Recently, I left a comment on a fellow blogger’s site suggesting he add a small link to a “What is RSS?” post close to his feed subscription button. My rationale was based on my experience with Sciencebase subscriber numbers and some insider knowledge on web surfing habits and how these might translate into subscriptions.
Adding that link added at least 30-40% new RSS subscribers at Sciencebase, bringing the count up from around 1500-1600 to well over 2500 and some days showing 2700-ish.
Is posting a “What is RSS?” post patronising? Well, for the relatively small number of visitors to any site who are tech savvy, feed aware, or generally already in the know, they may be mildly offended. How could you, the blogger, think that they, the reader, may have overlooked something that most bloggers consider a fundamental feature of their sites? Well, market research shows that anywhere between 90 and 95% of the population still do not know what a blog is. Even while they are reading a blog many visitors will not see a distinction between a blog with a latent newsfeed and an ordinary site with no RSS. Many certainly will not know that clicking one of those trendy (orange) feed icons will take them into a whole new realm in which they can read a website without even having to visit it.
I still get blank stares from friends and relatives when I mention blogs, rss, rdf, newsfeeds, and such, and even one or two web designer colleagues are yet to embrace the technology. Adding that “What is RSS?” post might just make all the difference between their never finding out and actually subscribing to your feed with Bloglines, Google Reader, or Firefox Active Bookmarks.
Most people still hit sites almost randomly while searching for their keywords in a search engine. So, make it easy for them to stick around. Add a “What is RSS?” post and bring them into the fold. You never know you might even find some of your friends and family subscribing to your newsfeed.
As an afterthought, it occurred to me that you do not even need to create the actual What is RSS? page if you are using Feedburner. Just add the text to make it look like a link below your feed icon but have it point just the same as the icon to the feed itself and let Feedburner do the explaining for you. If a visitor using Firefox clicks the link they may get Firefox’s explanation instead, but either way it’s an explanation nonetheless.