Should you use full-text or summary articles in your RSS feed?

So you’ve set up an RSS feed for your organization, and are serving it up via Feedburner. Now you can just sit back and let the magic of RSS work for you to achieve your goals, right?

What’s that? You’re not exactly sure what you hope to achieve with RSS? Or what options you have to get there?

What’s the decision?

Feedburner gives you the option to provide your feed in one of two ways: full-text or summary view. These are pretty self-explanatory: either the reader can view the entire post in their reader, or they can see part of it, with a call-to-action to come to your site to read the rest. When setting up your feed, Feedburner gives you the option of the length of the excerpt in characters, as well as the verbiage for the call to action.

summary rss

The subscriber’s plight

When a subscribe to your feed gets notification of a new article, he can do one of four things:

  1. Unsubscribe to your feed
  2. Skip the post (‘mark as read’)
  3. Read what he’s been provided
  4. Click through to your site

Obviously, the first two are undesirable, but what of the other two? Which do you want to optimize for?

Why the options exist

Providing full text to subscribers maximizes your ability to get your message across. The subscriber has already indicated their interest in your service by subscribing, and you are responding to their request.

If you only provide the reader with a summary, you’re requiring an additional response on the behalf of the reader. But getting this click-through gives an organization a bit more information: they can gauge how popular particular articles are based on click-through rate. As well, driving people to the site makes sense if there is additional information (or ads) that are not in the RSS feed. As mentioned above, however, there is the potential that your primary message will reach fewer people as they simply won’t make the effort to click through.

If you have full-text posts in your RSS feed, you can still encourage visitors to come to your site to comment or view further information. There are many ‘add-ons’ to RSS feeds (which I will cover in another post) to enhance the engagement of your readers. As well, your overall quality of site visitors may increase if they have committed to this additional step.

So what’s right for you?

The decision is based on your overall objectives, but my thought is that a newer site (not dependent on ad revenue) will want to post full-text articles. This way, they are building brand equity with their subscribers, and ensuring their message gets across. For a site that has a large amount of content, it may make sense to drive people to the site so that they are getting more than just the latest posts. This was the decision I made myself earlier this year: I have years of content on my blog, much of which was hidden from my more recent subscribers. By encouraging them to come to the site, they are exposed to additional relevant content as well.

Update: Jan 9, 2009: Following this post and the overwhelming consensus of commenters that full-text was preferred, I’ve updated my feed to offer full-text articles. Thanks for the feedback!

I admit that I tend to prefer full-text articles in my feed reader, although sometimes too long of a post can be overwhelming and prompt a “mark as read” without consideration. By offering an enticing summary, you can engage the subscriber and they may be more willing to read a longer post once they’ve already committed to visiting your site.

What are your personal preferences in accessing RSS feeds? Do you think my reasons for posting one way or the other make sense?

17 thoughts on “Should you use full-text or summary articles in your RSS feed?

  • Thanks for breaking this down. As of today, I post full length articles in my feed, and after reading this, I think I will keep in that way for a while. I think you’re right that as a new blogger, I need to promote my brand and let my readers really get a good idea of who I am and what my business is really about. I only have about 15 posts, so full length isn’t too much, but I do agree that when I have more it will probably be smart to switch to summaries. Thanks again.

  • I don’t know about others, but I’m MUCH less likely to click through from a summary than I am to read the entire post in my feed reader. From an accessibility stand-point, the user is much more likely to have a good experience consuming the content in their environment rather than being forced to go to a site that they must navigate through to get the content you could have given them to begin with.

    Full text rules!

  • I personally prefer full-text in my feed readers. I am much more likely to actually read the entire post if I can view the full-text version of it. With my feeds that come as summaries, 9 times out of 10 I don’t click through. If I can get the idea of the content from the summary and it isn’t a topic that I am very interested in I won’t go any further. But with full text, even if it is a topic I’m not necessarily interested in, I will at least scan through it since it is there and I don’t have to work for it.

    • Hi Kate, I think you make a good point when you state that “even if it is a topic I’m not necessarily interested in, I will at least scan through it”.

      I wonder if there are other ways to encourage people to visit the site, perhaps by including “other related info” so that people get what they want, and then have the option to learn more if it really does attract their attention?

