The graphic you see at left is a screenshot taken from an entertaining Flash visualization published by FeedBurner to illustrate the astounding increase in the number of RSS feeds registered with the company since 2004. FeedBurner is one of many companies that have emerged in recent years to create and manage RSS feeds. The company currently manages 227,000 text, audio and video feeds for 145,000 publishers — primarily news sites and blogs — with nearly 1,000 new feeds created every day. Click the screenshot to see a vivid demonstration of the phenomenal growth of this new technology.
What is RSS?RSS stands for really simple syndication. RSS feeds are XML-formatted, machine-readable descriptions of your content that can be picked up and indexed by news and blog search engines like Technorati and feed readers and aggregators like BlogLines or NewsGator. Users then subscribe to receive updates automatically.
Like blogging, RSS is often associated with Web 2.0. The technology is still so new that, according to Yahoo, only 4% of Internet users have knowingly used it (although this figure is higher in the early adopter world of blogging).
Creating a feed gives readers the ability to receive your words of wisdom without having to lift a finger. But your feed becomes an especially potent blog marketing tool when combined with a ping service such as Ping-o-matic or Pingoat. These services let you literally summon the news readers and feed aggregators. Most are quick to respond; many come by and index your latest post within hours, if not minutes. Best of all, they automatically notify your subscribers that you have new material available.
Together, these technologies allow you to push content out proactively. This capability — more than anything else — distinguishes blogs from HTML-based mainstream sites in terms of marketing. Regular sites must wait passively for the search engines to come find them, and then fight to be noticed in the jumbled heap of (mostly) irrelevant search results.
Adding an RSS Feed to your Blog
Feeds come in two flavours: Atom and RSS, with RSS enjoying wider support. For some reason, Blogger / Blogspot opted to provide only an Atom feed. This isn't a big deal. You can create an RSS feed using FeedBurner or a similar service, or let FeedBurner's SmartFeed program automatically convert Blogger's Atom feed to RSS.
Once you have burned your feed, link to it so that interested users can sign up to receive posts automatically. Place this link somewhere prominent, such as in your blog header. Make it easy for people to subscribe by creating sign-up links to your feed specifically for their favourite news readers and aggregators, as I have done below. Link to FeedBlitz or a similar service so subscribers can opt to receive posts via email.
Bottom line: if you don't have an RSS feed, you are not leveraging the full power of the Web for promoting your blog. For RSS tutorials and more detailed background information, see:
- FeedBurner's About Syndication and RSS
- PSST. Have You Heard About RSS?
- MezzoBlue's What Is RSS?
- CNet's RSS Tutorial
- Wikipedia's RSS Entry