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(RSS) Readers and Writing

January 30, 2010

Are readers allies or simply a hindrance to online content publishers?

Nowadays, a multitude of content delivery methods exist for the internet-savvy. Do you use RSS (really simple syndication) and have everything delivered to you in your reader of choice? (Mine is Google Reader.) Or have you chosen the low-tech approach, simply visiting blogs you read every once in a while to check for updates? If, like me, you use a reader, you’ve noticed that some writers and websites only allow an excerpt of the article to be published in a reader, forcing interested parties to click through to the website.

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The icon of the future

Why excerpt?

Clickthroughs are valuable because it means that readers are going to see the ads on the website instead of just reading the content. (Ads do not appear in readers.) This means that those who only provide excerpts to readers are usually writing for a larger entity, such as a magazine or newspaper rather than a personal blog. But excerpting has its downsides.

Once a reader has gotten used to the comfort of following all their blogs and magazines through a reader, it’s jarring to see only a few sentences of an article. When I am reading through the various articles that have appeared in my reader overnight or after a day away from the computer, I am most likely to skip over the excerpted ones. This might seem lazy. Why not just make the extra click, it won’t take a lot of effort.

It’s not just an issue of sloth

When I come across an excerpted article, my first thought is always about why it’s not published in full in my reader. The publisher wants me to make them look better by coming to their website. (Website hits are counted separately from RSS subscribers.) However, I want to follow writers and publications who value my readership and want to spread their words rather than clipping them off. When I am reminded of how a publisher sees me, I cannot help but feel slighted.

If excerpting is something that largely irritates readers (something I believe publications should attempt to avoid rather than espouse), how can these websites generate clickthroughs?

Use finesse, not force

Excerpting forces interested readers to jump through hoops for your content. Why make it so difficult and bothersome? Publications should be interested in more than just hits. They should want fans and readers. That’s how you’ll get people to tweet about you and share your articles. A better, and more reliable, way to draw readers is to take advantages of what readers cannot do. Charts, interesting formatting, interactive elements and other such things do not appear (and even if they do, they’re often formatted oddly or just broken) in readers.

A great example is a recent article by Tim Harford that included, of all things, an interactive Monopoly game that tied into the story itself. When I realize something like that is on the website, I’m not irritated about clicking through, I’m excited. So where you can, create incentives for your readers to visit your website rather than forcing them to click through.

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