Practical Ecommerce

RSS Basics

Want more traffic to your ecommerce site? Need an easy way to distribute news and updates? An RSS feed may be your answer.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is a format for syndicating website content such as might be found on major news sites like CNN, as well as on blogs. In fact, blogs are the most common type of site to utilize RSS, but any website that has routinely updated content can and should be RSS-enabled.

You have likely seen a small orange button on many websites with the term RSS or XML, which is the technology used to facilitate content syndication. That button has become an industry standard and identifies the site as RSS-enabled. If you click on the button (sometimes it’s a text link), you may see nothing more than a page of code. RSS in and of itself is not useful to humans. It is designed for software programs called RSS readers or aggregators. These programs, of which there are many, interpret this code enabling the reader to see the syndicated content.

The reason sites with routinely updated content should consider using RSS is simply that it gives those sites yet another means of getting its message into the hands of consumers. Unlike email, users only receive the content when they subscribe to it, and RSS is not subject to the same problems with spam as its email counterpart. As RSS gains in popularity thanks to services like MyYahoo! or MyMSN personalized portals, it can have great implications for sales and marketing.

The way RSS works is this: A user has an RSS reader (also known as an aggregator), which resembles an email program’s interface. Many such programs are available which either reside on your desktop or are web-based. Two of the most popular are Newsgator and Bloglines. Firefox and Safari now incorporate RSS readers directly into their interface. Version 7 of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will likely incorporate an RSS reader, too.

Let’s say someone finds an RSS-enabled site from which they want to consume content. Using the aggregator they subscribe to what is known as the site’s RSS feed. Once that step is taken, the aggregator will periodically search the site for updated content. That search can take place hourly, daily, or less often depending on the preference of the user. When the program finds new content, it is pulled down to the aggregator’s interface for the user to read. Some aggregators even notify the user when fresh content is available.

Unlike email, which is considered “push” technology, in that the user has to wait for a message to be broadcast before she receives it, RSS is “pull” technology because the aggregator is constantly searching for updates and delivering them to the user.

RSS is a huge convenience for anyone who spends time doing research on the Internet. Instead of going site to site to find new information, RSS literally brings it to your door! Not only can you subscribe to a given site’s feed, you can subscribe to keyword searches on Google and Yahoo!, as well as other engines. They are all RSS enabled now as well. RSS is not only useful for the consumer of information; it can also help bring life back to a site gone stale. RSS feeds can be imported for use on other websites to provide them with new, fresh content. Imagine the benefit that provides a static website when, for example, constantly updated company news headlines can be incorporated.

Though RSS is still a mystery to many, it is a technology you should embrace. It’s another way to get your message across to people who want to hear it.

Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

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