What is RSS? What is a feed?

Updated February 20, 2015

Every WordPress site has a default RSS feed. RSS stands for Rich Site Summary (a.k.a. Really Simple Syndication). It allows you as a publisher to automatically update those who are interested in your new content.

What is RSS? What is a feed? How do they work?

What is a feed?

Your blog’s feed contains your blog posts packaged in a way so it can be delivered to subscribers.

In other words, instead of a reader having to come to your site to check if you have new content, they subscribe to your feed which sends them the latest content whenever it is updated. (It’s like subscribing to the newspaper so it gets delivered directly to you instead of you calling the journalists at the newspaper 20 times a day, “Is there anything new?” “Any new news?” “What’s the latest?” etc.)

Ways to read a feed

Where do your readers want your new posts delivered? Where do they prefer to read it? It’s a matter of preference.

There are two ways a subscriber to your feed can receive your new content:

  1. via email
  2. via an RSS reader like Feedly (which is what I use).

Tip: If someone subscribes via an RSS reader, your content is delivered but you have to wait for them to open that reader to read your content, whereas if they subscribe via email, they have given you permission to send that content right to their inbox. So, as bloggers and website owners, we’d much rather them subscribe via email.

How to set up your site’s feed so others can subscribe

WordPress will produce a default feed for your site. Typically you can view it by going to http://yourdomain.com/feed. It will probably look like gobbly gook, but just know, that’s the default feed URL.

Some bloggers prefer to use a service that provides more control and more features to track their feed and its statistics. (FeedBurner has been a popular one in the past, but FeedBurner is no longer being updated and therefore I would no longer recommend that option. Read more below.) Using the default feed is just fine.

Because email subscribers are better than RSS subscribers, I don’t put an RSS subscribe button anywhere on my blog. I just assume that anyone who wants to subscribe to my blog via an RSS reader (like Feedly) can do that easily by going to their Feedly account, entering in my blog address and Feedly will automatically find it for them.

As I mentioned, I prefer readers will subscribe via email. I keep subscribers informed of updated posts in the Useletter, so I try to direct any potential subscribers there.

What about FeedBurner?

A very popular and free option to set up your RSS feed is FeedBurner. FeedBurner will deliver to an RSS reader or they’ll deliver to an inbox, but the future of FeedBurner is uncertain.

Google (they own FeedBurner) has basically stopped maintaining it as they have in the past which may be an indication that they might be planning to get rid of it eventually. Who knows.

The other problem with FeedBurner is that it is notoriously inaccurate. Stats fluctuate wildly.

FeedBurner doesn’t afford you all the bells and whistles a paid-for service provides, such as emails outside of your blog posts (a useful feature indeed), but for many bloggers, a simple email list for free is better than a fancy email list that is not free. If you want to use FeedBurner, you can check out their help page here. Bloggers who go this route should definitely highlight the email option over the RSS option.

What I do & what I use

A while back, I made the conscious choice to start producing most of my content in the Useletter instead of in blog posts. For that reason, people can still subscribe to my RSS feed if they want, but the only subscription option I make obvious on my site is for the Useletter which is not tied to my blog posts at all, but I do mention new blog posts whenever relevant.

What I recommend

Assuming you started a WordPress blog, just us the default RSS feed. In other words, you don’t need to do anything further for this step.

Originally published: March 26, 2013