What is RSS? RSS Explained in Plain Language
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RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, is a way of delivering web content that is updated regularly. Most blogs and news websites offer RSS feeds which website visitors can add to an RSS Reader to receive content updates delivered to them automatically.
Let's say that you're a web designer, and you want to stay up-to-date with the latest thinking and trends in the web design industry. You pick out five industry-leading websites, set up a Feedly account, and add these five feeds:
You then set up your web browser to launch automatically when you start up your computer, and set Feedly as an automatically generated tab in your browser. The result is that every morning when you boot up your computer, the first thing you see is a list of all the new content posted to those five websites.
You don't have to worry about remembering to check a website and you aren't cluttering your inbox with additional emails and newsletters. Every day you can quickly scan the headlines in your RSS Reader and read the content that jumps out to you.
This is what RSS can do for your and for your website. It provides a way to automatically deliver content to an RSS Reader which users can read at their leisure.
What Can You Do with RSS?
There are at least three things you can do with RSS:
- Get updates from your favorite websites.
- Publish updates from your own website.
- Publish an automatic newsfeed on your website.
Get Updates From Your Favorite Sites
If you want to use RSS to get updates from your favorite sites you'll need an RSS Reader. The easiest way to get an RSS Reader set up is to pick a reader and then follow their instructions for setting up an account and importing RSS feeds.
- Feedly: Getting started tutorial.
- Feedspot: What is feedspot and how I benefit from using it?
- G2Reader: About G2Reader.
Publish Your Website's Updates
If you have a blog or news website, you owe it to yourself to have an RSS feed set up for your visitors. It's really pretty easy to set up an RSS feed - you may already have one without realizing it - and doing so can help drive repeat traffic to your site.
Many popular content management systems have RSS feed functionality built in. If you're using WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal support for RSS feeds is available without doing anything special. Visit the documentation pages we linked to and you'll find instructions for finding your website's RSS feed or setting it up.
If your website isn't powered by a content management system that natively supports RSS Feeds, there are a number of tools you can use to easily create an RSS feed for your site.
- Feedity is a service which "automagically" pulls data from a website and converts it into an RSS feed which can be added to any RSS Reader.
- Feedburner is a Google product that was an extremely popular RSS feed publishing tool in the early 2000s. Feedburner is easy to set up, easy to use, and well recognized. However, it hasn't been updated in several years leading many to suspect that Feedburner's days as a Google-supported product are limited.
- Rapid Feeds is a premium product you can use to deliver professional-quality RSS feeds. Trusted by some of the biggest names on the web, Rapid Feeds is a full-featured RSS feed creation and management tool.
Creating an RSS Feed is great, but it won't do a lot unless you make sure your feed is easy to find. Add RSS feed buttons to your site in any location where you display social media icons, and write a post announcing that your site now offers an RSS feed.
Publish a Newsfeed
An interesting way to use RSS is to use it to create an automatically-updated newsfeed of information that will be useful and interesting to your website visitors. For example, going back to our initial example of RSS feeds useful to a web designer, if you were a web designer with an online portfolio you could also use RSS to display a few recent articles from sites you love and have that list updated automatically. Here are a few examples of this in action:
- Travel Blogger Community is an auto-blogged website that uses RSS feeds to pull in content from travel blogs.
- Popurls, "the mother of all news aggregators", pulls in news and articles from a variety of websites.
Using RSS feeds to pull content from other websites and publish it on your own is a practice known as autoblogging. As you can image, it's controversial since some unscrupulous autobloggers fail to give adequate credit to the original content creator. What we're suggesting is to use RSS feeds to create a feed of headlines - and possibly include a short excerpt - but to give credit to the original content creator and to drive traffic back to the website where the content was originally published.
Support for RSS feeds is built into many popular content management systems and they're easy to set up even if your website's software doesn't natively support them. Setting up RSS feeds will give your website visitors an easy way to receive automatic updates every time you publish new content on your website.
In addition, you can use RSS to create a newsfeed of content from other websites that you believe your website visitors will find interesting or compelling.