Friday, October 03, 2008

How to get RSS right

RSS is an essential part of growing a blog's audience, and most get the fundamentals right. Some, however, don't exactly embrace RSS as a medium - and occasionally those who do offer some limited, broken feed that simply isn't worth subscribing to. Here are some pointers to keep your syndication on track.

Offer full feeds

If you're not fully au fait with RSS yourself, you might not appreciate this one - but trust me, there's nothing more annoying than reading an article in your aggregator then have it suddenly come to a halt. Full feeds are better, and will help encourage readers to subscribe. If you're worried about lost ad revenue, don't be - services such as FeedBurner and Feedvertising can be used to keep the money rolling in, whilst you keep your loyal subscribers happy.

Avoid amendments to feed items once they're posted

Some RSS aggregators will show a feed item as new for every spelling correction, alteration or amendment to a post - particularly so if you have full feeds. Whilst I abhor bad spelling, try to minimise the corrections you make (proof reading before publishing can do wonders!), and you'll avoid losing subscribers when the same post comes up 12 times in a row with indiscernible differences. If you do update a post, it's best done clearly marked with an 'UPDATE:' at the bottom.

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window.google_render_ad();

Don't hide the link to your feeds

If your feed isn't linked via a tag in your header, most web browsers won't pick up on your feeds - and if you hide the link to your feeds away at the bottom of the page, or partway down some obscure column, there's a good chance a potential subscriber won't find your feed at all. Make sure it's obvious - but bigger isn't necessarily better.

Don't post too often

Never posting any new content is bad enough, but posting too much? Even worse. If subscribers can't keep up, they'll unsubscribe very quickly indeed. Split your feeds up if you find this is the case, or simply relax the rate at which you post. Anything more than 20 a day is excessive, and most folk would probably prefer a lot less from most blogs.

Give your readers a good reason to subscribe

I'd hate to labour a point, but it's worth reiterating. You can get everything spot on (technically) with your RSS feeds and still drive away potential subscribers, while other sites with terribly implemented feeds can attract thousands. The real secret to getting a strong RSS readership is to write great content - get the technical details right, though, and you can help keep your subscribers happy.

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