RSS advertising: will it deliver?
You probably already heard The Washington Post has decided to add text ads to its RSS feeds (news via Adweek). Google, Yahoo and Kanodlee already offer the RSS advertising since a couple of months and Google has just opened the service to its AdSense program. According a Pew Research survey at the beginning of 2005, more than 5 percent of US Internet users already take advantage of RSS.
These are the facts, but the (still) unanswered question is: do RSS advertising work?
Unfortunately no numbers nor information is yet available, so the debate is now open.
I believe the success of RSS advertising will rely on a few points connected to the very nature of RSS and the way they are used. Let me explain. Some news site like, for example The New York Times, provide the feed with the title and an abstract of the article. Other online publications, such as Le Monde.fr and the WSJ, just fill the feed with the article’s title.
My point is, the shorter text in the feed the less effective (and the more annoying) the ad will be. It’s a question of relevance, because with a short text it’s more difficult to deliver a relevant contextual ad. But it’s also a question of getting people’s attention. How fast do you go through the feeds you’re subscribed to? If you just have to read the title, it simply takes you the blink of an eye to understand whether you’re interested or not and click or read on. In less two seconds you’re attention is already on the next title. But if you are provided with an abstract of two or three lines, it will take you a longer time to go to the end of the text and probably notice there is also a little tiny text box politely claiming your attention (and your clicks).
Despite this consideration I tend to believe people who use RSS will not be very attracted by advertising. If only 5 percent of US surfers use them at the moment, we can say we’re still in the early adoption phase. And you know how early adopters are… I’m sure this people regards (as I do) ads in feeds as a form of “pollution” of a channel born to be free. Even when the percentage of adopters will grow, we still have to consider the nature of RSS: the idea is to provide brief content to be read fast. So, again, I feel like RSS readers will never pay enough attention to the ads since they are rather concentrated on going fast through the list of content.
Of course, when the RSS will hit the mass market, there will be a lot of users who will not realize the difference between editorial content and advertising and might click straight away, but this is probably another story…