How to optimise your content for RSS feeds

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How to optimise your content for RSS feeds

Apple recently announced that its News app, which replaced its Newsstand service and up to now has only been open to large publishers and titles like The Guardian or Vanity Fair, is to increase access to smaller publishers and even individual bloggers. It is thought that this is a bid to rival Google and Facebook’s equivalent news publishing services, though Apple estimates that 40 million people use the service already.

This is great news for businesses and brands who want to become known as experts and thought leaders in their specific fields and industries. Allowing them to publish content through Apple News means that their customers can sign up to have the latest articles and thinkpieces delivered straight to their hub – they never have to miss a story. The high number of people who use Apple News means that they can access a much larger audience than they might otherwise be able to. This expands the brands’ exposure, influence and reach and could subsequently translate into tangible benefits such as increased conversions.

However, like the other content you publish via a CMS on your website, the content that is going to appear in RSS feeds like Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP has to be optimised in order to have the maximum impact on readers. Whatever your intention for your content is, poorly-optimised articles aren’t going to entice anybody to carry on reading them, so it’s something to which you need to devote time getting right.

Make sure the content is optimised for mobile

Apple News and its rivals all host content that is almost certainly going to be accessed via mobile devices, so it’s important that the content you publish is optimised for a mobile experience.

This includes avoiding the use of Flash because Apple products notoriously do not recognise Flash features – there’s nothing more annoying than seeing a bare outline on a page because a video hasn’t downloaded to your device properly.

You should also ensure that the likes of CSS, images and Javascript aren’t blocked – they may have been in the old days when mobile devices couldn’t support them but, given advances in mobile technology, there’s no need for that now. They provide a well-rounded experience and will ensure that readers get the full effect of your content when they access it via News.

Embed content from commonly-used platforms

We know that embedding different types of content, such as images and videos, into your articles is one of the easiest ways to engage readers. However, it’s also one of the quickest ways to alienate users if they can’t access it. With this in mind, you should stick to the likes of YouTube and other commonly-used platforms to enhance your readers’ experience when they’re engaging with your content.

Format your content for a smaller screen

Because our eye is trying to extract information from a small area, the content published should be as clear as possible so the points you’re making are highlighted. Whether you use bold font, underline key points or simply make the text size bigger without the reader having to increase the screen size themselves, your work should be uncluttered and clearly defined by subheadings and paragraph breaks.

How to get started on Apple News

It’s free to use Apple News, but before you begin you have to obtain Apple News API credentials in order to have your content approved. You then sign in with an Apple ID to connect the content from your source to News Publisher.

While you can publish posts within the Apple News application, it may be easier for those already using a CMS such as WordPress, for which an Apple News plug-in already exists.

Optimising your content for RSS feeds

The catalyst for this article was the news about Apple’s News app being open to all brands, but there seems to be a resurgence in publishing platforms that are powered by RSS feeds: Apple News and Facebook’s instant articles are the most notable.

So, once you have your CMS integrated with Apple News (or any other RSS based platform) how do you optimise?

Using analytics

As with any optimisation activity, you start with Analytics. Apple News comes with built-in analytics so publishers can tailor their publishing schedules and content according to which pieces are being read the most and at which times.

The analytics platform will provide information on readership, duration and sharing statistics, including details on how articles are shared (e.g. via mail, IM, Facebook, Twitter). Combined with traffic, engagement and conversion data in something like Google Analytics, the insights you gain from how users respond to your content will let you make better decisions around how to improve it.

Apple News also integrates with ComScore. The new analytics dashboard should be made available in the next few weeks.

Common Optimisation Factors

Of course, there a million things to test to make small steps towards optimising the content you are distributing via RSS. But when starting out, some of the very basic factors to test when optimising your RSS feeds are:

  • Publishing Time: While there is a ranking algorithm in, or being introduced, to most social/news platforms, it’s hard to imagine that time of day isn’t a part of the ranking/filtering decision. The first thing to test might be simply, do more of your readers engage during office hours? Or is your content more effective during the commute or in the evening while the user is on the sofa?
  • Publishing Frequency: Is your content the sort of thing that needs a daily update? Or are your users happy with a weekly/monthly update schedule? There is undoubtedly a fine balancing act when planning your publishing schedule. Too often and you risk becoming annoying. Not often enough and you risk being forgotten about.
  • Words vs Images: What balance do your users want? Are the topics you’re talking about ones that need rich, engaging visual media or do you need words? And if you need both, do your users engage more with content that’s more visual or more text-based?

What to publish instead of news

If you don’t have regular news updates to bring your readers, don’t despair – there’s a wealth of content that you could produce for publication via Apple News.

  • Opinion pieces – it’s good to be seen to have an opinion about developments within your industry, as long as you’re not too controversial about it.
  • Case studies – if you’ve done work that embodies your company’s approach and garnered brilliant results or is a great example of work within the industry, produce a lengthy case study about it to celebrate your achievements and bring it to people’s attention.
  • Guest pieces – guest writers and editors provide a point of interest for the reader, who will want to know what their angle is and what they have to say that’s different to normal.

Would you consider publishing content on Apple News or on other RSS aggregators? Are you doing so already? Let us know how it’s going or what would convince you to start via @rocketmill.