Wednesday, December 8, 2010

WotW: Feed me... a full or partial feed?

Happy Wednesday and welcome to the final Feed Me segment (for realsies this time :). You can catch up on the previous 5 segments here:
Today we'll wrap up by talking about your feed, the one that contains all of your posts, the one that you may or may not burn using Feedburner. One very important aspect of your feed is one that you may not have thought about much: publishing a full or partial feed. 

Say what? Yes, you can publish a partial feed that contains only *part* of each of your posts, so that readers have to come visit your site to read the full feed. Or, you can publish a full feed that contains your full post -- every word you write delivered straight to your readers' feed readers.

So which should you choose? As with many things, the answer depends on you and what you want from your blog and readers. Both options have their pros and cons:

pro: Readers must click over to your blog, which gives you a higher hit count in your Blogger stats and more exposure for your actual blog: the sponsors, the comments section, the sidebar information, the design, etc.

con: Readers MUST click over to your blog, which means it's both a choice and more work for readers... which means they might not actually make the extra click.

pro: Your full post is delivered to your readers' feed readers automatically, encouraging readers to actually, you know, read what you've written.

con: Your full post is delivered to your readers' feed readers automatically, potentially deflating your hit count and also, possibly, comments and exposure for sponsors.

From those pros and cons, you draw a conclusion such as this: "So you're telling me that to get hits and comments and exposure for my sponsors, I should publish only a partial feed...right?"

To quote the good Reverend Lovejoy... short answer: yes with an if; long answer: no with a but.

YES, you should publish a partial feed if you are only worried about hit counts, sponsors, and comments, and if you are willing to possibly lose a few readers over it. In forums across the web (such as this one), the response is pretty much unanimous: full feed or bust. NOT subscribing to an otherwise quality feed because it only offers a partial feed is very common; many readers who read primarily through a feed reader find partial feeds to be just plain annoying.

NO, you shouldn't publish only a partial feed because of the risk of losing (or just never gaining) readers, as noted above, but you should definitely encourage readers to visit, comment, and support your sponsors with the actual content of your full feed.

Encourage your readers to subscribe to your feed by posting meaningful and relevant content regularly. It's better to post high-quality content less often than to post drivel once a day just for the sake of posting every day.

Drivel drives readers to unsubscribe or just mentally skip your blog in their reader line-up (speaking from my own experience). Decide what's relevant and meaningful to you (and thence presumably to your readers) by determining your core values (and reviewing the other PR & Your Blog material can't hurt either).

Encourage your readers to support your sponsors by including a sponsor on individual posts. A little thumbnail/button and "this post sponsored by" is perfect -- exposure for your sponsors without being annoying for readers. Hopefully if you have sponsors, you actually like their products, so you can also reference them and their products when it's appropriate and relevant to your topic. Too much name-dropping is annoying, but a name dropped in the right place is information. And information is power. :)

Encourage your readers to visit by referencing and linking to other relevant posts or features of your blog in your posts, such as a similar project or a post on a similar or related topic. The link is important -- don't make your readers visit to scrounge around your blog looking for a post that you just casually mentioned. Take a second and do the legwork to find the correct direct link to what you are referencing.

When your readers do visit, welcome them to an inviting blog-home -- keep your font(s) and posts readable, your sidebars short and uncluttered, and your navigation easy-to-use.

Encourage your readers to comment by giving them easy opportunities to give you feedback -- ask a question or seek an opinion. (However, you probably want to limit how many questions you ask and opinions you solicit, however, at the risk of becoming a needy must-have-validation type blogger.)

Most importantly, however, encourage your readers to comment by being yourself. Include meaningful insights to your personality without engaging in blogger TMI (too much information) -- we usually don't need to know the intimate inner workings of your life, but write and share experiences that let us know who you are and what makes you tick because, odds are, we are just like you in one way or another. The blogs I follow and compulsively comment on are the blog written by women who are real and engaging and make me laugh or say, "Hey, I do that too!"

Part of being yourself and being an engaging blogger is responding to comments. Connecting with readers through comments (both on your blog and theirs) is fantastic, but connecting individually with readers through email is fantastic -- and that's how most bloggy friendships begin! Subscribe to your comments via email (I'll teach you how soon if you don't already) and respond to meaningful comments. You don't necessarily have to respond to every comment (although that's nice if you can), but respond to the comments that make you smile or laugh or just make your heart warm, as well as responding to the comments that require a response (such as questions).

Now that you've thought about full vs. partial feed, you can change (if necessary) your Blogger blog's feed accordingly. While you're logged in to Blogger, go to your blog's Settings tab and click Site Feed. From the Allow Blog Feeds drop-down menu, select either Full, Short, Until Jump Break, or None:
  • Full includes your entire post (minus embedded HTML widgets, as noted below). Recommended by yours truly. :)
  • Short includes the first 400 (approximately) characters.
  • Until Jump Break includes everything until your manually-inserted jump break. (This is a new feature, as far as I know, and one that I will be investigating and reporting on for use on my loooong tutorials. You can learn more about jump breaks here.)
  • None includes... nothing. :)

And to finish off, just a few little tips for optimizing your posts for reading in a feed reader:
  • If you decide that you must use a short (partial) feed -- make those first 400 characters count!! That's your sales pitch and it has to be well-written and pertinent if you're going to "hook" readers so they make the effort to come visit your blog and read the rest of the post. 
  • Whether you use a full or partial feed, give your posts meaningful and descriptive titles, as much as possible. For a fun blog or post, fun titles are great and, well, fun, but for more informational blogs/posts (such as tutorials and recipes), write a more descriptive blog title. The title both helps your readers determine if they want to open the post in their feed readers and helps them search for the post later, either in their readers or on your blog.
  • If possible, include a relevant picture early on in your posts to be the thumbnail your readers will see in their feed readers. If the post is about your awesome new {insert toy here}, include a picture of that first and the cute-picture-just-for-the-sake-of-cute later on (if at all :). Ironic that I give this advice in a perfectly pictureless post? ;)
  • If you embed an HTML widget (such as an embedded PDF, linky party, or other extra-special function), reference it in your writing and include a text link to the same content. The awesomeness of the embedding won't show up in a feed reader, so you can both inform your reader that it's available (they won't know if you don't tell them because they can't see it!) and save your readers a click by giving them the link to the site to download the PDF or join the linky party. 
  • And last but definitely not least... subscribe to your own feed. Then you'll know if your feed stops publishing or some other problem occurs, as well as what is or isn't making the feed-reader cut in terms of text styling, images, and embedded widgets. I know I mentioned this already here, but I'm nothing if not a broken record, right? :)

And this brings us to the conclusion of Feed Me month(ish). What did you think? Useful information? Confused and still scratching your head? Too much? Too little? Let me know how I did... or how I could have done better. :)

I'm headed back to the throes of Santa's workshop, so until next week,

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.
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