For Those Interested in My RSS Feed…

When this blog’s redesign launched nearly 3 weeks ago, I wrote

For now thought all you’ll see is a bit of a fresher and more modern face. I’m sure there will be a few hiccups as I learn how to work with it.

And there were indeed some hiccups. There are some positives, I think.

  • It’s much more mobile-friendly, or at least in terms of how Google thinks about these things. Google has now started ‘penalizing’ sites in search results that don’t meet mobile standards, and I do want people to be able to find the things that I write, so this matters.

  • There’s more engagement with the site overall. I don’t actually know why, and while traffic has been growing at a steady clip that really leaves me humbled and in awe to begin with, there was a real spike with the new site.

I love that. But there were also some unintended consequences. I had not realized that the setting for my ‘RSS feed’ would change, so that instead of showing full posts there would be an ‘excerpt’ of posts.

Given this natural experiment, I was interested to see how it would play out.

  1. Site engagement really did spike up — not just ‘getting people to click on posts’ but actually having readers share content substantially more than before. The ‘reach’ of the site has grown. I assume that causing people to click means they engage the content overall more, and once they’re engaging it they’re most likely to share it with their friends.

  2. At the same time, many readers were frustrated. It’s not the way they prefer to interact with the site.

  3. The new ‘excerpt’ feature built into the blog, both for how posts are shown on the front page of the site and how they’re shown in RSS feeds, changed.

First I had to learn to address how posts were being excerpted. I learned that text was just being run together without formatting. HTML code didn’t show up, because to set things otherwise could cause tags to be left open (since only some of the post was showing) . But this made things pretty difficult to read. The solution is to actually write the excerpt, something that’s new to me, and I’m still learning.

Second is that I had to figure out what to do with RSS feeds.

As I said, the excerpted posts bring people to the site and probably more importantly appear to be causing people to share this site. That means a lot to me.

The experience of my long-term readers means a lot to me, too. So four days into the test or natural experiment (April 8) I asked the BoardingArea folks who host this blog for a solution — that the standard default RSS feed excerpt posts as it does now, but that we find a way to offer the full content feed also for those who prefer it. They said they’d work on it, and it’s something I’ve prompted, and that I want to offer.

I held back comment each day hoping I’d have the solution already in place to offer, but since it’s been a couple of weeks since I asked for the full feed as an option and I don’t yet have it, this seemed worth addressing and sharing.

Why do I like this increased engagement? It isn’t revenue, as many commenters have surmised. In fact eliminating full posts from RSS feeds is detrimental to my income! That becomes obvious when you understand sources of revenue for a blog like mine.

  1. Advertising (and so page views) is a very small part of revenue. If I had millions of visitors a day (as opposed to a month) then increasing the number of pageviews from each person might move the needle on revenue. But each pageview isn’t getting me but a penny or two.

  2. I do very well from this blog, largely when readers use my links to credit cards instead of going directly to a bank’s site. They get the miles either way, but I get referral credit too. Eliminating full content means that links to cards aren’t sent out via RSS, email, etc. So the tradeoff from excerpted posts is less use of my links.

Back to the excerpts, some would call them ‘click bait’ and I think there are a few different things going on here. One is that I’m not very good (yet?) at writing excerpts. And two is that I have fun with titles sometimes. Not everyone appreciates my sense of humor, or my whimsy.

I’ve always written what has interested me on a given day, and I think it’s great that it’s been interesting enough generally that plenty of people decide it’s something they want to read. That makes me feel great, I really appreciate it. But I’ve always written my own thoughts, in a way I’ve been most happy with. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I think I have to do it this way. I wouldn’t be blogging after 13 years if I was writing for anyone else.

And the truth is that I chuckle, a lot, when I write something like Why Frequent Flyers Will Want to Use the Royal Jordanian Website for This One Simple Trick for a lead in to changing the frequent flyer account number attached to an award booking made with miles from a oneworld frequent flyer program.

Some readers enjoy it too, they’re in on the joke. I completely ‘get’ that my writing will always be at least somewhat niche and I’m fine with that.

