RSS Ad Response Tops E-mail

E-mail used to be a marketer’s darling; then, spam killed the magic. Search marketing took its place — and still remains the top online advertising medium in terms of spending, according to data from the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

But RSS — the awkwardly named and oft-misunderstood method for delivering content directly to readers — could prove to be a better way to reach consumers.

SimpleFeed, a provider of on-demand RSS publishing and analytics services for large businesses, released information showing the potential for ads in RSS feeds.

At the Direct Marketing Association Conference in Chicago today, company CEO Mark Carlson presented aggregated details of the high clickthrough rates being experienced by SimpleFeed customers.

One client in particular, Autodesk, discussed how its RSS marketing efforts outshone e-mail and the Web.

Beverly Debolski, online marketing evangelist for Autodesk, presented the results of two offers made in September through SimpleFeed. The first test offered feed subscribers 50 percent on a software upgrade. In response to this direct offer, 2 percent of recipients bought the upgrade, compared to only 1.2 percent who responded to the same offer delivered via e-mail.

A second test offered free content that required Web site registration as a prerequisite to download. The RSS offer got a 12 percent response, compared to less than 1 percent for e-mail recipients and for those who saw the offer on the Autodesk Web site.

“People tend to think of RSS as a way to get out news and press releases,” SimpleFeed CEO Mark Carlson told “What we showed today is that it works very well as a sales tool.”

RSS, of course, works by enabling users to subscribe to Web sites’ content feeds using special reader software or sites like My Yahoo, Google Reader or Bloglines. Typically, feeds are updated as soon as new content is published, and users can read or delete new items at their convenience.

Advertising in RSS is evolving from its beginnings as text blocks inserted between feed items. At the same time, FeedBurner — an early player in adding Web-style display ads to RSS feeds — was snapped up by Google.

SimpleFeed’s service enables non-technical business folk to create RSS feeds that maintain their company branding; more importantly, they can track how often the feed is read. The firm concentrates on the high end of the market, providing feed creation, tracking and advertising services to corporations like Autodesk.

At today’s conference, Carlson shared aggregated results for SimpleFeed’s marketing and support customers, showing that users clicked through to customers’ content 11.1 percent of the time during the first nine months of 2007 — a result far greater than the typical e-mail ad open rate, which hovers below one percent.

Carlson said these results show that RSS subscribers are a highly responsive audience.

“They are more engaged than your e-mail audience,” he said. While these companies also have e-mail programs and full-blown Web sites, their e-mail open rates are flat, while site traffic growth has stalled. Meanwhile, he said, “RSS is growing like crazy. Often, your best customers or prospects want to get content through RSS.”

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