Permission Marketing 2.0

Before I continue with the SEO Copywriting 2.0 series, I want to interject a bit of perspective. With all the talk about links, traffic, Digg, social media marketing and the pursuit of search engine rankings, it’s important to remember what matters most for business-oriented bloggers.


The importance of subscriber acquisition is getting its fair share of attention within the social media space, which is good. Darren Rowse recently posted on the value of conduits like Digg and other social media traffic sources to build up your own subscriber-based community over time.

And in the SEO world, Andy Hagens and Michael Gray have touched on the topic as well. They call subscriber attraction and retention a key element in a “defensible traffic” strategy that frees you from the tyranny of search engine algorithm hiccups.

Here’s the thing. People marvel at how well targeted search traffic can convert into sales, but nothing converts better than effective permission-based relationship marketing.

Permission Marketing 1.0

I feel fortunate that I’ve always had a subscriber-first mentality. Starting off online with ezine publishing meant that the only two essentials were great content and someone to read it. You didn’t even need a web presence to have an email publishing business, as long as people knew how to subscribe.

Of course, not having a web presence would be leaving traffic and money on the table, so email publishers took the time to hand publish each issue in a site archive. Over time, the search traffic came, but it was a bonus, not the primary strategy. Blogging provides an easy, integrated way to accomplish the same thing, plus the awesome subscriber-attraction opportunities that social media provides.

Somewhere along the way, people became overly obsessed with search and forgot everything else. Many businesses today would disappear if their rankings tanked. And that’s no way to run a business.

But that’s only half of it. As the bald guy will tell you, there’s something very powerful about a person raising their hand and allowing you to contact them over time. It’s a fantastic way to make sales and build a business.

Of course, the problem with Permission Marketing 1.0 is email. Spammers, phishers, virus writers and abusive marketers have made obtaining email permission harder. And if you get it, you’ve likely earned the privilege of mailing to a throw-away Hotmail account, or having your content blocked by an over-zealous spam filter.

Is RSS the Key to Permission Marketing 2.0?

RSS feeds solve all the problems that spammers and bad marketers created with email, because it puts control back in the hands of the subscriber. The issue is whether or not “normal” people will embrace feeds for content delivery like they did with email.

Is Microsoft’s integration of RSS into the browser and email client enough? That remains to be seen, but how feeds are pitched to Joe and Jane Blow will determine the growth rate of RSS from here.

The primary benefit is not that RSS allows people to aggregate hundreds of information sources. Most people don’t consume information like that (at least not at this stage of the web). Geeks and bloggers do, and that’s the problem. We often explain the benefit that we receive, instead of thinking about how a regular person consumes online information and what their motivations and fears are.

RSS is perfect for content delivery because it empowers subscribers, protects their privacy, and allows for zero-hassle unsubscribing. That’s the story that needs to be told in order for the power of blog marketing to be all it can be in the mainstream.

People need to understand why RSS is better than email for them.

If you want to tell that story to your prospective subscribers, remember that you can use my RSS tutorial on your own blog. You can download the code in a txt file here, and make adjustments to the copy to suit your needs.

P.S. Today is the one-year anniversary of Copyblogger. Thanks to all you subscribers out there for keeping me motivated for an entire year. If you want to send blog birthday gifts, I’ll take an iPhone. 😉

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Reader Comments (41)

  1. says


    Let me be the first to congratulate you publicly (unless you moderate your comments…in that case I might be the 117th) on the one year anniversary of Copyblogger.

    I found this blog a couple of months ago and have been addicted ever since. I love what you have to say and what you say it, and I try and put at least half of it into action after I read it. (I want to steal, not mimic.)

    In any case, mazel tov!

  2. says

    One difference between email and RSS subscribers: I at least glance at every non-spam email. I don’t look at every postor item of every RSS feed I subscribe too.

    Then again, most of them do NOT have compelling titles (errr, headlines) like yours.

    Happy Anniversary!

    On the first anniversary of my first blog, I joined the bald guy by shaving my head — seriously.

  3. says


    Congratulations and happy birthday.. only a year old – wow !

    The challenge, I think is much bigger and more complex than you describe – it is the realisation that everyone can broadcast to anyone.

    As such, broadcast can only fail as email boxes fill and RSS feeds are also destined to fall sort of user expectations

    As I envision it, users will have to mature and learn to value the content they are getting – in relation to the value they place on their time

    There is already too much information – and yet so many haven’t even found their voice!

    I agree email has already reached it’s ‘best by date’…. but I do not think RSS will fill the gap

    Search engines will do that until reviewed results come back !

    Maybe Yahoo had it right all those years ago…



  4. says

    Ted makes a good point – but it also comes to loyalty and good content – 2 important elements of an RSS-based permission marketing approach. I also couldn’t possibly read or even skim, every post in my reader. But from those who I can usually count on good content, I do. It’s a small percentage of my total feeds, but if the value is there, I go back.

    Others, I get snagged by a good headline.

    Headline, content, loyalty, and consistently valuable stuff. That’s what keeps me coming back.

    Oh, and happy anniversary!

  5. says

    Congrats on one year. I’ve only started reading recently, but your consistency and content made me an RSS subscriber. Keep up the good work.

