RSS logoIt wasn’t so long ago that people were sounding the death knell of RSS feeds. Mozilla pulled the plug on the RSS button in Firefox and it generally seemed that Really Simple Syndication was going to go the way of BlackBerry – people still had them, but no one could quite figure out why.

Today, thanks to the rise of smartphones and tablets and apps like Feedly, Google Currents and Flipboard, the RSS feed is an absolutely vital part of any website that updates content regularly. If your site is – or features – a blog, your feed is an essential part of making sure your content reaches the people that are interested. The sad thing about them, however, is that an awful lot of people have no idea how important they are and how they could be getting the most out of them. Today, I’m going to talk through a couple of ways you can get the most out of them.

Making Your RSS Feed Work For You

The RSS feed is the part of your site that gets used to put your content into mobile reader apps. What that means for you is that if you want people who use these shiny news apps on their phone or their tablet, your feed needs to actually work.

That’s my first tip – make sure it works. Go to your feed’s URL and see what it looks like. It should always have the title of your latest post at the top. Check it regularly – if it breaks, you could be missing out on a lot of traffic to your site.

I always recommend people use Feedburner. I know it’s Google and, consequently, a bit evil, but the service offers so much that it’s well worth having. From tracking subscriber numbers, to seeing how many people are clicking your links to letting you send updates by email and much more, it can’t be beaten.

One of the downsides to using Feedburner is that your feed will still show up on your site while the Feedburner version will be on its own URL. That’s easy to fix, though – a 301 redirect will take care of that. The Genesis Framework (affiliate link) has a really simple setting to let you do this, but there are a number of other plugins that you can use and if you want to have a play with htaccess and do it yourself, it’s not the most complicated thing ever. Even I can do it, and htaccess terrifies me.

One major error I see a lot is that people don’t go to the effort of naming their feed. The amount of times I see RSS 2.0 in my reader apps is absolutely mind boggling. Seriously, the whole point of this exercise is to get more out of your content and to get your name into the minds of readers. RSS 2.0 isn’t going to do that, so always make sure you name it. Your site’s name and “latest posts” or something like that will be fine.

Some people might disagree with me on the next point, but I prefer not to show the whole post in my feed. Instead, I opt for excerpts so people have to come to the site to read the full post. Although this might annoy some people, I think the benefits outweigh people having to make another click.

Firstly, it gets them on the site. Traffic is nice. Secondly, it lets you track referrers in Analytics, so you can make decisions about how you run it and how your content should be delivered based on actual data. It also gets more of your content in front of your readers, making it more likely that they’ll read some more. That’s always nice too.

If you really want to leverage your RSS feed, make sure it’s easy to find. Put the button in a place that people naturally look and you might also like to encourage people to subscribe to it in other places too. Personally, I put a link to it at the end of every post. Some people put it at the top of their site and others even do it in one of those annoying pop-ups. I know a lot of people hate those pop-ups, so I’d avoid that one, but as with all things, you may get different results.

The best place to put it will depend on a lot of things. All I can really suggest is to test it – try different placements, look at your subscriber stats, put goal tracking in place in Google Analytics and see what works best for you.

Should I Put Ads In My Feed?

I get asked this question a lot, and it’s not one I’ve really got a proper answer to. Personally, I have never clicked an ad inside an RSS feed, and I find them to be a bit intrusive, but your mileage may vary. If your site’s monetisation strategy features them, go for it. I know some people will pay handsomely to get their ads into a popular feed, but it’s not something I think I need to do. If nothing else, I’m not popular enough.

The days of using one method to spread your content are over. As great as social is, without a way to keep people interested, you might not be able to turn the people that come to your site because of a good post into regular readers or customers, especially with more and more people consuming content through reader apps on their mobiles. RSS feeds aren’t all you need, but they should fit into your strategy.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. What are your favourite ways to get the most out of your feed? Let me know in the comments and I hope you’ll subscribe to my feed for free updates.