I don’t often write ‘meta’ posts about the blog. I think they tend to distract, especially when most readers seem to enjoy the site and get something out of it (at least judging by readership trends, including that people spend more time on the site than before). But I also wanted to share my thinking here, this isn’t a finished product. I’m working on it, just as I’m working on being increasingly thoughtful in my approach to travel and increasingly generous in my approach to those I disagree with. Never perfect, always trying to be better along some dimension.

At least the blog doesn’t look like this anymore:

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. As a long time reader and one of the people that expressed frustration about the RSS situation I appreciate the update Gary. So just to be clear, the boarding area folks haven’t figured out the fix yet but would it be accurate to say it’s a matter of when not if?

  2. As someone who reads via RSS I don’t mind the change much – if it’s interesting enough to read, it’s interesting enough to click on. And if I am bothering to read a post then I usually want to glance at the comments as well. And FWIW I didn’t even notice a change in snark level? I mean all your posts have the same BS attitude. Part of the charm, I suppose. Anyway a full feed will be nice, but this is one of the (very rare) cases where full text RSS isn’t that important to me.

  3. Your “natural experiment” was not a well-controlled one!

    You changed the design of the website at the same time as getting rid of full RSS feeds. You can’t conclude that the increased engagement that followed was the result of one change rather than the other.

    And even if you could make that conclusion, it’s completely and utterly baffling to assume that the change that’s driving engagement is the change that everyone who has expressed and opinion hates, rather than the one that’s staring you in the face: a massive, positive improvement in the website’s accessibility, Google-friendliness, and visual design.

  4. I prefer full-text RSS feeds but I don’t mind the excerpted feed. If you write a good “hook” then people will click through to the full article.

  5. I’m with Mike — the increased engagement is far more likely a function of the redesign than of the change to RSS feeds, when not that many people use RSS in the first place.

  6. I’ve stopped reading your blog as a result of the change in RSS. This one DID get me to click, however. Hoping it returns.

  7. Thanks for the update Gary. I completely despise the excerpted feed requiring a click through. I found I’ve actually been reading much less of your full posts since the change and look forward to the reinstated full text feed.

  8. it is rather telling that lucky just had a massive redesign, also orchestrated by boarding area, and he has had zero trouble maintaining a full RSS feed.

    Sorry Gary. This story doesn’t add up. You could tell your minions to turn it full rss on with the flip of a switch. But the truth is, you like the extra penny or two from the masses. Sounds like you’re trying to get cute by providing a limited feed to everyone and a backdoor full feed at the same time. And that is the hard part to implement. So why not flip the switch until you solve that?

    Not arguing that your views are up, but those from me are down. And will stay that way till rss is back.

  9. I don’t know what top secret RSS feed I use, but I have had full posts the entire time without issue. I have been watching with interest at the firestorm, admittedly (selfishly) keeping silent so as to not get undue attention paid to shutting down the feed I am using, were this change desired/intentional. That being said, I usually open the site anyway to read comments.

  10. Gary, I use feedly for the blogs I follow. Posts from you are getting chopped off and honestly I am frustrated. Clickbaits, content, etc is not the point here.
    Before revamping the blog they were fine. Now that they are not, each time having to go to the browser, read you post, come back to feedly and move-on is something I prefer not to do.
    That said, fix the feed, and I will read. GLuck

  11. thanks for the update Gary. I was wondering what was going on. It was annoying at first but it has lessened over time having to click thru. Although would prefer the full RSS feed.

  12. Echoing the other commenters, I’m also still hoping the full RSS comes back. I use Feedly and usually read content on the go and while commuting around NYC which means I don’t always have network connectivity. I subscribe to Lucky and some other blogs and if I can read their posts, I will end up skipping yours when it’s overlapping topics.

  13. Another voice for full text RSS.
    Opening a browser from feedly android app takes 7 more seconds per post, hence I barely read the site now.

  14. It is very frustrating to not get the full view in RSS feed. I tend to skip over articles that are excerpted. Often there are many bloggers writing about the same credit card offers on the same days. I usually skip over those that only offer excepts. I noticed that Deals Like Us has recently moved to exercpts too. I am similarly less engaged with that blog now. If I have a choice I tend to click on the credit card offers from blogs that offer the full view

  15. I hope this RSS thing (whatever it is) is fixed soon, just so I don’t have to scroll through a bunch of whines about it when reading the comments section. 🙂

  16. Thanks for the update Gary, appreciate it. Will you also be able to provide an option to receive the full content via email (as it was previously) as well as RSS?

