RSS Feeds: The Most Powerful Online Marketing Tool You May Not Know About

rss feed

RSS Feed Icon

Are you looking for ways to get content ideas for your website, email newsletters and social media posts?

Are you sure that your own content is reaching as many people as possible?

RSS Feeds offer a great way for you to keep up with what’s going on in current events, your industry and on all topics relevant to your business across the web; providing a way to come up with great content ideas on a regular basis.

To get your own content ‘out there’, an RSS Feed for your own site and other online marketing channels is a great way to build your community and get your content included on other sites and included into search results very quickly.

So how come so many people don’t even know what RSS is?!

In my article “Web Content – 6 Free Tools to Generate Great Ideas (and All From Google)” I recommend Google Reader. In fact I’ve been recommending Google Reader to all my clients and in any courses or talks I do, on any element of online marketing, because content creation and coming up with ideas for content on a regular basis is important in getting visitors to your site and building community on all of your online marketing channels, especially social media.

Not too long ago, I read that Google was probably going to shut down Google Reader and many were forcasting the death of RSS, but it wasn’t until 13th March 2013 that Google confirmed that Google Reader will be retired on July 1st 2013.

I shouldn’t be surprised because the majority of the people I mention Google Reader to haven’t heard of it, and have no clue what an RSS feed is.

What is an RSS Feed?

RSS stands for ‘rich site summary’ or ‘really simple syndication’, depending on which source you follow. RSS is data generated from a website, as a ‘feed’, with the most recent content in a format, either. rss or .xml, so that this fresh content can be sent out to subscribers, search engines and applications to provide an aggregation of recently published articles.

RSS feeds have been commonly available on news sites and blogs for years, but are available on most sites these days as more and more sites are developed with content management systems (CMS), like WordPress or Joomla, that generate an RSS feed by default or using a standard add-on.

Subscribing to an RSS Feed

Many sites promote their RSS feeds with a link using either the RSS icon (see right; the icon may be other shapes or colours) or just the text “subscribe”. When you click on the link you can choose to subscribe via a number of applications such as feed readers (like Google Reader), news aggregators (like My Yahoo or NewsGator) or email. Some sites also allow you to subscribe to comments left on the site.

RSS Feed Subscription

Subscribing to a site’s RSS Feed

Subscribing to an RSS Feed versus an Email Marketing (Mailing) List

email subscription form

Subscribing to an Email Marketing List NOT an RSS Feed

When you subscribe to an RSS feed via email, you are not subscribing to the site’s email marketing, or mailing, list.  You will get an email from the feed management application (more on that below), not the site owner, each time a new article is published on the site.  When you subscribe, or opt-in, to a site’s own mailing list, you will get emails from the site owner on whatever timescale they determine (often weekly or monthly), not necessarily each time new content is published. You can decide which type of subscription suits you best or you may subscribe to both.

Viewing RSS feeds in a Feed Reader or News Aggregator

rss feed categories

My RSS Feed Categories in Feedly

Feed readers and news aggregators are applications that provide a way to view all of the feeds you subscribe to in one place.  You may choose to use a ‘desktop’ application, one you download and run on your device, or ‘web based’ that you use through your web browser (like Google Reader or Feedly). When you subscribe to a feed with one of these applications on your device, or as an extension to your favorite web browser, the subscription will be automatically added to the application (or perhaps after confirmation from you).

Many feed readers/aggregators have features so you can save, favorite or share the articles; keep track of what is read and unread; and mobile apps that sync with your desktop or web app so that you can use on the go. You can organize your subscriptions into categories to make it easier to scan through.  Some apps organize them for you based on the data it picks up from the feed.

Some aggregators will also integrate feeds of your social media channels if you prefer to view all in one place, rather than go from social media channel to channel. Flipboard is an app only for mobile devices (including tablets and some Kindles) where you can view your social media channels and feeds in one very easy and visually appealing way. (Google didn’t put much effort into Reader recently so had not kept up with its competitors in style and function.)


Other popular Feed Readers

  • Feedly is my new feed reader of choice. There is a web based version and a mobile app and I use both extensively.  It syncs with Google Reader so easy to make the transition over.  I also use the Chrome browser extension so, if I find an interesting site as I browse, I can click to subscribe to it into my Feedly.
  • FeedDemon is an favorite of many early fans of feed readers, but this Windows only app has an outdated look and feel.
  • NewsBlur has free and premium services.
  • I used to follow my most important sources via my personalised iGoogle page, but this is going to be retired in November 2013.
  • You can add feeds to many social media dashboards, like Hootsuite or NetVibes.

RSS Feeds versus Social Media Feeds

You may be wondering, “Why would I need to subscribe to an RSS feed if you are already following a company/site on Twitter or Facebook, where they would post their newest content?” With a Feed reader you can view all of the most recent content in one place, not mixed in with other comments and posts by your friends, at the time you want to.  On social media channels the news feed moves along during the day and you will miss new content posted when you are not online. Most feed readers/aggregators have tools so that you can share the links on your social media channels. (See the Flipboard screenshot above.)

How You Can Provide an RSS Feed of Your Website

An RSS feed for your own site is the easiest way to get your newest content pushed out to search engines and other sites and social media channels as quickly, and easily, as possible.

If you are using any of the popular content management systems, like WordPress, your site will have an RSS feed by default.  The default feed is often very basic so you may want to use a feed management application, like Google’s Feedburner, which allows you to offer subscriptions via email, to show a formatted version of your feed on other sites, etc.

With the demise of Reader, many are wondering when Feedburner will be retired as well. Inactivity on the app’s blog and the fact that the stats provided for the app have been down for awhile, could be a sign that this will happen sooner rather than later. Click here for a list of alternatives to Feedburner. (I’ve not tried any, but will probably be checking these out myself shortly.)

If your site doesn’t have an RSS feed produced by default you may need a web developer to set one up for your or move to a  new or better content management system.

Other uses of RSS Feeds

  • TwitterFeedTo import content into your site or an app, you can add a feed of news or other content from a relevant site.
  • If you are providing great content on your website, other site owners may want to import your content to include on their sites or include in a Twitter or other sort of feed. Many organisations (trade organisations, chambers of commerce, regional bodies, etc.) include content from members’ own sites which is pulled in via feeds.
  • Frustrated that Twitter didn’t have a ‘save for later’ button, I created a feed of my favorited tweets so that I can view later in Google Reader when I had more time to read full articles.
  • The application I use for back-ups offers the ability to get notifications of the status of your back-ups via an RSS feed. Many apps offer various reports as RSS feeds.
  • I set up a feed for the service notice posts for any application that is critical for work, like my CRM, that sends an email when there is a post, because I don’t want to chance missing the message in the business of my other feeds or social media posts.
  • TwitterFeed is a great app to create a feed your new posts to your social media channels.  I am not usually a fan of autoposting, but I do feel this is a great tool, as long as you keep in mind how the posts will come out when setting this up.

Are you a fan of Google Reader, or
are you one of the many that had never heard of RSS until now?

Any recommendations for alternatives to Google Reader, or
interesting ways to use RSS differently?

Leave a comment below and tell us all about it!