The RSS Feed: What is it and What is it Used For?

With too much information available on the Internet on almost any topic in the world, it has become crucial for humans to be able to streamline all of it, and organize it in a way that makes it less overwhelming.

Information is only useful if we are able to digest it, and in order to digest it or sink it into our minds, we first need to categorize it. One way websites achieve this is by using a one page website design.

We cannot be reading everything we come across on the Internet all the time. When we need information on a specific topic, we need to know where to look for it, and more importantly, where not to look for it.

This is the reason why products like Facebook one-click website builders are coming into the market. We need the means to summarize and organize all the data that’s scattered all over the Internet.

Showing option in Strikingly to turn Facebook page into website

Image taken from Strikingly

This is where the RSS feed comes in. What is RSS? Well for starters, it stands for Really Simple Syndication.

What is an RSS Feed?

I’m sure all of you are familiar with the Facebook newsfeed, or the newsfeed of some other popular social media site, such as LinkedIn. The purpose of a newsfeed is to filter out the kind of information or posts that you are likely to be interested in, according to your past post-viewing patterns, and to show you similar posts in a more organized form to keep you interested on the website.

So what is an RSS feed? An RSS feed is also a feed with a similar purpose, but instead of being on social media sites, it is available on regular websites. When a website has an RSS feed, it is able to update its viewers in a much simpler way compared to other websites, about what’s new on the website and what’s new going on with the brand or the company whose website it is.

In other words, an RSS feed makes all the information available on a website much easier to categorize. It’s like the index. In particular, an RSS feed gives an in-depth peek into a website’s new content.

RSS feeds are actually simple text files that exist in algorithm-free format. They are different from the rest of the website content that can be inserted in the best fonts for your website. If someone really wants to view everything that exists on a website, it would be very helpful for him/her if the website has an RSS feed.

Are RSS feeds Outdated?

Well, the answer to this is both yes and no. RSS feeds are indeed a very old concept. The truth is that RSS feeds are older than the news feeds we see on social media sites these days.

But even today, RSS feeds do have their own place. While many companies and individuals prefer to just connect their websites with social media pages and post all the updates there, or simply insert Youtube videos into the website, some still prefer to have an RSS feed on the website instead.

The latter are those companies that believe that social media comes with a lot of baggage, which needs to be handled and managed separately. On the viewers’ side, those who are not too fond of social media prefer to have an RSS feed on any websites that they view or use regularly.

RSS feeds were more common in the olden days. Users would subscribe to RSS feeds from websites that published content on topics of their interest. They would then scan through the headlines to read the quickly selected articles from a wide variety of sources. These days, most people use social media to do this. They add social media buttons to the footer of the website and link those to the respective social media pages for the company or brand.

Strikingly user's website showing social share button

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

However, one disadvantage of using social media to read aggregate news is that the proprietary algorithms on social media platforms filter out the content or posts that each user sees in their newsfeed. With an RSS feed, everything that’s been published by the sources where the user subscribed is viewable.

Since RSS feeds are an old concept, they have the benefit of being readable or viewable even when the user or viewer is offline. An RSS feed keeps updating even when the user is not online.

How to Use an RSS Feed?

RSS feeds are simply readable as they are. In order to read an RSS feed, you need a website or a program called an RSS reader.

There are a variety of RSS feed reader programs to use. There are free ones as well as paid ones.

Here are the steps on how to use an RSS feed.

1. The first thing you need to do is to subscribe to an RSS reader. Examples of some popular RSS readers are as follows.

  • Feedreader
  • Feedly
  • NewsBlur
  • The Old Reader
  • Feeder

All you have to do is create an account on whichever RSS reader you choose, and subscribe to your preferred RSS feeds.

2. Next, you need to find the links to the feeds that you want to subscribe to. Some websites place the link to their RSS feed on their homepage. Those are easy to locate because they are usually either in the header or the footer of the website. If you have a good understanding of websites’ headers in general, you will be able to notice quickly if it’s there or not. The RSS feed icon looks similar to the Wi-Fi icon. Once you locate it, just click on it and copy the URL. In case you are not able to find the RSS icon, use the Search field to locate it and find the page.

3. Then subscribe to the RSS feed. Back in the RSS reader, locate the link for adding a new feed, and then enter/paste the new feed’s URL. Right when you add the URL, you will see a list of posts/articles. Choose the article you want to read and click on it to open it.

4. Continue to add more RSS feeds into your RSS reader in this way, until all the websites you like to read from are aggregated into your reader program.

How do RSS Feeds Work?

Let’s get a bit technical now. In order to fully understand the concept of an RSS feed, you need to know how do RSS feeds work.

Like we mentioned above, the XML files of an RSS feed keep on automatically updating information, even when the user or viewer is not online.

What’s actually happening here is your RSS reader program fetches all this information, and converts all the files and latest updates that it gets from all the subscribed websites into a format that is easily readable by you.

The RSS reader captures the different elements of each article, such as the headlines, abstracts or summaries, notices of updates, and links them back to the original articles published on your subscribed websites.

The content distribution is done in real-time, which means the latest published article on your subscribed website will always appear at the top of the RSS feed results.

If for instance, you make a personal website in minutes, you can start with just a one-page website and add an RSS feed to it. Your viewers will be able to follow as and when you add more content into it.

Strikingly user's website showing a personal website

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

This makes it very convenient for you as the reader to select what you want to read. Even if you do not read certain articles from the list, you get to have a quick snapshot of what’s been updated on those topics, which keeps you updated on what’s going on in the world on subjects of your interest.

How to Insert an RSS Feed into Your Website?

Now that you know what is RSS and what is an RSS feed, you might want to insert one into your website. If you are running a forum website or a news portal, having an RSS feed would really go a long way in increasing the traffic to your blog, as your articles will become way more reachable and accessible to your potential audience.

Strikingly user's website showing a personal blog

Image taken from Strikingly user’s website

If you are using a website builder to run your website, such as Strikingly, then inserting an RSS feed would be super easy. Knowing how do RSS feeds work is important if you are going to use them on your website.

Strikingly not only makes RSS and social media integration easier for your website, but also contributes to your blog’s overall SEO by promoting your website in the Strikingly blog articles.

If your motive is to grow the audience on your blog, you can choose to go with either one or both means, that is, use social media integration to grow your audience or use an RSS feed to enhance the reachability of your articles.

A picture showing a man blogging

At the end of the day, your website must look neat, and it must have good search ranking which can greatly be enhanced by including an RSS feed in your web design or template. RSS feeds will never really get completely outdated. Many websites newly launched in 2021 are proudly using an RSS feed.