Creating an RSS Feed

You may have heard that your website should have a RSS feed. What is an RSS feed, and why do you need one?

What Is RSS?
RSS originally meant RDF Site Summary but now has been changed to mean Really Simple Syndication. Whatever words they use, in essence what it is is a way to post brief updates about what is new on your site. Here is how it works.

You set up a page on your site, let's call it index.rss for convenience sake. This index.rss file uses a special language that all RSS readers understand. On this page, using this language, you list the five most recent updates you've made to your site.

So anybody who comes to your site and looks at that index.rss file sees, at a glance, what is new and interesting on your site. They don't have to dig through blogs or read through pages or anything else. One look at one file and they're set.

RSS Readers
What makes this file even more powerful is that many people use RSS readers that let them aggregate the RSS information from multiple sites they care about. So let's say I'm personally interested in three different sites: BellaOnline.com, WineIntro.com, and RomanceClass.com. I could go to each site each day and look at the index.rss page on each site to know what's new and intersting on each site. That would work. But even better, I simply go to my RSS reader which is following all three sites. On my RSS reader's one page I glance and see, right there, what has been updated on all three sites. One glance, one look, and I see the latest updates on three sites I care about.

There are many RSS readers out there that do it. There are also webpages that let people enter the RSS feeds they want to watch and show all the results. If you google "RSS reader" you'll find a variety of options for doing this.

Having a RSS reader which connects to the RSS feeds of your favorite websites is a great way to see what they're doing. It's a one-glance, five-second way to start each day and see what is new and interesting on sites you care about.

Here's an example of the Google RSS reader looking at the RSS feed for WineIntro.com. It displays the latest updates that have been made on the WineIntro site, with a title and description for each one.

Creating an RSS Feed

Setting Up a RSS Feed As mentioned, when you create your index.rss file on your server, it needs to be written with the RSS tag language. It starts out like this:

<rss version="2.0" xmlns:atom="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom">
<channel>
<atom:link href="http://www.lisashea.com/index.rss" rel="self" type="application/rss+xml" />
<title>LisaShea.com</title>

and then goes on to describe the various new updates and articles with similar style tags. So certainly you could learn how to write using these tags, just like most people learn to write in HTML. You could then update your index.rss file manually each time you created a new page or modified a page on your website.

There are also many RSS creating programs where you feed your information into a web form or other interface and the program kicks out the RSS file for you. If you're not good with coding tags, you might want to use a program in order to create your RSS file.

Finally, if you are using a content management system (CMS) to run your website, where all of the items you add and modify are tracked in a database anyway, often they come with automatic RSS creation code built in. That way each time you use your CMS to add to or update your website, the RSS file gets automatically updated at the same time.

However you get it done, it's good to have an updated RSS feed on your website. Many people use RSS to keep track of what's new and intersting on sites they care about. By having a live RSS feed for your website, you ensure those people know about your updates and come to read the new pages you have.

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