How to use RSS correctly

Written By: Allan Burns

There is no doubt in my mind that RSS is here to stay. RSS is a simple and effective means of communicating your message to your visitors without invading their privacy or spamming them. It has many benefits over email and there have been many reports of the death of email due to the continual rise of mass spamming and non delivery due to spam filters. By no means is email dead, it is still the best personal communication method besides picking up the phone. It’s just that RSS does some things much better than email.

I have been informing and educating webmasters about RSS since I first discovered the potential of this medium. A whole industry has now grown up around RSS and now there are directories that specialise in listing RSS feeds and tools to help you create RSS feeds. Everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon and everybody seems to have their own opinions about how RSS should be used. Even Google has joined in to offer adsense in RSS feeds.

The problem I see is that improper use of RSS may well send RSS the way of email. Currently it seems that if you publish an RSS feed the contents of that feed seem to be considered public domain. The reasons for this is, I believe, to do with the way content is packaged in RSS, this makes the content easy to syndicate. It is not that difficult to create a script or desktop application to strip out the content of RSS feeds and publish them on someone else’s website. There is even a few applications being sold for just this purpose.

This has lead to what I consider improper use of RSS feeds to spam the search engines, this seems to be aimed particularly at Google. Although not yet widespread yet many webmasters are cottoning on to the fact that they can get easy content for their websites without putting in much effort. Although off hand this may not seem detrimental to you, consider the long term consequences. Your feed copied hundreds if not thousands of times and no back links to your site as the links have been stripped. What if Google decides to penalise due to duplicate content, the consequences could be that your site is dropped from Googles listings.

After considering such a scenario I have come up with a few suggestions. Firstly only publish a teaser paragraph in your feed that links back to the main article. Although some may disagree with me as they prefer the full article in the feed, I truly believe RSS is better suited to notification type messages. Secondly you can publish some terms in your feed which states that the contents are personal use only and you should be contacted for syndication rights. While this will not stop those determined to copy the content of your RSS feed it will help raise awareness of the issue.

About the Author

Allan is the webmaster at Newsniche, an RSS resource for webmasters.

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