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14 Tips for Making the Most of Feeds

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As a busy digital marketer, I live or die by feeds. Feeds keep me up to date and push my content, fast. And as a blogger, I similarly depend on feeds to keep me informed and spread influence.

To be successful you need to be more than simply informed -- you need to be a thought leader and agenda-setter rather than another voice in the echo chamber. But feeds are at a disadvantage on this front, as a headline that appears on a feed must have already been written about.

The goal then is to use feeds, as quickly as possible, to ensure that you're among the first writing about a topic.

Feeds

This illustration reveals quite how simple the approach is. The feeds come into your feed reader and among that constant stream of information there are some nuggets (or red dots) worthy of special attention.

It's a race.

A successful blogger very quickly picks out these nuggets, transforms them into a timely and unique blog post which then, via feeds, propagates out to information hubs like Twitter, Facebook or even other RSS readers.

The result: a percentage of your audience will write about the subject and cite your blog as their source. This does not just help your search rankings but also helps your blog to position you as an authority on your chosen subject.

Here are tips for dealing with incoming feeds.

1. Use Google Reader

Oh, I'm all for competition and someone pushing Google to innovate. Right now, however, Mountain View is heads and shoulders above the mainstream competition.

Google Reader works well with mobile devices. This means you have a single source to monitor your feeds and it doesn't matter if you use a PC, smartphone, or iPad.

Ignore advice to dabble with desktop-based readers unless you only ever access the Internet from a single desktop machine.

2. Use Folders in Google Reader

Your goal is to subscribe to as many feeds as you can manage to keep up to date with -- and using folders makes this even easier. Not only do I group my feeds into topics (search, affiliates, display, etc.), but I use a naming convention to prioritize those groups. I have, for example, "SEO - primary" and "SEO - secondary."

The advantage of this approach is that you can, in Google Reader, mark all the items in "SEO - secondary" as read, wiping the slate clean on a busy day so you can concentrate on watching your primary news sources.

3. Sort Secondary Folders "By Magic"

Your collection of topic specific secondary folders should be much larger than your primary sources. You are likely to encounter a lot of similar posts as bloggers write about the same story or topic as well. As a result, it makes a lot of sense to sort these feeds "by magic."

This setting uses Google Reader's relevance algorithm to automatically put the posts you should know about at the top of the pile and demote less interesting news.

This is ideal when you're on top of your primary sources and are actively hunting through secondary feeds for something to write about.

4. Build Your Own RSS Feeds From Searches

Google, Bing, and plenty of other sites allow you to build your own RSS feeds. For example, Google News allows you to search for a key phrase and then subscribe to the RSS. This is an important approach as it helps you to avoid reading the same authors again and again, while also broadening your information pool.

5. Filter Your Feeds by Keywords

Whether you've built a busy search feed or have subscribed to a blog that publishes in bulk, you may well want to apply your own noise/signal filters.

An easy and free way to do this is to make use of Yahoo Pipes. Simply pull those RSS feeds into Yahoo Pipes, attach the filter module, add your inclusion or exclusion terms, and subscribe to the resulting feed.

The result is a feed pruned of uninteresting posts and rich with topics you're likely to write about.

The significant drawback to this approach is that it'll significantly slow the time from publication to the post hitting your Google Reader, giving you less time to be among the first to write about a hot topic.

6. PuSHBot

PuSHBot was created by Mihai Parparita, who works for Google and has worked on Google Reader. PuSHBot lets you receive Google Talk alerts whenever there is PusbSubhubbub (aka Push) activity on a feed you're monitoring.

PuSH is a technique designed to be faster than the standard RSS "polling" activity.

If you receive a PuSH update 15 seconds after an important and comment worthy blog post goes live from an author you're monitoring, then you have a significant advantage over the RSS or Atom community who may not even receive notification that the post has been made for another 14 minutes.

7. Create Twitter Accounts for Red Alerts

You can build a Twitter account around your created RSS feed. If you've created an RSS feed based on a search and then refined by Yahoo Pipes, you may have been able to create a feed that will only ever alert you to really important headlines and news.