  17. Love the site & look forward to the return of full txt RSS feeds.

    I, like many readers here, travel a lot and many of my flights (I’m looking at you Air Canada) don’t have WiFi. As such I end up reading most sites via RSS & Pocket/Instapaper.
    Thanks for the update!

  18. I stopped reading your site because of the switch to excerpts. I keep it in my feeds and, if another blog I follow doesn’t seem to cover your post title within a couple of days, only then do I open it. Likewise, my last three credit card signups have gone through Lucky because of this.

    Your site still runs WordPress. It’s _really easy_ to turn on full RSS feeds. It’s a setting under Settings -> Reading called “For each article in a feed, show” that can be switched back quite easily. And if you want multiple RSS feeds, there are WordPress plugins that do that. If the folks at BoardingArea want to contact me, I’m more than happy to help them sort out a solution.

  19. The truncated RSS feed makes it very difficult for me to read your posts given how I consume information during the day. I’ve definitely decreased my engagement with your content, even if it appears as though my engagement has increased simply because I have visited the blog itself a couple times. Looking forward to the fix.

  20. RSS reader here – thanks for the update. The snippets have been really frustrating and I assumed that you were going the “clickbait” approach to try and increase engagement/revenue. It’s refreshing to hear that it was an unintended side effect.

  21. Thanks for the update. Without full content RSS I do read significantly less of what you write, for what it’s worth. That makes me in particular less engaged and less likely to send affiliate revenue your way. I realize that I’m just one person though.

  22. Same feelings as many of the other posters. I used to read the full length RSS articles sometimes. When topics overlapped with the other bloggers, I chose the more concise and more engaging version of the article. Now, I make a conscious effort to find the article on a site with full text. Also, the headlines have become a bit more bait-y. I’m on a credit card freeze while I’m applying for a mortgage, but when it’s time to sign up again, I’ll direct my apps through a site that provides me with the most value at the least cost (inclusive of the value of my time).

  23. Count me as one who has read significantly less of your content since the RSS change.
    With the old style I still read most of your posts even when I found them marginally interesting. Now if the lede doesn’t grab me, I don’t bother clicking and reading.
    Both Lucky and FM have kept their RSS intact with the change, but you haven’t. I’m learning that maybe I don’t need to read very often anymore like I have some other blogs.
    If you posted much less daily and made each post more impactful, I wouldn’t mind the change as much. I find it hard to keep up with reading a few hundred posts a month anyway.

  24. Only RSS post I’ve clicked on to read the full article…naturally, I want to know what’s up with this. 🙂

    Perhaps the TL;DR tagline should be: Still no RSS feed for full posts. Carry on. 🙂

  25. When someone says its “not about the money” it almost always is precisely about the money.

    And when you have to proclaim yourself a thought leader….. You probably aren’t.

  26. I have often supported your site through your affiliate links when all things have been equal. I like your content and analysis.

    The loss of full RSS makes things not equal. The hassle factor is greater, and the summaries make me feel like a Marketing target. As a result I read you a LOT less than over the last 8 years.

    To be clear, Lucky and others are profiting, at your loss, on your decision to take this path (which actually increases your workload writing mini post summaries with out adding value? Economics?)

    But my engagement is up, exclusively about the RSS feed…..

  27. +1 to the above. I use Google Newsstand and have moved your feed to the bottom. I no longer check it daily, like I do with other bloggers. I will check it once a week and skip anything that appears to be covered by other blogs which I already earlier in the week.

    In fact, while I used to read almost Evey post, I don’t think I’ve read anything except your bait-y headlines in the last week and decided that it was not worth clicking through.

  28. I was thinking about it more. There’s an old guard of readers who like to give you a hard time about how transactional your blog has gotten. This is an easy way to “break up” with those readers and move on, TPG style. In that sense this switch may be to your benefit.

  29. So, I use Feedly to access my RSS feeds and, honestly, I’ve been moving more and more of the sites I follow over to “open webpage directly” mode anyway, as I like to see (and post) comments.

    The real reason I’ve been making the switch though, is that more and more frequently I’m finding that sites are doing better mobile optimized pages. When sites looked like crap on my phone or tablet, I prefered to read the feed in a way that worked better on my device. Now most sites are looking just fine.

