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What is an RSS Feed?

Mar 27, 2008
A lot of sites have them, but you don't know what they are. It is an intriguing little button right on the Web page, and it is full of mystery. Just what is an RSS feed?

Defining RSS

Many Web sites out there offer RSS feeds. You click, you receive - it's just that simple. But just what are you getting into with that innocuous mouse button of yours? What in the world is an RSS feed in the first place?

Technically, RSS stands for Rich Site Summary and it only exists online. Imagine a Web site with a whole lot of content (text). Perhaps it's a news site, or a very popular blog on the Internet. This site then takes that content and syndicates it. With the RSS feed, any user on the Internet can receive this syndicated content. It is sort of like buying a subscription to the newspaper. You order the paper and suddenly, it starts to appear on your doorstep. An RSS feed is the exact same thing - but the "newspaper" appears right on your computer.

Why Use an RSS Feed?

Okay, so why do you need an RSS feed when your email inbox is already full of junk mail? RSS feeds are not advertisements but actual content: news, information, blog posts and articles. The best thing about RSS feeds is that they're not random. You have to subscribe or sign up in order to receive an RSS feed. Sometimes, the local paper may deliver free copies to try and get you interested in their service. RSS feeds will not do that - you won't receive an unsolicited RSS feed, because in the majority of cases the service is always free.

When you have an RSS feed, you save yourself the time and trouble of searching the Internet for the information that's pertinent to you. Suppose you get online every day to check major news headlines, entertainment information, etc. With an RSS feed, all you have to do is get on the computer and you don't have to search out anything - the feed you subscribe to is already there, and available.

There is another factor when considering RSS feeds. In almost all cases, sites providing RSS feeds want you to use them as much as possible. It's perfectly acceptable for you to put an RSS feed on your own Web site, thus getting daily content where your visitors can access it, too. You can stay up on business news, what's happening on Wall Street, politics, whatever you own personal interests are, and you can make the same information available to your own Web traffic. This is why RSS feeds are so popular, and also why so many sites offer RSS feeds completely free of charge.

Offering an RSS Feed

Does your site have a lot of regularly-updated content? A popular blog or newsletter, perhaps? You might even consider offering an RSS feed to your own Web users. The RSS feed puts your Web site's name out there in a bold way. The more subscribers who have to your feed, the more marketing you get. Those same subscribers might be sharing their feeds with others, who might share that feed you get the point. Word-of-mouth spreads about your site, your content becomes more popular, and suddenly business is improved. This is of course a good-case scenario, but in truth there aren't too many negatives associated with offering an RSS feed.

If you've got content to provide, there's no reason not to offer an RSS feed. In a worst-case scenario, no one will subscribe to the feed. It takes up very little space on the Web page, and if no one subscribes then your business will pretty much remain the same. If they do subscribe, it might improve, but it certainly won't fail if the RSS feed fails to gain attention and acclaim.

Creating an RSS Feed

So, how do you go about putting the RSS feed on your own site? If you know how to write code, it is easily done when you edit a page on your Web site. There are online tutorials which can walk you through the process. If you'd rather leave it in the hands of a professional, talk to a Web designer about creating an RSS feed and finding the best way to market this service online. Web designers can help you take care of this and other details when it comes to creating an RSS feed on your own site.
About the Author
Ratu Lewis is one of Australia's most respected Internet solutions consultants to Australian businesses. Director of Margin Media Ratu and his talented staff can create a valuable online presence for any business. Visit http://www.marginmedia.com.au for more information.
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