RSS ads are now 2 years old -- time to push the envelope again

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of our journey into RSS advertising.  To celebrate the occasion, we decided to up the ante with a new feed format.  InfoWorld is now publishing full text feeds that include graphical advertising, a text ad, and related links.

There are 2 important questions that we'll have to keep assessing as we go down this path:

1) What impact does the additional exposure of content in our feeds have on our site traffic?  Will people visit the web site less?
2) We have a lot of revenue drivers on every page of the site.  So, will the advertising revenue from the feeds make up the difference in lost traffic value?

The conversation over the last 2 years has evolved dramatically.  There was support, hesitation and even anger when we started advertising in RSS.  Dave Winer and Jenny Levine objected.  Phil Windley accepted the transition.  Tim Bray's claim that we were 'cheating' inspired us to move to RSS 2.0.  It seems RSS advertising is now an assumption for media companies.  The conversation has evolved to the method for advertising in feeds istead of whether or not we should include advertising.

The initial format was one ad inserted as an individual item after every 5th content item.  Greg Reinecker provided the first advertisement in our feeds, promoting NewsGator.  Personally, I found this format really annoying, and we had a few complaints about it.  So, we then changed the feed so that a text ad was embedded at the end of the description of every 5th content item.  We increased the frequency to every 3rd item but decided not to push our luck by placing it in every item.  We then began backfilling our ad database with ads from IndustryBrains.  We maintained that format for about the last 9 months, and we watched the click volume increase to what is probably the critical mass for turning this into an important part of our advertising mix.

Now, we've embedded a graphical ad in the content. The 336x280 ad unit is served by DoubleClick and appears after the first paragraph and aligned to the right.  At the end of the text, we show related links which are driven out of our experiments with  Finally, we include a text ad at the bottom.  It will be interesting to see if we can maintain the high CTR we were getting with the same text ads when they appeared in the teaser version of our feeds.

The revenue in RSS advertising is nowhere near what we can drive through a web site.  We have proven that RSS ads get tons of clicks.  But when you're able to serve branding campaigns, custom sponsorships, lead generation programs and rich media at high volume levels, you're never going to do more than offer an incremental revenue source to your publishing business with little text ads in your feeds.  We're hopeful that this new format is going to be good for people who want our content and for advertisers who want to connect with those readers.

Chad Dickerson brought up an interesting point yesterday when we were discussing this idea.  Why hasn't RSS advertising exploded the way web advertising did after HotWired launched the banner ad in late 1994?  It's 2 years since InfoWorld started RSS advertising, and we're still seeing the revenue as incremental to our business.  Two years after the banner launched, there were several startups that had gone public betting on banners as the primary revenue source.  I think the answer has to do with the dynamics of RSS as a communications platform compared with the flat web page which lends itself to broadcast media models.  I still have trouble explaining RSS to my friends and family.  There are a lot of people who know RSS is important, but it's still hard to articulate why it's important.

After writing this, I'm now realizing that we should probably offer an alternative feed for those who prefer the old version.  Will add it to the to-do list immediately.

Please, feel free to blog, comment or send me an email with your thoughts.  I can be reached at matt underscore mcalister at


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RSS ads are now 2 years old -- time to push the envelope again