What is RSS and How Does It Help Me?

You’re Not the Only One Wondering

I forget what is was like back when I first heard the buzz about RSS, and I hadn’t a clue what it was. I thought that since I know it now, that everyone does. Well my readers have reminded me that not everyone knows what RSS is. This is a quick guide to explain what RSS is, how to use it, and how to supercharge it on your blog.

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. You probably know the word syndication from newspapers. This is when a writer’s column shows up in many different newspapers across the country such as humorist Dave Barry (who is retired now but his columns live on!) or advice columnist Dear Abby. You don’t have to buy their local newspaper to read them. They are syndicated in YOUR local newspaper.

It’s the same thing with online content. With websites, news sites, and blogs that are updated frequently, you can choose which ones you want to see in your personalized online “newspaper” everyday. Your personalized online “newspaper” is called an RSS Reader. I’ll explain how below.

In short, RSS is the vehicle that delivers your chosen content to your Reader. You don’t have to go to all your favorite websites. They come to you! Isn’t that nice!

How Does RSS Help Me?

If you are a reader of news and blogs, it will save you time. All the information you want will be on one page where you can organize it how you like.

If you are a blog owner, it will help you to amass a subscriber base. Why do you want subscribers? The more subscribers you have the more people will be reading your content, referring others, and if you advertise, the more revenue you will earn.

How Do I Use RSS?

  1. Sign up for a reader account. Google Reader is rated #1 by several sources including Lifehacker.com. That’s what I recommend. If you already have an account with Google this is a no-brainer. If you don’t have an account with Google, sign up. You won’t be sorry. If you want to try other online readers you can check out Pageflakes or Bloglines or search for others.
  2. Add RSS feeds to your reader from blogs and web site. Start by clicking on the RSS icon on any blog or webpage that has it. It usually looks like this. If you click on this icon you can add Life Learning Today to your reader! Once you click on this button it will ask you which reader you use. If you use Google, you can add it to your Reader or Personalized Homepage.
    Subscribe to Life Learning Today
  3. Add RSS Feeds directly into your Reader. On Google Reader you would type in the RSS feed URL for the site you want to add. In the case of Life Learning Today that feed would be: http://feeds.feedburner.com/lifelearningtoday/wlyf.
  4. Read Your Personalized Feeds. Here are three great guides on optimizing your use of Google reader: Lifehacker.com, Lifehack.org, and Johnny’s Thoughts.

How Do I Offer RSS on My Blog?

Most blogs come automatically with an RSS feed that looks something like this: http://www.YOUR-URL.com/feed. So if you want a simple solution, you don’t have to do anything. But if you want to be able to track how many feed readers you have I suggest you supercharge your RSS.

Supercharging Your RSS Using Feedburner (don’t worry it’s easy)

I wasn’t sure about doing this when I was first starting out with my blog. Let me tell you one thing: don’t worry, do it. Feedburner is great and most of its services are FREE. Most blogs seem to use it.
Tracking with Feedburner:

  • Visitor stats including geographical origin, OS, browser, screen resolution.
  • Subscribers: including email subscribers.
  • Page views.
  • Incoming Links: how did visitors get to your site.
  • Outgoing Links: to where did visitors leave your site.

Functionality with Feedburner:

  • Tracking RSS subscribers.
  • Tracking Site statistics.
  • FeedFlares: these allow your blog posts to include things like social bookmarking links, comments links, and much more.
  • Email Subscribers: your subscribers can choose to receive emails when your site is updated instead of or in addition to an RSS feed in their Reader.
  • So much more.

Over time you can explore more goodies, but the basics are listed right here and the basics are pretty powerful and free. (They do have additional functionality for a fee, but I haven’t needed it.) For many new bloggers, Feedburner will give you everything you need in terms of tracking. If you want more tracking capabilities, head over to Google Analytics. Here is a guide to Google Analytics if you are interested.

RSS is a powerful technology that benefits both readers and publishers of content. Do take the time to explore this. You will be glad that you did. Once you become a big Google Reader user, I have a guide on how to keep Google Reader from eating up all your time. 🙂

Please share your comments and tips on RSS. All comments big and small are very welcomed!

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