to realize that this is a way they consume content, and it's going beyond the early adopter types that always are early in getting into new media.

Bill Flitter: Yes, absolutely. If you look at some of the entertainment feeds, or even the one that got me was that some of the biggest feeds right now are knitting feeds.

Eric Enge: Wow. Do you see any changes of significance coming into Feed Readers in the next year or so?

Bill Flitter: I think one Feed Reader that's really underutilized from a data perspective is actually Google Reader. They have really good data APIs. To my knowledge they are the only one that actually has an API that you can look at some of that data. Bloglines on the other hand, they are making some significant changes. They are making it easier to discover new feeds.

They just did a release, I believe it was this week on bundling feeds. So, for example you can get the entertainment package of feeds in just one click, and you get that. So, it's a bundle of the most popular entertainment feeds, or business, or whatever category you might like. Bloglines is also doing some changes within the UI, so you can interact with that feed a little bit more, a little bit better refer that to Friend, comment, etc. But, I haven't caught wind of, or have seen, any really significant changes in RSS readers.

Maybe there is one, My Yahoo, has their own reader now inside of their email client, right? So, but the one reader if you will or start page is more of start page that has seen a significant increase in our traffic is Netvibes.

Eric Enge: Interesting.

Bill Flitter: We are seeing a lot of feeds being aggregated and consumed within Netvibes. That's really not your traditional, what we think of as a traditional newsreader, it's more of again a customized newspaper. So, you go watch out for that one, I think we'll see those numbers only go up.

Eric Enge: Yes, indeed. Thanks Bill!

Bill Flitter: Thanks Eric. I appreciate your time, and we'll hopefully talk again in another year and get a recap of what's going on.

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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