How to Make Your Own RSS Feeds

By Jamie Bsales | Posted April 19, 2007

You have a Web site, an e-newsletter and perhaps even a full-blown e-mail marketing program. But you’re not done yet. One of the hottest buzzwords in Web 2.0 speak is RSS (Really Simple Syndication). With RSS, visitors to a Web site can elect to subscribe to a live feed from the site, receiving information they select in real-time in their browser or RSS reader utility (see RSS Options for the Desktop and Beyond).

Create an RSS Feed screen shot
Step 1: Determine your Web site host server name, and if it supports FTP.
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For news, sports, entertainment, online publications and blogs, the benefits of implementing an RSS feed is obvious: Deliver information to your visitors even when they aren’t actively surfing your site, and they’ll be sure to come back when an item piques their interest. For other types of businesses, an RSS feed can keep you top-of-mind with your past customers.

Benefits of RSS
“It’s a great way to stay in contact,” said Thomas Harpointner, CEO of AIS Media, a commercial Web-services firm aimed at small and medium businesses. His firm’s clients have begun using RSS as an adjunct to e-mail marketing. “It won’t replace e-mail marketing, but is a parallel track,’ he says.

Create an RSS Feed screen shot
Step 2: Give your feed a title.
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In addition to maintaining contact with customers, an RSS feed can deliver hidden benefits, noted Harpointner. For example, it can boost your site’s rankings with search engines, since a properly implemented feed can percolate up immediately, as opposed to languishing for the four-to-eight weeks it takes for a regular Web page to be indexed.

Also, customers may be more likely to click on an RSS subscription bug than they are to subscribe to a newsletter, because they don’t have to share any personal information (namely their e-mail address) to opt in. And perhaps the biggest advantage of RSS over e-mail: Your missives won’t get caught in recipients’ spam filters.

Create an RSS Feed screen shot
Step 3: Give your feed a short description.
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Deliver Worthwhile Content
As with a Web site or newsletter, content is king when it comes to a successful RSS implementation. “It has to be of value, and the information should be specific, not broad” said Harpointner. “If people don't find the feed useful, they’ll unsubscribe.”

New product information, sale announcements, and of course coupon offers are good examples of what may resonate with customers. Harpointner also advised that missives should contain a call-to-action to visit your site. “If you give them everything they need to know in the feed, there’s no reason for them to click though,” he says. Most of all, he continued, don’t over-saturate your subscribers. “Limit the amount of content you push their way,” advised Harpointner.

Create an RSS Feed screen shot
Step 4: Enter the URL link for your feed.
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How to Create an RSS Feed
To get started, you could enlist a firm like AIS Media. But there are also tools available for the reasonably savvy do-it-yourselfer, such as ExtraLabs Software’s Feed Editor or NotePage’s FeedforAll, the software we tried, which sells for $39.95.

FeedforAll’s wizard-driven solution can walk you through creating a standard RSS feed, a standard podcast, or an iTunes podcast.

Create an RSS Feed screen shot
Step 5: Enter the item title.
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The most technical information you’ll need to get started: your Web site’s server address and FTP server type. If you have your own in-house server hosting your Web site, you can get that information easily from your Web software (or better, from your IT guy). But more than likely, you are using an outside service provider to host your site, so you’ll need to get that info from them.

Before you panic — or spend time on hold waiting for tech support — drill down into the Web-hosting details area in your account-management screen, and you should be able to find the server address assigned to your site. Just be aware that some low-cost hosting subscriptions don’t provide FTP support (which you need to upload your feed), so you may need to upgrade your hosting account.

In FeedforAll, the first step in the RSS creation wizard is to give your feed a title. If there is (or will be) a Web page that will also contain the information provided in the RSS feed, use the same name. Then, you’ll be asked to fill in a description. This is a short summary that aptly describes the contents of the feed. You’ll also enter the link to the feed; that is, the Web page URL from which the RSS feed originates.

Create an RSS Feed screen shot
Step 6: Enter the item description.
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Next, you’ll create item introduction. This is a synopsis of a full story. Then you’ll enter the item’s title (essentially a headline) and the item description (the text of the news item or announcement). Then enter the item link (the Web page that contains the full text) and hit Finish.

FeedforAll’s main UI features three tabs (for Feeds, Items, Images), and four additional tabs in the right window where you see (or enter) basic information for the feed. You can also set publication dates and other parameters. Above the tabs are icons for creating a new feed, opening an existing one, saving a feed, removing a feed, downloading a feed, or publishing (uploading) a feed.  You can also preview how a feed will look.

Highlight a feed from the list by clicking on it, and hit the “Publish Feed” icon.  Here’s where you’ll either select the proper server and path from the list, or click Edit to add the information if it’s new. Then click on the button marked Publish, and your item will be uploaded to your site.

Create an RSS Feed screen shot


Step 7: Select the feed you want to publish from the list of feeds you’ve created, and enter necessary parameters (desired publication date, links, and so on)
Create an RSS Feed screen shot
Step 8: Enter the site name, server name, FTP type, and any required usernames and passwords an administrator needs to access the site.
Create an RSS Feed screen shot

Step 9: Hit “Publish” and your feed item is uploaded and ready to go.
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Ideally, you’ll work with your Web site developer to properly place and highlight the RSS feed icon. And of course, now comes the hard part: Creating engaging content on an ongoing basis to keep your RSS feed fresh and useful.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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