RSS Explained: Create and Use RSS Feeds

by Vanessa on February 26, 2008

Let’s take a look at what RSS is, and the ways it can be used to spread your content and bring visitors to your site. First of all, just what is RSS?

RSS defined

Well, not to make the topic more complicated than it needs to be . . . but there is a little debate over just what RSS stands for. Initially, when it was first introduced in 1999, it stood for ‘Rich Site Summary.’ Now there are a few different ‘flavors’ or versions of RSS, and one stands for ‘RDF Site Summary.’ It is widely accepted that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and that name pretty well explains what RSS does. RSS is a format using ‘feeds’ to easily share (‘syndicate’) content that is frequently updated, such as blogs, news sites, or other media such as podcasts. RSS automatically checks websites for new content, and provides them to the user in the form of excerpts or the full text. This makes it easy for users of RSS to monitor their favorite sites which update often without having to manually check for new content.

Examples of RSS feeds

RSS feeds are so common, there’s a good chance you already use them but just aren’t aware of it. If you have created a personalized home page on Google or Yahoo and automatically receive news, weather reports, or stock quotes, you are receiving those in RSS format.

If you use the Firefox browser, you may have created a Live Bookmark to follow a Craigslist category (hello, free stuff!) or a blog. In that case, the bookmark will update with a number in parentheses to let you there is a new post. This automatic notification is also an RSS feed.

RSS feeds can be set up on a website to pull information from other sites to the first site automatically. Check out MightyMerchant’s Squidoo lens as an example. I have a module set up that automatically displays the title and a short excerpt from the three most recent MightyMerchant eCommerce Blog posts . . . which leads me into a great way to use RSS on your own site.

Uses of RSS

John Jantsch at the Duct Tape Marketing blog wrote about a method of automatically adding content through bookmarking. His video explains it well, but in essence you surf the web finding content that you want to add to your site–something in the news, or mentions of a certain topic, business info, whatever. Tag it using del.icio.us, create a feed, and then take that feed to FeedBurner to publish the content to your site. This pretty simple technique allows you to repurpose info from other sites onto your own site with just a little effort.

The potential for other uses is only limited by your imagination. Anything that can be published in headline or title format is a prime candidate for an RSS feed. Depending on the type of site you have, you could create and publish feeds for any number of things, such as a feed of job openings, new real estate listings, or new forum discussion threads. Calendar events can be published as RSS feeds, as can new listings on eBay or other auction sites. You can even create feeds of photographs, from Flickr or your own site. Think of anything that can be broken down into individual items and you’ve got the raw material for a feed.

Creating feeds

Most blogging platforms like TypePad, WordPress or Blogger automatically generate feeds. This makes it super easy for blog readers to subscribe to feeds of their favorite blog posts, like this one, using the ‘subscribe in a reader’ feature that is in our right sidebar (more about this coming up). Knowing how to code in XML makes it pretty easy . . . you just define whatever you want to publish as a list of items, give them a title and description and a link, and you’re halfway there. If coding like this makes your head spin, MightyMerchant can create feeds of your website content for you with a little bit of set up. And of course there are inexpensive tools such as Feed For All or JitBit which allow you to enter your item information and they create the feeds for you. When you have created a feed, you’re ready to publish it.

FeedBurner is the feed publication leader. All you have to do is sign up for FeedBurner account, enter in your site information, and your feed is ready to be distributed. FeedBurner allows for email subscribing to your feeds, automatically notifies directories and aggregators (feed readers) when you publish new content, allows for tagging, and ensures that your feed is readable in any reader no matter what format (remember the ‘flavors’ I mentioned?) it was created in, to help your feed reach a maximum audience. FeedBurner also offers stats that lets you track the number of subscribers to your feed, clicks from your feed, and republications of your feed.

Feed readers

There are many feed reading applications and online services. Popular applications include NewsGator, FeedDemon, and the Firefox Live Bookmarks service I mentioned earlier. Online options include PageFlakes, Netvibes, Bloglines, My Yahoo, or my personal favorite, Google Reader. All of the feeds I subscribe to are compiled where I can easily manage my subscriptions and read them all in one place anytime I want. Thanks to a free utility called Google Gears, I can even read my feeds when I’m offline.

Subscribing to a feed

A great thing about subscribing to information via readers is that when you want to unsubscribe, you just trash the subscription! When you’re ready to break up with the feed, no hearts get broken because you don’t have to provide your email address in the first place. That also means that no one else can sell, rent or otherwise hustle your contact information.

As you’re browsing the ‘net, look for the icons that indicate feeds are present. You may see the standard orange RSS icon on the site or in the browser bar where the site’s address is displayed:

Subscribe in a reader

Or you may see ‘chicklets’ like those below indicating that you can subscribe using your feed reader of choice. Clicking on any of the buttons will take you to the appropriate subscription page for that service.

Add to Google Reader or HomepageSubscribe in NewsGator Online
I couldn’t even begin to guess how many podcasts there are in existence. Hundreds of thousands of bloggers and podcasters publish music shows, interviews, and videos for subscription via a feed reader. iTunes music stores offers these for download. Subscribe, and you’ll receive instant notification when new content is available.I hope this helps you discover news ways to enjoy feeds and put them to use on your site. Have you thought about using RSS in a creative way on your site? Got more questions about how or why to use RSS? Be sure to drop us a line and let us know!


 

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  • RSS feed is really good to reach many users at once.

  • Bob

    Nice post and I agree using RSS is the best way to build great content and get more traffic.
    I found a cool plug in for word press, that not only pulls the feeds but ad's the the feeds a full post. It's called RSS Poster.
    It's an kick butt tool! Saves me hours of work.
    You can see an example of it on my site.
    http://insured411.com/category/insurance-news-2/
    Those are all RSS feeds!
    Thanks again for the great post. I'm subscribing also.

  • Bob

    Nice post and I agree using RSS is the best way to build great content and get more traffic.
    I found a cool plug in for word press, that not only pulls the feeds but ad's the the feeds a full post. It's called RSS Poster.
    It's an kick butt tool! Saves me hours of work.
    You can see an example of it on my site.
    http://insured411.com/category…/
    Those are all RSS feeds!
    Thanks again for the great post. I'm subscribing also.

  • Samantha

    really it`s nice blog post and we could collect more information from there.

  • convert rss feeds into posts, heres my review and how to do it
    http://www.ahmedag.com/blog/ho

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