So you’ve decided you really need to find out more about this whole blog phenomenon to try and decide if your business really needs a blog or not. (Hint: It does.) But you say learning all that new blogging stuff is a bit overwhelming?
How can you make informed decisions when you don’t even understand what those bloggers are talking about?
Well today is a good day for you because we’re here to help at SuccessCREEations. Welcome to Business Blogging 101 where we’ll try to explain some of the basics about blogging so that you can feel more comfortable entering the conversation.
This series is not meant to be the final word on anything, but like those 101 level courses in college we’ll just be introducing the various topics and point you to some additional resources so you can bring yourself up to speed as quickly and painlessly as possible.
So lets get started with today’s lesson!
RSS and Feeds
If not, then you’re in the right place. Read on.
One of the key ways blogs are different from traditional web sites is that blogs are specifically designed to publish and distribute content relatively easily and effectively.
On the distribution side, blogs rely on feeds to make their contents more accessible.
Basically what happens when you click the “Publish” button after typing in your post is that your blog software will publish two versions of your post. The first version you see when you go to the blog’s url (for example: https://successcreeations.com) and, if you are not familiar with feeds this is the version you are reading right now.
The second version is the feed, which strips away all the graphics and coloration (what is referred to as the blog’s “style”) and has just the core information from the post. Here is an example of the feed for SuccessCREEations.
You can see that both side bars, the header graphic, and the footer at the bottom of the page have all been stripped away and just the basic information about each post is left for you to look at.
As an aside, there are currently two different popular feed formats. You really don’t need to know how they work to use them. (Just like I don’t really need understand the intricacies of electricity to know that things should work when they are plugged in and I turn them on.) But if you want to get some more information, you can check out the Wikipedia entries on the two formats, Atom and RSS.
Of the two formats, RSS seems to be the more popular so you will often hear folks use the terms RSS and Feed interchangeably. But when they say RSS they are just talking about the site’s feed. RSS is an acronym that has gone through several iterations but now seems to be understood as meaning “Really Simple Syndication”.
Although I like Stephanie Quilao’s explanation where she says it could mean “Ready for Some Stories“. Again you don’t have to know how it works to be able to use it.
Because feeds are a special stripped down information format they are best viewed using a special program called a feed reader (or a feed “aggregator” by the truly geeky among us).
Think of a feed reader like a radio. There are a whole bunch of feeds floating out there on the internet, but just like radio waves floating in the atmosphere, they don’t do us much good unless we have a radio to tune them in with and convert those waves into a usable format. In our case the “radio” we need is a feed reader.
There are a whole bunch of these feed reader programs out there to choose from. Many are completely free to download and use. (I like free.) Some have more features and are available for a fee. (Did I mention that I like free?)
They all basically fall into two categories – web based and computer based – and there are advantages to both types.
The computer based readers generally have more features and can do more things with your feeds. With a computer based reader you can download all your feeds fairly quickly to your computer while you are connected to the internet and then read through them at your leisure after you’ve disconnected. This is particularly handy if you spend a lot of time traveling.
Up to now I’ve never even used a computer based program primarily because I split my feed reading time between multiple machines and I don’t want to be in a position where my feeds have downloaded to some other machine and I can’t get at them.
I used Bloglines as my primary feed reader for over a year and thought it did a good job. It is free to open an account with them. (I mentioned the bit about how much I like free stuff, didn’t I?)
Recently I switched over to Google Reader because a friend of mine told me that their new version was significantly improved and worth checking out. It is also free but you need to have a Gmail account (Oh, yes, Gmail’s free too) with Google to get access to it.
Really I find they are very comparable. I have also used Rojo, but I really didn’t like it as much. But ultimately the major differences come down to personal preference. You may have noticed that free is one of my most important features when it comes to feed readers. Your priorities might be different.
Just remember you can’t really get much out of a feed unless you have a reader to “tune it in” with. And the wide variety of feed readers is the reason there are all those different kinds of feed buttons like in the above picture (from FeedBurner. More on their service below).
Unfortunately that can be one of the most frustrating parts of the whole exercise, finding the feed on some sites. There is a push to make the orange symbol more universal but it is a little slow to catch on with some folks who have been blogging for a while and are set in their ways. (Yes change can be a difficult thing even among bloggers. Go figure.)
Why Even Bother With Feeds?
So why would you want to bother learning how to use yet another program? Well there are a couple big reasons.
The first one is because it can save you tons of time. Up to now if you see something on the internet your only real way to find it again was to bookmark the site or add it to your favorites. Then whenever you wanted to see if the site was updated you’d have to remember to click on your bookmark and take a look.
Quite often you found that when you remembered to go back to the site it was either exactly the same, or it had changed so much that you could hardly remember why you bookmarked it in the first place. It didn’t take long before you stopped checking back on that web site to see if there was anything new.
