In a “speed blogging” post from earlier this week, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger answered a question from a reader wondering if their blog should use a partial or a full RSS feed. The reader pointed out that, on the ProBlogger site, the feed was set to full but on Digital Photography School, another site he operates, the feed was partial.
Rowse’s answer, however, was not a typical one to the question and, instead, offered a completely different piece of advice. According to Rowse, he prefers to keep feeds partial until the site has been around for some time and has obtained “authority in the eyes of Google”, creating what is effectively a probation period for the feed, only letting it loose when it is ready to be released.
This raises an interesting question in the full vs. partial feed debate, are the two mutually exclusive and can one site “grow” into another?
It is a topic worth debating as more and more bloggers run into this issue and try to determine what is best for their content.
The Basic Idea
The problem with scraping is that many sites are have their content republished heavily and never see any ill effects from it. Large, well-known blogs such as TechCrunch and Mashable, are routinely republished wholesale and still maintain both their search engine ranking and their brand.
The reason is that these are well-known and trusted sites. Google and the other search engines give them priority over new sites, such as the ones spammers create, and trust that the content on them is original.
Typically, scraping most strongly affects newer and/or smaller sites. If the search engines and/or readers don’t know who you are, they could very well give the top slot to a spam blogger. However, it takes time to build up a reputation and earn a trusted position with Google.
This means that, if you start out with a full feed from day one, you are vulnerable to scrapers hijacking your position on the search engines. With their cross linking and frequent use of expired domains, it is possible a spammer could actually have more trust than a new legitimate blog, making their scraping especially damaging.
With that in mind, Rowse’s solution could actually be an answer to the problem. There are many reasons one would expect this system to work and why bloggers, especially those starting out, should at least consider it.
Why It Could Work
The logic behind using a feed probation period, such as what Rowse proposes, makes a lot of sense. Consider the following points:
- More Original Content: Using truncated feeds in the early stages of a site guarantees more original content on your site and that can help you build search engine trust more quickly, protecting you when you make the transition to full feeds in a drive to obtain more subscribers.
- Easier Transition: It is much easier on your readers to go from partial to full feeds rather than the other way around. If you start out with full feeds and change your mind, it could upset many readers.
- Better for Servers: New sites typically start out with very small hosts. As such, the feed can be a heavy burden until the site warrants a move to a larger “house”. A partial feed can mitigate against that.
- Focus on Linkbuilding: Most new blogs, in the early days, are focused more on linkbuilding than subscribers. As such, a truncated feed is not a major obstacle in those cases.
- Promotional Event: Many blogs turn the activation of full feeds into a promotional event and use it as a tool to lure new subscribers. If you start out with full feeds, you miss this opportunity.
But while the idea seems very sound, there are still problems with it. Putting your feed on probation might be a wonderful idea, but only if a few problems can first be overcome.
Issues with the System
Though a feed probation period seems to work well with what we know about search engines and scraping, it also creates more than a few problems. Those include the following:
- Weakened Readership: Many people refuse to subscribe to partial feeds and, if they see that your feed is truncated, they will not care that it is just a probation period. They will simply skip over it and likely not return.
- Missed Opportunities for Pinging: One of the great things about feeds is that you can ping the various search engines to let them know something is new. If you have a partial feed, this can lessen the impact of such pings and actually work to hurt your search engine trust, possibly negating much of the benefit you would hope to gain..
- Slower Growth: The two items above could make it more difficult to obtain inbound links since mostly subscribers link to your site, and that, when combined with the lack of pinging, could actually cause it to take longer to build search engine trust and growth in readers.
However, the biggest problem is that many, if not most, sites will never reach a point where they can safely extend their feed.
For example, after three years of operation, Plagiarism Today has well over 1000 subscribers and a PageRank of 5. A solid site in both categories, but not a huge one either. While it might seem, when combined with the site’s longevity, that it would be relatively safe from scrapers, I’ve seen many scrapings sites with a PageRank between a 3 and a 5, high enough to cause concern, and my other sites, including one run over ten years, still has an issue with copied results ranking higher than the original.
While there may come a time in which it is more safe for a site to change to a full feed, for most there is never a time where it is perfectly safe. One is still going to have to deal with scrapers, especially those that rank well in search engines, and work to protect their content from unattributed and spammy use.
As such, the feed probation period may be something of a waste since you have to take the same action regardless of whether you took advantage of it or not.
The idea of a feed probation period has some merit. However, for most blogs, it will not provide much benefit.
No matter what you do initially, when you have a full feed, scrapers are going to grab your content and, unless you are a mega-blogger, some of them are going to have the capacity to hurt you. You need to be aware of those and be ready to take action against them.
If you decide to use this method, bear in mind that, in exchange for the greataer protection during the fragile early months of the site, you will likely experience slower growth. Also realize that it will not cure your scraping ills.
Because even though Rowse never called this technique a cure for scraping and mentioned that he still deals with as many cases as he can, I know well from experience that many people are looking for a “magic bullet” to make this matter go away.
Sadly, that bullet doesn’t exist and this certainly is not it. However, it might still be a useful tool, especially for those that plan to discuss spam-friendly topics.
Just use it with caution and keep in mind that you’ll still need to take other steps to protect your work.