Google Turns Attention to RSS

The search giant started testing a version of its contextual ads that would help advertisers tap into new inventory on RSS or Atom feeds, and potentially help publishers monetize content distributed through that channel. Though Google declined to comment on the new implementation, word spread via its publisher partners.

The first site to test the new Google ads is a Microsoft-focused blog called Longhorn Blogs, published by Robert McLaws. McLaws said he and others were approached by Google to be “alpha testers” of the new RSS ads. He has been tight-lipped about the ads, at Google’s request, but did say the test is expected to last a few weeks before a broader public beta begins.

Wednesday, some blogs in the Weblogs Inc. network, including Engadget, the Unofficial Apple Weblog and AdJab, began showing the ads in their RSS feeds.

“This is gonna be huge,” said Weblogs Inc. founder Jason Calacanis on his blog. He noted that being able to make money from RSS feeds allows publishers to offer full-text version, instead of just headlines designed to make the reader click through to the site so ads can be shown.

The RSS feed for the Longhorn Blogs site currently includes Google text ads in each item. The creative is enclosed in a blue box that matches the look of the text ads on the site itself. The ads appear to be some of the same ones showing up on the site as well, with advertisers like Google’s own, Laszlo Systems, and NewsGator. Since the ads are in a very early stage of testing, it’s possible the implementation will change before Google rolls it out more widely.

“RSS is a fascinating medium. It’s similar to search, in that the user has requested it, although it’s not as immediate as search,” said Fredrick Marckini, CEO of search engine marketing (SEM) firm iProspect. “Time will tell if it performs as well as search, but it should be similar.”

IProspect’s customers have been asking about RSS advertising, but none have yet implemented a campaign. Marckini suspects many advertisers are likely to hold back until more performance data is gathered and understood.

Some smaller ad networks, like Kanoodle and Pheedo, already offer RSS ads. Yahoo has been widely rumored to be building its own ad network for blogs and smaller sites, which might include RSS ads as well. The portal player has already been inserting Yahoo contextual ads into RSS feeds through a partnership with Feedburner.

Google also turned its focus toward syndicated content this week for another product, its Gmail Web-based email client. According to the company’s site, it began rolling out an RSS feed aggregation feature to a limited set of Gmail users, letting users subscribe to blogs or other content sites.

The new feature, called Gmail Clips, lets users choose from Google’s suggested feeds or add links to a feed of the user’s choice. Plans for advertising appear to be built into the design: at the top of beta users’ Gmail inbox, the clips section alternately displays a random headline from one of the subscribed feeds or a relevant sponsored link.

From the Gmail inbox, users can scroll through clips, which display a source, headline, and publish time, and link to the source page.

Currently, a small number of randomly selected users are testing the feature, but Google’s site suggests it may become more widely available in the future.

Yahoo has long offered ad-supported RSS aggregation through My Yahoo and MSN has said it would be launching an aggregator of its own.

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