When I first started blogging, one of the things that eluded me was RSS. It seemed like it should be easy to understand — after all, I saw it on almost every blog I read — but for some reason I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
I understand RSS now (er, I think I understand RSS now), but I still don’t use it to follow blogs myself. I do offer it as an option for following my blog because there are lots of people who DO use it, and if they’d like to follow my blog using RSS, I’m more than happy to hook them up!
It seems like there are other people out there who are mired in RSS confusion as well, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.
A disclaimer before I get started: I know just enough about RSS to set it up. If you’re looking for the technical ins-and-outs of RSS, I’d recommend taking a look at posts like this one from ProBlogger for more detail.
What the heck is RSS?
To add insult to injury for those of us who are confused about RSS in general, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. You can think of an RSS feed as a news feed: it’s list of all of the recent updates to a site or blog. If we’re talking about a blog, it’s a list of all the recent posts. RSS feeds are automatically updated when you publish a new post to your blog (in the same way that many e-mail widgets automatically send out e-mail updates to your subscribers when you publish).
Why & how do people use RSS Feeds?
The real benefit of RSS feeds is that they can be pulled into an RSS feed reader or aggregator. People use RSS readers to pull content from many sources (often blogs) into a central place where they can read it using a webpage, desktop application, mobile phone or tablet. There are a ton of RSS feed readers, but some of the most popular are Google Reader [discontinued], Feedly and Feedbin.
Who uses RSS?
A confession: I don’t know anyone who uses RSS.
There are lots and lots of people who do though. From what I’ve read, it seems that RSS works for a technically inclined sub-set of the population, but overall, it’s not well-known.
There are also occasional rumours that RSS is on its way out. Many people claim that Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites have had an impact on the number of people using RSS.
Why I still offer RSS:
Whether or not RSS is dying doesn’t really matter to me. I know that some people use it, and it’s easy to set-up. If RSS will allow more people to read my blog, I can’t see any reason not to offer it.
How to set-up your RSS feed:
Despite my initial confusion about RSS, it’s actually pretty easy to set-up. In fact, WordPress.com blogs come with RSS feeds already built in (check www.yourblogname.com/feed to see your feed).
If you’re using WordPress, you can add your RSS feed to your blog using the RSS widget that comes with WordPress by default (see below), but you’ll want to do more than that to make sure you can track your RSS feed traffic.
I’ve listed the high level steps for creating an proper RSS feed here, and lots of resources to get you started.
1. Sign up for Feedburner.
To get the most out of your RSS feed, you’ll want to register for a Feedburner account. Feedburner allows you to track the number of people subscribing to your RSS feed and which posts they’re clicking on. It will also give you to option to customize the way your feed looks a little bit. To get started, visit Feedburner.com.
Here’s a great post with tips on how to set your Feedburner account up properly:
Now matter which blogging platform you’re using, setting up a Feedburner account to track your feed subscribers is a great way to measure interest in your blog.
2. Add your RSS feed to your blog.
Once you’ve burned your RSS feed in Feedburner, you’ll need to add it to your blog so people can subscribe to it. Google (who now owns Feedburner) has created a set of tutorials to help people add RSS to their blogs that includes instructions for WordPress, Blogger, TypePad and MySpace. You can check it out here.
Adding an RSS Feed to Your WordPress Blog:
Since I know WordPress better than any other blogging platform, I thought I’d share a few tips on adding an RSS feed to a WordPress blog.
If you’re using WordPress, there are lots of ways to add your RSS feed to your site. Here are the methods I’ve used with success:
a) Use the RSS widget that comes with WordPress by default.
You can find this widget using the left-hand navigation in your WordPress dashboard. Go to Appearance >> Widgets and look for the RSS Links widget.
Drag your widget to the sidebar you’d like to to show up in and choose what you’d like to display (your posts and comments, or just posts).
b) Use the RSS feature offered in your theme.
Some WordPress themes also have a space for adding your feed (mine does!). Check out your theme settings to see if there’s a place to paste in your new RSS feed url to have it display on your site.
c) Use a Text widget to add an RSS icon that links to your feed.
There are lots of places to get RSS icons that you can use to advertise your feed on your site. You can find RSS icons for free on sites like this one, you can create an RSS ‘chicklet’ right in Feedburner, or you can purchase social icon sets that include RSS icons. I purchased the icons I’m using in my “Stay in Touch” widget from Designmodo. (I’m not using it, but the set includes an RSS icon too).
If you know how to add a clickable image to your WordPress blog, once you have your icon, you’re ready to go!
If you don’t know how to add an image to your WordPress site, there’s an easy and slightly tricky way to do it (and it doesn’t require you to know any html!). Here’s the trick:
- Add a new post, and then upload and insert your icon as a picture in your post.
- Format the icon so it’s the size you’d like it to be on your site (or as close as you can guess).
- Link the icon to your RSS feed the same way you’d link any photo to a url when writing a blog post.
- Next, look to the top of the box you are composing your post in and click on ‘html’
- Copy everything you see in the html section (this is the code that will make your icon show up on your site).
- Save your post as a draft in case you need to make adjustments to the size later, and then head over to your widgets area (Appearance > Widgets).
- Drag a Text widget over to the sidebar where you’d like your RSS icon to appear.
- Give your Text widget a title if you’d like, and then paste in the html code. Hit save.
Your RSS icon should appear on your site with a link to your RSS feed (be sure to test it out to make sure the link works!).
Let me know if you have any questions about how to add RSS to your blog: I’ll do my best to help!
A few final words…
I think that RSS allows you to offer another way for potential followers to keep up with your blog posts, so it can’t hurt to make it easy for them to find on your site.
What do you think of RSS? Do you use it? Do you offer it as an option for subscribing to your blog? Was it as much of a mystery to you as it was to me?