RSS Series: Should I offer a full or partial RSS feed to my readers?

We’ve been talking about RSS feeds for a few weeks now. As you integrate (or continue to integrate) a feed in your blog, one of the questions that arises is Should I post a full or partial feed? Today we’ll explore what to consider before you make your decision.

When you offer an RSS feed to your readers, you have the option to deliver either a full or partial feed to your readers’ feed aggregator. A full feed is exactly what it says: it delivers the entire article (pictures, video, and all) to the readers’ aggregator. Your audience can read the entire article in a feed reader without clicking over to your site. A partial feed delivers only a snippet of the content — usually a sentence or two. If the reader wants to continue reading, she has to click over to your site to finish the article.

Depending on your role (as blogger or reader), you may have a different point of view about full and partial feeds. Bloggers who want to encourage traffic or need traffic (perhaps because they are part of a traffic-based ad network — meaning they get more money if more people visit their site) would prefer readers click over to their physical site so may opt to use partial feeds. On the other hand, many people subscribe to hundreds of feeds, all aggregated to one place: their feed reader. Those readers generally prefer to do all their reading on one page and so prefer to subscribe to full feeds.

As you decide whether to use partial or full feeds, here are some things to consider:

  • What’s your measure of success? What’s more important to you as you measure your success as a blogger: traffic or subscribers? Sure, if you have traffic-based ads, blog visits are important. If you’re more interested in reaching a wider audience, though, isn’t the number of subscribers more important? I would argue that, although the ads may be a nice income, very few people are getting rich off of them. These days when you discuss someone’s online presence it’s talked about in terms of influence. Your subscribers are the audience you’re influencing. The more people who subscribe to your blog, the more people you can reach with your message.
  • Where are your readers reading you? Two years ago, most people read their feeds sitting at their computer. Now that smart phones are so common, many people are reading feeds on the go. Robert Scoble, who was once a supporter of full feeds, argues that these days you need to post partial feeds because they’re easier to use on smart phones. On the other hand, LT at The Heresy disagrees and says she likes to have entire articles to read on her smart phone. She says, “Some [bloggers] argue that they don’t want their content divorced from their blog design, and I understand that. However that extra click is really starting become annoying as I read blogs on devices other than my main computer or when I’m not connected on high speed. I love reading blogs on my smart phone, but if I have to click through to view the whole post in the browser I generally won’t. Over The Air connections are much slower than highspeed, even on 3G networks. Smaller screens make it much more difficult to read in a browser.” Which leads me to my next point . . .
  • What do your readers want? If you don’t know who your audience is, ask them! You can put together a quick blog post or survey (I usually use Survey Monkey) and ask readers how they’re reading your site (e.g., on a computer screen or on their smart phone), whether they prefer full or partial feeds, and whether they click over to your site from the RSS feed to join the comment conversation. Use their feedback to help you make your final decision about whether to offer full or partial RSS feeds for your blog.

More Discussion About Full or Partial Feeds

The debate over full or partial feeds has been going on as long as I can remember and it’s unlikely to dissipate now. My hope is that you’ll find out what your readers want and consider catering to them in this area. Here are more articles that may help you make your decision:

  • Are You Serving Up Full or Partial Feeds to Your Readers? by Virginia DeBolt at BlogHer. Virginia did a quick and dirty experiment last year to see whether, after having offered a full RSS feed for years, if she changed to a partial feed she’d see an increase in her blog’s traffic from people clicking through. Her stats program did show a steady increase in blog visitors. What she couldn’t tell from her analytics program, though, was how many people unsubscribed from her blog because of the change in the feed option.
  • Art Blogging: Should You Offer Full or Partial Feeds by Nicolette Tallmadge at The Crafted Webmaster. Ms. Tallmadge explores some of the reasons readers prefer full feeds, then gives you ideas of how to encourage to readers to click over to your blog when you do offer full feeds. Her ideas are to
    1. Offer an e-mail newsletter
    2. Give RSS subscribers exclusive offers just for visiting your site
    3. Place actionable items at the end of your posts to encourage RSS subscribers to click through and comment or interact in some way.
  • Say Bye Bye to Full RSS Feeds by Allen Stern at CenterNetworks. Mr. Stern’s article focuses on how media sites like The New York Times and Information Week are using partial feeds to increase monetizable traffic to their sites. He writes, “Naturally readers will make a lot of noise if their favorite blog removes full feeds. From our research in the CenterNetworks Labs, we’ve determined that the typical “noise” period on the Internet lasts two weeks. After that readers will be clicking links in partial feeds and will read the content on the full, chock full of ads media site.” Of course, what works for big business isn’t necessarily what works for regular, everyday bloggers. This goes back to my suggestion to know what’s happening in the social media world, but know what’s happening with your own readers as well and make adjustments.

My Two Cents: I Prefer Full Feeds

I fall on the full-feed side of the fence. Full feeds help my workflow. Every morning (and throughout the day), I open my iGoogle home page (which houses a box with my Google Reader) and read new posts. I click on the titles that interest me, read the article in a pop-up window, then, if the article is sharable or I want to comment, I open it in a new tab. I may have 10 tabs open by the time I’m finished going through my feeds. Then I read the articles more in-depth and go from there. I can hear you now, “But if you’re opening the articles and reading them, why not just use the partial feed and click over?” Because the partial feed is too small. I can’t tell a thing from three sentences. I’m not going to waste my precious alone time in the morning clicking over to articles that don’t interest me. If I have a full feed, I can scan the entire article to see how it pertains to me, then decide whether I want to click over for a more detailed evaluation.

What do you think? Do you prefer full or partial feeds when checking your feed reader? Do you, as a blogger, offer full or partial feeds to your readers? Let’s discuss in comments.

Melanie Nelson writes tips and instructions for bloggers at Blogging Basics 101. She shares tech-related articles every day on the Blogging Basics 101 Tumblr blog.