What do you imagine when you think of a really simple information aggregator? Well, whatever that is, we can’t know, but we can tell you about RSS feeds. They are the simplest thing you can imagine a web page can look like – just a wall of neatly organized text informing you of what’s going on lately with your favorite websites.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, is a system for distributing website content from online publishers to internet users that has become one of the staples in ecommerce. Understanding and effectively using RSS feeds can unlock many opportunities for engagement, customer retention, and overall business growth.
Staying up-to-date in the rapidly evolving digital marketplace is one of the motivating factors to utilize RSS feeds, as their function is to offer ways for consolidating and organizing information that benefits both businesses and customers.
Businesses can use RSS feeds to streamline their operations, while customers can use them to remain updated on their favorite products, deals, and company news.
This blog post explores the nuances of RSS feeds, their application in ecommerce, and how to optimize their use for maximum impact.
In particular, we will review the types of RSS feeds, their merits, how to create and set up an RSS feed for your website, and how to integrate it with your existing marketing strategies. By the end, you should have a firm grasp of the role RSS feeds can play in bolstering your business and practical steps to leverage this technology effectively.
Introduction to RSS feeds: a brief overview
RSS feeds are a type of web feed with all the relevant information about a website in one place. In practice, it allows users and applications to access updates to online content in a standardized, computer-readable format.
Reflected in the acronym RSS, standing for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, is the primary function of RSS feeds – to deliver frequently updated information from a site without unnecessary complications. Within that scope, you can encounter content like blog posts, audio files, product listings, news headlines, and other types defined by frequent change.
Now, RSS is used for syndicated content, but what exactly does that refer to? If we look at the examples above, we see that this variety of content is created once and then reused or repurposed in several different places – that’s precisely what makes it syndicated.
The underlying technology behind RSS is XML (abr. eXtensible Markup Language). This simple and flexible text format is widely used to exchange a wide variety of data on the web. This text file, representing an RSS feed, is just like a constantly updated table of contents that notifies subscribers when new content is posted or when existing content is updated.
To access RSS feeds, an RSS feed reader is usually required. This is software that aggregates feeds from multiple sources into a single interface. Users subscribe by entering the RSS feed URL into the RSS reader app or by clicking an RSS icon in a web browser.
Benefits of using RSS feeds for e-commerce websites
Hearing RSS as a term all of a sudden might sound like it’s a complex implementation to make, but in truth, it’s quite straightforward and versatile, with many advantages to consider.
The advantages of RSS feeds for eCommerce include the following:
- Increased reach. First and foremost, due to the flexible nature of RSS feeds, they can be integrated into other platforms, and this provides just as many opportunities for you to widen your reach and expand the visibility of your website. For example, new blog posts or product updates can be automatically shared as links on your company’s Facebook or Twitter account.
- Higher customer engagement. Once subscribed to your site’s RSS feed, customers can stay up-to-date with your latest product offerings, promotions, and company news by receiving notifications on their email or in real time directly to their feed reader. In turn, the likelihood of staying engaged and of repeat visits to your website becomes higher as well.
- Better discoverability. Posting regular updates on your RSS feed could positively affect your ranking in search engines. The reason is that fresh content falls into one of the buckets typically favored by Google, Bing, and the rest, which all try to provide the latest information to users.
- Fitter user experience. RSS feeds offer a user-friendly way for customers to consume your content without any other content but text. There is no tedious website-checking and clicking around, but instead – just getting everything in chronological order in one place, the RSS reader.
- Efficient time and resource management. Manual updates, such as newsletters or social media posts, can be time-consuming. An RSS feed can automate this process and give back time and resources you may wish to invest in other aspects of your business.
How to create an RSS feed for your e-commerce website
Depending on your level of technical expertise and the specifics of your website, you might be able to create an RSS feed yourself, or you may need to enlist the help of a web developer.
The platform your website is built on also influences this process because, in some cases, plugins or built-in features are available that simplify a lot.
If you have to create a new RSS feed from the ground up, the process involves several steps, the main ones described below.
#1 Choose a format
Throughout the years, RSS development has resulted in three primary formats being grown to support various types of content.
RSS 1.0 (aka RDF Site Summary)
RSS 1.0 is based on the Resource Description Framework (RDF), which shares metadata about the content, such as rights, creator, and more detailed descriptions with users.
It can get a bit complex, so the barrier to implementation makes it more suitable for organizations and applications that require a high level of detail and control over the syndicated content.
