RSS: Get Your Info Out There

RSS is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts in a standardized format.

November 1, 2008

Real estate practitioners must send millions of e-mail messages every day: updates to buyers with the latest listings from the MLS and e-newsletters to prospects to generate new business. Now tell me this: How many of those messages do you think actually get opened and read? Far fewer than you think. 

From my personal experience, I can say that only 112 people opened an e-mail that I'd sent to more than 700. If you're looking for a more effective way to communicate, it may be time to consider RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.

According to the Wikipedia reference Web site: "RSS is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts in a standardized format. An RSS document (which can be called a feed, web feed, or channel) contains either a summary of content from an associated Web site or the full text. RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with Web sites in an automated manner."

It's automation that's the main appeal of RSS for real estate practitioners. Rather than taking time to send out group e-mails or remembering to send listing updates to several buyers every day, RSS allows you to enter a client into a specific information feed once and then forget it.

RSS also overcomes the hurdle of unopened or undelivered e-mail. Clients and prospects must sign up for RSS—or agree that you can sign them up—so they're much more likely to be receptive to your messages. RSS updates can also be sent via e-mail or instant messaging, so your content can reach prospects where they're most interested in receiving it. Prospects who still want new information pushed to them can sign up to receive an e-mail or instant message as you update.

RSS and Blogging

The easiest way to take advantage of the power of RSS is to start blogging. Because the very nature of blogging involves regularly posting content, blog platforms such as Blogger, TypePad, and WordPress have long used RSS to distribute content. 

But if you're not ready to take up blogging, there are still a couple of exciting ways to use RSS:

  • Streamline that text-heavy e-newsletter. Instead of sending entire articles in your e-newsletters to clients and prospects, you can put the in-depth content on your Web site and include only the headlines in the RSS feed. The headline text is shorter, so prospects are more likely to read it and decide to click through to the items they find interesting. These clickthroughs will also increase the traffic to your Web site.
  • Tailor your content transmissions to each subscriber's interests. Many blog platforms, including WordPress, let you create a feed for each topic category in your blog or topic page on your Web site. Your RSS subscribers can then choose topics that interest them and receive only content they want.

Getting onboard with RSS

Not all providers of real estate Web sites offer outgoing RSS feed capability. If your Web host doesn't offer an RSS option, an alternative is a free online service such as Page2RSS.com, which allows you to create an RSS feed for any Web page. Once you've entered a page URL into the site, the site "watches" that page and sends subscribers an update every time you update the page.

Another challenge with adding RSS to your marketing program is that many prospects and clients are not familiar with how RSS works. Although the first version of RSS was devised almost a decade ago, a recent survey of visitors to the technology-related blog Telerik Watch found that only 45 percent of visitors used RSS regularly. If these tech-savvy Web users don't use RSS, you can be sure a large percentage of your customers don't either.

Part of the reason for the poor showing may be terminology. Web users who get regular news updates from The Wall Street Journal or REALTOR® magazine's Daily News may not even realize that they're receiving an RSS feed. Internet Explorer 7 has a built-in RSS reader on the bookmark tab, again making the technology almost invisible to users. Google also offers a free RSS reader. Once you educate clients about how easy it is to use RSS, they'll almost surely be more receptive to receiving information in this form.

RSS is still a relatively new technology and won't replace e-mail as your principal method of communication with clients anytime soon. But for prospecting and large-scale communication, RSS provides an efficient and user-friendly alternative.

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