Many new and aspiring webmasters may not be familiar with Really Simple Syndication (RSS). Some know it as Rich Site Summary, originally Resource Description Framework (RDF). This piece uses RSS throughout as it’s relevant today and keeps the reading straightforward. So, what are RSS feeds, and why would you bother to use them?
What Makes RSS Really Simple for Subscribers?
The Syndication part of RSS means to share or transfer. Thus, an RSS feed makes it really simple for site owners to share or transfer web content to their followers. Let’s use a photography website as an example. Every month, the owner of that site publishes exciting new content. That could be something to read (articles), watch (videos), or listen to (podcasts).
It’s inconvenient for people to periodically check back to a site to see if there’s anything new. Or, you might forget, and then miss an important update. It’s also a waste of time if there’s nothing new to see since your last visit. Subscribing to a site’s RSS feed means no more checking back. Now followers get automated notifications whenever the owner publishes new content.
RSS Feeds Benefit Visitors and Webmasters
An RSS feed contains a link to the site or areas of interest within it. For example, someone may only want to be notified when there are new product reviews or podcasts. They simply subscribe to an RSS feed based on preferences if the author offers choices. RSS is especially valuable if a person follows lots of sites. It’s a really simple (RS) way to keep all the updates in one place.
A summary of the RSS benefits for site owners and visitors include the following:
- Receive structured information in real-time to any RSS reader (see below)
- Site fans never miss your newly added content
- Users can organise content updates from multiple sites in one place
- No need to remember or bookmark site URLs
- Content becomes portable and viewable offline
- Webmasters get to build a loyal following
- RSS subscribers often share (spread) content on Social media
Consider adding RSS feeds to your WordPress website if you update it regularly.
How Users Organise RSS Feeds?
Site visitors love RSS as it allows them to organise content. They do this using programs called RSS Feed Readers or News Aggregator. Someone who follows several news websites can have all the feeds come into a NEWS folder. Product reviews can go into the New Products folder, and so on. Today, though, many people use social media streams to receive their updates.
News aggregators still have their fans. Here are 8 of the more popular free options:
- Digg Reader
- Feed Demon
- RSS Owl
- The Old Reader
The Google Reader used to be the one to use, but the company discontinued it in 2013. Which aggregator someone uses today is mostly down to personal preference. Subscribing to an RSS feed is as simple as clicking on a button, text link, or icon. Then, when te site releases fresh content, all its RSS subscribers see the update in their chosen reader.
RSS Feeds and Social Media
Webmasters can use RSS feeds to post to their Social Media accounts automatically. Buffer and Hootsuite are two examples of programs which allow this. That means, whenever new content is added to a site, its followers on social media get to know about it. Think Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and many others. Your RSS can update multiple social media accounts simultaneously.
Some people prefer old fashioned email to receive site updates, and you can do that too. Services like Mailchimp exist so that webmasters can set up RSS email campaigns.
RSS and WordPress
WordPress comes with a built-in RSS function for the internet, but not all webmasters know about it. To view yours, type the word feed at the end of the site URL.
Here’s how that looks in any web browser address bar using the test site:
The unfriendly format of an XML file document feed code looks like this:
The job of a feedreader is to convert the ugly computer code into reader-friendly text.
No visitor to your site will know about your RSS feed unless you promote it. The usual way to do this is to place one of the brightly-coloured RSS icons in a prominent location.
How to Add RSS to your WordPress Website
Log in to your WordPress Dashboard.
From the side menu, go to Appearance è Widgets.
Find the RSS widget and click it to open the page location options.
Select where you want the RSS icon to go, then click the Add Widget button.
For this example, the RSS block is ready to go into the Primary Sidebar area.
Drag and Drop the RSS widget to where you want the icon to display in the sidebar.
Click the down arrow. Add the feed URL and fill out the details as needed.
Click the Save button when you’re done and visit the live site.
Here’s how the icon and text look in the side column of the test site.
Visitors can now click the icon to get the RSS URL for their feedreader.
RSS feeds are not used as much as they used to, but they still have a place. Moreover, you can use the WordPress RSS URL to automatically post updates to all your social media accounts or mailing lists. There’s nothing to lose by adding an RSS feed icon to your site.