In November of 2008, Google released their Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide stressing the importance of updating content, saying it “will influence your website more than any other factors.” More than any other factors? That’s quite a bold statement, but coming from Google, it’s safe to assume it’s true that frequent updating of content should be a top priority for all sites. While there are many ways to add fresh content, syndicated content (such as RSS feeds) is the simplest and most effective way. It is free, ensures regular updates and spidering, and increases your site’s keyword count, not to mention the higher ranking that search engines give to sites with RSS feeds.
While everyone seems to have an RSS feed, the proportion of sites maximizing their feed’s potential is minimal. Many appear unaware that feeds can be optimized just like any other page on a site. Syndicated content is written in XML, which is very similar to HTML, and can be optimized similarly. The following are some helpful tips and strategies to implement for increased exposure, visibility, and readership of your RSS feeds.
1. Title Optimization
Optimizing titles by using keyword-rich text is not only crucial, but among the simplest and best ways to optimize a feed. Don’t overthink it — just use keywords that fit the text, especially the one keyword that is most important on the page. Additionally, it is wise to throw in some branded keywords in the title from time to time to ensure ownership of your name. The last thing you want is another company outranking you for your own name. Also, when optimizing titles, try not to appear “spammy” in any way. If it looks as if you’re trying to throw in as many keywords as possible, you compromise the user experience and your potential to maximize visibility.
Many options exist for customizing RSS feeds. For example, RSS feeds can be presented either as summaries or full text. As the more SEO-friendly option, offering full text is preferable. With additional text come additional keywords — always ideal for a boost in visibility and rankings. RSS feeds may also vary in the number of recent posts displayed, with most showing the last 10 items published. However, it is best to include more than 10. An optimal starting point would be 20 items. The more content there is for Google to read, the more info there is to show your readers.
3. Multiple Feeds
One often-debated topic is the inclusion of multiple feeds on a site versus one customizable feed. The answer depends on the site and category specificity, although most advice suggests one feed for each of the main navigational categories on the site. For example, an ecommerce site may have a feed for top sellers of the week, another for sale items, new releases, etc. This way, customers can choose to read what they want, without being bombarded by unnecessary product information.
4. Rich Media RSS
RSS feeds can include various types of multimedia files called “enclosures.” A podcast enclosure, for example, provides a simple way to subscribe to the audio and video files from a site’s feed. Including these types of files is vital for expanding the possible number of directories and search engines your feed can be included in. For podcasts, for example, there are many specific directories for them, the most important being the Apple iTunes podcast directory.
All sites should submit their feeds to My.Yahoo and My.MSN (in addition to Google and others). This is the fastest way for feeds to be spidered and ranked by Yahoo! and MSN. To do this, create a personal account in each engine, customizing the home page to include the feed’s URL. Be sure to submit the feed wherever applicable. In My.Yahoo, feeds can be submitted and assigned either by content or category. Also consider submitting feeds to other directory sites, such as Technorati and Feedster.
Every so often, link to yourself by adding a link to your own website in the RSS feed description and embedding it in the RSS feed’s syndicated content. It is also important to optimize all links by targeting keywords within the anchor text to increase your total number of inbound links, which will help with PageRank and referral traffic. Make sure to use internal links and always use the full path of any links. Other sites displaying your feed may syndicate the feed contents, so links in the feed need to be fully qualified in order to function as they should. Any use of internal links should also open up a new page to make sure visitors don’t leave the site.
To check there are no errors with the feed and content is appearing as it should, validate the feed. Free services, such as freevalidator.org, will easily do this for you. It is always advisable to subscribe to your own feed, so you can see exactly what your readers are seeing. Otherwise, an error in the feed stream could go unnoticed for a substantial length of time.
8. RSS Discovery
To help with reader usability, use autodiscovery with your RSS. This is quite easy to implement, just requiring that the following line of code be added to the feed:
<link rel=”alternate” type=”application/rss+xml” title=”INSERT FEED TITLE” href=”INSERT FEED URL” />
Autodiscovery helps search engines detect a feed and makes it easier for users to subscribe via a small orange “subscribe” button in the address bar. Along with providing this clearly visible subscribe link in the address bar, consider adding corporate or branded images or logos to help with brand association. These will enhance your corporate identity and make your feed more visually appealing. All sites should also add buttons enabling one-click addition to a user’s feed reader, such as “Subscribe in NewsGator,” “Subscribe on Bloglines,” and “Add to My Yahoo!”
9. Feed Promotion
As a site owner, help promote your feed by adding the feed URL to your signature file. Do this for email, forum comments, and any other site that shows profile information to other users. This will help associate the name of the feed with your company. When naming your feed, consider the alphabetical standpoint. Feed readers generally show feeds in alphabetical order, so a feed starting with the letter “a” will usually appear first in a viewer’s reader. If a reader has countless feeds and yours is near the bottom, it can be easy to overlook.
Be sure to track the analytics of your site’s feed. Know how many readers your feed has at all times, so that you can track readership variables according to the content published to help learn what your readers find valuable. Again, this all goes back to the content. Providing fresh content will ensure that search engines spider the website regularly. They will index feeds more often if sites are updated with fresh content on a regular basis. Additionally, it is a site’s content that will bring repeat visitors.
In closing, it is important to note that while blogs and feeds generally go hand-in-hand, they should not always be lumped together. Blogs are really just one example of a feed. Feeds go far beyond blogs to include many other applications, such as news alerts, product specials, sales, event calendars, new articles, tools or applications, stock arrivals, search results, article revisions, forum posts, and even best-seller lists.
Charlene Li, former VP and principal analyst from Forrester Research, was once asked (TopRankBlog, April 2008) what she would choose to be if she could be any form of technology. Her response? “RSS/XML. Nobody would know who I am or what my initials mean, but I make everything work together. I’d be the foundation of mashups, social applications, and widgets. Without me, the social Web would grind to a halt.” No doubt about it — RSS is one powerful tool.