It’s no secret that content marketing is having a moment. Brands, large and small, are becoming ever more aware that they need to publish a constant stream of blog posts, articles, and media to increase their organic traffic and engage with potential customers. In fact, B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost 3X more traffic than those blogging 0-1 times per month, according to HubSpot.
As many small business who are just getting started with content know, however, it can be hard to keep up. That’s where RSS feeds come in. As long as you’re not passing off content from others as your own, RSS feeds can be a great way to keep your content schedule consistent and continuously offer valuable insights to your readers. Here’s the lowdown on how to start using RSS feeds to power your blogging strategy.
What Is RSS?
RSS has been around forever. Developed in the late 1990s, Real Simple Syndication (or Rich Site Summary) is an XML-based format that captures new items from a website and allows them to be captured by special aggregation software. In the early days of blogging, RSS reading was the primary way to keep up on what people were self-publishing. Some sites offered full-text feeds, allowing you to read an entire post within the aggregator while others offered only headlines or headlines plus a short excerpt or summary.
As blogging went mainstream in the early 2000s, platforms like WordPress and other early players understood the power of RSS, baking that syndication technology right into the software. There was no additional setup needed, though there were also no subscriber metrics immediately available. Many publishers used services like FeedBurner to create a version of the default feed that also allowed them to see how many people had subscribed.
So the good news is that even if you don’t know it, if you have a blog you already have an RSS feed of your own. Want to see for yourself? Go to your domain and add “/feed/” to the end of the URL. That bunch of code is your RSS feed.
Great, you have an RSS feed. But that doesn’t help you find new content ideas or topics for your blog. For that you’re going to need to do one of two things:
- Curate and read feeds yourself
- Pull feeds into your blog
Let’s examine how to do both.
Curate RSS Feeds For Inspiration
That page of code you saw doesn’t look like “content,” does it? In order to parse and make sense of what’s happening there you’re going to need an RSS reader.
The market for RSS readers is not what it once was. There used to be dozens of options available before Google launched Reader and became so widely-used many other companies shut theirs down. So when Google discontinued Reader it left many RSS addicts scrambling for alternatives because we were *not* going to rely on Twitter to show us the news.
For a while Digg Reader and Feedly were the main RSS market players, but the former recently announced it was shutting down at the end of may, Feedly stands as the biggest fish in an increasingly small pond.
- On the site you want to subscribe to, find the feed. Some will clearly label it as either “RSS” or by using the radio wave-esque RSS icon. Others won’t list it at all. Right-click on and copy either the RSS-specific link or, in many cases, the main URL of the site.
- Open the “Add” or “Discover” button on your aggregator of choice and paste the copied URL into the available field.
- You’ll be asked to confirm your subscription to the feed. Or, if you pasted in a homepage URL, a list of available feeds will be displayed for you to choose from.
- The new feed will display in the menu on the left, usually pulling in the most recent 10 items to get you started.
- If you want, you can create folders to organize your feeds, something that can helpful as you add more and more. Many people organize by topic or subject.
You’re now ready to begin your RSS reading adventure, which is going to involve your “J” key a lot.
All RSS readers allow you to easily move down your list of unread items using the “J” keyboard shortcut. So keep hitting “J” and you skim from one item to the next. From there you can do a couple different things.
Either you can click through on an item as soon as you read it or you can save it for later using the “S” keyboard shortcut. Each works in its own unique way so you’ll need to take some time to explore and get used to what you’re using. Both Digg Reader and Feedly also offer integration with Pocket and other “read it later” services if that’s your preferred workflow.
Display RSS Feeds On Your Blog
There is a more direct route to using RSS feeds to help power your blog’s content. There are a number of plugins available if you use WordPress that will pull feeds into either a blog post or a widget displayed on your blog’s sidebar.
Publishers should, of course, be cautious when doing so, making sure they’re not importing someone else’s content and passing it off as their own. As long as you are a responsible member of the community, giving credit where it’s due while naming and linking back to the original source, these imported RSS feeds are great ways to add to what you’re already publishing.
Get Into RSS Today
Whether you’re using it as a discovery or content-creation tool, RSS is a simple and powerful way to keep your blog’s content engine humming along and a quick strategy to implement. Are you using RSS to power your blog strategy? Let us know how you’ve succeeded, or trouble you’ve run into in the comments below!
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.