I shouldn’t be that surprised when traditional media companies have a tough time transitioning to the web and understanding the online world.   I wrote about one example of this in an earlier article titled “ Lessons From A Laggard: FastCompany.com Shows How Not To Do Online Content ”.   I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am, because it’s just not that hard to get some of the basics right.  

 

I found a similar problem with Red Herring’s website recently.   As a hi-tech oriented magazine, I’d expect that Red Herring’s readers are likely a bit more tech savvy than the average web surfer.   As such, I’d expect that a higher than average number of Red Herring’s online readers use RSS.   Even if this weren’t the case, one could make the argument that any visitor to the website that is an RSS and user and wants to subscribe is going to be more beneficial than the average “random” visitor that wanders by and then leaves.   I compare this to the print world as well.   Having a subscriber to a magazine is much more valuable (and monetizable) than people that are just reading a magazine at the doctor’s office or something.

 

So, my basic point is that RSS subscribers are worth more than random website visitors (no matter whether you’re RedHerring or Sports Illustrated.   As such, you would think that online media properties like RedHerring.com would take some basic actions to make it more likely that people will subscribe to their RSS feed.   If so, you’d think wrong.


Here’s the deal:

 

How RedHerring Irritates RSS Users

 

  1. No auto-discoverable feed:   For many RSS users, we use tools and widgets that automatically “detect” when a given website has an RSS feed.   For example, I use FireFox and the Google Toolbar within Firefox has an RSS icon that changes to orange when I’m on a page that supports RSS.   Pretty cool.  

 

Below is an snapshot of my Google toolbar when I visit SmallBusinessHub.com.   You’ll see the RSS icon (the orange one) and the word Subscribe.   This indicates to me that the site has an RSS feed, and I’m a click away from subscribing.   Very simple and my eye naturally goes to that icon when I visit a page I like.  

 

If you go to RedHerring.com you’ll discover that there is no RSS feed to discover.   Here’s a snapshot of what this looks like (you’ll notice that the icon and the word Subscribe are gray).

 
  1. Hidden visual RSS feed:   The next best thing to an auto-discoverable feed is prominent placement of the standard RSS icon somewhere on the page where I can see it (and click on it).   Here again, Red Herring fails to make it easy for me.   In fact, to actually find the RSS feed icon (which by the way, they do support), I have to scroll to the very bottom of the page where there’s a tiny button and link.   It almost seems like an after-thought.

 

  1. Still No Simple Way To Subscribe:   Ok, so once you click on the orange RSS icon, things should start getting better.   When I do this on 99% of the other websites I visit, what comes up is the content of the site in “feed format”.   Newer browsers (like IE7) will actually detect this and give you an easy way to subscribe from within that page.   Red Herring doesn’t do this in the standard way either.   They’re using some service called (ironically) “SimpleFeed”.   This service basically gives me a set of checkboxes so I can pick which areas of interest I have with the purpose of creating a “custom” feed.   Although this is cool, it’s non-standard and is decidedly not simple.

 

  1. Distracting Use Of Branding In Feed:   So, if you go through all of this effort (which I did), and finally succeed in subscribing to the feed, what you end up getting is something that is very, very irritating.   Each item in the feed shows a large RedHerring logo (and very little content).   It’s distracting to the eye and creates no value.   One of the reasons people like RSS so much is that it makes content easy to scan by making everything look “standard”.   If you’re a regular RSS reader, you know what I mean.   Below is a screenshot of what the Red Herring feed looks like in my feed reader (OnFolio).
  Always surprises me how even major online properties can make such simple mistakes.  Have you come across any other examples of print publications having a hard time really making the transition to the web?  What about your website?  Are you making some silly mistakes?  You can find some of them easily by trying our free  (while it's in beta) Website Grader tool.  It catches some of the basics and gives your website a grade.  Try it out and let us know what you think in the comments.


 


Originally published Feb 8, 2007 6:46:00 PM, updated October 18 2015