Yes, I’ll take the Full Content with my RSS, Please

RSS Feeds need to provide their full content vs. simply sending out an oft-worthless excerpt. This is blasphemously destroying all that is good and well about consuming information. This little combination of words and web designs to follow will illustrate precisely why that is so important, and no doubt do it so beautifully that the wider world web will follow suit before another day may break.

Firstly, Some Context

Ok, so just in case you weren’t aware, put simply RSS is a way of pulling content from all around the Web and an an RSS Reader is the website or software you use to get it in one spot. It’s how you bring content to you when it’s available, instead of visiting 50 different websites every day checking to see which ones have updated. An excerpt is a small summary, sometimes simply the first several words of the larger content, provided for a variety of purposes. Blogging software like WordPress makes excerpts available to it’s users so that short snippets of info can be displayed on blog pages, instead of listing the full content of every post. Check out the main blog page on this site to see what I mean. Full content, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: the entire content of the article, pictures, paragraphs and all.

Why People Choose to Use an Excerpt for their RSS Feed

There are probably a ton of reasons, but for the vast majority, the thinking is “I don’t want people consuming my content in an RSS Reader, I want them visiting my site and reading it there.” Here are the perceived benefits of getting people out of their readers and into your car, er um, website:

  1. More hits / pageviews. Website owners want their websites to receive more pageviews so they can brag about this to their friends over PBRs or Old Stouts, or more importantly, to advertisers who will pay them more for a bigger audience.
  2. More people visiting the site = more chance of clicking on ads. Content providers want people to click on their lame Google Ads, etc. so they can make an extra $0.05 / pageview. If no one comes to your site, no one sees those wonderfully relevant text ads.
  3. Check out my killer website design. If a website is beautiful, the person putting content up onto that website very well may want people coming to it simply because it is gorgeous. Maybe the owner put a lot of time and/or money into getting the site’s design perfect, and they would like you to come and see it live and in person.
  4. Participation. It’s a lot easier to get people to comment, like or otherwise participate in your site if they’re on the site itself. If I’m going to leave a comment, I might do it if the form’s right there and handy. If I’ve got to click through then scroll down to do it, well that’s way too much work in a digital reality.

So those are the top four reasons right there, laid out in a simple bulleted list. Let’s continue.

How Only Providing an Excerpt with Your RSS Feed is Killing Your Site

It’s not all peaches and cream when you decide to put your interests over the interests of your readers (and that is precisely what you’re doing, making a conscious effort to declare how your readers can consume your content. In other words, you’re acting like the RAA or cable television, and similarly, run the risk of joining radio, newspapers and every other industry that can’t adapt in dinosaurland.) The specific problems that you’re creating by not supplying your full feed content are:

  1. You’re pissing off your readers. I have often killed a feed because it only presented me with the excerpt, especially if it’s a poor summary of what I’ll find behind the magic curtain.
  2. You are hurting your overall numbers. While you may be driving a few more people to your site, my extensive research has shown that you’re actually lowering your overall readership, since people who dig RSS aren’t keeping you in their feed readers. This depends heavily on your market, as most RSS Readers are used by younger, savvier people, often with very bad mustaches (but facial hair is semi-irrelevant for the purposes of this post.)
  3. You are being a dick. By telling people how to consume your content, you’re assuming you know what’s best for them (at best), and more likely, are just getting in the way of spreading your message to the people in the way they want to hear it. Let your readers decide how and where they’ll get your content.

Thanks Nathan, you’re saying right now. No problem. But let’s not just wrap it up there with merely two lists of bold texted information. Let’s finish off the trilogy with a little info on how to reconcile all of these flavors into one tasty banana split of RSS goodness.

How to Not Be a Dick, Make Your Readers Happy, and Save the Internet One RSS Feed at a Time

I hate to be the pointer of blame without being the hauler of fame, so I’ll now show you, in one fell swoop, how you can take those first four items that you found yourself using as an excuse to make me pop out of my feed reader and load up your site on my slow ass AT&T connection just to find out that you were only writing some personal boring thing about how your cat puked up a picture of the Blessed Virgin or something…top off and tune in.

  1. But I want more hits / pageviews. Sure, advertisers love pageviews and all. But Feedburner is now better integrated with Google Analytics. So don’t just count your pageviews, count your feed impressions as well. Present your sites overall data, not just how many people visited your site. Feed impressions and clicks are even better, in my book, than pageviews. They mean people are actually reading your content.
  2. But how will I get people to click on my ads? Cool, you can have ads in your feed. Again, Feedburner makes it easy, and there are plenty of other ways, too. Research via the Internet will help with that. But more importantly, an ad in an RSS Feed is much less likely to be skipped, or suffer from banner blindness (where most of us magically don’t even acknowledge that ads are on the page anymore). So do us all a favor, and figure this part out for reals.
  3. But I spent $30,000 and/or 47 weeks on my website design. What about my brand? I know, branding is important, and you feel like you actually have one. Are you McDonalds or Apple? Then you probably actually don’t have a brand, but regardless – you can always add a branded, not-too-heavy-to-download-over-the-cell-networks image to place at the top of all of your feed entries.
  4. But no one will ever leave a comment again on my blog!. People don’t comment on your blog for a lot of reasons. Like me, maybe your feet smell. But if you want to get participation up and going, there are two things to keep in mind: many RSS Readers already have social networking built in: Google Reader, for example, allows me to share, like and comment on my friends items. We’re sharing things between one another, and I’m certainly much more likely to read about what my buddy Jimbo has to say about something and then go look into it myself, than I am to have every found your post from a comment already on your site anyway. So Feed Reading is the way to go when we’re talking about spreading your content around. You can also add little Retweet, Like in Facebook, etc. buttons right to your RSS feed, that way you can get the best of both worlds.

I do pray this has been a helpful and hope filled entry into your daily life. For those of you who disagree, please, feel free to subscribe to my very much shortened RSS Feed, which is located at I leave you with this wonderful image to wrap it all up.

Up Next: Forty Two / Fifty