Should I Test This?

From the start, Searchblog has had a full text feed. I took my cue from my pals at Boing Boing – I believed in fully portable content, and I also believed in portable business models. But it's been two years since I started FM, and I have to say,…

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From the start, Searchblog has had a full text feed. I took my cue from my pals at Boing Boing – I believed in fully portable content, and I also believed in portable business models. But it’s been two years since I started FM, and I have to say, the most important and valuable business model for a site like Searchblog remains bringing your attention to my site, where I can introduce you to marketers who buy ads there.

I know that folks, particularly our partners Feedburner, argue that feeds themselves should be monetizable (Lord, what a word). But the reality is, they are not nearly as valuable to a publisher, at present, as visitors to the site are. “We’ve seen no evidence that excerpts on their own drive higher clickthroughs,” Feedburner posted recently.

Well, I’d like to test that assertion.

Now, I’m a practical guy. So, I figure, are most of you. I’m thinking of shifting my feed from full text to excerpts, for a week or a month, and seeing how pissed, or not, all of you get, and seeing if traffic increases to the site over time. There’s nearly 70,000 of you now who read this feed. Some of you read excerpts because you’re in crippled readers (ahem, MyYahoo). But many others read, like I do, in full text readers. I’m not switching sides here. I’m just curious.

Consider the comments section your chance to tell me what you think….

PS – I’m also very open to other approaches, like adding sponsors to the feed myself – the sponsors who buy on the site, that is.

After all, they want to reach you…not me!

81 thoughts on “Should I Test This?”

  1. ///I’m thinking of shifting my feed from full text to excerpts, for a week or a month, and seeing how pissed, or not, all of you get, and seeing if traffic increases to the site over time

    The amount of Pissed’ness would probably be directly related to how LONG the excerpts are – understandably, there has to be compromises so that your ROI can be maximized.

    In reference to traffic increasing over time, SearchEnginesWeb has some astounding ideas……

  2. It will be interesting to see what happens here, John. I like reading full feeds in RSS myself, but I do subscribe to a lot of blogs that offer partial feeds because I like them so much, and I click over to the site to read the rest. Good luck!

  3. i’ll delete your feed from my reader. i figure that if you say something really important or insightful someone else will pick it up on their blog and perhaps i will get what i need from there, or will link into your site. but your content is just not valuable enough to spend the time to regularly click into your site

  4. I prefer to read the full article on google reader, and if I want to comment, I just click and comment. Monetizing your blog has nothing to do with how many hits you get, by the way, it has to do with your readership. Having it this way, allows me to read what I want immediately.

    I wish SEL would do the same, I actually don’t read many of their articles because I hate clicking outside of my RSS reader unless it’s something that really grabs me, but if they sent it in full context, I would probably read more. Of course, I’m just one of many.

  5. John, I’d miss the full text feeds a lot and I suspect that less of your content would be read in the transition. Personally, the feeds that have excerpted or summary content get queued up in browser tabs. I don’t always get to all of them.

    When I discover a useful full text feed item, I usually read it in its entirety immediately.

  6. What a clever way to get me to click through from the feed! I really appreciate that you include full feeds for your site, and hope you can find a way to balance “monetization” with the desires of your audience, who, by any indication, will move to RSS reading more and more as time goes on.

  7. Teasers are advantageous in that their is less scrolling for stories that don’t interest me. It’s easy enough to click through to the full story.

  8. “What a clever way to get me to click through from the feed” – Agreed!

    But a way to get me to NOT click through, John, would be to say nothing within your actual feed. Full text feeds are the best way to attract repeat visitors. A one-liner summary will be too boring and I’ll end up un-subscribing out of frustration.

    Why change something that’s not broken?

  9. I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea.

    It depends, I suppose, on what your primary goal is.

    Searchblog is a blog. Blogs exists to convey news, opinion, and whatnot. You’re an author, owner of a company, minor celebrity in certain very small circles, etc. As such, I would suggest that there’s far greater ROI on being read as opposed to showing your ads.

    To be perfectly honest, I’d stop reading. Sure, I might keep your feed in my feed reader for a while. But I’m not going to read the vast majority of your content, and I’m not going to click through it. Clicking through is a pain, and not something I’m willing to do when I have enough full-text feeds demanding my attention, or email, or work.

    The main reason for clicking through now is to read the comments.

    Given that people who post comments are more likely to be elitest technical snobs (or at the very least, choosy), the readership you’re most likely to lose is your most valuable, in terms of quantity and quality of comments. They’re also the ones who (probably) have blogs and will respond to your posts on their own blogs, which can raise awareness of a point you raise far more.

    Of course, you’re probably not getting much revenue from them now, even when they visit the site. Tech-savvy people generally can either mentally filter out ads so fast they don’t even see them, or have some sort of ad-blocking software installed.

    Switching to excerts will likely increase revenue from your site, but would have an unduly damaging effect on your readership.

    So, overall, I think it’s a terrible idea.

    Even from a marketing standpoint – you’re reducing the quality of the user experience to make a few more dollars. Brands rely on trust, and good marketing should enhance the user experience through more information, increased awareness, and so on. Practically speaking, that’s usualyl impossible unless you’re a fanatic about marketing.

