Field guide to RSS ads

Wired has picked up on ads in RSS, so it’s as good a time as any for me to catch up on the subject. I first wrote about it when mehack shoehorned Google ads into their feed. Since then I’ve seen more and more ads in Bloglines.
Virtually all professional content site (professional in the sense of paying their authors, nothing to do with quality) pay the bills by hosting ads on their sites. As RSS becomes more and more popular people are starting to read all their content in their newsreader and not seeing, let along clicking, a single ad. This results in lower income for the site, possibly to the point of having to stop producing content.
In order to get more ads in front of more people, some sites are resorting to putting ads in RSS feeds. There format for these ads hasn’t been settled yet, but I’ll go over some of the ways they are currently being used.
The first is what I spotted at mehack (although they had to take it down because of Google’s terms of service), a separate <item> for an ad, with its own headline and link. I don’t like this format because it makes the ad a piece of unread content in my newsreader, I don’t want ads being in my “articles to read” list. This format seems to be with site-scrapers that automatically generate RSS feeds for other sites, like FeedFire.
Then there is what Engadget is doing (preview at Bloglines) which is to put a line at the bottom of each entry saying “Weblogs, Inc. RSS feeds brought to you by” and a 1 line ad link. I don’t have a problem with this method because I would rather have a full-text feed with images and links than a truncated feed stripped of HTML, and the ad is unobtrusive.
Even though there aren’t any ads in the feed, I should talk about what Wired does (preview at Bloglines). They provide a teaser blurb that is enough to determine whether the article is interesting or not, if it is then you click through to read it on their site with their ads. This approach ensures that readers will see ads while not adding them to RSS.
The way not to approach RSS advertising is to cheat the readers. If you are providing full text in your feed, then it’s understandable the need to put ads in. If you aren’t, then your feeds is already driving traffic to your site and readers will become annoyed at having to deal with ads in their newsreader and more ads on your site. The goal isn’t to monetize every RSS reader, it is to make sure that your content is supported through ad revenue. Don’t double dip.

3 thoughts on “Field guide to RSS ads

  1. The Wired way has another huge advantage: if you put the full text and images of every article into your feed, then everyone who is polling the RSS is basically downloading the entire recent content of your website every time the client does its pull, which drives up the bandwidth bill immensely, and also ends up clogging up the RSS reader with all sorts of content which probably won’t get read and leads to longer download times and so on.
    IMO, all that should be shown in RSS is the same sort of content which should be shown in another site’s link to the article – an excerpt which says what the article is about, maybe with a choice excerpt. Anything more should be provided in a standalone file which can be downloaded optionally.

  2. There is one problem with the Engadget method. The ads appear to rotate form time to time, and the feed is republished with the new ad at the bottom of each item. This means I get old Engadget articles popping up in Bloglines since they look like they’ve changed.

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