So you’ve got your self-hosted WordPress blog set up, optimized and have already published a few great posts and you want to offer an RSS feed and email subscription to your posts.
What is RSS?
RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication and is a format used to publish frequently updated content from the web on the web. The RSS feed is your posts’ content without any of your website’s style so it will contain just the titles, body text and image paths of your posts. So you better make your image paths absolute not relative!
The benefit of RSS is the aggregation of your favorite websites from multiple sources in one place. RSS content can be read using software called an “RSS reader”, “feed reader” or an “aggregator”, which can be on your browser or on your desktop.
How to set up a Feedburner feed
Google has bought FeedBurner, so you need to sign in to Google and then go to Feedburner and look for where it says something like “Burn a feed right this instant”. WordPress blogs already come with a feed so you can enter either your blog’s URL (eg: http://www.my-blog.com) or your blog’s feed (eg: http://www.my-blog.com/feed, http://www.my-blog.com/?feed=rss2), check a box if you are a podcaster and hit “Next”.
You will next be greeted with a page where you can change your feed title and feed address. Once you are satisfied with those hit “Next” again. After this there are further Feedburner options to choose from – most of which I ignore, it’s FeedBurner’s email subscription that rocks but I’ll come to that later!
Install the FeedBurner plugin
For the best results using FeedBurner with your self-hosted WordPress site, the FeedBurner FeedSmith plugin is recommended. It will detect all ways to access your feed (e.g. http://www.my-blog.com/feed/ or http://www.my-blog.com/wp-rss2.php, etc.), and redirect them to your FeedBurner feed so you can track every possible subscriber.
Feedburner can only handle feeds under 512K. In WordPress, make sure your feed doesn’t exceed this in the administration area, by going Settings > Reading, “For each article in a feed, show” – you can choose “Summary” although I like to have “Full text” and don’t put more than 50 in “Syndication feeds show the most recent” if you write long posts.
What is email subscription and how can you set it up?
Email subscription to your blog allows those who have signed up for it to receive your blog posts in their inbox. You can use Aweber to do this but I’ll show you how to do it for free with FeedBurner.
With your feed selected click the “Publicize” tab, then click “Email Subscriptions” on the left, making sure “Feedburner” is selected, and click “Activate”. This will then present you with some HTML code in the box which you will need to copy and paste somewhere in your website.
Once signed up a subscriber will receive your posts as emails shortly after they are published. Google/FeedBurner handles all the backend work – subscribers verify themselves by email and have the option of unsubscribing at the bottom of every email they receive.
Design your posts so they look great as an email
Underneath the “Email Subscriptions” link in FeedBurner whilst in the “Publicize” tab there is another link entitled “Email Branding”. Do spend some time on this page formatting text, headings and links – you can specify the font, size and color. You can also add your logo and specify the title of the email.
Advertise the RSS feed and email subscription on your website
On my website I advertise the RSS feed with the familiar RSS icon which is linked to my FeedBurner feed. And I use the familiar email icon which takes you to the page where you can subscribe to my posts by email. I’ve also got some general information about feeds on this page so that my readers can decide which is the best way for them to subscribe to my blog.
What’s the benefit of RSS and email subscription?
They are both fantastic marketing tools. RSS brings in traffic as it is, for some people, an easy way of reading a site’s content. Email subscription can work like a weekly newsletter to your subscribers with a link back to your site. A subscriber is always worth more than a visitor because, more often than not they will return to your site again and again. The added advantage of the email subscribers is that you have the list of their email address’s although I wouldn’t advocate sending them much in the way of extra mail.