An RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed is a means to distribute changing web content (including blog posts, podcasts, news releases and site updates) to related sites, blogs, online publishers and feed subscribers. It allows busy people to get the information they want without having to use email, which prevents the publisher from selling or otherwise providing their contract information to other parties. Plus there’s almost no risk of malware, spam or identity theft.

Users subscribe and receive content via a feed reader, which could be a browser extension or a separate program such as Bloglines, RSSOwl or feeder. These feed readers are customized to web, desktop and mobile platforms.

From a marketing perspective, an RSS feed is a direct pipeline to your target audience. It’s also a way to boost your Google search profile—sites that update more frequently get better search rankings. But it’s not enough to simply put an RSS badge on your website.

“Build it and they will come” only works in the movies. Here are our five top tips to maximize your RSS stream and grow your target audience.

1. Distribute content beyond your subscriber base

Don’t just rely on visitors who click on the RSS badge or your web site. You must proactively syndicate your content to other appropriate RSS directories and web sites. This is why RSS is also sometimes referred to as “Really Simply Syndication.” For example, if you sell sports equipment, you want to syndicate to other similar feeds, which can range from general interest sports news to specific categories of equipment. RSSTop55 lists a number of syndication services covering a wide range of categories.

2. Track your readership

Most RSS readers provide tools to analyze subscriber behavior, including time spent reading feeds, link click-throughs and other information that can help you tailor content to what your audience wants. For example, tracking will show you that your subscribers spend the most time on feeds related to new product developments and less on “fun” personal news about key employees. For the next few months, increase the quantity of product news, and reduce or even eliminate the personal news. Keep tracking and reassess subscriber behavior over the next few months.

Use Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and other social media to promote your RSS feeds. Similarly, post your social media links on your feeds. One hand washes the other. Most RSS feed programs provide the option to post from and to your social media.

4. Conduct contests and give away something

Contests are a tried and true way to engage and build your audience. As just one example, Ben Pickering reports a Facebook contest that boosted likes from 50 to 1,000 in a few days. A campaign that offers new subscribers the chance to win a prize is a surefire way to get people to sign up.

5. Encourage sharing

Include a “call to action” to encourage subscribers to share content. For example:

“Like this article? Please email it to someone you think might like it, too. And be sure to Like us on our Facebook page and mention this post.”

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