    Monetize the feeds if you have to, but partial text is something I don’t suscribe to.

    Besides which, I’ve found that using Outlook 2007 as a feed reader has the advantage of indexing ALL posts from the feed, allowing instand search. I can’t do that with partial text feeds, so I don’t keep them around.

  10. I like getting the full text, and there are times I will click through anyway (to comment, for instance, often to vote on polls, or even to see embedded stuff that doesn’t come through in my reader).

    That said, I read a bunch of feeds, and I think a shorter version can still be useful (as long as you get the highlights up front, with enough so that I can decide if I want to drill down). What I don’t like is when an item is truncated, or there is a teaser that doesn’t’ tell me much, and I click through only to find the item is not relevant, or interesting, or even consistent with the teaser! So I say, go for it (testing the shorter feeds), within reason.

  11. I would unsubscribe. The Economist dropped full text feeds a bit ago, and they’re already gone from my list.

    Over a year ago, a designer asked me for a list of web sites that I visit regularly. There weren’t any. If it isn’t a feed, I don’t check it regularly.

    On the Atom working group, I argued for explicit advertising support so that there would be a clean way to pay for feeds. No takers.

    I recommend that you draft an RFC for an Atom extension for ad support.

  12. Ugh. Full text is the only way to go, and I, too would delete your feed if you went to excerpts. I would be more than happy to view an ad or two from your sponsors if it meant keeping the full feed (as long as they’re low impact in terms of my computer’s resources). Feedburner already inserts those Sun ads, after all…

  13. I would remove the feed from my reader, no doubt. It’s amazing that I’m even making the trip to make this comment. As I’m sure you can relate, people use readers so they can quickly keep up with many sites. If every site did excerpts, it would completely ruin the point. I’ve had excerpt feeds in my reader before, but I removed them because I got nothing out of them.

  14. I’ll tell you what rss ads I’ve noticed… Fred Wilson’s ads for his “A VC” blog… something about those caught my eye. Not the first 3 times I saw them, or even 10. I really had to be hit with them a lot, but finally, and several times, I stared at the thing. Of course I was already a reader, but it did penetrate my advertising blind spot, which did catch my attention.

    We did tests and found that repeat visitors clicked on ads as much as first time “seo intenters” did…if not more. I think it’s the ad format, not the delivery vehicle, which is impeding takeoff here. In other words, repeat visitors are valuable (of course they are), but they need to be hit with an acceptible ad form factor. And there frankly hasn’t been a lot of trial in this space, apart from feedburner and pheedo.

  15. Example: Aaron Wall’s SEObook. I think Aaron has great content, continuously, but as an RSS feed I can’t figure out what he might be talking about most of the time…

    As such, I’ve un-subscribed from his feed for that reason alone.

  16. In a few words… I don’t like it. Just yesterday I was subscribing to Hugh Hewitt’s blog and when I realized that all I got from his RSS feed were excerpts, I quickly unsubscribed. Now I know that seems a bit harsh, but I only have (my wife only gives me… hehehe) so much time to read the few blogs I find important. If I have to then click through to their site, I might just find some more important ones to read. Though I do value your inputs… so maybe I’m willing to change… maybe.

  17. It’s really annoying when people choose not to provide fulltext feeds. I personally think it’s a bad feature in blogging platforms to begin with. I would vote against this move.

    And I understand the need for monitization. Just be more creative about it! I guess pageviews are one way to do so. Wait, didn’t I read in the WSJ today that pageviews are going out the window???

  18. You have to make your site more compelling to increase click-throughs. SearchMob is an example. You can’t just force us to a page where the only added value is ads. Otherwise, we’ll just stop coming. Do like techcrunch and just make a post once a week or so.

  19. Please keep the full feeds. I read your blog via Google Reader, and generally prefer to get the whole story within the reader. Of course, for long posts, it makes sense to transfer to your source page but my experience with your posts is that they’re more “bite-sized”.

  20. I’d likely drop the feed. And “PS – I’m also very open to other approaches, like adding sponsors to the feed myself – the sponsors who buy on the site, that is.”

    Um, there are ads in your feed now.

  21. Noooooooooooooooooooooooo …. Please no.
    I read hundreds of feed and if they all switched to excerpt feeds my mouse clicking hand will definitely suffer from RSI!

  22. Its a tough one, but my 2c.

    I subscribe to a lot of feeds so I tend to scan them for nuggets.

    I’ve unsubscribed from feeds because the nugget:rubble ratio was too low to justify the effort of clicking through, but this isn’t always the case.

    I’m a recent subscriber to this blog and so far I’d expect the n:r to remain high enough that I’d click through but its something to consider I think.

    R

  23. Against. In my experience, partial feeds don’t get as much attention because it adds another step between the reader and the content. Having said that, I would not unsubscribe, because I value your writing, but I would actually read fewer of your posts which would mean I would click through to see comments less often.

