Monitoring your online publication’s behavior when it’s away from home

May 2, 2010

Most website editors and bloggers spend most of their time and energy making their online publication  look good to visitors who come to their site to read their content.  But many sites now have RSS feeds that automatically send site content –or at least headlines and summaries– out to feed readers, email subscription services and Twitter and other social media.  If you want to build your site’s audience,  it’s also important to keep an eye on   how your content looks and reads in those other formats.  Here’s how.

OK: So your site includes an email subscription form so that interested readers can get your new stuff in the form of an email.  You’ve got links to your Twitter account so people can “follow” your new content there.  And you’ve connected that Twitter account to your site so that new site headlines and links are automatically “tweeted” whenever you post to your site.  You may have done the same with Facebook, Buzz and other social media sites. You’ve also hooked up that mysterious orange button– your RSS feed– so that readers who know what that is can  follow you in a feed reader — this is probably a relatively small and particularly tech-savvy group, but one that might well  include your most ardent fans.

Excellent!

But do you know how your site content is behaving out there in the world?  Do you subscribe to and read your site’s emails? Do you monitor your own Twitter feed and Facebook account?  Do you have a feed reader  (or, preferably, several) set up so you can see how your content appears there (and make sure that the feed is working properly).

If you don’t; then you are only doing half your job as site editor.  Because many of your readers see your new content first in your email,  feed or on social media sites.  If what they see doesn’t grab them, they aren’t going to click through to your site to read the rest– no matter how beautiful your site is or how carefully you’ve set it up.  And, if you’ve configured your feed so that complete posts, not just teases or summaries, are available via email or feed readers, many people will never end up back on your site at all.

Watching over your content as it wends its way through cyberspace doesn’t require any particular technical knowledge, but if someone more “techy” than you  set up all those links and connections, you may not know where to go to make use of them.

Subscribing to your own email should be easy– just fill out the form on your site (if it’s hard, send out an SOS to whoever set up the service in the first place.)

You can, of course, monitor your Twitter and other social media accounts by logging in to them directly. Or you can use one of a variety of tools to create a “dashboard” that you can use to periodically check up on all of them at once. (David Pierce of Edelman Technology recently posted about several good monitoring tools, including Tweetdeck.)

Setting up a feed reader might be the trickiest task if you’ve never done it before.  But it’s the most essential, because it allows you to see your content as  your feed reader readers (?)  see it.  Your content goes out via “feed” in a very stripped down form: No special fonts, colors or  other formatting. Most feed readers do some formatting of your content,  but it’s basic,  and probably far less than is done on your own site. What’s more, the feed reader designer and user often have more control over how your content appears there than you do. But that’s what you want to see: Do your posts make sense and look OK given these limitations?

So how do you set up a feed reader? Most web browsers have feed readers built in these days (check your favorite browser’s help menu for specifics on how to use any built-in reader).  Both Google and Yahoo include readers in browser toolbars you may have already installed.  Or if you have a Google home page –my preference– you can add your feed to it.  Again, the how-to specifics vary, but to “subscribe” to your own feed (or a feed on any other site), you generally click on the feed icon (usually, but not always, an orange button) either on the site itself  or somewhere in the browser menu –then follow the directions.  If you want more information, check out Google’s own Feed 101.

After you’ve got all this set up, check each “monitoring site” to see

  • That all services are working.  Online services, especially free ones, often go down, disappear, or change their rules of service.  You’ve got to keep an eye out to make sure that they are sending out your stuff when they should be– and troubleshoot them or call for help when they aren’t.

Then check:

  • Do your headlines make sense by themselves?  If readers don’t have access to any of the content that goes with a headline (as on Twitter) will that headline draw readers to your site to read the rest? (If not, you’ll have to tweak your head writing style.)
  • Is any content that does appear readable and does it make sense alone? If it doesn’t you’ll have to tweak your ledes.  (And you’ll quickly learn that, on many sites, it’s not a good idea to make a photo or graphic the first thing that appears in your post.)
  • Are all links working?
  • Do icons and other “templated” graphics appear as you want them to?  Where you can control some formatting (this applies mostly to your email  if you use a service that allows you to tweak the template) is it working the way you want it to?

All of this should only take a minute or two once you’ve gotten in the habit and know what to look for.  But if you don’t do it– your content might be “out there” doing things you don’t know about, or not getting out there at all.

Do you have any tips for monitoring your site content?  Or have you caught my site misbehaving while I wasn’t looking?  Go ahead- tattle.

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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. ozmos  |  May 2, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    And –yep– sure enough! As soon as I sent this post out and checked it in my Twitter feed, I saw that it had the nonsensical hashtag “uncategorized.” That’s because my Twitter feed turns the “tags” in my blog posts into hashtags automatically– and I forgot to remove the default “uncategorized” tag. Sigh.

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