RSS is a widely used format of web feeds used for content syndication. It is amongst others used to spread news and new posts on a blog. Users subscribe to RSS feeds to follow interesting information from all around the web. RSS feeds use a standardized XML file format to publish information. Users can subscribe to the feeds with many different RSS readers like Google Reader or Bloglines but Microsoft Outlook, for example, also supports RSS feeds. They can also add feeds to their browser home page. It is a very good way to spread your information to your audience and therefore a great tool for SEO.
An RSS feed consists of a part that describes the main information of the feed, like title, website and webmaster, followed by a list of items. An item can represent a news item, a blog post, a new vacancy, an upcoming event, basically everything you want. For each item some basic information can be specified:
|title||The title of the item|
|link||The URL of the item|
|description||The short description of the post|
|author||The email address of the author of the item|
|category||The topical categories for the item|
|comments||URL of the page for comments on the item|
|enclosure||Describes a media object that is attached to the item|
|guid||Uniquely identification of the item|
|pubDate||Publication date of the item|
|source||The RSS channel the item originated from|
The possible types of information you can add to your RSS feed extend much further than this, but for a complete tutorial I recommend the RSS tutorial on W3schools. In this article I will give some basic advices on how to use RSS properly for SEO and more.
Some suggestions for feeds
Basically every type of information that is published on your site is open to an RSS feed. Think about news items, blog posts, new vacancies, upcoming events, etc. If you regularly publish information subscribers could get an overload of information. In that case it might be smart to add separate feeds for each category on your site for visitors who are only interested in one topic, one author or even one keyword (based on your search). When someone comments on one of your posts he might be interested in reading follow-up comments. Why not generate an RSS feed for the comments on a post? You could even let every user build their own feed based on their interests. The possibilities are basically endless.
Feed your audience
RSS has many possible uses. But first of all it is meant for interested users to subscribe to information they’re interested in. Always keep in mind that your RSS feed is initially focused on humans (unless you make separate feeds for different purposes). Make sure you use a headline that’s focused on grabbing the users attention, do not focus to heavily on keywords. In RSS readers people will scan their headlines before making the decision to read the description of an item. Hence, your description must contain just enough information to grab the attention of your reader and make them want to read the complete article. Always try to end your description with a call-to-action.
Feed your social networks
You can use your RSS feed to feed your social networks. There are some simple tools like twitterfeed, or dlvr.it (my favorite) for publishing your latest RSS-items directly on your social media accounts. Some social networks, like Twitter, only have space for the headline and the link, so your headline is also very important for these accounts to generate traffic.
You can customize the output of your feeds for every account social media account. For example on Twitter you could start your blog post with the prefix ‘New post:’. Dlvr.it also has the possibility to include the value of the category-element of your feed item as a hash tag, making sure your tweet shows up in topical searches. It’s also possible to add multiple feeds to the same destination.
Feed other sites and platforms
You can submit your RSS feeds to RSS directories to spread your content. There are tons of RSS directories you could submit your feeds to, but a nice list to start with is provided by Toprankblog. When directories are built around different topics you could use your separate category feeds.
Besides feeds for your own purposes, RSS may also be abused by other sites to easily scrape your content. It’s good to keep this in mind when creating your RSS feed. Basically you have to make sure your feed doesn’t contain all the vital information of your items. If people get a little interested they should visit your website for the complete items.
You can also use these sites for your link building. It is possible to add simple HTML to your descriptions in your feed using XML character references or complete HTML information with the RSS Content Module. Using HTML you can add a read more link at the end of every description (optimize your link text!). The WordPress SEO plugin for example gives you the possibility to add this automatically. Now when someone scrapes your feed they also add a link to your site. Seems fair, right?
Feed the search engines
While we know search engines crawl RSS feeds, wouldn’t it be great if you could tell the search engines that there’s a new item in your feed? Well, you can. Google offers the possibility to ping their blog search every time there’s a update to your feed. However, there are some tools that ping multiple search engines at once every time your feed updates. You could use Pingomatic.
Some additional suggestions
Track your subscriptions
As I mentioned before RSS feeds are intentionally meant for users. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how many users have subscribed to your feed? There are tools for that. One of those is Feedburner. With Feedburner you can track subscribers and clicks on your feed. If you use a tool like Feedburner make sure it uses 301 redirects for the newly generated links (Feedburner does).
Track your visitors
Of course you also want to know how many visitors visit your site from your different feeds. Because many RSS reader aren’t web applications but desktop applications or mobile apps, these visitors aren’t represented properly in your analytics stats. If you want to see all your visitors from your RSS feeds as visitors from one source you could tag the links with referrer in information. Just keep in mind that every link that is posted based on your RSS feed, like your social media accounts, will be attributed to this new source.
Add more information
When you use HTML within your RSS feed you could add other kinds of information to your feeds. Think about:
- Link to your homepage
- Links to related articles
- Category and tag information
But please, don’t spam.
Validate your feed
You want your feed to work, right? Well just validate it to make sure it does: http://validator.w3.org/feed/
Possibilities with RSS extend further then these basic tips but you’d have to dive deeper in to the way RSS works and the different possible extensions. Here’s a list of articles which you could begin with:
- RSS tutorial on W3schools
- MRSS for adding media to RSS feeds
- How content syndication can backfire
- RSS and Atom compared