A Beginners Guide to Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

RSS allows users to consume content easily by collecting new posts from your favorite sources and importing them to an RSS feed. In this beginner's guide to Really Simple Syndication (RSS), we will introduce you to the absolute basics of RSS — what you need to know in order to get started with using RSS.

Keeping up to date with the latest news, technology, and whatever else piques your interest can be difficult.

Over 4,000 blog entries are published every minute. Manually visiting each one of your bookmarked sites every day to consume new content isn’t always a cakewalk – especially when your list of favorites grows steadily. If only there were a way to aggregate all of your most-liked websites into a single platform! That’s where RSS comes in.

RSS allows users to consume content easily by collecting new posts from your favorite sources and importing them to an RSS feed. In this beginner’s guide to Really Simple Syndication (RSS), we will introduce you to the absolute basics of RSS — what you need to know in order to get started with using RSS. You’ll be surprised at how simple it really is!

Let’s get started.

An Overview of RSS

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a medium that enables Internet users to keep track of their favorite websites through a single platform. It aggregates the latest content published on your list of selected websites and allows you to read it at your leisure. In a nutshell, RSS technology is like a personalized news feed that pulls content you’re interested in reading. Instead of trudging through your bookmarked sites one by one to see if there are any new posts, you can set up an RSS reader to do it for you.

Subscribing to a website RSS removes the need for the user to manually check the website for new content. Instead, their browser constantly monitors the site and informs the user of any updates. – Wikipedia

Once the posts are pulled to the RSS reader, it extracts the important content like text and images for you to read. You can even automatically pull content from RSS feeds and share them directly as new WordPress posts on your own news aggregator site. In the case of an RSS for podcasts and video content (yes, you can use RSS on them, too!) the RSS reader will extract the media clip. The great thing about this is that you don’t have to worry about device compatibility or page responsiveness – the post will be displayed in the RSS reader’s default layout. Best of all, RSS is fully automated to pull latest posts to your reader which means that you don’t have to visit the site over and over again to read new posts.

How Does RSS Work?

The working mechanism behind RSS is pretty simple. All you need to get started is an RSS reader (also called an RSS aggregator) and an Internet connection.

RSS

Once you’ve picked out an RSS aggregator, you need to set up valid feed sources which are the sites that you’d like to pull content from. The application keeps checking your feed sources for new content and updates you when it finds something. The new posts are then imported from the feed source directly onto your RSS reader.

RSS readers can broadly be categorized into five groups, however, they all work on the same basic principle: they allow users to scan headlines and content imported from multiple sources at a glance.

  • Web-based RSS reader. Web-based RSS readers enable users to read their feeds from within the browser. These RSS readers require you to sign up with the web application. Feedly and Flipboard are examples of web-based RSS readers. Some users follow their favorite news sources on Twitter and receive updates directly on their homepage making their Twitter a web-based RSS reader. Services like WP RSS Aggregator allow you to automatically create new WordPress posts from RSS feeds.
  • Desktop-based RSS reader. Desktop-based RSS readers are for users who want to take content consumption to the next level. These RSS readers download the entire articles (and sometimes their images and outbound links) directly to your machine allowing you to read them offline. FeedDemon is a great example of a desktop-based RSS reader.
  • Browser-based RSS reader. Some browsers come with built-in RSS readers which are also known as browser-based RSS readers. If you’re constantly craving new content, why not integrate it into your browser? Here’s a guide on How to Follow RSS Feeds in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox.
  • Email-based RSS reader. Instead of receiving multiple emails from all of your feed sources you can sign up for an email-based RSS reader and have all of your favorite content sent a few emails (based on your own configuration). Google Alerts and Blogtrottr are examples of email-based RSS readers.
  • Mobile-based RSS reader. A greater percentage of the population prefers to receive RSS updates on their mobile devices. This allows them to go through the latest news articles and posts on the go. Web applications like Feedly and Flipboard have mobile apps that get the job done, effortlessly!

Once you’ve decided which type of RSS reader to go with, you can move on to using its simple-yet-powerful functionality to get updates on your favorite websites and blogs.