Now multiply that over the dozens of sites that you’d really like to keep up with and very quickly the time involved gets overbearing. In the end you really don’t pay attention to much of anything that is happening on the internet and you loose touch with the rest of your industry. That’s bad for business because you have left the conversation.
But with feeds, whenever the publisher writes a new post it automatically updates in your feed reader so that you never have to go looking for it again. It just shows up and saves you time.
But can’t you just give the web site your email address and let them email you whenever they post an update?
Sure you can, if they offer that service. SuccessCREEations has that option for folks. But only because some people still won’t subscribe any other way. If I wasn’t so customer oriented I’d take the email option down in a heart beat.
Feeds give all the power to you, the subscriber. Once you put your email address in, the web site owner has possession of it. Even if the site you subscribe to gives you the option to leave their mailing list, there is no guarantee that they will forget your address. With email the power is with the publisher.
With a feed you keep all the power. You get tired of reading what the person is saying? Click. Click. You just unsubscribe. And the publisher has no way to force you to come back.
I like it as a publisher because it forces me to be accountable and write worthwhile stuff. If I stop writing, or if I start writing useless drivel, guess what? Click. Click. You just unsubscribe.
That puts the power where it belongs – with you the reader.
I run my feed here at SuccessCREEations through a service called FeedBurner. There are a bunch of reasons (besides the fact that it’s free) that I do this.
For starters they let me track all sorts of information about how many folks are subscribed, what different readers they are using and the like.
Feeds put the power where it belongs – with the reader not the publisher. But that doesn’t mean as a publisher that I shouldn’t track where my feed goes! That’s just good marketing sense.
Another reason I like FeedBurner is that they give me a bunch of different options to let me dress up and customize my feed. For example they let me add a graphic to the header. Since the number of subscribers is an important number to me I decided to put that up there as my graphic. That way y’all can see that number and watch it grow with me.
They also let me customize the little links at the bottom of the feed so that you can email a post to someone or click to the comment section of the post right from the feed. FeedBurner helps me offer up ways to expand the conversation.
Because I am farming out my feed management to FeedBurner as the number of subscribers grows they will also handle the bandwidth of distributing my feed. That’s tech talk which means they provide a big enough “wire” for my feed to get to all the subscribers (we all dream of huge numbers one day, right?)
All you really have to know about this is that bandwidth is one of the things your web hosting company is charging you for. If FeedBurner is dealing with the bandwidth of your feed, that will save you money as your traffic grows.
Sure there are some arguments against farming out your feed to a company like FeedBurner. The biggest one I know about is that you are giving them some control over your feed because it is no longer in your possession. But I really feel the benefits outweigh the risks.
Other Uses For Feeds
Feeds aren’t just for blog posts anymore! There are a ton of applications for feeds.
Is there a post that has some really interesting comments being added to it that you want to keep track of? You can probably subscribe to the comment feed for that post.
Do you want to know what people are saying about your business, or even about you personally? Check this out. You can go to Google Blog Search and type in the name. Say you happen to be Chris Cree. Type it in, click “Search Blogs” and up comes a whole slew of posts about that name. (At the time I’m writing this 12 of the 15 links on the first page of that search are me. I guess that makes me a pretty important Chris Cree in Google’s eyes. 🙂 )
That’s cool but it gets better! How would you like to keep your finger on the pulse of whatever anyone ever says about you or your business? On that search page you just clicked on is a link for a feed of that search.
Mike Sansone is the champion drum beater for the principle he calls “Search Once and Subscribe.” He lists four good reasons to do just that. Click the link and check them out. (We’ll still be here when you get back.)
But wait! There’s even more uses for feeds!
I get my local weather report automatically in my reader via a feed.
My calender program has a feed so I am notified of my appointments in my feed reader.
Do you want to keep track of a breaking news story? Your local sports team? Stock market news? What your competitors are saying? What their customers are saying about them? What your customers are saying about you?
You can find feeds for all that.
And you can organize them all in one place – your feed reader. Talk about being able to keep up with a dizzying amount of information easily, quickly and automatically.
I currently have over 200 feeds in my reader. Every so often I clean things up a bit and get rid of ones that are no longer useful. Click. Click. I just unsubscribe. Because I have the power.
If you are even thinking about blogging as way to fuel growth for your business you really want to start benefiting from feeds right away.
And if you don’t think a blog is a good idea yet you’ve basically got two choices. You can start keeping up with feeds now and re-think the blogging thing later. Or you can let your business get completely left in the dust by your competition who has their finger on the pulse of your market.
The choice is yours. Take the power for yourself. Start using feeds today.
Here are some good links to get more info about feeds.