In this scenario, make use of a free platform like Twitterfeed or Feedburner to feed a Twitter account. You can set this Twitter account to private if you desire. It's then possible to follow your freshly created Twitter account and accept SMS alerts from it.

The result is a text message whenever the feed sees activity and the Twitter account posts.

Here are seven tips for dealing with outgoing feeds.

8. Know Your Audience

As much as RSS (and Atom) feeds should be part of your life, they may not be part of your audience's life. If you're blogging for a non-digital native audience then it may be a waste of effort to promote your raw RSS feed to them. In these cases it often makes sense to promote an RSS wrapper instead.

One example is Feedburner's RSS to e-mail option. This allows your readers to subscribe to an RSS powered email summary instead.

Another alternative is Twitter, as you may find "follow me" a far easier proposition to put to your readers than "find a Reader you like and then subscribe to my feed." If you take this route keep in mind that a percentage of your Twitter audience may subscribe simply to monitor headlines from your blog and may not care for your witty banter. A multi-account strategy for Twitter may be the best solution.

9. Feedburner

It may feel as if development at Feedburner changed after Google acquired the company. Feedburner, however, still represents a number of useful solutions for any feed publisher. Feedburner allows you to estimate your readership and helps to ensure that at least one version of your feeds are PuSH compliant, while also offering enhancements like the previously mentioned RSS to e-mail.

10. Use Pubsubhubbub

If you want like-minded bloggers to subscribe to your feed then make sure your blog publishes at PuSH speed. Back in 2009 Google switched PubSubHubbub out to all blogger.com powered blogs.

One handy plugin that allows WordPress powered sites to make use of this is PuSHPress. You can deep dive on the subject at its Google-hosted project home.

11. Be Careful When Adding to Your Feed

Many blogging platforms let you add extra standard content to RSS feeds but you should use this with caution. My blog adds a disclaimer to each post published via RSS to remind readers that the contents are my opinion and not those of my employer. I felt that addition was necessary because RSS subscribers would not be able to see the disclaimer built into to the blog design.

Adding too much additional content to your RSS feed can put people off subscribing. I have certainly unsubscribed from blogs that have added overly dominating feedflares or social sharing buttons.

If you're confident with SEO then it is worth considering that adding additional text via the RSS feed may reduce the amount of time your content is repurposed or scraped. At the time of posting, Google's latest algorithm is quite favorable to blogs that are scraped or otherwise automatically repurposed by others.

One valid attention to an RSS feed post is related reading links. RSS readers may be enjoying your content in Google Reader and not in your site. This may well reduce your page impressions and visitors (but not your influence or authority). The addition of related reading links to the end of will encourage readers to click to read more and therefore return to your blog. In all my WordPress blogs I make use of YARRP, a.k.a. Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

12. Use Full Text in Your RSS Feeds

Many bloggers, especially professional sites, share only a summary of each post via their RSS feed. They do this to encourage a large percentage of readers to visit the blog directly and become a visitor. This is done with cost-per-impression advertising in mind.

These blogs are the enviable position of having a decent readership. If your goal is to increase your readership, grow your authority and encourage other bloggers to link back to your posts.

13. Facebook is About Walls and Not Boxes

Many incoming RSS feeds to Facebook are consigned to tabs and boxes. This isn't always ideal, especially if this tab isn't the first thing visitors see.

In many cases, especially for personal Facebook pages and when you are only posting a few times a day, it's better to use your RSS feed to populate your wall.

A number of Facebook applications make this process easy -- one of which is RSS Graffiti, which includes a picture from your post and allows you to automatically transform or edit headlines before they go live on your page.

14. Subscribe to Your Own Feed

Last but not least is a core piece of common sense. Subscribe to your own feed. I'm amazed at how often this does not happen. Simply put, subscribing to your own feed is the very best way to quality-check and spot problems.

Andrew Girdwood will speak during the SEO Through Blogs & Feeds session on Day 3 of SES London.


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