By vandelay in All on Date 06/12/2008

Working With Feeds: 3 Options for Improved Use of RSS

RSS feeds offer incredible flexibility and virtually endless options to website owners and bloggers.


The typical use of RSS is to simply distribute news or blog content to subscribers. Aside from the typical approach of a blog having one feed, there are a number of creative options that can add a unique element to your blog and help it to be a more valuable resource for readers. In this article we'll take a look at 3 rather simple options for working with feeds to improve your site in one way or another.

1 - Sideblogs

Sometimes you may want to post something to your blog without having it sent out to subscribers and without it receiving prominent positioning on your front page. Maybe it's just a short message to readers that isn't critical to the blog, but just something added for fun or for extra resources. By posting a sideblog in your sidebar you can do just that. The contents of the sideblog will be very short messages to visitors that will not be included in your RSS feed (it may or may not have a feed of its own), and will also be kept out of the loop of full posts.

Why Do It?
A growing number of blogs are using sideblogs for a wide variety of purposes, including community news (example Freelance Folder), displaying your Delicious bookmarks to visitors, posting your Twitter updates, publishing random links that readers may appreciate, and simply short thoughts or statements that do not justify a full post.

Benefits:

Sideblogs can be a tremendous help for adding personality to your blog. Options such as displaying your recent Tweets can show readers a more personal side of you, the blogger. Additionally, community building and interaction are often a result of sideblogs. Take for example the community news approach. Here you are allowing visitors to submit their favorite links and others are benefiting from the exposure provided by those links. Another benefit of using a sideblog is that you can separate the RSS feeds of your main blog and your sideblog, which allows your readers to receive exactly what they want without getting too much. Lastly, a sideblog can add valuable and interesting content to your sidebar. Sidebars are often ignored by readers because they get used to seeing so many of them. Rather than just displaying links and ads, a sideblog can transform your sidebar.

Execution:

The process of setting up a sideblog is more than I can cover in this post, however, there are a number of excellent tutorials that already exist on the subject. Michael Martin of Pro Blog Design covered his approach in How to Set Up a Sideblog. Mohsin of Blogging Bits wrote about a method for showing your Delicious bookmarks in the sideblog. The official WordPress Codex has some helpful information in the article Adding Asides.

2 - Combining Feeds

Sometimes you may want to offer your readers a feed that doesn't exist as a typical blog feed. It is possible to combine two or more feeds and offer them to readers in one, all-inclusive feed.

Why Do It?

Maybe you own multiple blogs and you would like to offer readers a quick and convenient way to subscribe to all of your feeds without doing so individually. In this case, say you have three blogs, you could combine your three feeds into one and allow readers to get the content from all three blogs by only subscribing to the one feed. Another option would be combining the feed of your main blog and your sideblog. Say you use a sideblog to display community news and you'd like to offer readers the option to subscribe to both with just one feed. Yet one more option, create a combined feed that includes your Flickr feed, your Twitter feed, your Delicious bookmarks, etc.

Benefits:
Combining feeds can give more options and more flexibility to readers. If you use community news in your sideblog you can give readers three feeds to choose from, your main feed, the community news feed, and the combined feed. It's also possible to get more content to your subscribers. Say you have two blogs and a reader currently subscribes to one of them but not the other. Offering a combined feed may make it more likely or possible to get that reader to also subscribe to your other blog by using the combined feed.

Execution:
To combine feeds you can use a service like Yahoo! Pipes or RSS Mix. These services will create a combining feed for your use. I would recommend running that combined feed through FeedBurner so you get all the benefits of FeedBurner, including the subscriber count.

3 - Display RSS Feed on a Static HTML Page

There may be times and situations where you want your feed to exist somewhere outside of your blog. Maybe you want to republish your most recent posts on your portfolio site, or maybe you want to display a list of your most recent post titles. With this approach there are plenty of options.

Why Do It?

Showing all or part of your feed somewhere outside of your blog can help you to get some added exposure for your feed, and it can be used in ways that also benefit readers who are seeing the republished content or links. For example, on my homepage (which is outside the flow of my blog) I display a list of links to the most recent blog posts. This is a fairly common approach on portfolio sites to draw some attention back to your blog posts.

Benefits:

Republishing your feed can bring more traffic to your blog and it can open up some new opportunities to make your site a bit more unique and interesting.

Execution:

FeedBurner offers a simple and flexible solution for doing just this. They call it BuzzBoost. You can set up your feed for BuzzBoost by logging in to your account and choosing the options to customize it in your own way. The process of republishing the feed and making it match your site through CSS is fairly simple, but it's more than I can cover in this post. A few weeks ago I wrote a step by step tutorial of how I set it up on my own site: Display Your Feed on a Static HTML Page Using FeedBurner's BuzzBoost. Google also provides some assistance and guidance for using BuzzBoost that you'll want to check out. Another helpful tutorial is Using FeedBurner's BuzzBoost to Seamlessly Republish a Feed as HTML.

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