“Partial RSS Feeds Always Make Me Unsubscribe!”

Mention partial RSS feeds to another blogger and you’re likely to send them off on a tangent about how they always unsubscribe to a site that doesn’t publish a full feed and they would never use a partial RSS feed on their site.

Partial RSS feeds are annoying – most of the time.  But there are good reasons to use them, too, and I believe that, if used correctly, you can utilize a partial feed in such a way that neither annoys people nor causes unsubscribes to your RSS feed or newsletter.

Why you’re annoyed by partial feeds.

Here’s a few reasons why partial RSS feeds are annoying.  Don’t skip this part: understanding why is crucial to learning how to use partial RSS feeds wisely.

Most partial RSS feeds feature just the headlines plus a very small excerpt of the article.  The excerpt is usually unformatted, without paragraph spacing or images – and sometimes, it even strips the excerpt of links (yuck!).  The feed rarely gives enough of the article to pique the reader’s interest and entice them to click over, and even if the first few words seem marginally interesting, many readers will abandon the post because it’s hard for the eye to track a six-line paragraph (which is probably not a paragraph on the site itself).

Some partial RSS feeds utilize an actual excerpt, where the writer of the post crafts an excerpt to be published in the feed.  This could be OK, but rarely does the writer take the time to write a catchy excerpt after having taken the time to write a gripping title and a quality post.

Most partial RSS feeds don’t include any sort of a link to read the full post – instead, you have to click on the post title.  Problem is, people’s eyes will scan the title and then the excerpt.  They might click a “read more” link at the end of the partial feed – if there was one there – but there’s nothing to click and most people won’t revert back to the top to click on the post title.

Some sites publish truncated feeds of very short articles, so that when you click over, you realize there were only about five words left that weren’t included in the feed.  Annoying, and this very much discourages people from ever clicking through again.

It’s these things that I believe make partial RSS feeds so frustrating to so many.  Now that we know why people hate partials, we know what things to avoid when we are creating a partial RSS feed that doesn’t annoy.

Here’s how to do that:

How to use partial feeds without ticking anyone off

First, set your feed to publish in full – you may need to check your WordPress settings, as well as your feed service, such as Feedburner or Feedblitz.  Most of the problems outlined above are caused by automatic generation of partial feeds.  You want to truncate your feed in a way that makes sense to humans.  No human would ever choose to end a partial feed mid-sentence, but that’s often what happens with the automatic partial feed settings.

Then, I recommend using the RSS No More plugin that’s on WordPress.org.  This will allow you to choose to cut the feed wherever you want.  It will leave your links, images, and other formatting intact so that you can give your subscribers enough of a preview to be interested enough to click over, rather than being annoyed at not knowing whether or not the article is worth it.

You can choose to cut your RSS feed at the more tag or insert the shortcode [rss-cut] wherever you want to break the feed.  If you already use the more tag on your site, you’ll probably want to set the plugin to cut the feed with the shortcode since you’ll sometimes want to break the feed in a different place than you might put the more tag.

You can also customize what appears at the bottom of your partial feed – I would recommend using a call to action such as “Click here to read Name Of Article” and even inserting the arrow character (→) to draw attention to the link.

Where to cut the feed

I love the fact that you can choose to use or not use a partial feed on posts with the RSS No More.  If you publish a short post, you can do nothing and it will publish the full post in your feed.  When you publish a longer post, insert the proper tags after the first paragraph or two and an image.  This is much less likely to annoy your readers when you only use a partial feed some of the time.

You can also use the plugin to cut the feed to make people click over for functionality that doesn’t work properly in RSS.  For instance, my sites of Denver Bargains and Springs Bargains using a printable grocery shopping list feature that doesn’t work in RSS – you have to visit the site for it to work.  So, I’ve chosen to truncate my RSS feed after my intro paragraphs so that people aren’t frustrated by trying to use a feature that will never work in their RSS reader.

Using custom text to let users know about functionality that's not available in the RSS feed

I also truncate my RSS feed before giveaway entry forms.  Periodically, companies will sponsor giveaways on my sites and I use an entry form that I’ve designed in Gravity Forms to accept entries.  I publish the post in full in RSS until you get to the entry form, and then manually truncate the feed using the RSS No More shortcode [rss-cut]  to require that people click over to complete the form to enter the giveaway, which solves a whole host of problems.

