Saturday, October 10, 2009

Blogging Tips: RSS Feeds



I've been thinking a lot about the art and science behind blogging over the last year or so. I'm trying to figure out what I'm doing with this blog and also how to help others who blog think through their own blog strategies and practices.

One item of note that has come up is the topic of RSS feeds. I want to think through some of the implications of having an easily accessible RSS feed on your blog and how feeds can become instrumental in developing a tribe around what you care about (which is hopefully what you write about).

What is RSS?

For starters, let's define RSS. You can check out the full Wikipedia entry on RSS feeds, but without getting into all the technical mumbo jumbo RSS is Really Simple Syndication. This is a web technology that publishes content you post on your site and allows various web and desktop applications to retrieve this new content. For example, I have an RSS feed for this site and if you were to click the link at the top of the sidebar that says "Subscribe via RSS reader," you can use a variety of web tools (like Google Reader or NetVibes) to get each of my posts fed directly to you. I personally use Google Reader to keep up with a number of blogs and sites from around the web. This means I don't have to remember to go check these sites every day; instead, I get an update in my Reader that tells me they've posted new content. In most cases, I can actually read all or part of that post right there in the reader. If you find yourself going frequently to the same blogs, I would highly recommend Google Reader or some other reader application. It definitely makes following blogs much easier.

But this post is about the importance of an RSS feed for your own blog.

So What's the Point?

RSS feeds are a double-edged sword for the blogger since they benefit not only you but your readers as well.

The Benefit to Your Readers

Your readers (especially those who are already avid blog readers) will love that you have an RSS feed! This allows them to get updates in almost real-time of your latest posts and content. They no longer have to remember to check back to find out if you posted something new and they won't have to worry about missing that life-changing post you snuck in at 1am on a Sunday—it'll be waiting for them in their readers when they have time to read. RSS feeds make reading blogs incredibly more enjoyable for your readers. And happy readers make for a happy blogger!

The Benefit to You

As much as an RSS feed is beneficial to your readers, it has the potential to be of even greater benefit to you, the blogger. As you gain readers to your site who utilize your RSS feed, you develop a deeper connection than you otherwise would have with those who stumble on your site or read only a few posts now and again. Your posts will be fed directly to them as often as you choose to write (probably many times more often than they would get with an email newsletter). In addition, the likelihood of these posts being read is increased as your readers will be able to save them and keep track of them. Your avid readers, utilizing your RSS feed, will likely read most, if not all, of your posts. Through this regular communication a relationship with them will grow.

The Importance of Relationship

This is probably a topic for a whole series of posts, but in a nutshell relationships with your readers are crucial to the continued growth of your blog—and not just growth in numbers. Having consistent and engaged readers allows for conversations regarding the topics you are passionate about, whether these conversations occur on the site in the comments or in direct emails back to you. Engaged readers promote participation in the topics you bring up and discuss and community reflection and thought. Conversation deepens critical thinking about the topics you care about as you discuss, debate, and defend what you write. This can only refine and grow your thoughts and writing, as well as those of your readers. As your passion becomes more defined and informed, your posts will become more refined, making your blog that much better for everyone—for you and your readers, new and old!

Creating Fans and Friends

As your posts become better and readers consume regular content through the use of your RSS feed, you will find them changing from just readers into fans and friends. And fans and friends are really good at spreading the word! These dedicated readers will become your base for getting the word about your blog posts, thus increasing readership. While the content and purpose of your blog should take precedence over gaining readers, having more is never a bad deal. Get enough readers and you might even be able to turn your little corner of the internet into something more than a hobby. Getting paid to blog about what you love and care about? Always a good deal!

Questions in Conclusion

To wrap up, what are your thoughts on RSS feeds? Do you use them on your blog? Do you utilize them for reading others' blogs? How have you found them beneficial, either as a blogger or as a reader? Let me know your thoughts!

Image used courtesy of Heather Weaver under a Creative Commons license

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