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RSS Basics

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is a document in a standardized XML format that Webmasters and Bloggers use to inform Internet users that they have added some new content to their Website or blog. Syndication means that other websites can read your RSS file and use it to inform their visitors about content on your Website. This is a great asset to both the websites using your RSS file and to you, since syndication drives traffic to your Website or blog.

An RSS file, sometimes called a "feed" or "channel", is written in XML. XML (Extensible Markup Language), is a code that uses tags similar to HTML, except whereas HTML tags define how to display data, XML tags describe the data. Having a standard format allows RSS reader applications to understand and publish the information in your RSS file. For example, an RSS reader application knows the link to your new content is found within the <link></link> tags.

Does RSS Replace eMail?

Internet users can subscribe to RSS feeds using RSS reader applications, Websites called "Aggrigators", or even in their Web browser. If they lose interest in a particular RSS feed, they can unsubscribe in the same application. This is far easier than subscribing, and especially unsubscribing, to a newsletter. Internet users have more control over their subscriptions. They request or "pull" the feed as they like. Whereas once they subscribe to a newsletter, each issue of the newsletter is "pushed" to the subscriber.

Knowing that some newsletters make it difficult to unsubscribe, many newsletter subscribers "unsubscribe" by marking the newsletter as "SPAM". Then each future issue of the newsletter goes to the users email SPAM bucket to get automatically deleted. The publisher never knows that their newsletter goes directly to the users SPAM bucket, and since they charge for advertising based on subscriber numbers, they don't want to know. For this reason many Internet experts say eMail is dead.

However, I disagree with these experts. If a newsletter contains information that is truly of value to its subscribers, and if that newsletter publisher frequently scrubs their subscriber list, then subscribers will look forward to each issue, and not mark it as SPAM, and the newsletter's advertisers will get good value for their money. Good newsletters will never be obsolete, and there's nothing to say you can't publish a newsletter and an RSS feed with the same information.

Blogs and RSS

A blog (short for Web log) is basically a Website that is updated frequently. A typical blog is updated daily, although some blogs post hundreds of updates daily and others are updated only monthly. The number of blogs exploded when free and easy-to-use blogging websites such as Google's Blogger and WordPress came along. Now there are over 126 million blogs on the Internet with topics from adoption to zombies and everything in-between.

RSS was designed specifically to keep track of updates to these blogs. In fact the applications on blogging websites automatically create RSS feeds and update those feeds each time the blog writer enters a new post. That's not to say a regular old-fashioned Website can't use an RSS feed to syndicate its updates, it's just not usually a built-in function. In fact there are many RSS feeds that are not related to any blog or Website, they're just RSS feeds where all the content is contained within the feed.

RSS as a Marketing Tool

The primary way RSS serves as a marketing tool is to syndicate information about content on your Website or blog. This syndication drives traffic to your Website or blog. Increased traffic produces increased revenue from the advertising on your Website or blog. But RSS provides many more marketing opportunities.

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