Getting Started With RSS Readers

RSS readers solve a lot of problems.

If you’ve set out to test the RSS waters then we recommend that you go for a web-based, browser-based, or mobile-based RSS reader. In this regard, Feedly is a great RSS reader to start out with. Although Feedly was originally designed to be a web application, it also has a supporting browser extension and mobile app that makes it easy for all kinds of users to start off with a step in the right direction.

Feedly
Feedly

Its cross-platform compatibility allows users to synchronize their RSS feeds so that they can continue reading where they left off – even on a different device. Here’s how you can start using this incredibly powerful RSS reader:

Step 1: Head over to Feedly and create an account.

Step 2: Search for the feed source that you’d like to follow.

Search for WP Mayor.
Search for a site that supports RSS feed subscriptions.

Step 3: Click on the green +feedly button at the top of the screen to add the feed source.

Add the feed source.
Click on the green button to add the feed source to your Feedly.

Step 4: Select (or create a new collection) to follow the feed source in your Feedly.

Must Read feed source.
Categorize the feed source into a collection.

Step 5: The feed source has been added to your Feedly!

Imported feeds.
All done!

That’s all there is to it! All of your feed sources will be added to the menu on the left either directly or under a collection sub-menu.

Multiple feed sources.
Find all of your feeds in one place.

RSS Aggregation

One of the key strengths of RSS over a simple backlink is that it incorporates all the information contained in a post – text content, images, other media, and so on. This makes it the perfect platform for running aggregation or syndication sites because it means you can preserve articles on your blog even if the original site goes down. Using an RSS plugin like WP RSS Aggregator you can import RSS feed items as actual posts on your WordPress site, which you can edit as needed.

Adding RSS Feeds to WordPress is simple:

Step 1: Find the RSS Feed Url

Step 2: Configure WP RSS Aggregator

Then either import RSS feed items as lists by

Step 1: Using the simple start wizard to create your first RSS feed

Step 2: Pasting the URL to your RSS feed

Step 3: Choose how to display the feed on your site – you can use a shortcode or a dedicated Gutenberg block

Or import RSS feed items as WordPress posts by

Step 1: Grabbing the Feed-to-Post add-on for WP RSS Aggregator

Step 2: Adding a new RSS feed

Step 3: Choosing which post type to use

Step 4: Setting up taxonomies and authors for feed items

Step 5: Setting up a publication schedule

You can find a rundown of the full process here. There’s just so much you can do with RSS!

RSS Is for More Than Blogs

Although RSS is used primarily for syndicating blog posts it can be used for so many more things. In fact, power users leverage RSS functionality for everything from subscribing to a podcast to receiving alerts every time a new ad is placed on their favorite real estate website.

Here’s a quick rundown of some popular use case scenarios where you can harness the power of RSS:

  • Set up a community news site that updates members on the latest happenings in your area.
  • Create a job board that imports job listing from popular sources.
  • Automatically generate a newsletter for your online business to be sent to subscribers.
  • Receive new recipes and cooking tips posted by the Food Network.
  • Follow your favorite YouTube channel to get the latest videos delivered directly to you.
  • Get the best deals on online shopping from eBay.

Setting up an RSS-powered aggregation site makes it easy for your users to stay up to date with the latest happenings in their favorite online sources whether they’re blog posts, multimedia content, ads, or real estate listings.

Wrapping It Up

RSS technology simplifies and streamlines how you consume content on the Internet. If you like to stay up to date with a collection of your hand-picked sites then we encourage you to try RSS out on your own. We covered the five main types of RSS readers and suggested a few tools help you get started. Hopefully, you’re in a good position to take things to the next level.

Were you able to set up your own RSS reader? What do you use RSS technology for? Can you think of some more use cases in which RSS technology can be used? We’d love to hear from you so let us know by commenting below!

Rafay Saeed Ansari
Rafay Saeed Ansari
Rafay is an entrepreneur, computer scientist, professional writer for several high-traffic websites, and founder of Blogginc. He provides byline and ghost-writing services for digital and brick-and-mortar businesses with a focus on web development, WordPress, and entrepreneurship.

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