RSS Advertising Is Good

by Hadley Stern

At first I thought I was dreaming. Site traffic to Apple Matters as indicated by page loads was growing exponentially. I’ve gone through these spurts before so I wasn’t entirely surprised. Still, this was consistent, big number growth in traffic.

Then I wondered, which pages are they visiting? Which stories are getting the most traffic? And this was when I was humbled. Turns out that growing traffic was largely due to my RSS feed. In fact, about 70 percent of the page loads for Apple Matters are to my RSS and Atom files.

At first I was despondent. I mean, all that pleasure coming from increased traffic was for naught, right? Well, yes and no. At least people were engaged enough with the site to add it to their newsreader of choice. However, RSS feeds are a black hole of traffic, which is why companies like Feedburner exist, and I presume, are doing well. I have no idea how many of those hundreds of thousands of RSS page loads are actually being just loaded, vs. scanned, consumed, and ultimately linking to an actual story on the site.

Another reason I was disappointed by RSS sucking up so many page impressions was that it meant I wasn’t making as much on advertising. Ok, ok, I said it. The A word. Advertising. Well I’m unapologetic. While Apple Matters is far from a huge moneymaker and I have bills to pay. Hosting, my writers (yes they are paid, albeit nominally), my developer, and other expenses. Oh, and then there is this strange notion of making money to pay for food, clothing for my kids, etc (although Apple Matters is not my main source of income).

Each time a user loads one of my pages I am compensated, albeit quite a tiny amount. Let’s say, for example, that an average advertiser pays me $5 per 1000 page impressions. Each time you load a page on Apple Matters I’m getting .005 cents. Wow.

Consider it a form of micro payment that the readers seemingly are unwilling to pay. Either that, or no one has figured out the business model of micro payments adequately enough (actually, someone has, but it has not taken off yet).

To put it another way without advertisers a lot of great content on the web wouldn’t exist. I am always amazed at how people proudly proclaim that they have blocked ads. Currently it doesn’t have an effect on site’s revenue because an impression is measured by a call to the ad server, regardless of whether the ad loads or not. However, partly because of the prevalence of ad blocking, technology is being developed to count an ad impression only when it is seen on the page, unblocked.

We live in a society, for better or worse, that requires us to make money for the work we do. How would you like it if someone came to your job and said, you know what, I’m just not going to pay you for what you do.

You wouldn’t.

Which leads us to the wonderful world of RSS advertising. Each innovation on the web appears with an altruistic sunnyness. Indeed, in the very beginning of the web commercial hyperlinking was strongly frowned upon by the geeks that knew the infrastructure. No one could have imagined a commercialized web with Amazon, eBay, let alone all the porn sites out there. But eventually they had to capitulate. And now we have ecommerce. Yes, a substantial part of the web still runs on passion alone, and many places are a combination of passion and commerce (like Apple Matters). But the notion of the web as a commercial-free zone was forever put to rest with the Netscape IPO.

But those idealistic folks still exist. And their latest fury is directed at RSS advertising. At the same time that I saw that I was losing all this traffic to my RSS feeds I also heard rumblings of GoogleAds in RSS feeds. I have Google Ads on my site, and because they are cost per click (CPC) they don’t provide the kind of revenue a cost per impression (CPM) ad can provide. But still it is income. However, at the same time as the innovation of RSS advertising was being explored some were already imploring that RSS was no place for commerce.

Like the original folks of weblore these people argue that RSS is pure content. It must be untainted by the stain of commerce.

Yes an RSS feed is very similar to a webpage, a television, a magazine, or a highway. It is a place where our eyes spend time. And therefore a place where advertising makes sense. Like advertising on a webpage, advertising in an RSS feed is extremely targeted and, increasingly, measurable.

With each passing day various companies are figuring out the server infrastructure and measurement challenges to providing ads in RSS feeds. I haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet. But I’m happy to know that soon, 70 percent of my page loads can be monetized in some way. And I can continue to pay the bills.

Is RSS advertising a good thing, a necessary evil, or just inevitable?


2005-08-26 07:59:41
Ads in RSS defeat the purpose of RSS
When I ask myself the question "Why do I use RSS", the awnser would be because it provides a simple and quick way to determine what is interesting to me and what I want to read. Placing ads in RSS defeats that purpose because I'm not interested in ads.

If I find a link to an interesting article in your RSS feed, I will click on it and read the article. If there is a targeted ad there which I find interesting (because the article itself is interesting to me), I might click the ad.

Spreading advertisements in the RSS feeds defeats the purpose of RSS: to allow me to quickly determine what is interesting to me with minimal effort. Hence, I'd remove the RSS feed from my reader when it contains ads.

Just my 2c.

2005-08-26 08:27:03
Ads in RSS defeat the purpose of RSS
I agree entirely. I will unsubscribe from RSS feeds that contain ads. However, I only ever look at the headlines using RSS. If I want to read the article I will click through to the real page. So then I'll see your ads and you'll get your 0.005c. If you want to get people to see your pages, only provide a minimal RSS feed.
2005-09-01 08:48:31
Ads in RSS defeat the purpose of RSS
I absolutely agree. The article refuses arguments of the sort "ads in RSS are deplorable" but they are very *very* repulsive! It is fine to be rewarded for a content you create if you so choose to do, but what is the genuine content value of the RSS feed itself?