If you have a particular functionality that you want people to click over to the site for, you can customize your link at the bottom of the RSS feed to say something like “Click here to continue reading this post and create your printable shopping list!” so that they understand that there’s a very specific reason they need to click over.

Partial feeds can be used wisely

Partial feeds don’t have to be annoying.  They can engage readers rather than turning them off if you understand why people are usually turned off by partial RSS feeds.

A few minutes of setup with the RSS No More plugin (or a similar one, if you can find it – though I’ve been unsuccessful at finding any other options) and you’re on your way to preventing content theft or driving RSS readers to your site without frustrating anyone!

7 Things You Must Do To Sell Private Advertising

1. Have an page about advertising on your site.  Make it prominent – in your main menu bar (next to Home, About, and Contact – it’s that important).  Also, link to it on your About and Contact page for the people that don’t see the word Advertise.

2. Create a jaw-dropping media kit.  Make it compelling – tell them why your site is different, who your audience is, and what your advertising options are.  Make it look like you had it professionally done even if you did it yourself, and if you can’t make it look professional, hire someone to do it.

3. Follow up on every advertising request.  Once you have an advertising page where advertisers can learn a bit about your site and request your media kit, you actually need to respond to their requests – promptly.  And, if you want to get advertising orders from those information requests, you’ll want to follow up with each potential advertiser after they’ve had time to view your media kit.

4. Have advertising options beyond banner ads.  You’ll definitely want to offer banner ads, but since you should be charging more than you can make with Google Adsense or another ad network in the same spot, some companies will think they’re pricey.  Think outside the 300×250 box and figure out unique ways to integrate advertising in a way that’s relevant and useful to your readers.

5. Work with advertising departments and business owners, not PR firms.  Yes, you can work with PR firms enough to eventually get paid something in cash for advertising.  But it’s likely going to mean an awful lot of work done for free t-shirts and $50 gift cards, when you could be investing in relationships with people that can write you a check.  It may be harder to get the leads, but they’ll pay off more in the long run.

6. Clean up your site.  The more advertising space you have on your site, the less valuable each site is.  Figure out which positions and options convert into the most money for you, and get rid of the others.  Potential advertisers are turned off by sidebars filled with banner ads – they don’t want their ad to be lost in a sea of ads, so make the spots you have stand out and they’ll sell for more, and you’ll keep them filled.

7. Have a well-defined niche.  Yes: the more defined your niche is, the harder it will be to gain an audience.  But, that audience will be tuned in to what you’re saying because they can’t get what you’re offering many other places.  In turn, advertisers like highly targeted audiences because they are able to more highly target their campaigns.  Their advertising dollars will go farther, and they’ll probably be willing to pay more when you can demonstrate that you have exactly the type of person that will be interested in their product.

When URL Tracking Doesn’t Work

When I see a URL like this, shared on a blog or Facebook, I always wonder if the company realizes that their campaign statistics are likely going to be vastly skewed:

http://www.johnsonville.com/cooking/coupons.html?utm_source=foodNetwork&utm_medium=bannerAd&utm_content=RON_300x250&utm_campaign=behavioralTargeting

If you’re familiar with Google’s URL Builder, you know that you can use their tool to tag your links and then track the results in Google Analytics.  For instance, from the above URL I can deduce that they’re running a banner ad (medium=bannerAd), sized at 300×250 (content=RON_300x250), somewhere on a Food Network website (source=foodNetwork).  (And it’s some sort of behavioral targeting campaign.)

But, when I landed on that URL, it wasn’t from clicking a banner ad from Food Network – it was from a blog, who had likely clicked on the banner and wanted to share the page, so they copied and pasted the link as-is.  If a few other bloggers shared the same link and several thousand people clicked on it, that would be probably be more than enough to skew the statistics that Johnsonville or their marketing company is looking at in Google Analytics based on that campaign.

I also frequently see the same issue when I click over on a post title from a blog’s RSS feed if they’re using the Google Analytics tracking for their Feedburner (or other) feed.

To be clear, it’s not a problem on the part of the blogger who copied the link – it’s just a downfall of the way the URL tracking system works.

For now, Google’s URL builder seems to be the most accurate way to determine exactly where traffic is coming from, but as you can see, it can also be easily skewed.

For more on how to tag your links using Google’s URL Builder, read my post on Savvy Blogging.

And, if you would like to make sure that you aren’t messing up someone else’s campaign stats, you can simply delete everything following the question mark (?) in links like above.