SimpleFeed turns RSS into client relationship tool

Version 2.7 of publishing app streamlines content creation, subscription process for marketing purposes

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) presents an interesting opportunity for businesses. This attractive technology, which allows users to subscribe to information streams that appear in their browser or feed reader, remains ideal for delivering news headlines. But what’s the next step?

SimpleFeed’s answer to that question casts RSS as a sales and client relationship tool, precisely targeting online content (such as special promotions and support updates) to customers and prospects. Version 2.7 of this hosted service makes the whole process even smoother: Simpler personalization features let subscribers build a custom RSS feed by checking off boxes on a Web form. On the back end, a Web UI greatly eases the feed-building process for marketing staff. And SimpleFeed’s new reports let managers immediately measure results such as file downloads -- reporting capabilities that aren’t common with homegrown RSS publishing solutions.

Feeding the masses

One problem with RSS has been the complexity of building the underlying XML code that represents feeds -- and the relative difficulty for users to subscribe to feeds they want. SimpleFeed 2.7 overcomes the first obstacle with a Web-based feed publishing and management tool. I started at the tabbed SimpleFeed interface and created various SimpleTags. The SimpleTags form a hierarchical categorization, which acts as the overarching framework for all feeds. For instance, you could have a top-level “Support” category, and under this would be various subgroups for each product or service you offer.

Using prebuilt templates, you can display colors, logos, and other images in feeds -- as well as match other corporate standards, such as custom fonts. Especially notable is how the system handles all the behind-the-scenes XML formatting work so the feeds look consistent no matter which RSS reader or browser a customer uses.

The downside is that SimpleFeed’s professional services staff must create the templates, which might add time (each template takes roughly a day to build) and cost to the process. The first template is included in the standard monthly price, but you’ll be charged extra for each additional template. SimpleFeed didn’t break down prices, but total costs for a larger enterprise implementation with 20 templates would run approximately $2,000 a month. I asked SimpleFeed about allowing in-house developers to do their own template development; representatives said they’d consider this in the future if there was enough interest.

That said, you’ll likely recoup the extra development fees, because templates are core to SimpleFeed’s highly productive -- and complete -- RSS content publishing system. After a template was ready, I attached an approval process, specified which authors could use a particular template, and used SimpleTags to indicate where the template could publish content.

Your marketing staff then creates content for feeds as they would with a Web publishing app. Workers choose a template, specify the SimpleTag areas where they want the feed to appear, and enter content using a rich text editor. I used this same process to republish existing RSS feeds and create podcasts. Version 2.7’s new Web Import feature does this one better: it extracts content from an existing URL (even e-commerce shopping carts) and automatically turns the page into an RSS link.

Along with the granular control over workflow steps and activities that content authors can do, you may embargo content until a particular time, and expire items after a certain date.

For publishers with premium content, Version 2.7’s Secure RSS is a welcome bonus. To enable it, authors simply click the option on content-creation forms to require a username and password (and optional SSL delivery). Subscribers first see a synopsis of the RSS content -- as with any fee-based or restricted site -- and can then log in or sign up to read the entire posting.

To address the problem of how users initially reach this RSS content, SimpleFeed provides an uncluttered subscription form for your Web site. SimpleTags are listed next to check boxes; visitors select the feeds they want and a single, personalized URL is immediately built for them to add to their reader or browser bookmarks.

Streamlining the RSS feed selection process is essential for an effective marketing program, and SimpleFeed says it leads to higher readership (and action) compared to e-mail, advertising, and telemarketing. I got proof of this last statement in SimpleFeed’s measurement and analytics section. Of some 48 reports, I found those detailing and graphing the number of subscribers, content views, click-throughs, and SimpleTag trends especially valuable.

A good RSS balance

There’s a lot for enterprises to consider when exploring the rapidly changing RSS scene. Browsers -- including Apple’s Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft’s forthcoming Internet Explorer 7 -- make it easier to subscribe to feeds, but don’t yet help much to organize specific feeds from a particular site.

That’s where SimpleFeed comes in. The company doesn’t hold a monopoly on RSS publishing -- Silverpop’s RSSDirect is one alternative. Although Silverpop declined to participate in a review, I sense its product is for more advanced technology users, whereas SimpleFeed is intended for the marketing staff. Also, RSSDirect currently requires enterprises to implement Silverpop’s e-mail marketing system.

For these reasons, SimpleFeed 2.7 is a very good way to go when you need to get an RSS marketing program off the ground quickly. The tools are simple enough for your internal staff and site visitors to use successfully, and the reporting features will track the trends and views necessary to support your organization’s marketing campaigns.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Features (20.0%)
Scalability (10.0%)
Administration (20.0%)
Implementation (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Interoperability (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
SimpleFeed 2.7 8.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.4

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.