XML, RSS & Feeds
What is RSS?
You have probably seen this three-letter acronym RSS several times and would like to have it explained. RSS is short for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. Syndication means distribution just as it is used for news articles, it means republishing an article that comes from another source. In the case of RSS it is a website.
There are many different ways to display a feed. A feed of posts on the CMS generally shows a permalinked title and the article, but not the tags and categories. Some feeds have images or other media. All this can be changed to show an excerpt instead of the full article, or just the permalinked title, or to include tags and categories if you wish. It depends on how the feed is created and what the template page that displays the feed is configured to show.
An RSS news feed is a means of publicizing updates from a website. It generally has a list of blue linked titles and a paragraph of summary and it generally displays 3 – 10 news articles. This is usually an XML feed, as is the XML feed of your Sitemap that you submit to search engines.
RSS feeds always show a permalinked title to the article source. Those RSS feeds that provide summaries (thus Rich Site Summary) allow users to skim this snippet so that they can decide if they want to read more of the article at the page or website source.
RSS Site Feeds and RSS Readers
RSS benefits both readers (users) and website publishers. RSS news feeds give readers the latest updates. Whether it is about the weather, new music, gossip, a software upgrade, local news, or a new article post – a reader can be aware of it as soon as it is published.
You can subscribe to RSS feeds when you see a website you like, so you won’t forget what the site was called or where you bookmarked it. Although your email address will be required to use RSS aggregators, also known as RSS readers, these do not send the updates to your email address, you generally read the articles online. You can however subscribe by email if you choose.
RSS article feeds generally provide a summary of an article. This saves the reader’s time when reading or browsing through feeds. They need only click through to read articles that are of interest to them. They don’t lose track of sites they really enjoy reading and are reminded to revisit them with these feeds.
Users who subscribe to product websites can receive the latest news on new products and services. Some companies even have a product recall RSS they suggest their clients subscribe to. This is advantageous to both the web user and the website owner since businesses advertising is targeted and clients who are interested in their products are kept right up to date.
How do I start reading RSS news feeds?
Two things are needed: an RSS news feed and an RSS aggregator or reader.
The RSS feed comes from an RSS-supported website, most sites and all blogs have an RSS posting feed. There are also RSS directories that provide listings of a variety of RSS feeds for you to choose from for different websites, or categories of websites.
An RSS reader is used to display the RSS feed from the source website. The actual XML of the feed is riddled with code. The reader pulls in the XML data from the website feed link and displays it inside your membership area, similar to reading email online. If you look at your accounts area of your email client, you’ll probably find a news area here that does a similar thing.
For beginners, web-based aggregators are recommended since they are usually user-friendly. All you need to do is to register an account with a service like Google Reader then you are ready to login and use their aggregator to subscribe to and read your favourite websites articles.
CMS or Blog Posts RSS.
The default page for a blog is usually a feed page of the most recent 10 posts it published. If you click on the title of a post, it goes to a single page. If only an excerpt or summary is displayed under the feed titles, you can read more of the article here, and if it is all displayed, you can read comments, which normally are not displayed in a feed.
This single page is the permalink (permanent link) for the article.
If you have blog posts as part of your website, an RSS feed is included as part of the content management system and there are plugins you can use to increase your control over what your feed will display. There are also internal blog post feed pages such as tags and category pages and a ready made XML feed link for the website. You can use plugins to create more specific XML feed links, such as category feeds.
Look for the orange RSS icon. When you find a website you want to subscribe to, scan the homepage for the orange RSS or XML button. Check in the address bar, there is often a small orange RSS favicon there. Click on it and it should either take you straight to your reader or display the URL of the feed you need. Depending on your RSS reader you may have to paste this URL in, while you are logged into the aggregator’s membership site. Your feed url will probably look like this, but other CMS have different urls.
The subject of RSS and feeds is very confusing for people but it is not something you need to worry about. Your CMS handles the basics with no attention from you and when you are ready to use feeds, you will feel confident enough to start climbing another learning curve in your journey. When we get to linkbuilding, using RSS feeds is a valuable promotional strategy.