Rss-What is it and how do I use it?

I’m not an expert when it comes to web-things. I taught myself HTML years ago, and know enough to get by. Here recently though, I have noticed that many bloggers don’t seem to understand the concept behind RSS or even what it is. One blogger said RSS is simply “too hard” to use or understand, so they chose to not offer it as an option. Another on Twitter said something about how Google Reader was only accessible through GFC. The more I’ve witnessed, the more cringing I’ve done. As bloggers we need at least a bit of insight as to how our content reaches our readers! Also as blog readers, we need to know how to follow our favorite blogs!

Letters Inside Out is a self-hosted WP blog, but I also have had blogs on many other formats. If you have any problems, feel free to contact me! I’ll help if I can, if not I’ll help you find help!

 

What is RSS?

I’m not going to get all technical, but RSS is a method for people to read blog posts! Most blogs already have an RSS feed set up, but are just unsure what it is…or may not even be aware they have it! If it’s already there, why not utilize it?

Finding your RSS URL

Blogger, WordPress .org and .com, and Tumblr are the most popular blogs for book bloggers. Because of that I’m just going to show those four.

First, look for a link saying something like “RSS” or “Atom”. You may already have it visible and have just never noticed it! You may have noticed it and not realized what it was. (What you are looking for is a link to a site filled with what appears to be gibberish, HTML, or XML.)

On Blogger, most blogs have this link at the bottom:

Your theme/layout might have an image similar to this one:

If you don’t see anything like those, or the links are broken – try these URLs by plugging in your own info:

  1. Blogger– you have two choices:
    • Atom 1.0: http://blogname.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default
    • RSS 2.0: http://blogname.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss
  2. WordPress.org/Self-Hosted– there are actually quite a few, but the most popular choices:
    • RSS: http://www.example.com/rss
    • RSS 2.0: http://www.example.com/rss2
    • Atom: http://www.example.com/atom
  3. Tumblr– Depending on your theme/design, you may have a link. Either way, Tumblr feeds are always:
    • http://username.tumblr.com/rss
  4. WordPress.com– similar to .org. The most common ones are:
    • RSS: http://blogname.wordpress.com/feed
    • Atom: http://blogname.wordpress.com/feed/atom

If you use a different platform – check their website for help or FAQ pages. If they don’t have such a page, utilize a search engine! Someone asked me a few months back if Tumblr had RSS, I searched and sure enough they do!

Feedburner or FeedBlitz / FeedSmith

If you went to the URL above, you likely saw a bunch of crazy text that doesn’t make much sense. That’s fine, it’s supposed to be like that! (Example: My Tumblr RSS.)

To make a bit more sense of the RSS feed, a lot of bloggers use Feedburner. It’s free and is hosted by Google.

  • An alternative is FeedBlitz. (I have never used FeedBlitz, but there is a free trial if you want to check it out!)  RSS through them is free, but they do charge for email subscribers. They are very popular alternative. Because I haven’t used FeedBlitz, I don’t guarantee that it has the same options! If you are interested, I urge you to do some research and read some posts comparing the two!

Even though FeedBurner is optional, but there’s such a benefit to using it! It’s pretty easy to set up, plus, the perks and extra blogging tools you get make it worthwhile. It also makes things easier on your followers.

Perks of FeedBurner:

  • email subscription
  • RSS subscription
  • automatically tweet posts
  • troubleshooting help when you have issues with your feed
  • customizing of your email newsletter
  • customizing of your RSS feed
  • stats of your feed
  • blog readers get options to easily add your feed to their feed reader
  • you can see where people are reading your blog from
  • and so much more!

Want to give FeedBurner a try? Google offers QuickStart Guides for the popular blogging platforms.

When you set up FeedBurner you will get a URL like: http://feeds.feedburner.com/username
That becomes your new RSS feed URL that you will want to link up on your blog!

When you log into http://www.feedburner.com, you will see this screen, the first time there will be no “stats”. It takes a few days for things to get normal:

FeedBurner Dashboard

As you can see there are several different tabs and plenty of options on setting it up, explore them! Use what you think you need, it’s all pretty self-explanatory!

The main sections:

  • Analyze: Feed Stats/Subscribers – Like I said, this takes some time to regulate. It can take anywhere from 3 to 7 days. Give it some time!
  • Optimize: Check out the settings. I use BrowserFriendly, SmartFeed, and FeedFlare.
  • Publicize: This is the big one! It’s how you customize and share your blog! You’ll probably want to set up Email Subscriptions, if you don’t already offer that option on your blog. That offers followers a way to subscribe via email. I also use: Headline Animator, BuzzBoost, PingShot, FeedCount, Socialize, Awareness API. This is also where you can find widgets/chicklets and other things of that nature!
  • Monetize: To use AdSense on your feed.
  • Troubleshootize: Feed having problems? This one gives you a list of different things to try. It’s saved me many times.

Self-Hosted WP – If you use FeedBurner, check out the Feed Burner FeedSmith plug-in! (There is also a FeedBlitz one, too!) It directs all of your different feed URLs to FeedBurner. That makes your follower count more accurate.

Want to see what I mean? /rss or /atom – both of these (and any other RSS feed URLS) forward to my FeedBurner URL – handy! Plus that means I now get to use the FeedBurner tools.

Why Does my Feed Count Change?