      Follow me on twitter: afhill262

  • Like everyone else, I am much less likely to read an article if I don’t get the entire thing in my feed reader. I have a couple of blogs I stopped following because I never clicked through — they have very interesting content, but in trying to keep up with everything that extra step is not worth it. The item has to REALLY interest me to get me to click through. If it might be interesting, I usually don’t bother.

    If I find something I’ve read interesting, I am much more likely to go to the site and leave a comment than I am to go finish reading an entry.

  • yes yes yes! Full feed! I hate short feeds, even worse – yours had the “read more” and it wasn’t a link! (I’m behind, I would’ve hassled you earlier).

    I don’t mind ads injected into feeds – I get it’s necessary for some, as it’s technically “lost traffic” but if it encourages discussion, I’m on the site to do so! (like now!)

    -keif

    Follow me on twitter: ikeif

    • The non-linking “read more” was weird, wasn’t it? That’s the way feedburner configures it. It was a bit of a pet peeve for me as well 🙂

      Follow me on twitter: afhill262

  • I’m a bit late to the party, but hey, why not post my opinion anyway?

    I will always forgive a blogger for using limited feeds on one condition: They are ad-supported. OK, ad-supported and awesome. It’s an annoyance, but I can’t blame folks for trying to make a few bucks off their work.

    For people like us (corporate bloggers, for lack of a better term), I think it’s always best to go full-feed. If people like what they see, they’ll come around. But to me, 500 subscribers is better than 1,500 one-time viewers, so I’d always rather keep my RSS crew happy.

  • Echoing the bandwagon, quality always outperforms quantity.

    Would you buy a car without a steering wheel, forcing you to visit a parts store or a junkyard to pick one up? Of course not. Shouldn’t be any different with a blog feed!

    Follow me on twitter: ariherzog

    • I don’t follow that analogy at all?

      This is media. “Tune in at 11” is pretty standard. It gives you the right to opt-in if you’re interested in learning more, rather than forcing you to sit through the entire thing.

      Granted, there is a tie to time investment with television that there isn’t with an RSS reader, but I don’t see it as a commodity..

      Follow me on twitter: afhill262

      • If an article began with an effective summary and relevant title, @Andrea’s statement would hold true – you’re given the basis of what you are about to read. Unfortunately, too many people want to be “cute” with titles and initial paragraphs that cause it to be pointless and disinterested – “major tools, news at 11” or “top ten twitter tools – at 11” or “stuff I like – followed by a paragraph of analogies of being a kid before you delve into your topic at hand”

        New outlets use pictures and words to direct you to them (and appeal to emotions). RSS feeds rely on powerful titles and openings – which, sadly, most “summary” feeds I’ve seen fail at.

        Follow me on twitter: ikeif

      • Ahh, so you compare the “Tune in at 11” remark to an RSS feed? I’d take a broader approach and compare that to the personal choice of subscribing to the feed.

        After all, you typically don’t subscribe to feeds haphazardly but do so because of some mash of variables including topic, language/style, author, social networking prowess, number of comments, etc, right?

        So, when you’re looking at the blog is when you’ll see the subscribe buttons, which is analagous to hearing on TV about the times of the broadcasts to tune in. Imagine if the news broadcast said five sentences and referred you somewhere else for the rest? Same difference.

        Partial feeds are the same with RSS or TV, using your analogy. Where’s the value?

        Follow me on twitter: ariherzog

        • Hmmm, you raise a really interesting point. I don’t do it myself, but increasingly there are widgets with teasers of content to drive people to a site, these are done leveraging an RSS feed. In that case, that would be like the teaser, “tune in at 11” – driving people who may not otherwise tune in. It’s a means to increase attraction.

          This IS different than the person who’s already made the choice to subscribe: in that case, the RSS feed is serving to increase interaction.. to keep someone engaged and informed. You’re totally right that it’s a bit misleading to say “get my news in your inbox” and then only provide a piece of it.

          I still think RSS as a tool can be used to drive people to a site, but I will agree that perhaps it’s not ideal for people who’ve already subscribed. But that’s not on the format of RSS to dictate, that would be moreso as to how it’s being used.

          Thanks for helping me see things in a new light!

          Follow me on twitter: afhill262

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