What is an RSS feed?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. An RSS feed is the latest content of a blog surrounded by special code that makes it available for “syndication” across the world wide web.
Using a popular feed reader like Bloglovin’ or Feedly, or any number of other apps or programs, your visitors can subscribe to your blog via its RSS feed. They can read your posts without ever visiting your blog itself, and be notified of new posts without having to check your blog each day.
Where do I find my blog’s feed?
If you have anything other than the default WordPress permalink style, you’ll find your blog’s feed at yoursite.com/feed/. But you don’t just have one feed. Each category and tag has its own feed so that people can subscribe by topic. Plus, you can subscribe to the comments feed of any page or post. Here is an example of a few of the feed options available on my site and this post:
- Blog Feed: https://gretchenlouise.com/feed/
- Comments Feed: https://gretchenlouise.com/comments/feed/
- Category Specific Feed: https://gretchenlouise.com/category/tech/wordpress/feed/
- Category Exclusive Feed: https://gretchenlouise.com/feed?cat=-41
- Tag Specific Feed: https://gretchenlouise.com/tag/social-media/feed/
- Post Specific Comments Feed: https://gretchenlouise.com/wordpress-rss-feeds/feed/
- Author Specific Feed: https://gretchenlouise.com/author/gretchen/feed/
The link to all available feed options is hidden within the header of each post or page, enabling web browsers and apps to automatically offer subscription options to visitors.
How can I find out how many people subscribe to my RSS feed?
Redirecting your feed readers to a feed burner allows you to view statistics about your RSS feed–everything from how many people are subscribed to how many people are clicking the links in your feed. If you don’t use a feed burner, you can use a WordPress plugin like Simple Feed Stats, FeedStats, or Feed Statistics to track RSS subscriber stats.
Additionally, each feed reader often offers its own stats of how many people are subscribed to a specific blog through their reader. Visit your blog on Feedly or claim your blog on Bloglovin’ to view your subscriber stats on each service.
What is a feed burner?
A feed burner takes your feed’s code and makes it readable by humans, not just feed readers. Depending on what you use for burning your feed, it may display options for subscribing to the feed via different services.
Do I need to burn my feed?
No, you don’t have to. Your feed is there and functional even if you never do anything with it. However, burning your feed will give you a nice looking page to link your RSS button to rather than landing potential feed subscribers on a page full of naked code.
What feed burner options are there?
FeedBurner by Google has been the most popular free feed burning option. However, because Google dropped some of their support and development options for FeedBurner, many people are worried about the future of FeedBurner and looking at other options.
FeedBlitz is a great service that also offers email subscriptions. They charge a flat monthly rate (currently $1.49) no matter how many RSS feed subscribers you have, then an additional amount per month based on your email subscribers. It is possible to turn off the email subscription option and pay only $1.49/month for an RSS feed burner.
Other options include:
- FeedCat (free)
- RapidFeeds ($4.49/month basic)
- Feedity ($6/month, updated every 4 hours)
- FeedPress (free and premium $3/month options)
(Check out the 5 Best FeedBurner Alternatives for Your WordPress Blog and 15 Great FeedBurner Alternatives.)
Should I redirect my feed to a feed burner?
You can redirect your site’s feed address directly to a burnt feed using .htaccess or a plugin provided by your feed burner of choice. However, consider carefully before redirecting your default feed to a feed burner. If people are subscribed to yoursite.com/feed/, you can control the feed they are subscribed to as long as you own the domain. But if people are subscribed to afeedburner.com/yoursitefeed/, you have only as much control as the feed burning company gives you. If a free service disappears, you will have lost your readers, because they were subscribed to the burnt feed address, not your site’s feed address. If the price of a professional service becomes too much, you will also lose your readers unless they offer a redirection service. And regardless of redirection options, moving from one feed burning service to another usually means a drop in subscribers because your subscribers have to manually resubscribe to the new feed address.
So what if I don’t want to burn my feed?
If you don’t want to mess with feed burning options, or risk losing subscribers who have been redirected to a feed burner address you can’t control, you may not want to link to your naked RSS feed.
Focus on building an email list. As long as you have permission to email your subscribers, you can change services all you like. No need for redirection if your site or feed address changes. Getting permission to send them your posts is key to keeping your readers. (Tomorrow we’ll talk about five ways to send your blog posts via email.)
Offer direct links to subscribe to your blog via popular feed readers. Most popular feed readers allow you to offer your readers a direct link to subscribe to your blog via their feed reader service. Get a Bloglovin’ widget and visit Feedly’s button factory to get your blog’s Feedly subscription link.
Can I offer only a partial feed so that people have to visit my blog to read the rest?
Yes. Visit your WordPress Reading Settings and select “summary” for “For each article in a feed, show”. If you’re using FeedBurner, a partial feed may already be turned on if the “Summary Burner” is active under the “Optimize” tab.
Additionally, you can allow RSS feed readers to view the whole feed, but change your email subscription settings to display only a post excerpt. (Watch for tomorrow’s post on how to send your blog posts out via email for more about these options.)
Why do my blog posts look different in the feed?
On your blog, the layout and formatting of your blog posts is controlled by CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). But the very nature of an RSS feed is to make it readable anywhere in any format, thus you cannot format it via CSS. Consequently, an image that floats to the left or right of your text in a blog post will usually leave a white space next to it in a feed. To make sure your images display the same way in your feeds as they do in your posts, always center your images instead of choosing left or right image alignment. (The plugin Align RSS Images may help the appearance of left or right aligned images for self-hosted WordPress users.) In the same way, images that are downsized responsively to your site’s width within your post may appear huge within your RSS feed. Pay attention to how your images appear in your RSS feeds and emails and adapt your methods for inserting your images accordingly. If your email campaign headers are 600px maximum width, you may not want to insert images at a width bigger than 600px. (Click here for more on adding images in WordPress.)
Can I customize my feed?
If you’re already using the plugin WordPress SEO by Yoast you have the option to add content to your RSS header and footer. For blogs with multiple contributors, I like to add the post author’s name at the beginning of the RSS feed. It’s a good idea to add a copyright notice and link to the original post within the RSS feed to prevent automatic content scraping. You can also use Yoast’s stand-alone RSS Footer plugin. And of course, if you’re a PHP expert, you have many options for customizing the output of your RSS feed.
How can I help people subscribe to my blog in popular feed readers?
- Claim your blog on Bloglovin’ and access button and widget options for your sidebar or subscription page.
- Visit the Feedly Factory to choose your button size or simply get a direct link to subscribe to your blog in Feedly.
- Depending on your visitor’s browsers, they may be able to use a Chrome extension like RSS Subscription Extension or a Firefox add-on like RSS Icon to have quick access to your feed and their favorite feed reader even if you don’t have those options displayed.
- Use one of the free standard feed icons to link to your feed.
Got more than 5 minutes?
Check out these resources on RSS:
- ProBlogger’s “What is RSS?”
- WPBeginner’s “What is RSS?”
- How to explain RSS the Oprah way
- W3Schools Introduction to RSS