Pack your bags, Google Reader. It was nice knowing you. For those of you who didn't catch wind of the news last week, Google has made the decision to retire its RSS feed reading platform after eight years, effective July 1. And while a petition was even filed with the White House at one point to save Google Reader, we think Google is making the right choice.
The fact of the matter is, the way people consume information has fundamentally changed. And to tell you the truth, RSS readers were never going to be a mainstream tool for information consumption. Instead, they were a bridge technology -- a hold out until the social and mobile infrastructure could allow for a better set of tools. The death of Google Reader isn't just about the retirement of yet another Google tool -- it represents a much larger shift in how people are consuming news and information.
Information in a Social World
The move by Google makes a lot of sense. While Google cited a decline in usage as the reason for Google Reader's retirement, it's pretty clear to us that if Google was ever going to make Google+ a success, it had to send Google Reader packing. Although Google had previously gone through a period in which it created a seemingly endless flow of consumer applications and waited to see what stuck (anyone remember Google Wave?), now the search engine giant is reducing its products to a core list. And Google really needs Google+ to succeed for it to continue to evolve search in the long-term.
Today, the social graph is the killer app in information discovery. You know, like, and trust your social connections, and now you depend on them for information discovery. Although Google Reader served as one of the first news feeds for people to consume information, it has since been replaced by every social network that has its own news feed -- which enables you to discover new information in a way Google Reader never could.
Social Networks Get More News Centric
Lately, we've seen some of the most popular social networks make significant changes to how they surface content and information to their users, seemingly in an attempt to get more newsy. Just think about all the recently announced changes Facebook is making to its News Feed, which will not only feature shared articles more prominently, but will also do a better job of surfacing top-shared articles, aggregating popular content, and featuring the conversations happening around those top stories. In fact, people have been commenting on these changes as an attempt to make users' Facebook News Feeds more like a personal newspaper.
And we've already seen changes made by LinkedIn to get newsier, particularly with its launch of LinkedIn Today two years ago. In fact, just earlier this month, we also heard rumors that LinkedIn is reportedly buying news reader app Pulse.
New Tools Make it Easier to Read the Most Important News For YOU
And it's not just social networks that are making it easier for people to discover and consume news they care about. Tons of new applications and tools have been popping up to capitalize on the idea of the personal newspaper, too.
We first highlighted this trend back in 2010 when we wrote about the rise in popularity of social magazine applications like the mobile app Flipboard and ... whaddya know? ... Pulse! These social magazines not only provide users with the ability to access traditional RSS feeds of their favorite publications, but they also pull in other popular content from social networks and online publications based on the topics that user is interested in. Furthermore, these apps are much more personalized, user-friendly, visually appealing, and, well, magazine-like than your typical RSS reader, leveraging the rise in popularity and effectiveness of visual content.
In fact, just this week news broke of the second generation of the Flipboard app, which gives users the ability to easily create and publicly share their own beautiful digital magazines -- no design experience required! Furthermore, other Flipboard users can read and comment on anyone else's publicly available magazine, making the app even more social than ever.
What All This Means for Marketers
Even if you were an avid user of Google Reader, I'm a firm believer that these changes are definitely for the better, especially for marketers. And this is coming from a fellow marketer who logged in to her Google Reader account first thing every morning -- and checked back in multiple throughout the day -- to stay up to date on the latest information and news. But I'll admit that even though Google Reader was a staple for me, lately even I'd found that my sources of the latest news and information were social networks like Facebook and Twitter -- not RSS feeds. The times, folks? They are a-changin'. Here's what we think this means for marketers.
It's All About Personalization
First of all, the emphasis on the personal newspaper or magazine just further emphasizes the importance of context and personalization in marketing content. Getting the right content to the right people at the right time is not only lovable, but it's also a much more effective way to do marketing. This shift has been made possible by the emergence of marketing technology (think tools like dynamic "Smart" content, progressive profiling, etc.) -- and apps like Flipboard, news aggregators like LinkedIn Today, and the evolution of social networks are further proof that personalization is the way marketing was meant to be.
Successful Content Can Get Rewarded Even More
By now, you know that there are a variety of ways your audience can discover your latest content, and it's not just limited to RSS. People also discover content through channels like search engines, social networks, email, etc. And with social networks' and other content discovery tools like Flipboard's emphasis on delivering the right content to its users, this means your marketing content has even more opportunities to reach audiences who may never have known you existed. Furthermore, your big-hit, successful content has the ability to gain even more traction if it gets picked up by and featured in news aggregators like LinkedIn Today. For example, at HubSpot, we've noticed that content of ours that has been featured on LinkedIn Today drives a lot more traffic to our website than content that hasn't been featured there.
Enabling Social Sharing Becomes Even More Critical
So how do news aggregators and apps like Flipboard decide which content should get surfaced to which users? While I don't have the inside scoop on exactly how those algorithms work, it's safe to say that a lot of it has to do with both the subject matter of the content (and whether it matches a user's interests) as well as the popularity of that piece of content as indicated by social shares. The takeaway for marketers here is that it's extremely critical that every piece of content you publish is optimized for social sharing -- and that it's very easy for your audience to do so.
Encouraging Email Subscription -- Not RSS Subscription -- Is the Way to Go
So does this mean you should completely remove your RSS subscription links from your website or blog? Absolutely not. RSS is still a powerful tool, and people still use it. After all, there's a reason why a petition was submitted to the White House over the death of Google Reader. All we're saying is that RSS is a dying tool -- it's simply not as effective in distributing content as it used to be. So rather than encouraging your blog readers to subscribe to your blog via RSS, encourage email subscription instead!
The logic is simple: Email boosts traffic to your blog, since email subscribers get notified directly in their inbox when new content gets published. This is compared to RSS, which subscribers have to check manually.
In fact, approximately 17% of monthly traffic to this very blog comes from email. Furthermore, email drives subscribers back to your website (which may not be the case with RSS), where you have the opportunity to convert those visitors into leads. And if you still need more convincing, in a study of HubSpot customers, we've found that businesses that blog more than once per week generate 9x more blog email traffic than businesses that blog just once per month. Couple email subscriptions with frequent blogging, and you're sure to reap some awesome rewards.
What other implications do you think the death of Google Reader has for marketers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
This article was written in collaboration with HubSpot Director of Marketing Kipp Bodnar.