As my regular readers know, we recently launched an RSS aggregator called SocialBlogroll.com. The project went very well and it’s now happily churning through 1500+ news feeds from the online marketing community. Viewing all those feeds and blogs made me realise that more than a few people out there aren’t aware of the following tips. If you’re doing all these perfectly then give yourself an A+ and move along.
1. Make Your Feed Links More Visible
OK, hardly a new point but have we really taken it in? Apparently not. During the testing of SocialBlogroll we often struggled to find the RSS feed for some blogs. For most users, that means not signing up and walking away. Make the icons larger and stick links at the foot on every post. After all, when is a user most likely to think about subscribing? You got it.
Worse offenders were blogspot and forum owners. This is quite surprising as vBulletin, the software behind most of the forums, already provides RSS support. You can find this feed link by viewing the code and doing a search for ‘RSS’. It’s in the head of the web document, before the closing </head> tag. Someone tell v7n, WickedFire and IHelpYou for a start. Even your most dedicated user isn’t going to start hunting through source code for an RSS link!
It’s also a good idea to add an alternative email subscription link. Everyone understands email and even in technical niches, we have picked up a number of extra subscribers by adding this feature. Setting email subscriptions up is easy if you already use the FeedBurner service. Go to the Publicize section of the feed settings and you can find the code to insert on your pages. This gives you email subscriber statistics and conveniently leaves FeedBurner to deal with delivery and spam issues.
2. Make Use of RSS Auto-Discovery
As I previously mentioned, there’s a method of linking your RSS feed in the head section of a web document. You’ve probably seen this technique used to link external style sheets. Here’s the code you need if you have a standard RSS 2.0. feed (most of you):
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="http://your-rss-feed-address" />
Jeremy Zawodny was writing about this back in 2003 but the concept hasn’t really been taken on board. Many online applications and services, like SocialBlogroll are programmed to search for this link when collecting your RSS feed.
All the search engines use auto-discovery to indicate if the page you are visiting has an RSS feed available. If you are reading this in a browser, check the top right corner of the address bar. Netvibes or other RSS readers search for this link by default. Auto-Discovery is catching on, especially in automated Web 2.0 mashups and applications.
Let’s take Matt Cutts blog as an example. He’s installed WordPress into a directory on his domain (http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/). Although this RSS discovery link appears in the blog section, there is no copy of this link on the main index page of the domain. This means people who enter his well branded and memorable domain name into their RSS reader, will receive an error (seen below).
They need to specifically add the exact RSS feed address or http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/. This doesn’t take advantage of the auto-discovery system or the branding Matt has built up for his domain. If he had linked the RSS on his index page, this user would have successfully subscribed to his blog.
Add your RSS discovery link across all your site pages, not just your blog sections. This will allow your feed to get picked up by more services, give your feed option greater visibility and make life easy for potential readers who can’t remember your exact feed address.
3. Consolidate your RSS feed addresses
Now you understand about auto-discovery you may also have realised there is a glaring hole in your plan to track your RSS subscriptions. Although you carefully placed the FeedReader or tracking code onto your pages, did you also change the auto-discovery link? Even if you did change this, could copies of your old link have been cached in the past by other users and web services?
To solve this, consolidate or redirect all your feeds to one URL. If you are using WordPress, then the easiest method is to install the FeedSmith plugin. This lets you enter the FeedBurner or other tracking URL into the admin section and all variations of your feed URL will be redirected here.
However if you want more control or are using another platform, set up 301 redirects yourself. Create or open up your .htaccess file, in the root of your site and copy in the following:
# BEGIN Consolidate Feeds
Redirect 301 /wp-rss.php http://www.mydomain.com/wp-rss2.php
Redirect 301 /wp-rdf.php http://www.mydomain.com /wp-rss2.php
Redirect 301 /wp-atom.php http://www.mydomain.com/wp-rss2.php
Redirect 301 /feed http://www.mydomain.com/wp-rss2.php
Redirect 301 /wp-rss2.php http://your-feedburner-url/
# END Consolidate Feeds
As you see, we redirect all the main feed variations (in this case WordPress) to our wp-rss2.php page. On the last line we redirect this to our tracking URL. If we ever want to change this tracking URL, you simply replace the one line at the end.
Of course, consolidating your feeds can result in a nice jump in subscriber numbers. Let me know how it goes in the comments.