RSS 2.0 (aka Really Simple Syndication)
RSS 2.0 is a simpler, easier-to-use format with less metadata. It is straightforward to implement, allowing for more effective updates and new content distribution.
This alternative is ideal for podcasting and other multimedia distribution portals and aggregation platforms.
With a more flexible structure than RSS, Atom feeds support additional features like content restoration and updating already published content.
This option is suitable for complex applications where even recent content requires updates and is popular for global apps because of its better support for non-English languages and characters.
#2 Create the XML file
An RSS feed is essentially an XML file that follows a specific structure.
This file includes the channel (your website), items (the individual pieces of content), and their descriptions. It can also include other content, such as images, categories, and author names.
An XML file would comprise a header, a root element, a channel element, an item element, and closing tags. These make up the infrastructure of your feed, which could then be updated based on the format.
#3 Upload the file to your server
Once you are done with the hard part of creating a functional XML file, you just need to add it to your website’s page source. You need to have the RSS link available, as all your RSS subscriptions will be done through that feed URL.
#4 Update your website
You will need to add an RSS icon or a “Subscribe” button linked to the URL of any RSS files you want to add to your website. Make sure it is in a visible place next to social media sites so that visitors can check out your RSS feed and subscribe to it.
#5 Update the feed regularly
Your new feed is there to keep any subscribers up-to-date, so you should keep it fresh with new content to get the most benefits from it. Every time you add new products or publish a new blog post, try to add that information to your feed.
Types of RSS feeds: Product feed vs. Content feed
In the arena of ecommerce, two types of RSS feeds stand on both sides – Product and Content – each with a compelling array of attributes. Without making this an outright battle, let’s witness this competition and see how they each contribute to the ecosystem through purpose and audience appeal.
On one side of the ring, we have the Product feed – a heavyweight in driving sales. It comes in strong with an up-to-date list of products, packing punches of detailed descriptions, images, prices, and stock-keeping units (abr. SKUs).
As soon as there is a new product or an update to an existing one, the product feed swiftly delivers the latest promos and items, keeping subscribers in the loop.
Product feeds also have a broad reach, tagging in comparison shopping engines (abr. CSEs) and affiliate networks to display products to potential customers who may not yet know your brand. In terms of sales and growth, this contestant lands a powerful blow.
On the other side, we have the Content feed – a valuable contender in fostering customer relationships and enhancing your brand image. It focuses on non-product content, including blog posts, company news, and industry trends.
It’s all about engaging your audience beyond the transactional level and providing content that adds value and deepens their connection with your brand.
Content feeds also deliver a potent SEO uppercut by keeping subscribers to your site informed about new ideas emerging from your posts and new podcast episodes that make them more accessible to busybodies.
So, who would be the victor in this showdown? The truth is, it’s not a battle to defeat but a demonstration of different strengths. Your business may need one or the other more, and it could likely benefit from both, as the values they bring to the table all serve to aid web publishers in their brand-defining endeavors.
Using RSS feeds for product updates and promotions
When you already have an RSS feed, you can add websites to it. This way, users receive updates from various sources about any promotions you may have going on and the latest products you have added to your online store.
There’s the option for instant notifications that customers can receive whenever a new product is launched or existing ones go on sale. In doing so, you have a higher chance of more purchases and repeat customers.
Customers that get many notifications on their mobile apps are often bombarded by sales and promotions, but those looking at their RSS readers usually need to have a separate app. In other words, they make an effort to subscribe and are likely to pick out only the stores they want to shop from the most.
Since an RSS feed can also be utilized as a separate customer touchpoint, you can distribute promotional content like special offers, discount codes, or limited-time sales. This can be an extra incentive for subscribers to revisit your site and for non-subscribers to subscribe to your feed.
RSS Feeds For Channel Sales
Expanding your sales reach to external channels, such as multiple marketplaces, can noticeably increase the rate at which your business grows. RSS feeds are often utilized for that purpose by automatically sharing the product catalog with other sales channels.
Being a simple solution for accessing and tracking updates, RSS feeds streamline the process of channel sales efficiently, regardless of your online store’s scale and the vastness of your partner network.
In other words, when you add or update a product on your ecommerce website, your RSS feed can instantly create a corresponding entry, which would then be pushed to external sales channels that are subscribed to your feed. This is reflected across all platforms with next to no delay – be it Amazon, eBay, or other marketplaces you might be using.
You may have come upon posts of online stores that make certain statements, but when you visit their website, you find out the information doesn’t align. As a result, your experience as a customer is affected because now you have to find a way to verify which information is correct or just give up and get off the store.
