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The ONE THING to do to Get Your RSS Right

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

RSS. It's an essential technology underpinning much of the modern web's content, social or otherwise. But, like email subscriptions, it's often poorly implemented. Worse, decisions can be made "because everybody else does it this way" that can really mess things up for you later as your blog grows.

And it boils down, in many ways, to just one thing.

So here it is:

Have your feed on your own domain.

In other words, if your web site is on example.com, then your feed should be something like: example.com/feed or feeds.example.com/example or example.com/posts/default/feed or whatever. The point being, as far as any aggregator or end user is concerned, it should be hosted on YOUR domain, example.com, not SomeFeedService.com

Note that this doesn't mean your feed should be SERVED from your domain. You can easily use third party services like FeedBurner or FeedBlitz to serve your feed (and gather metrics about its readership) using a variety of different and (usually) easy to implement things called redirects. This means the feed is hosted on your domain (i.e. its web URL is on example.com), but delivered by your feed service. How? Well, there are plugins for wordpress, .htaccess files for Apache servers, fields on Blogger, CNAME DNS switches for this, depending on how you're set up. And, as a feed service vendor, I think you SHOULD use a third party service for this job because it's the only way to determine subscriber counts and reach.

But I'm not talking about RSS serving here. I'm talking about the URL your feed is found at.

Assuming you own your own domain and have a hosting package (and, if not, for crying out loud spring the $5 / month for a hosting service and get a deal on annual domain pricing, otherwise all you're doing is helping wordpress.com's or blogger.com's SEO and not your own) ...

... where was I? Oh yes, assuming you have your own domain, you need to have your feed URL on your domain too.

Why?

Because then you control and own it, that's why. It generates SEO goodness for you (since it is the canonical source), that's why. It enables you to serve your feed yourself, or use a third party service, or switch back and forth without losing subscribers, that's why.

And if you don't? Let's say your feed is exclusively hosted at SomeFeedService.com, and that is the URL that all your RSS subscribers have in their RSS readers. You decide later that SomeFeedService.com isn't cutting the mustard any more, and you want to move your feed. Some feed services have tools to enable permanent redirects, but others don't.

Without a permanent redirect option, guess what happens if you switch, which means changing feed URLs? All your RSS subscribers have to resubscribe. All of them.

That stinks. You're caught between a rock and a hard place. Stay - trapped - with a service you don't like any more, or lose a portion - possibly significant - of your subscriber base in any transition. Most people become stymied by the fear of losing subscribers, and end up unhappily tolerating the legacy service (the one "everyone else is using" most likely).

Avoid the feed trapSet up your feed correctly, on your own domain. Use a redirect / plugin / CNAME to have a feed stats service serve it to your subscribers and analyze its use, by all means. I recommend that! Just make sure they're subscribing to the feed on your URL, and not somebody else's.

But what if you ARE caught in this trap? What if you are stuck on a free feed service URL that is unsupported but effectively holding all your RSS readers hostage? It's another twist on "digital sharecropping" and ceding control to third party sites.

Turns out, we at FeedBlitz can help you with that. So from this important general advice to the specific, tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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