If you’re like many Internet users, you probably have a series of regularly updated sites that you visit each day – blogs, news sites, and social media hubs being chief among them. A powerful content syndication tool called RSS is revolutionizing the ways in which these sites present their content, as well as how online browsers receive this content. As a website owner or blogger, you can increase your visibility, generate additional site traffic, deliver content to your audience faster, and ultimately improve your bottom line by utilizing RSS feeds as a marketing strategy.
An Introduction to RSS
RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a group of web feed formats that is commonly used to present frequently updated content including news updates, blog entries and video as a standardized aggregate list. Websites that frequently update their content provide RSS feeds, and end users can subscribe to several of these feeds and receive them simultaneously in a single list. The RSS feed itself may contain a full or summarized version of the text, in addition to data pertaining to authorship and publishing dates. The RSS feed also contains links that users can click through to visit the sites on which the content is published. RSS feeds are presented via software programs called RSS feed readers. RSS feeds can be generated using various methods, many of which suit those who rely on business web hosting to power their websites, allowing users to host RSS feeds directly on their server.
The First Thing You Should Do
Before implementing an RSS feed on your own site or blog, it’s important to install an RSS feed reader. RSS feed readers can be installed on computers with virtually any operating system, as well as mobile devices including the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android, and even Internet-compatible gaming devices such as the Nintendo Wii. For the most part, RSS feed readers are available free of charge. Popular RSS feed readers include:
- Google Reader (http://www.google.com/reader)
- FeedDemon (http://www.feeddemon.com/)
- FeedReader (http://www.feedreader.com/)
- NewzCrawler (http://www.newzcrawler.com/)
After installing an RSS feed reader, explore and experiment with its preferences. Many feed readers offer a high level of customization, allowing you to dictate exactly how you’d like to have updates delivered.
Visit your favorite news sites and blogs and subscribe to their RSS feeds. Sites offering RSS feeds usually display the RSS icon:
Subscribing to feeds from major sites and blogs will give you invaluable insight into how to set up your own RSS feeds.
The Different Types of RSS Publishing Tools
To publish your own RSS feeds, you can choose from many different types of RSS publishing tools. Some of the most popular are categorized as desktop feed generators and hosted online RSS publishers.
Desktop feed generators are simple and inexpensive to use, allowing you to quickly generate RSS feeds by manually uploading content as you post it. These types of RSS feed generators are perfect for those who deal with smaller amounts of content volume and who don’t require advanced features, such as database building capability.
Hosted online RSS publishers are better suited to website owners and bloggers that deal with large amounts of content and require an RSS solution that uploads content updates automatically. Some hosted RSS publishing tools even allow you to publish RSS feeds without your own website.
More advanced RSS feed generators (WordPress, for example) are also available, with features such as metrics (for tracking the performance of your feeds), content targeting tools (to increase the visibility of your feeds to your audience), and scheduled autoresponder messages.
Planning and Optimizing Your RSS Feeds
Proper implementation of your feeds requires several considerations related to formatting in order to optimize your feeds and give your readers what they’re seeking while avoiding a promotional appearance.
From a content perspective, it’s crucial that your RSS feeds don’t look like blatant advertising. Even if the goal of your site is to sell a product or service, your RSS feed will be more effective if it offers interesting content related to those products or services instead of a simple sales pitch. For example, a site that sells fluorescent light bulbs would be best served by an RSS feed that discusses their environmental benefits and the ways they save consumers money as opposed to a promotional offer.
The following suggestions can help you to further optimize your RSS feeds:
- Include entire pages, not just individual posts, in your RSS feeds.
- Install an image alignment plugin such as Align RSS Images into your RSS feed generator. This will allow you to properly align any images you embed in your feeds, a consideration that many blogs and websites fail to make.
- Install a plugin that allows you to delay RSS feed post publishing. This is very useful for web developers that frequently update their RSS content.
- Add custom headers and footers to each RSS post. Using plugins such as RSS Footer, you can automatically add welcome notes or copyright notices to each post.
- Use a style sheet plugin to uniformly align and format the images and text included in your RSS feeds.
- Consider using rotating headlines to attract more attention to your feeds. This also allows you to customize text size, fonts, date formats and colors.
- Emphasize targeted keywords in your RSS posts with heading tags (< h1 > and < h2 >) and by placing them in link texts.
Promote Your Feeds On-Site and Off-Site
There’s little use in maintaining an RSS feed if you don’t promote its existence to your audience, which you can do on your site and through external sites.
To promote your RSS feeds on your site, consider devoting an entire page to the feed itself and RSS in general. Explain what RSS is and how your visitors can benefit. Recommend a good feed reader, explain how to subscribe, and provide links to all of your feeds. Embed additional links into your feeds in any email newsletters you send to readers. Above all, on-site RSS feed promotion demands that you post interesting, valuable content that readers actually want to subscribe to.
Off-site RSS feed promotion begins by submitting your feeds to popular search engines and RSS directories. This can greatly increase your feed’s visibility. You can also use a service such as Pingomatic to “ping” various RSS aggregation sites, which informs them each time you post new content.
Tips for Increasing Your RSS Feed Subscriber Base
The following tips will also help to build a bigger RSS subscriber base:
- Place RSS buttons in many places on your site: above the fold (meaning the visible part of your site when it’s first loaded by a browser), in your sidebar, and under each post.
- Promote your RSS feeds through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and include links to both your feeds and the dedicated RSS page on your site.
- Offer incentives to potential subscribers, such as free eBooks or discount coupons if you sell products or services
David Murton has been helping companies build and maintain their online relationships with customers since 2006. He is also a professional writer and blogger, with a particular interest in the open source Drupal platform. On a more personal note, David is an avid piano and accordion player, drawn especially to music of the classical and romantic periods.