Speed and accuracy matter when you launch new products or update current ones. Since this process eliminates the need for manual operations due to the automation you can set up, it ensures that customers receive the most recent information, which is also the same as what you get when you go to the website.
Here is how we can summarize the key advantages of using RSS feeds in channel sales:
- Efficiency. RSS feeds save your team time and other resources by bypassing the labor-intensive process of manual updates.
- Consistency. Harnessing the power of automations, RSS feeds display the same content across all platforms, minimizing the risk of customer confusion and potential discrepancies.
- Scalability. Increased volume is no issue for RSS feeds because it has a very simple yet durable structure that also makes it a scalable solution to grow with your business.
Your external sales channels have a lot of potential, but you might not always have the resources to pour everything you can into all of them. When you look for the simplest path, utilizing smart solutions like RSS feeds is an indispensable help.
Integrating RSS feeds with social media and email marketing
Your marketing strategy can be easily supercharged by integrating an RSS feed to help you bring together every social media account and any email marketing you may have going on.
On the social media front, integrating your RSS feed can automate part of your social media management. New entries to the feed can automatically generate posts on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
For example, if your website pumps out news on technology, you will likely have a couple of new blog articles added daily. Typically, this would mean someone has to go to every social media and write a post, or at least share it from one outlet to another, and so on. However, with the help of an RSS feed, your social media following will be notified as soon as a new content piece is uploaded without them being subscribers to your feed.
Moreover, promoting your RSS feed on social media provides another avenue for your followers to stay directly connected with you, rather than relying solely on the notoriously fickle social media algorithms to surface your content.
The situation is similar with email marketing services, the update frequency of which can be increased without increasing the burden on yourself or your team. This is because each time you send out a newsletter, the integration can automatically pull in the latest items from your feed and present them to your email subscribers as a part of your newsletter.
That’s how many news sites operate – they take the news for the day posted on their website and RSS feeds to quickly create a newsletter that could otherwise take precious time to get fully set up every single day.
If you want to go further, you can perform cleaner and leaner customer segmentation as well. By offering both content and a product RSS feed, you allow customers to choose whichever they are interested in and get updates only about it.
All in all, through an RSS integration, you can more easily leverage the strengths of your social media and email marketing channels. Consequently, you can provide a more consistent and engaging user experience across multiple customer touchpoints, driving higher user interest and growth rates.
RSS feeds and podcasts – why you should consider this combination
In recent years, podcasts have surged in popularity, and they have become a unique medium to create an entirely separate group of customers interested purely in your website’s audio content.
You will undoubtedly need an RSS feed if you have a podcast associated with your ecommerce business. There are two reasons for that.
First and foremost, you need an RSS feed link to submit new episodes to podcast directories like Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts. When you create your podcast, the podcast hosting platform generates an RSS feed with information such as episode details and metadata like title, description, cover art, etc.
Secondly, an RSS feed can help your subscribers to hear first when the latest podcast episodes come out. However, you can also include promotional information within your podcast content, making for a dynamic marketing strategy that entertains and informs your customer base.
Tips for optimizing your RSS feed for maximum exposure
While having your own RSS feed is a good start, you must implement certain good practices to reach maximum exposure.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your RSS feed:
- Use your feed to answer questions. When you have many inquiries about certain aspects of your products or services, you can address them directly in your feed and ask users to visit the FAQ page or contact customer support for additional information.
- Include relevant keywords. SEO applies to this part of your website just as much. Do your research and pick keywords that would optimize your item titles and descriptions for better search engine results.
- Provide valuable content. Content is king, but the quality is emperor. Your feed will contain all sorts of updates, so one of your responsibilities is to provide engaging content for your subscribers that will encourage them to click through your website.
- Track your feed’s performance. You can use analytics tools to monitor your feed’s performance for insights into the most popular content type and the best time to post, allowing you to tailor your content strategy better.
Frequently asked questions
Can I add an RSS feed to my mobile apps?
Yes, many mobile apps support adding RSS feeds for content consumption on the go.
How often should I update my RSS feed?
Ideally, your feed should be updated whenever you add a new product or publish a new blog post. At worst, every couple of days to a week, depending on the amount of content you have been creating and updating.
What are atom feeds?
Atom is an alternative to RSS, offering the unique feature of editing published content. It’s also quite useful for international websites because of its broad language support.
Do all websites have an RSS feed?
No, but many blogs, news sites, and ecommerce platforms offer them.