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RSS Feeds

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Question: RSS Feeds
What are RSS feeds? Perhaps you've seen text or image buttons on various websites inviting you to "subscribe via RSS." Well, what does that mean exactly? What is RSS, what are RSS feeds, and how do you get them to work for you?
Answer:

What is RSS?

Short for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, this handy service is revolutionizing the way we search for content.

In addition, us web searchers don't necessarily have to keep checking back to any particular site to see if it's been updated - all we need to do is subscribe to the RSS feed, much like you would subscribe to a newspaper, and then read the updates from the site, delivered via RSS feeds, in what's called a "feed reader." (We'll get to feed readers in just a minute!)

RSS feeds benefit those who actually own or publish a website as well, since site owners can get their updated content to subscribers fast by submitting feeds to various XML and RSS directories.

How do RSS feeds work?

RSS feeds really couldn't be simpler. They're basically simple text files that, once submitted to feed directories, will allow subscribers to see content within a very short time after it's updated (sometimes as short as 30 minutes or less; it's getting faster all the time).

This content can be aggregated to be viewed even more easily by using a feed reader. I've written up an article on the best feed readers out there. A feed reader, or feed aggregator, is just a really simple way to view all your feeds at one time via one interface.

For instance, I have a Bloglines feed. I have all sorts of good stuff in there. Can you imagine how much time it saves me to have all these topics sent to me in one place rather than me searching it out?

In addition, all these people who have their sites syndicated on my Bloglines roll are enabling their content to be seen by me and other people who wouldn't necessarily find them in the search engines or directories. RSS feeds are a wonderful resource, and the uses for RSS are only just beginning to be realized; not only for search engines and searching, but in how we optimize our sites.

Anyone who wants to get their site noticed, get some Web buzz a-buzzin', needs an RSS feed on their site. Here are some more resources that will help you figure this all out:

  • Stephan Spencer has written a fantastic (and it's in Power Point, even!) presentation on how RSS and search engine optimization can and should work together.
  • Wikipedia, itself a great experiment in social bookmarking, has a good informational article on RSS.
  • Jennifer Kyrnin's RSS article is a solid resource that takes you through the actual design process, as well as things to look out for when creating the XML file.

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