Since the technology surrounding extensible markup language (XML) and really simple syndication (RSS) is a fairly complex subject with many factors to consider, this article will focus on the basics that a working webmaster needs to know in order to immediately begin deploying feeds from their website.
But first, a little introduction into why anyone would want to bother in the first place.
Consider that when a visitor comes to your website, they are "pulling" information from you and must be at your website to do so. The typical methods of website promotion such as banner ads, text links, galleries and the like also will require the user to consciously "pull" information from a website while he is physically visiting it — and this requires an action on his part that he may or may not take, namely, noticing and then clicking on your link.
Email is a "push" method of marketing, where you are in control of when the recipient receives your message, but it is an increasingly problematic marketing medium. Spam is bad and often filtered out, while using your own clean, targeted "opt in" lists often limits you to previous visitors who bothered to subscribe.
RSS news feeds on the other hand are easy for surfers to use, with newsreader-equipped browsers such as Netscape, Opera and others prompting users to add the feed with a single click. This prompt will typically come when the surfer visits your site's feed page. But unlike the email method of push marketing, your feeds have a viral effect, being shared and repeated acRSS aggregation sites and forming marketing entities of their own. So just like when using banner ads, a surfer might find your website while visiting another.
The beauty of this is that once the user adds the feed, he will receive a notice every time you update the feed, and your message will be delivered to him. This ability to push your information onto surfers who are not currently visiting your website, but have expressed interest in adding your feed, allows you to easily stay in touch with current and future members as well as other customers and prospects.
A perfect example of why this is worth doing is because it is an excellent way to boost the retention rate of your paysite. Every time you update your members area, your members can be instantly notified of the update, with text descriptions and multimedia content so that they can get a sample of the new content ahead of time, encouraging them to revisit your site for more.
This method also is handy for encouraging uncertain prospects to join your site by allowing all visitors to access the feed. Perhaps Billy wasn't quite ready to join the last time he visited your site, but your constant reminders of how fresh your content is will help him make a positive purchase decision. Other sites that want to encourage repeat visits, such as live cam chat and dating sites, gallery posts or other free sites, also can make profitable use of these techniques.
An additional but often overlooked benefit of using RSS feeds is that when properly implemented, they can provide several benefits to your search engine marketing efforts — a subject that is beyond the scope of this article.
There are a variety of options for extending and enhancing the content and presentation of your RSS feeds. You can find a comprehensive guide to these choices, an explanation of the code elements shown above, as well as an online feed validation tool here.
These resources will allow you to easily customize the code to your own requirements.
News Feed Systems
While the simple XML code example above will allow you to get started with site update announcements in a matter of minutes, many users will want more sophisticated news feed systems that do not require manual editing of .xml files or the use of FTP programs.
While I purposely tried to avoid using the word "blog" up until now, popular blogging tools like WordPress are ideal and highly recommended for use in this role, making use of an intuitive online control panel for composing and posting your messages and automatically generating valid feeds. An open source solution, WordPress, is free to use and easy to install, requiring only a MySQL database and modest server resources.
While some webmasters use WordPress or other similar solutions not as a blog but as a low-budget content management system, an Open Source CMS such as PHPNuke also can provide flexible feed management and a host of other benefits. Highly expandable, these systems may be overkill for those simple applications like the "site update notification" example above, but they can be effectively used in such a wide variety of roles that incorporating them into new or existing sites using custom programming will be an excellent option for many webmasters wanting comprehensive feed management tools.
Alternatively, some users may wish to present automated feeds based on the content of a web page but without using a blogging system, content management system or even a MySQL (or other) database. While there are various ways to implement such a system, an online utility known as "RSSify," as well as other similar applications, allows users to enter the URL of a web page containing special codes within its HTML that allow the RSSify script to parse a valid RSS feed from it.
For those hesitant to link to an outside site for their feed, some time spent studying these tools — plus some modest programming skills and a little experimentation — should allow webmasters to create a custom application that automatically generates an updated feed whenever you update your standard "What's New" page, providing dual methods of user notification with only one document to update.
Regardless of your method of implementation, pushing an RSS news feed from your website is an easy and effective method of building traffic, encouraging repeat visits and increasing member retention and satisfaction. With powerful benefits like that, it's no surprise that adult webmasters are increasing their use of this technology.
I hope that it made you consider the possibilities of adding a feed to your website.