RSS Feeds

Think of an RSS feed like a dynamic web page that summarizes your recent blog posts. Using WordPress, every time you make a post, your “feed” is automatically updated. Using this feed, RSS readers (also called newsreaders) push fresh content to your subscribers. This eliminates the need to go to a website to check for new content.

As an occasional blogger, I never paid much attention to RSS feeds. They seemed like something for geeks like my friend Craig. He would say “blah blah blah cool RSS reader blah blah subscription blah blah blah saves time…” and my eyes would glaze over. Maybe your eyes are glazing over right now. I understand.

Once I started podcasting, I realized that if I wanted to be serious I couldn’t gloss over the scary details. I had to know something about my podcast RSS feed. Because without it, there is no podcast. Besides, the details are not that scary after all. They’re just not as exciting as an episode of House of Cards.

Podcasts are delivered via RSS feeds the same way blogs are syndicated

Here we’ll look at some RSS feeds and see how they can be used to subscribe to blogs. Then we’ll see how RSS feeds deliver podcasts in the same way. We’ll see how a dedicated podcast RSS feed is needed as well as a feed that contains information required by the popular podcast directories. Then we’ll see how the PowerPress plugin can easily generate this feed for you.

If my approach to explaining RSS feeds doesn’t work for you, don’t give up. Do a Google search and find an explanation that makes sense to you. What you need to know as a podcaster is not that complicated, but it might take some time to sink in. So be patient. Absorb what you can as you can.

You can also watch this video, where I demonstrate some of the ideas mentioned below.

Note: An RSS feed is different from a web page, which are viewed with a browser. So when viewing an RSS feed with a web browser, you will see one of two things. If you’re using the Firefox browser, you will see an easy-to-read summary of recent blog posts. Otherwise, you will see the .xml code that is creating the feed. If you look at the code closely, you’ll see the content of blog posts wrapped in bracketed tags. Conversely, you can “View page source” to see the .xml code of any RSS feed when viewing it from a browser.

While both the “pretty page” and the “scary code” are normal renderings of an RSS feed depending on the browser you are using, because the FireFox browser doubles as an RSS reader, I recommend using it to view the RSS links below. Otherwise, you could use another RSS reader such as Feedly.

WordPress Built-In RSS Feeds

Let’s start by looking at some basic blog RSS feeds that WordPress generates automatically.

Blog RSS Feeds

Here’s my personal blog Two People & a Cat:

http://TwoPeopleAndACat.com /

It’s just a blog. Nothing special. No podcast associated with it.

Whenever I make a new blog post using WordPress, my site’s RSS feed is automatically updated. Here’s the “whole site” feed for my blog. It includes information from my most recent blog posts.

http://TwoPeopleAndACat.com/feed/

If we’re looking at a WordPress site, typically by adding /feed to the domain name, we’ll find the “whole site” RSS feed. Again, WordPress does this automatically.

Using RSS Feeds to Subscribe to Blogs

People can use the RSS URL to subscribe to a blog. Try it!

  • Find an RSS link on any blog. They are often indicated by the orange RSS logo.
  • Click on the link.
  • Copy the feed URL from the address bar of your browser.
  • Subscribe to the blog using the RSS feed URL and an RSS reader such as Feedly.
  • Or if you’re using the FireFox browser, you can use it to view RSS feeds and subscribe to them.
  • The Star Tribune offers many RSS feeds so that you can subscribe to certain sections of the newspaper. Pretty cool, huh?
  • Do a Google search and try different RSS readers. See what it’s like from the subscribers perspective.

An RSS Feed for Every Blog Category

WordPress also automatically creates a feed for each blog category that I create. On my Two People & a Cat blog, here’s the feed you would use to subscribe to just blog posts with my recipes:

http://TwoPeopleAndACat.com/category/Recipes/feed

This is possible because I categorized my blog posts (e.g., recipes, political rants, poetry, etc.). In the RSS URL example above, “Recipes” is the category that I created. The syntax following my domain name:

category/Recipes/feed

is built into WordPress.

Podcast Sites that use WordPress

So we saw that if we’re looking at a WordPress site, typically by adding /feed to the domain name, we’ll find the “whole site” RSS feed. Is this still the case for the WordPress site that I am using for my podcast? Yes. My podcast site is QuestionPodcast.com. By adding /feed to the end of the website address, we’ll see the “whole site” RSS feed.

http://QuestionPodcast.com/feed/

Just as in the Two People & a Cat blog example, anyone could grab this RSS feed URL and subscribe to my podcast using any RSS reader.

