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Everything you’ll ever need to know about RSS

December 11, 2008

 RSS feeds are becoming a popular way of populating websites and information. Despite how the term is bandied about these days, however, many Internet-based businesses are unaware of how RSS feeds can help them conduct their business better and more efficiently. At extravision we use RSS to inform clients of updates to our products without them having to constantly check for changes to our web pages or for us to send those emails.

What is RSS?

You might already know that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. You might even have a vague idea of what RSS feeds do: allow content to be shared and updated in cyberspace. However, for many people, their understanding of RSS stops here. 

RSS Basics

RSS allows you to see when sites from all over the internet have added new content. You can get the latest headlines and articles in one place, as soon as they are published. RSS feeds are basically content that is published to a specific location on the Internet, and in a specific format. In this case, the format is an XML file. Once the XML file is uploaded, the content it contains can be pulled into any number of sites, e-newsletters, or other online formats. Also, any changes made to the content in the original XML file will appear instantly in every web page and e-newsletter that features the feed. 

RSS content typically appears of a list of headlines, each with a summary and a link. Readers can scan the list, clicking on the links to view full articles when they are interested in getting more information. 

Uses for RSS

RSS users can be on either end of the spectrum: the creator of the RSS feed, or simply a webmaster who taps into the available content. The former creates an RSS feed that summarizes the content on their site. The XML file is then submitted to websites that offer this content to other sites; the creator can also use the RSS feed to create e-newsletters or mailings. Because the content is pulled in from the original XML file, any changes made to the file will instantly appear on all e-newsletters and web pages that bear the RSS feed. 

The headlines and article summaries contained in the RSS feed invite readers to read the entire article. To do so, they click on the link provided for each article, and are immediately taken to the RSS creator’s site. Webmasters frequently use RSS feeds in order to populate their sites; this benefits the webmasters by providing them with free content, but it also benefits the creator of the RSS feed by driving traffic to their site. 

How do I use RSS?

 RSS feeds are an easy way for webmasters to quickly add content to their sites, and for creators to gain exposure and quickly put together mailings. However, like anything new, RSS users need to first know how to make use of the technology. 

Creating RSS Feeds

There are numerous software programs available to help RSS users create their feeds, although the files can also be created manually. Regardless of how you intend to create your RSS feeds, you should be familiar with the basic composition of an RSS feed. 

RSS feeds

RSS feeds consist of several “items,” or article summaries. These summaries are grouped by topic into a “channel,” which is grouping of similar items. Each item must have a title (headline), description (summary of the article), and link (the URL to the full article). The XML file requires tags, or instructions enclosed in triangular brackets, to identify each title, description, and link, as well as channel and file information. 

An RSS feed can include as many items as desired. Once the RSS feed is finished, your work should be saved as an XML file; some programs will remove tags that they feel are unnecessary, so it is recommended that you double-check the feed before submitting the XML file to any sites. 

Reading RSS Feeds

In order to pull content from RSS feeds onto your own website or into your e-newsletter, you will need a feed-reading software, such as Feed Reader or News Aggregator. These programs allow you to find and use RSS feeds from the Internet.
Once you have added an RSS feed to your website or e-newsletter, the article summaries will be displayed in a format that readers can quickly scan to find the information they want. The full article will be accessible by simply clicking on the link provided. 

What are the advantages of using RSS?

As you can probably imagine, using RSS feeds has its advantages – regardless of who you are. 

Creators’ Advantages to Providing RSS Feeds

  • The creator of an RSS feed benefits from its circulation in several ways.
  • The creator gains exposure, by driving traffic back to his site from other, related sites.
  • The creator gains a reputation as an expert in the field, as web surfers are referred back to his site for more information.
  • The creator is able to make changes simultaneously to all web pages and e-mails that pull in his content, simply by changing the original XML file.


Webmasters’ Advantages to Using RSS Feeds

  • A webmaster’s site also benefits from the use of RSS feeds.
  • A webmaster can continually receive brand-new content and updates, generating new traffic and encouraging readers to keep coming back.

RSS feeds present information in a reader-friendly format that keeps readers from backing out of a page too quickly. 

Because RSS feeds allow readers to choose what information they want, e-mail marketers can avoid alienating their recipients with mailings that feel like spam.

Users’ Advantages to Reading RSS Materials

The benefits to RSS feeds are especially beneficial to readers.

  • Since online readers tend to scan text, RSS feeds present them with a format in which they can quickly and easily locate the information they want.
  • RSS feeds allow readers to absorb information in a condensed format.
  • RSS feeds provide interested readers with a constant source of updated information.
  • RSS feeds also allow readers to choose the information they want to read, rather than feeling like they’ve been spammed. 

Really Useful for Everyone 

RSS feeds may seem like a mysterious new technique used by Internet-savvy geeks, but in truth it is a fairly simple technology to utilize – regardless of which end of it you are on.

If you would like further information, please email [email protected] or call 0161 817 2929

Posted by Jenni Malley

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