RSS, or Really Simply Syndication, is an XML based format to deliver headlines and content to opt-in subscribers. There are two basic ways to implement the use of RSS on a website:
1. Provide syndicated content on a site. Every SEO understands, and preaches, the need for fresh content on a site. This is probably the easiest way to use RSS for a client. Display news or article feeds on a site, and Voila, you have fresh content.
2. Syndicate the site itself. This is where I’m going to focus most of my energy, because this is what I see as being an underdeveloped, undiscovered gold mine when it comes to SEO. Syndication is a fast method of getting a site seen and heard, and bringing what a website has to say to its targeted audience. The prospect of tuning a consumer in to the voice of the website has more value than content, keywords, and linking combined. In this way, the search engine and RSS have the same goal in mind: to bring the most relevant results to a searcher while filtering out all the other garbage.
In the previous article, the RSS Bandwagon, I related why RSS is important from an SEO standpoint. In this article, I will give you specific ways to incorporate it into your site, and go further into depth on what they will mean to you. Here’s a bit of a refresher list, and one additional item we didn’t cover before:
Blogs – Online journal covering any conceivable topic.
Sitemaps – XML based sitemap that simply put is a list of all the URLs for a site that point Google to the pages that need to be crawled, and how frequently they get updated.
Articles – Keyword rich content relevant to a particular site topic.
Forum Postings – Compilation of opinions of people, including valuable advice, links, and feelings of a community.
News – Up to date information about what is happening locally, regionally, and globally. This is probably the freshest form of content available.
Product Reviews – What consumers and critics are saying about a product, in order to offer others an inside look at that product before they purchase.
Specials and Sales – Company’s current pricing on their product, and price changes.
Tech Support Tips – Online advice, tips, and tricks to help consumers with their product, whether it is help with operating popcorn poppers or tutorials for hi-tech software.
Events – Community happenings that impact a certain group of consumers.
Link Building – Sharing content from other websites, as well as providing shareable content.
Podcasting – A method of delivering audio and visual media content through RSS.
Communications – We didn’t cover this in the previous article; however, I felt it important to add it to this one, and while it may not be popular just yet, I see being implemented just as email was when it was introduced.
Now let’s look at method of incorporating RSS
Blogs, being the most familiar form of RSS feeds, have become almost a fashion statement. It seems that everyone has a blog, and they are a perfect way to syndicate anything you have to say. But blogs are also a great way to get the search engines indexing your site. Blogs are full of links, valuable tips and information, and they are easy. Google especially, seems to love blogs. In fact, blogs are search engine optimization powerhouses.
There are many free blogs out there, so utilizing this tool for search marketing is the cheapest, most obvious way to get your site listed in the search engines. Keyword rich titles posts will attract search engines like bees to flowers. In my honest opinion, it is almost foolish not to utilize this powerful and search engine friendly tool.
We covered what an XML sitemap, such as Google’s, can do for your site. Now, I will go over how to implement this, and integrate it into your site.
There have been a couple of great articles by fellow SEO Chat writers that cover the basics and advanced ideas concerning Google’s Sitemap program, such as Google Introduces Sitemaps by Terri Wells. There have also been several tutorials on automating the sitemap, and several forum discussions on different ways to create them.
But for non-technical folks, some of the tutorials might be a wee bit over their heads. In fact, when you visit the Google FAQ page pertaining to sitemaps, it may be difficult to understand for the average Joe. So you, as an SEO, should learn how to create a sitemap for your clients, or if you are not an SEO, then you should seek out the services of either a web developer, or an SEO with knowledge of XML.
There are, however, several useful sitemap creating tools available on the internet, both freeware types, and those that require license. Some of these tools are explored by Dan Wellman in his article, Automating Sitemap Generation, featured on SEO Chat. Many of these are extremely helpful, and with most, you do not need to know XML.
Having said that, it is always beneficial for an SEO consultant to know what they are promoting. If you are convincing your client that they need an XML sitemap, then many times they will want to know not only why, but how. In the third part of this series, I will show the exact syntax Google requires.
Once you have created your sitemap, you will need to upload it to Google. Once that has been achieved, Google downloads your sitemap, checks the syntax, and then crawls the URLs accordingly.
(Note: Yahoo announced that it is now accepting a similar sitemap in plain text or gunzipped format that lists all the URLs of a site. With many of the sitemap creation tools (listed in Part 3 of this article series), you can export your XML sitemap into a text file, strip out all but the URLs, then use the free site submit on Yahoo! to alert the crawler of your sitemap. From Yahoo’s submission page: “You can also provide the location of a text file containing a list of URLs, one URL per line, say urllist.txt. We also recognize compressed versions of the file, say urllist.gz.” However, since it is not in XML or RSS format, it really does not pertain to the theme of this article, but it is worth mentioning.)
Articles, News, Reviews, Specials, and Events
Syndicating articles is a good way to get your site listed in search engines, as well as increase back links. Articles and news stories are a good way of displaying content on your site anyways, with or without RSS; however, promoting your site with article or news feeds is a cheap and easy way to get some one way links, as well as market your site without pay per click or advertising. This also goes for product reviews and specials, as well as community events. They are all syndicated in the same manner. The third article in this series will show you the syntax you would use if you were to hand-code your XML for your article feeds, plus give you information on utilities you can use, most of them at no cost, to syndicate your articles for you.
What’s important to know right now is that you will need three things to syndicate your articles, news, reviews, specials or events: a keyword rich title, a short description of the syndicated content, and a link to the article or news piece. You can include other information, such as images, how frequently the page changes, when it was last modified, or any number of different pieces of information that you deem important. Please note: We will not be covering those extras in this series.