The problem is that my “whole site” RSS feed includes posts that are not intended to be a podcast episode. For example, this essay about my hatred for the overuse of the word “consume” does not have a media file (MP3 for audio files) attached to it. So what’s the big deal if any ordinary RSS reader has no problem handling the feed?

Podcast Directory RSS Feed Requirements

If you are planning to list your podcast with the various directories, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or Google Play, you will need to have a dedicated RSS feed. In other words, you’ll need a feed that does not include anything but posts that contain a podcast episode, including – of course – a link to your media file. It’s true that some podcast directories will just ignore the non-podcast posts. However, this creates other problems, as Daniel J. Lewis explains in this article. The bottom line is that you can avoid problems by using a dedicated RSS feed from the start.

WordPress to the Rescue?

As we saw earlier, WordPress generates an RSS feed for each blog category that I create. So couldn’t I create a dedicated podcast RSS feed by creating a WordPress blog category just for my podcast episodes? Yes…

http://QuestionPodcast.com/category/quoted/feed

By making a category called “quoted” and using it only for posts that contain a podcast episode, I now have a dedicated podcast RSS feed. However, this feed does not address the entire issue. If we want to list our podcast with the popular podcast directories, we’ll also need to provide some required information about our podcast in the feed. For example, we’ll need to indicate the name of the show, how to categorize it and whether it’s explicit. If you look at the .xml code of almost any podcast RSS feed, you will see these iTunes and Google Play specific tags that transmit this information.

So how can we add this information?

PowerPress Plugin

The PowerPress plugin by Bluberry will create a dedicated RSS feed and insert the information that you’re feed will need in order for it to be accepted to the various podcast directories.

PowerPress Dedicated Podcast RSS Feed

The dedicated feed that PowerPress generated for my podcast is:

http://questionpodcast.com/feed/podcast/

Notice that the feed is directly under my own domain name, QuestionPodcast.com. To me it makes sense to set it up this way, as opposed to letting a third party control my feed, which is also an option. Blubrry makes a pretty good case for “controlling your feed.” But if you do decide to use third-party RSS feed, be sure that you understand what the agreement is regarding changing services. In other words, will the company redirect the feed to a new address should you change it? For how long?

It’s worth noting that even though the PowerPress plugin is a free Blubrry product, you need not use Blubrry as your media host in order the use the Plugin.

Although I have never tried this, the plugin can generate multiple podcast feeds on the same website. My understanding is that this isn’t hard to do. However, you’ll want to plan ahead.

PowerPress Makes RSS Feeds that will be accepted by podcast directories

Here’s part of my podcast RSS feed code. The highlighted areas are specific to podcast directories. This is information that the PowerPress plugin will insert, given that you provide the information when you set up the plugin.

A discussion about the importance of your podcast RSS feed

Your Podcast is a show by Blubrry to help PowerPress users, Blubrry subscribers and podcasters in general. This episode discusses the importance of your RSS feed.

Some basic RSS literacy will help you as a podcaster. Let’s say that you publish your podcast but it doesn’t show up right away in Apple Podcasts. The first thing to understand is that podcast directories update their feeds on their schedule. So it may take 24 hours to pull in your latest episode, although my experience is that it is a lot faster than that. But what if it doesn’t update for three days? What’s wrong? If I look at my podcast RSS feed – using FireFox or any other RSS reader – and I can see that my latest episode is there, then my feed is working. If it’s not there, there I can check my blog post. Did I click “Publish”? Did I attach my MP3 file?

My MP3 Experiment

You can read about my MP3 experiment on my blog where I discover that podcasting is so easy that I accidentally started a new show… sort of.

What makes a podcast a podcast?

  • Podcasts are serial – To make the distinction between a random media file that you might post on your blog and “podcast”, people have defined podcasts as being serial in nature. This makes sense to me, although to say that it must have a regular schedule is going a bit too far, in my opinion. I say that it’s a podcast if you say it’s a podcast as long as you have a valid RSS feed.
  • Being in the popular podcast directories such as Apple Podcasts is usually desirable. But it isn’t what makes your podcast a podcast. Your dedicated podcast RSS feed is what makes your podcast a podcast. That’s why it’s really important to grasp what it is, even if plugins like PowerPress might shield you from the nitty gritty code details that generate valid podcast RSS feeds.
  • Podcasting just means that people can subscribe to your RSS feed that is transmitting some media – either an audio file (MP3) or a video file (MP4). So with WordPress automatically generating an RSS feed for each blog category, I could set up a category designated for posts that contain the media I want to transmit. This would technically might be a podcast. But the RSS feed that WordPress generates does not include the information necessary to get into the popular podcast directories. If that’s your goal, install the PowerPress plugin to do this for you. It’s what the plugin does.