A fundamental shift has occurred over the past two years in the way people consume content on the Internet. Not quite six years ago, Google bought the RSS service Feedburner for $100M and integrated it with their blogging platform, Blogger, as well as allowing bloggers on other platforms like WordPress to syndicate their content through it.
According to Compete, Feedburner is on a downward trend in terms of traffic:
BuiltWith seems to corroborate this:
In fact, Google seems to think that RSS is dying because they have deprecated the Feedburner API and are even talking about shutting it down completely in 2013. That should signal something to marketers if Google does not think the product worth keeping alive, even if simply because Google is the big player on the Internet and holds the ability to shift mindsets and kill verticals if they wish.
What’s The Shift Towards?
The shift seems to be away from subscribing to websites and instead about subscribing to individuals or entities, often via social media as you can see in this iCrossing graphic below:
iCrossing statistics – Source
While we still have RSS aggregators like Alltop, these seem to be driving less traffic along with RSS feeds in general. Check out traffic coming to my posts from my RSS subscribers, of which there are about 1,000 at this point:
On a good day, with a really good post, I get maximum 55 visits from RSS. The total numbers shake out to, as you can see, almost 2,000 over the past 6 months, but compare this against overall site traffic and it pales in comparison at a measly 2.3 percent of my traffic. I’ll say that again:
RSS is a measly 2.3% of my site’s traffic with almost 1,000 RSS subscribers.
Compare this to Twitter over the same time period, which drives 3x the amount of traffic:
Entities, Not Sites
I think there are good reasons why we are moving away from subscribing to websites and instead are subscribing to people or brands that we trust.
First, the web is an increasingly vast place. Because it is mostly run off of algorithms (at least Google is), anything can rise to the top if the right person is behind the scenes pulling the levers. Both brands and individuals can build trust over time. Websites build trust as well and through this they become brands.
Second, people trust people they know. Take a look at the top posts on Inbound.org at any point in time. I bet you’ll see a post from SEOmoz, maybe SEObook (when Aaron writes), maybe my site, probably PointBlankSEO, probably KaiserTheSage, maybe Distilled. These posts get voted up because of the brand, whether company or person, that has been built. I don’t have the data and I’m not sure how I’d pull it, but I’d also bet that the posts that are written by people with larger social followings on these sites get upvoted and shared even more. I may have to pull those statistics at some point.
Social, Not Aggregation
The Internet is increasingly moving away from the anonymized content of old, and is now moving towards trusted entities. This is seen especially by the number of followers that someone has, which in a way gives them power on the Internet.
Smart products have sprung up around this, like Pocket, which allows users to save content to read later (the product used to be called ReadItLater) from many different places on the Internet. Here are just some of their integrations:
People are also creating lists on social media to follow different topics from people that they trust. I’ve noticed an increase recently in the number of people adding me to lists on Twitter, which makes me wonder if more and more people are using them to keep track of different topics that interest them. Check out the lists that Jonathon Colman of REI has been added to:
Social is Timely
We should also note that social is timely, happening in realtime and current. While some have lamented that blogging limits the longevity of content, I would say that social media does this as well. Social media is great for surfacing new content for people in a place where they can passively find it as opposed to actively curating content through something like Flipboard or Feedly.
I’m watching for Twitter to dominate realtime news even more in 2013.
What This Means for Marketers
I think there are a number of implications for marketers.
Where Should You Invest
First, you have to know where your users are coming from so that you know where to invest. You need to see what the ROI is for your effort and whether you should keep investing. FOr example, here are some rough numbers on the CTRs from my different traffic sources:
From this, I can tell that both email and Twitter get approximately a 10% clickthrough rate. That’s not too bad. To get 1000 visitors on either of these, I need 10000 subscribers. That number can go up depending on how I am leveraging different tactics as well.
But with RSS, I get approximately a 2.4% clickthrough rate. To generate the same 1,000 visitors, I’d have to have 24,000 RSS subscribers. Maybe I should deprioritize RSS feeds and instead prioritize post syndication through email. In fact, I’ll probably do just that.
Brands Brands Brands
I wrote about personal branding a while ago, and I still think it important to keep in mind. As you build your social followings and put content around the Internet, you build your brand as a trusted content producer and can drive more traffic.
As an example, Rand has built himself a good name in the SEO industry and a lot of followers. When he shared out his post recently about his journey towards self-awareness, he generated over 900 clicks:
I’ve also found that if you have a presence online, you can drive traffic to new sites with just your own name. I launched a site SingleGeared back in August or so. At first it was focused on cycling, though I pretty quickly realized that I wasn’t as passionate about building an audience around that as I thought. So I pivoted it to focus on people who are moving forward in life (I don’t post enough, but I have some more post ideas), which is tangentially related to the audience on this site. Check out the traffic difference (time on site is way down because the old content had a lot of videos):
Brands can also invest in the same way, engaging their users with content on social networks. RedBull and GoPro do this really well across their social networks, driving engagement with high-quality content. GoPro even does a lot of Sponsored posts on Facebook to increase the number of Likes on their content, which I think is really smart.
A third way to leverage this shift towards people trusting brands and using social media is to invest time in those areas and de-anonymize yourself. Of course as an SEO, but moreso as a content publisher myself, I’m going to talk about authorship:
If you’re a publisher on a site, you should also be a publisher on social networks, sharing out useful information to your users. My favorite way to leverage social and to help people know who you are around the Internet is through streamlining your personal profiles, especially your pictures. Ross Hudgens wrote a great post about this on YOUmoz a while ago that I have taken to heart. Check out Ross’s profiles:
What do you think? Are we moving away from being loyal to sites and instead becoming loyal to individuals and brands, even outside of their websites? Are we using social media as our aggregators now, and using apps like Flipboard in a similar way?