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How to Use News RSS Feeds

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The “antiquated” technology known as RSS feeds still has valuable uses in special situations for news and other content-oriented sites.

RSS may be antiquated to some because of the early days of online when RSS readers aggregated content from multiple sources and compiled them into one stream of news and headlines under an RSS reader. It made life easier for people because they didn’t have to go to dozens of slow Web sites to get their content. Instead, it all flowed to them.

As Web and social media sites became more sophisticated and access speeds became faster, the RSS readers faded away. But the ability of sites to distribute their content to other sites and also collect content from other sites is still viable even today.

Most content management systems have the ability both to distribute and collect information via RSS. Many Web sites have an RSS button somewhere on their pages – even though they have no idea if people use them — but far fewer use RSS to collect content from elsewhere.

Why Grab Content from Other Sites?

 
I
t is important to distinguish two formats for content distributed in an RSS feed because the formats are a major consideration in how other sites use them.

The first and most common format is usually the first paragraph of the article, along with a headline, a publication date and a link that, if used, takes a user from the headline to the full body of the article on the source Web site.

The second format is the full article. Why a site would want to distribute a full article to others is explained below.

Content collection takes two basic forms depending on the situation: partner sharing and “I’ll just grab it” sharing.

Three scenarios go from simple to complex:

  1. Site A is owned by the same company as Site B
  2. The two sites are owned by separate companies and have a distribution agreement
  3. One site has an RSS feed and the other wants to publish the content from that feed on its own site.

RSS to emailAn example of Scenario 1 is where the two sites have a local news focus and exist in adjacent communities. The site visitors in Community A therefore have an interest in the news from Community B, so Site A collects news stories from Site B using B’s RSS feed.

Copyright issues don’t exist because the two sites are owned by the same company. Site A is likely to give credit for the content to Site B but isn’t required to give a link, although it would make sense to do so.

In Scenario 2, the agreement will likely call for at least a backlink and copyright credit, otherwise why would Site B allow Site A to publish its content?

There may be one more reason: good old-fashioned money. One site might be willing to pay another for the content. In fact, this is a common approach in companies that syndicate their content, i.e., Fodors and Associated Press, although they typically use more sophisticated ways of distribution than RSS.

Scenario 3 is the most complex and potentially the most controversial.

By default, any site that publishes an RSS feed is agreeing to let someone else publish its content unless it specifically forbids it in a user agreement. In the short-form RSS (usually the first paragraph of the article), the resulting distribution is no different than what Google, Yahoo and Bing do with their search indexes.

In keeping with that approach, it would be wise for the site that publishes the feed to include links back to the full article, not only for the benefit of site visitors but also to maintain goodwill with the sourcing site.

An even more interesting approach is a small number of sites that publish full-article RSS feeds. In those cases, the articles are often filled with backlinks, and so those sites have adopted a strategy of maximizing traffic from people who click on the links.

Other Considerations

H

ow search engines respond to sites that publish content from other sites ends up in a mixed bag. On the positive side, the site that captures a feed will get a boost from the addition of new content. On the negative side, the content is not original.

As a result, re-publishing content from the RSS feeds of other sites has the benefits of product growth and user readership.

The short-format feeds are best used in highly specialized cases and work best when aggregated on full-length pages rather than as separate entries.

Long-format feeds work best in true content syndication agreements or when the publishing site selectively uses the content to enhance holes in the product.

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