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What is an RSS Feed and how Does It work?

RSS Feed is a very common word that is bounced around the Online community. RSS really stands for Really Simple Syndication – where syndication implies the distribution of your content. So in essence RSS is a really simple way of distributing your content out for others to read.

Traditional method of surfing the Internet

Let’s think back a few years before the days of Facebook and social media. You would surf around the internet and come across some useful sites, some of which would be blog providing very good pieces of information.

In order to remember where those blogs were, you would bookmark them so you could visit them periodically and see what new content they had. For example, if you like this blog and my content, you would surely bookmark it and check back regularly to see if I have added more awesome content.

Quite simple. However, there is one key issue and that is your time. It takes time to visit each site and it becomes frustrating when the blog has not been updated.

The problem is made worse by the ever-increasing number of blogs out there. Now there are a ton of sites you like to regularly read, but you have to take the time to check each one and hope they have new content.

So, welcome to the solution: RSS Feeds.

What is an RSS Feed?

rss feedAn RSS feed is simply a way to ‘subscribe’ to my new content notifications list. You will find it by the orange symbol which contains a dot and two curves.

The same picture is shown on the left but obviously much smaller. Scroll up on this page and you will see it at least twice on the right-hand side.

Click on any of the RSS symbols on this page to take a look at my RSS feed URL and how it looks. Be sure to come straight back!

This page is created automatically by blog software so you do not have to do anything but promote it and allow it to work for you. It is also very similar to what people will see in their RSS readers.

It is a direct link to what is known as an RSS Feed URL. This is simply a webpage where you can see all the information my RSS feed has sent out to date.

On that page, you will also see buttons that allow you to add my feed to your ‘RSS reader’ so whenever I produce new content, you will find out straight away. This is often known as ‘subscribing’ to a feed.

I will explain RSS readers in the next section but let me just tell you one other element of RSS feeds.

RSS feeds come in two different forms.

One is what we call a ‘full entry’ where your entire content is posted via the feed, so the user can read everything without having to visit your site. This is great for people who regularly need to get content out there fast but do not care for people coming back to the site.

The second form and the one I use is called ‘snippet’. It basically gives you my headline and a snippet of my content so you can decide whether you wish to read the rest. This encourages people to come back to your site, something important to me as I want people to read more of my great content.

I wanted to show the difference here as it is important when we talk about writing for your blog (an upcoming lesson), that we make the first few lines of our content attractive so that people using RSS readers are encouraged to come back to our sites.

Note: RSS feeds are also known as News Feeds because they are delivering ‘news’ of new content.

What is an RSS reader?

An RSS reader is akin to an email reader, except it is used only for RSS feeds.

So it is like having a separate email account in which you only receive emails notifying you of new content from your favourite sites (because you subscribed to their feeds).

RSS readers are provided by numerous companies, the most popular perhaps being Google Reader and Feed Demon.

They provide you with one account to which you can add many RRS feeds and see all updated content from one page. It is designed to be really simple for you to know new content is available.

How does RSS Feed work?

  • RSS flips the process in reverse.
  • Instead of you going out to each site to see if they have been updated. ‘RRS feeds’ let you know when new content has been produced by your favourite sites.
  • Think of it almost like email. You see a site you like, and you subscribe to their list to be notified of ONLY new content. You do this with all the sites you like, and presto instead of having to go out and check each site, you simply check your inbox to see which of your favourite sites have new content!
  • Really simply Syndication! Making it super easy to notify people of new content.
  • In the example I have just given, the list you subscribe to is known as an RSS feed whilst the account you use to view all these emails is known as an RSS reader. It’s a free system designed to make it really simple for people to know there is new content on the sites they love.

Summary

RSS readers are still very popular amongst many readers, so it is important we understand the basics of RSS. Twitter and other social networks have made the syndication or ‘spreading’ of content very easy and perhaps even more widespread, so who knows how popular RSS will still be in a few years time.

What I know is that my RSS numbers increase day by day and with it the number of people who visit my site. It’s free, it’s inbuilt into blogs, so there is no reason not to take advantage of it.

If you have any questions or feedback be sure to mention it below using the comments section.

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