I just had a conversation on Twitter with a blogger wondering why her feed count on FeedBurner fluctuates – this is NORMAL! It’s supposed to work that way. Instead of showing how many “followers” you have like widgets like GFC, LinkyFollowers, and Networked Blogs do, it shows how many are actually reading your feed. I personally prefer it to the traditional counts. Mine shows that people actually are reading what I’m writing! I have slow days, but it’s part of it. When I took a hiatus mine dropped about 600 people, because I wasn’t posting regularly. You can read more about this and why it happens all over the web, but here is one of the best ones that I’ve referred bloggers to: Velvet Blues: Your FeedBurner Subscriber Count is Not Accurate.

I found my RSS feed URL, now what?

Make a link somewhere on your blog to it! If you use FeedBurner they have images you can use, like already mentioned! You can also search or make your own images or input it into your theme if it has one set up!

How can I read/follow blogs using RSS?

If you use Google Reader, you are reading RSS. That little Blogger dashboard you may use to read blogs? Also reading RSS. (Keep in mind that with GFC leaving non-blogger blogs in March, the Blogger dashboard isn’t really a good option.)

There are plenty of other feed readers. Each have different options and features. Decide what features you want/need!

  • Do you like to read blogs while away from home? You either want a web-based option or on offline one that allows syncing.
  • Are you an organizational freak? You’ll want one that allows folders – most allow this, but if it’s important make sure yours does!
  • Want to be able to search the blogs you follow easily? (Sometimes I’ll search a specific meme or maybe for giveaways…) Look for one that allows it!
Some also allow you to read the news, some allow podcasts as well! Figure out what you want the most and start doing some research! Ask around.

Google Reader is a popular choice because it links with GFC. This is great if you follow a lot of blogs using GFC.

My favorite feed reader? I LOVE FeedDemon! I’ve been making my friends download it. The newest edition even has a little built-in web browser, so you can comment from the reader. It makes blog hopping a snap! You do have to download it onto your computer, but it has the option to sync with Google Reader for blog reading on-the-go. It is the only I’ve found through my testing that allows commenting.

How do I follow a blog via RSS feed?

  • Auto-discovery: Most feed readers will find the RSS feed for you. Just enter in the blog’s URL and it’ll pull up any options. I usually go with the RSS option.
  • If it can’t find it, enter manually! Go to the blog and look for a RSS/Atom link or button. Copy and paste their RSS url into the reader.

If the blog uses FeedBurner – on the Feedburner page are buttons to add it to different readers. If your chosen reader isn’t listed, manually add the FeedBurner URL into your reader. (Example: http://feeds.feedburner.com/lettersinsideout)

On the right you see options on following, under you see my current posts.

Tip: If you choose to try out different feed readers, export the feeds and then import them into your new one! This’ll keep any folders you might already have set up. If you use GFC, Google Reader is automatically set up. You can simply export that and then put it into a new one.

Have any questions? Comments? Suggestions? Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

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Comments

  1. If FeedDemon allows commenting from your reader I’m getting it ASAP!!! I have been wanting that SO BAD!

    Also, all these little things you mention – (like BuzzBoost, and PingShot) I have never heard of! I’m going to have to go research!

    Thanks for a great informative post! :)

    • Amanda says:

      I know! It’s awesome! It has it’s own little “web viewer” built in. So it also helps the person’s blog out by counting it as a page view! Which is a huge complaint of most feed readers.

  2. Preet says:

    Another reason for why you’re awesome! <3 Thanks.

  3. Kat says:

    I’m so not technical so i have to ask a basic question. So in order for someone to follow my blog with RSS, they have to subscribe by email. Is this correct? I have some friends who don’t use Gmail or Twitter and they can’t follow because of it. They have say an email from their local ISP. If they subscribe to email, they can receive my updates?

    • Amanda says:

      They don’t have to subscribe by email if they use RSS, they are two different following methods but are often linked together.

      To subscribe without email: They will just have to use some sort of feed reader. Google Reader (which does require gmail) is an option…but there are many others they can either download one (FeedDemon is the one I use) or use one online (Bloglines is what I used to use)! If they don’t want to sign up for Gmail, that’d be their best bet!

      If you set-up an email subscription on your blog they can subscribe using ANY email address.

  4. Excellent post. Do you know a way to see who is following by RSS? I don’t think there is not that I know of anyway but some seam to suggest there is. Not sure on that.

  5. Amanda, Thanks so much for visiting me today and letting me know about this post. I love it, and have already found many of your tips very helpful. This answers so many of my questions. I’ll probably be pinging back to this post!

  6. Primrose says:

    Thanks for the great post. I’m still trying to figure out this RSS stuff. I’ve include the e-mail subscription link but how to put an RSS one? Gosh..

    • Amanda says:

      Since you said you’ve done email subscription I’m assuming you’ve already set up Feedburner? If so the URL you need to link to will be something like http://feeds.feedburner.com/USERNAME.

      First, you will need to update that in Blogger (there is a setting for updating RSS). This is found under Settings – Other – Post Feed Redirect URL, save that and your feed’ll be set up to be used!

      Then, simply add a link to it using images or text like you would any other button. :) There are tons of great RSS feed buttons for free all over. Search for “Social media buttons” on Google!

      Good luck. :)

  7. Awesome breakdown!

  8. I’ve bookmarked this post. I’m moving to self-hosting soon and need to learn more about this. Bex is helping me, but I should learn and understand it.. Thanks for the post, Amanda! :)

    • Amanda says:

      Bex is awesome! She’s so much help. I hope it goes smoothly. If you didn’t see it, today I have a post about plugins that I use here on LIO! That (and the comments that go with it) might help you some too. :)

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