Monetizing your RSS feed

You may have caught the news yesterday that Yahoo Publisher Network has added support for ads in RSS feeds. If you are a YPN beta user, you can now (in addition to having ads on your blog or site) include ads within your full post RSS feed.

This makes me think about the broader question I get asked a lot: “how do I make money with my RSS feed?”. I see that the answer is simple, but it might not be what you expect.

There are a few different ways that you can use RSS to build your business (and its not all about ads)…

  • The Golden Rule: Your feed IS ALREADY an ad
    Just like an email subscription, or a direct-mail piece, your RSS feed allows your brand name, your content, your services to be delivered right into people’s “homes”- their home pages, their email box, or their RSS reader. If you are blogger, your feed is an ad for you, your thoughts & skills – if you are a bigger company – it makes sure that people see whatever it is that you are good at, on a regular basis. It is a great way to develop a “communication channel” to people who want to hear what you have to say. Be sure to remember this as you seek to monetize your feeds further, there’s a balance you are striking with your consumers – be sure to respect them or you’re feed will be in the trash bin.
  • Model #1: RSS as a Traffic Driver
    Most people publishing RSS today use it as way to get people to come back to their site regularly and they already know how to monetize traffic on their site. RSS is a way to convert your once-in-a-while visitors into repeat daily visitors. You give up headlines and summaries (the model popularized by My Yahoo!) and people see the headlines every day and click through when they see articles of interest. You see increased traffic from these users, and your page views per user and revenue per user go up. This model is used most by traditional publishers/media companies.
  • Model #2: Commerce Feeds
    To me, this is one of the most interesting new areas for RSS. Traditional and upcoming commerce sites are using RSS as a way to get new products, deals of the day, or other interesting commerce in front of users regularly. Surprisingly, consumers are eating this up. One of the most popular modules on My Yahoo is woot! – the deal of the day RSS feed – every day they put a new product on sale through the feed, interested people click the link and buy the products. Some other great examples: Ben’s Bargains, Y! Shopping new DVD releases and iTunes top sellers. Consumers looking to buy a category of stuff get a great experience and you get sales. This model is used most by commerce companies with large product catalogs or small deal-focused companies.
  • Model #3: Full post RSS feeds with ads.
    This is a new area where we all have a lot to learn. The question is this: what if all of your content was consumed off of your site, how would you monetize it then? RSS allows you to publish your entire blog post or your whole news story and let consumers read that in their full-post reader, on their mobile device or wherever. To the user, they get the ability to read offline and to have a uniform presentation. Some people say that in the future all content will be syndicated this way – others say its untenable. So what a lot of people are trying is to ship ads along with the content. Some sites actually syndicate the same ads that appear on their site, some sell sponsorships to a feed and others are using contextual advertising right in the feed. Support for contextual advertising in feeds is what the Yahoo Publisher Network just launched. They are just starting with bloggers, but you add a few simple lines of HTML to your blog’s RSS template and voila! you are making money on your full post feed. I’ve got contextual YPN ads running in my feed as well, so if you read me in a full-post reader, check-em out. This model is mostly used by bloggers (who mostly publish full text) and a few blogger-like media sites like and Gawker media’s properties.

So when you take a look at it, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to building your business with RSS. One thing is for sure – if you are thinking about doing all the models at once, you’ve got it wrong. Look for the model that meets your needs and focus on making it successful. If you are Purina and are focusing on RSS feeds with Pet Tips, you clearly are following the golden rule: your feed itself is the ad. To try to add in more ads wouldn’t make sense, could dilute your brand message and isn’t focused on your core objectives. If you are a small topical publication, maybe you want to focus on contextual ads as your best way to monetize your content and allow users to consume it wherever. And maybe if you are a large media company, model #1 suits you just fine.

So take the time, focus on your goals and your brand image, try some things and remember that you and the user are building a daily relationship – don’t violate their trust and end up in the “unsubscribe” bin.