    So, I really didn’t notice the change because I made the switch manually a few months ago.

  30. Just to echo most people here:

    I read about 80% less than I used to. Having the summary email at the end of each day, I pored through every post. But having to switch back and forth between email and browser — especially in a mobile platform – is too time consuming. I hope you switch back soon.

  31. Add me in as yet another reader that would like to see the content in its entirety via RSS feed. As a Feedly reader I like reading the many blogs I follow daily (including yours) without ever needing to open a web browser on my phone or laptop.

    I appreciate your blog post about this and will continue to be a daily reader, even if I have to do it the old-fashioned way (via browser).

  32. If it’s really about “more engagement” how is it that there are 39 comments above this one without a single response from you Gary? Engagement is a two way street.

    I for one would like to hear you explain why, in fact, it is actually hard for you to tell your minions to flip the switch on the “full RSS” button.

  33. I really hate to unsubscribe, but what choice is there? I’m not visiting the website, and I’m not reading this or any blog without a full RSS feed. Sorry, Gary.

  34. Like others who have commented, I have been a regular reader for years but have dropped off since the RSS feed switch. I read blogs through a reader on my iPod touch, often out of range of wifi, so clicking through to posts isn’t usually an option. I enjoy the blog and the content, and I hope the RSS gets restored. This reminds me a bit of Delta and others pulling AwardWallet–it just makes it harder to be loyal.

  35. Same here. I read my blogs on Google Newsstand and I’m less engaged & read only a fraction of your posts since the change.

    Please change it back.

  36. Add me to the list, as well. I use feedly, and while I got the full text, I frequently went to the full site to see comments, and potentially post. I read a small fraction of your posts at all, now, as compared to nearly 100% previously, and my visits to your site have decreased even further.

    I had never complained previously, on the basis that “hey, it’s your blog” but since you seem to be looking for engagement on this topic, you should be aware that there are others out there from whom you never hear who are reading your material and visiting your site much less frequently.

    The reality is that there is quite a bit of overlap between your material and that of other blogs, and so I visit the ones that offer less friction to access the content. It has to be really compelling content to make me click through to your website.

    If you’re actually not getting a financial benefit to this, you should beat on the engineers hard, because their delay is causing you to lose previously loyal readers.

    Greg99

  37. I’ve read your blog for years, and almost always used your referral links for cards. That stopped when the RSS feed went to partial articles. I’ve stopped clicking on your full article links – I often read on my phone and I don’t have time to wait for a website to load when I have 400 posts a day to read. Between me, my wife, parents, brothers, and three co-workers, we applied for a total of 12 Citi cards over the past 10 days and I gave them all someone else’s referral links rather than yours. I’ll come back but I think this point alone should show you how its hurting your pocket. As a web designer who understands the infrastructure this blog runs on, it’s literally a 5 minute thing to change for any competent programmer. The “BoardingArea folks” need to get their act together, it shouldn’t take weeks to change back to full RSS feeds.

  38. From this article what I understand is you are ready to offer full content only because you already have started feeling your readers using other websites credit card links and your referral income has come down!!!
    Like many other long time readers, I too have pushed your feed to the bottom and don’t read it often, also have started using other bloggers link to apply for cards…
    and there was no mention removal of full feed in your post about changes to your website…

  39. @Vikas there was no mention of removal of full feed in my post about changes to the site because it wasn’t something I was expecting. And I requested a change to let me offer both the full and truncated feeds in less than 4 days from making the change. I’m riding on tech folks to get this.

  40. Gary,
    Thanks for keeping us up to date…..you know how much we hate unannounced changes.
    (like AA explorer award)

  41. Gary,
    10+ year reader here and very much enjoy your content and find it valuable. I am afraid I also find myself reading your posts much more selectively. That extra “friction” makes a difference when using an RSS app.

    Of note, your finding that content is now shared more may not be completely accurate. My app reader has easy tools for sharing content in a variety of ways and in ways not possible on a website (i.e. preconfigured emails, etc.). Your more RSS app-savvy readers probably were actually sharing significantly using those features.

    Thanks for your post on this, and I hope you get it worked out to the satisfaction of all.

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