  24. Hello John,

    I always like to read feeds with full content. Its very annoying with partial feeds where you to go the site to read full contents. Many of the sites have so much content in them with flash videos and so on, it wastes so much bandwidth and time too.In the case of full contents , if its nice I share it with my friends , i post it on blog.So it ultimatley results in more traffic for the blog.

  25. Holy Hotlists, WebMan!!

    What a response!!! I suggest you set up more questionnaires! ;D

    But speaking more in a “natural” buffoonery mode (or how about “organic” — I once thought of naming one of my kids “organic”, since there is certainly absolutely nothing wrong with anything that is “organic”, right?):

    Is it really either/or? Is it impossible to let users decide? Could you offer a “CastratedSearchBlog” just like the “RegularSearchBlog” — speaking of which: how about a “ChocolateSearchBlog” (“Schoko” was another name I was considering).

    Oh, well — never mind….

    ;D nmw

  26. Hi John, i agree with Joseph, that I’d really miss the full text feeds purely based on that fact that the browser tabs would just queue up as they usually do ;-). But fortunately, I’m an avid daily reader from Cape Town, so i would get there in the end.

    I’ll miss the full test RSS though. It’s worth a shot I guess, I’m sure you’ll have a few ‘pissed off” within days ‘-)

    Michelle

  27. I hope you decide to keep full feeds. I use Feedvertising from Text Link Ads so I can display text ads in my feeds, for my top sponsors. That way they get exposure via either the site or feed.

    Also, not sure if you care, but I wonder if you’d get less TechMeme citations without a full feed.

  28. I like full feeds, I can’t say that I would drop your feed, but it would definately piss me off. Blogs are supposed to be about the community and making things easier for your readers, from the comments, it sounds like changing to a partial feed would not make the community happy. Getting people to enter comments and talking about some of the things you do as advertising streams cause me to click in and read. I think that is the model to explore and build off of.

  29. I don’t bother reading feeds that aren’t full anymore. I respect and understand your position, but you will loose me if you go to partial feeds I don’t mind when the feed itself has an ad. Good luck in whatever you decide.

    Tony

  30. I’m one of the “crippled” MyYahoo! users who is happy to click over when I see a new post. I don’t need any other reader as such.

  31. Please no, I might reluctantly go to your site for a while, but I follow too many feeds to actually go to all the sites. At some point I will likely stop, so even if you see a slight increase in visitors after a week – be careful interpreting that data, it might be short term.

    I have no problem with ads in feeds, I understand you need to monetize your content and am not bothered at all. I have actually even clicked on a few ads in feeds over the past few months…can;t say that about a banner for years.

  32. Your feed readers are your most loyal readers and also the ones who are most likely to blog about things you’ve written. When they blog about your content, they’re driving traffic to your site rather than your feed. Cut off the feed, lose loyal readers who will no longer blog about your (since they’re no longer reading you) and lose traffic to your site from the lost links.

  33. I prefer full feeds – I usually read your stuff in Google Reader. But I can understand your desire to get more ads in front of our eyes and I do click through to other blogs with partial feeds, if the first paragraph looks interesting. It will be an interesting writing challenge to make sure the “above the fold” stuff is attention grabbing.

    I expect (obviously) that the result will be that you reduce RSS subscriptions but increase main site page views and increase ad revenue. I suppose the big unknown is the long term effect.

  34. Keep the full-text feed please. I rarely read an excerpt and its even rarer that I go to your website. I send full-text versions of my blog out because I want readership. If I wanted to make money off the blog, I’d do pornography, which most money-seeking blogs turn into–an intellectual version of pornography.

  35. I’ve never found a reader I like so I stick with Google’s personalized home page and click through to articles I want to read.

  36. RSS is about content distribution. If you’re not going to distribute your content, then don’t use RSS. I’ve found that most people only use RSS because they want to pull the content from the source, if they wanted excerpts they probably would not be using an RSS reader, instead something like my.yahoo.com or Google personalized homepage.

    2c from a fellow blogger!

  37. I, for one, will not be clicking through to the main site as often if it is a partial feed.

    I think most people that read this blog have a variety of feeds which they like to speed through quickly. The only thing that merits opening in a separate tab is tagging a post. The idea of the 100-or-so blogs in my blogroll turning to partial feeds means that I would drop at least 75 of them from my reading list because of the time requirements.

  38. Honestly, I think you would be doing yourself a disservice to pull the full feed in favor of excerpts. You may see some slight gain in monetization, but the opportunity cost of the thousands of readers who will remove your feed entirely seems to high… just my opinion, though.

  39. Here’s what I would do to test this: for a few weeks, run an experiment: show each visitor to the site either a full-text feed link or a partial-text feed link (at random). After a few weeks, see how the two feeds are performing, both on subscribers and click-throughs (FeedBurner can track both). When you end the experiment, you can convert all your feeds to the same format and 301 one to another to reunify the subscribers.

  40. I will also unsubscribe and I am actively working on a way to filter the ads out of the RSS feed as well : I do not want to see advertising material or advertisers to see me….

  41. I post a full feed for my blog (discourse.net).

    My policy for other blogs is simple: No full feed — no read.

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