Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Feeding Readers Ads Without Getting Burned

While listening to For Immediate Release this morning I heard the team discussing ads on RSS feeds. Specifically they talked about how Castrol was buying ads to promote its new podcast.

I was struck by the somewhat lukewarm reaction to the idea, since I've been seeing these ads for a while and, in the case of Inhabitat, bloggers Jill Fehrenbacher and Sarah Rich asked readers to change to a Feedburner feed (as opposed to the RSS feed created by the blog itself) specifically so they could sell ads.

I had no problem doing it at the time. I felt that Jill and Sarah were creating great content, I wanted to read it, having an ad was a small price. Another 300 or so people who use bloglines apparently agreed with me.

I know with me it helped that at the time they requested the Feeburner change the editors noted that they wanted to hire more writers to provide better content. It all seemed like a fair tradeoff, and one that pays dividends to readers.

But they did get a bit of negative feedback from readers, most of which blew over pretty quickly. During an IM conversation today, Jill said the bigger problem came when she tried to use partial rather than full feeds to encourage people to link directly onto the site.

"Content takes time to produce and when people read your RSS instead of coming to the site, you are basically giving away free content with very little benefit to you or your blog," she said. "When I tried [to switch to a partial feed] all hell broke loose with my readers, so I switched it back... Personally, I'd rather [readers] come to my site, so i can keep track of my traffic and use that to get more advertising, but people like the convenience of RSS."

That struck me as interesting. People were fine with getting the ads, but they revolted when their full feeds were taken away. I believe the feed change came before the Feedburner move, since it was an attempt to drive traffic back to the site.

Keep in mind that Jill is a grad student and still devotes about 20 hours a week to her blog. Obviously she's doing something right. The site measures upwards of 350,000 hits a month and, according to Feedburner, has about 1200 subscribers. Still, Jill says "But who knows, really? hard to measure these things."

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