Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Improve your RSS feed with FeedBurner

Improve your RSS feed with FeedBurner

RSS feeds offer a great way to provide content, says Rob Buckley, and you can improve them further with FeedBurner.

RSS feeds are a great way to help people keep up to date with your web site. There are so many upsides, it’s almost silly. Visitors don’t have to supply any personal information to view an RSS feed, so privacy fears aren’t a problem. They can visit your site as soon as there’s something to interest them, so you no longer have to wait for them to remember to do their weekly site trawl. There’s no risk of any email notification or newsletter being grabbed by their spam filter. It’s information when they want it and on their own terms.

The trouble is that RSS is basically just text formatted as XML. There’s no information about how to display it – that’s left up to whatever you’re using to view it in; there are several different versions of the RSS standard, including Atom’s; you can’t change the details of the feed once it’s published without many feed readers thinking you’ve supplied new items; and you have to do a whole load of tinkering to find out useful things like how many people clicked on an item or to add extra interactivity to the feed.

Fortunately, there’s a simple and free way to fix all these problems and more. FeedBurner (http://www.feedburner.com) is a useful service with four big features that it calls “Analyze”, “Optimize”, “Publicize” and “Monetize” (there’s a fifth, “Troubleshootize” for fixing things when they go wrong).

“Analyze” lets you find out how many people are subscribed to your RSS feed, what software they use and what items they click on the most. “Optimize” let’s you spruce up your feed, add features and make it compatible with whatever feed reader your visitors is using. “Publicize” gives you additional ways to let visitors to your site subscribe to your feed, to let others know about your feed or even republish your feed as HTML. Lastly, “Monetize” let’s you make money from your feed through ads – but only if you’re popular enough.

We’re going to show you how to use all these features. In particular, we’re going to demonstrate how to use FeedFlares, which are little modules you can add to each RSS item, ranging from a simple “Email me” link to a count of all the blogs that link to the item. All you’ll need is a way to edit your site templates and a web browser.

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