  6. says

    Dang. Well, I did say I was too lazy to remove AdSense from the archives. Takes too much work, but I can get it off of that page fairly easily. 😉

  7. says

    Happy B-day to you, happy b-day …, er, … never mind.

    That tutorial, which I’ve stolen and use ‘several’ times, has been a great thang to have for my corporate clients, who aren’t as tech savvy as we blogheads.

    Thanks for a great year.

    PS – my name links to your iPhone … or as close as i’ll get you.

  8. says

    Generally, I look at the subscriber count as a great indicator of a blog’s true success, particularly when compared to the blog’s age. For example, anything over 1,000 usually really catches my eye, because that means that the author is writing something that a lot of people are thinking about. Also, a lot of subscribers to a young blog means something really intriguing is going on.

  9. Jordan Greenaway says

    I’m a quiet reader. But happy birthday, and I hope you continue to publish great content.

    ‘Somewhere alone the way…’, typo should be along.

  10. says

    Congrats on the anniversary. I haven’t commented much, but have been reading your blog over quite a few months now.

    And, if you get two iPhones, will you send me one 😉

  11. says

    As well as RSS subscribers I think it is important not to overlook registered users. Many blogs now are looking to creating communities with forums. A massive advantage of forums or any other “login” mechanism such as protected content is you can track individual return visitors. This is where you can actually put a metric on loyalty (getting into CRM stuff here).

    Think if it as a pyramid with advocates/evangelists at the top, RSS subscribers tend to be light on the loyalty, they haven’t really made any commitment to you, giving you an email address is a bit more, actually registering is a bit more than that. Obviously buying something would be be a little more commitment and so on. OK, waffling now, but you get the idea!

  12. says

    Chris, yes I agree on the commitment issue. Getting a long-time RSS reader to opt-in to a special email promotion or to participate in a forum is a step up the loyalty chain.

    But again, think about regular people, not the way we use RSS. When RSS is integrated into the email client, and there’s really no perceptual difference between content that arrives via feed or via email, is there any true distinction?

    That’s the interesting question to me. But that also means that feed subscriptions have to be as quick and easy as email opt-ins, and the fact that the content publisher can’t abuse the relationship should be made crystal clear.

  13. says

    RSS is the answer to permission marketing as it puts the reader in control. Someone wanting to read your message is more likely to believe or act on it.

    There is still the major portion of the browsing planet to educate.

  14. says

    When we reviewed the 300+ blogs for the big blog list recently, it was amazing how many search marketing blogs did not display any indication of the ability for readers to “subscribe” via RSS or RSS to Email.

    In fact, of those that did offer RSS icons, about half of them were below the fold.

    If marketing savvy people are making it this difficult for people to subscribe, I can only imagine how many business blogs are failing at this.

    Happy Blog Birthday!

  15. says

    I put mine filling up most of the area above the fold.

    One of the things I have discussed in the past is I don’t think RSS can every replace email for lots of marketing reasons until there is a way to prevent sharing of the RSS content.

    Lots of the marketing email I receive contains offers that are not intended to be resyndicated.

  16. says

    In lieu of it being “DELURKING” week (or so I’ve heard, over in blog land) You are supposed to comment on blogs you read all the time but never say anything.

    I have never commented, so, I wanted to take the time and let you know even though I don’t comment, I READ you all the time, and LOVE THIS BLOG! so, um, thanks.

  17. says

    Happy B day, Brian! I’m late to your party, but here’s my thought: Lee Odden says it well: many biz blogs don’t pay attention to subscription options, either through FeedBlitz or Feedburner. Both these free services make it really easy to provide subscription to readers. Not only are they lacking in a large number of biz blogs, but when they are there, blog authors are not doing a good job of educating readers what they should do.

  18. says

    Congratulations. It’s been a privilage to be able to read your blog.

    Permission marketing is very interesting. I was wondering if you had any ideas about permission marketing in a non blog enviroment.

    For example, If I were selling hammers. My typical customer is not a hammer specialist, he is your every day dude that needs to get a nail into a wall. How does one get this guy into the permission marketing cycle?

  19. says

    Well, I think that’s a clear example of an offline retail situation. But even retail establishments are collecting email addresses from customers, and the smart ones are sending content in addition to promotional offers.

  20. says

    The problem I have so far is that there is talk of “permission marketing” and also “community building”.

    But so far I don’t see the two being bridged.

    The big problem with Digg traffic and similar is direct monetisation. I can see people such as Guy Kawasaki using their blog for indirect monetisation – but I think this is the part that is going to be too easily overlooked.

    Meaning lots of bloggers seeking traffic and positioning, but no way of converting that and their readers into business relationships.

  21. says

    That’s a good point. While permission marketing implies a commercial relationship from the begining, often “communities” forego any initial commercial activity to avoid offending the community. Then later it’s a mess when monitization is introduced.

    I think it needs to be made quite clear that commercial intent is present, even in a community setting. Not everyone will like it, but if the value is high enough, the people that are most likely to become your customers and clients will stick around, while those who will never buy and are more likely to become a drag on the community will simply leave.

    In a long tail world, that’s how it has to be. Try to please everyone and you’ll go broke.

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