Tech Support Tips
This is also done in the same way as syndication of articles, news, reviews, specials or events, with perhaps the possible exception of syndicated email addresses to particular departments for technical support. I might caution against this, as the likelihood of those emails getting spam is high. Essentially, if you have written an article on the particular use of a software program, then it can be treated precisely the same way that any other informational article can, and therefore syndicated in the same format. You can syndicate manuals and software documentation as well, or even technical notes, bug lists, and version updates. Similarly to articles, reviews or events, you need three pieces of information: the title, description, and link. Anything else is simply extra.
A good example of syndicated forum postings is here at SEO Chat. Whenever someone posts a new thread, or a thread that someone has subscribed to, they immediately receive that post in their RSS aggregator. That person can then read these on a hand-held PDA, and not have to be tied to a computer. In the same way, if your site has a forum, then you can easily syndicate the posts for your subscribers. And since syndicated content may have a speedier result in the search engine indexing habits, there is a good chance that this type of syndication can prove very valuable to a site.
Many popular forums, like phpBB and vBulletin, have modification scripts that allow syndication. If you are looking for a forum to use on your site, you might want to look for one that has RSS capabilities. If you have a forum that currently doesn’t have RSS abilities, you may want to hire a programmer to automate your feeds from your forums. Trying to do an RSS feed manually of all forum posts can grow very tedious!
If you had multiple sites which had the same link partners you could create an RSS feed containing the links, and then simply publish the feed on each of the sites. This way all sites are automatically updated. Further, you can have all new pages listed in all major RSS directories and thus create valuable backlinks to your site. Exchanging RSS feeds with sites of interesting content may add real value to the site where feeds are included, create backlinks and at the same time bring qualified traffic.
For the SEO, it makes it easier to build links through RSS feeds than with manual link building. Follow the basic formula shown in the second section of this article to build your RSS feed, and make sure you embed links to your site, or relevant pages of your site . Doing this can be extremely valuable to your site ranking because when sites that display your feed are crawled by a search engine, the syndicated content containing your link will be scanned, and you will be given credit for having a one way link pointing to your site.
Podcasting is a distant cousin to blogging, although not currently readable by search engines. Direct podcast feeds to a mobile device, like a wireless handheld PDA or an MP3 player, are designed for busy people on the go, who may not have time to surf the web, or cannot be tied to their computer, but still need the information in the RSS feeds. Podcasting is related to blogging because in its simplest form, anyone can become a talk show host with podcasting, just like anyone can have a blog. Optimize your podcasts by choosing a name that is keyword rich, and make sure your MP3 files have descriptive ID tags that have your keywords in them as well. Currently, search engines do not read these MP3 ID tags, but I’m willing to bet that they will soon. In any case, you can create links to these MP3 files that contain keyword rich names.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to cram everything you want to say into a page, and for people that don’t have time to surf the web, podcasts enable the consumer to download content that interest them, and listen to them on the go. Including content in an RSS feed can be invaluable. If you provide a synopsis of the show as your RSS description, and your download link to the file in your RSS feed, you have just syndicated your podcasts. You might even consider posting a transcript of the show in HTML or comparable web language, for those who wish to read it, as well as spider food.
Simply put, podcasting can be anything from interviewing the President of the Quilting Circle , to teaching transcripts, to important technical updates for engineers.
Blogs have virtually catapulted RSS into the spotlight; however, they are unlikely to drive RSS as a communication instrument. Where RSS is blossoming quickly is in the corporate arena as a valid and advertisement-free communication channel. Businesses that were at first disinclined to use RSS as an information tool are re-evaluating its usefulness. The boundless potential for consumers to choose the content they want to be exposed to will be the force that will preclude virtually ad-free content, with consistent quality in relevant corporate purpose.
Press releases, annual reports, stockholder news, and even schedule updates are just some of the ways that information is currently circulated in a company’s daily business. RSS in this way is a valuable resource to pool all the information in an XML format, upload it to the server, and instantly notify employees and investors alike regarding any pertinent company business without risking losing emails through spam filters, or even technical problems. Incorporating company information into an RSS channel, and transferring vital information to the receiver through RSS guarantees that the recipient: a.) wants or needs the information, and b.) has it instantly without the fortuity of spam or viruses.
Here are a few examples of how RSS could be used for corporate information:
- A Human Resource Director updates changes to the employee handbook, or broadcasts available job positions to recruiters.
- The Chairman of the Board of Directors notifies stockholders of important decisions via the syndicated board minutes, or provides the corporation’s annual report directly to them.
- A principle notifies all teachers of new laws that allow for children with disabilities to have special equipment provided in the classrooms, or updates the school lunch menu for the parents to view.
- College professors upload their teaching curriculum for the semester, or the Dean of Admissions updates the available classes for summer school.
- A Public Relations manager assembles a press release for the media, or arranges data on a community event and charity fundraiser.
- The City Council puts together a flood control plan and gives the community a chance to view it before voting, or posts a citizens’ petition against it, with updates for each new signature.
- A Nursing Coordinator updates changes to nurses’ shifts, or a surgical team is able to view schedule openings for emergency surgeries.
We could come up with hundreds of circumstances where an RSS feed would be invaluable, but you get the idea. What’s so remarkable about RSS is that you would syndicate corporate communications in the same fashion that you would articles, news, tech support tips, or blogs.
***In the next article, I am going to cover the specifics on creating an RSS feed in order to incorporate the ideas listed above. You will then have the tools you need to syndicate your content, and attract those search engine spiders to your site.