Saturday, March 08, 2008

Blog feeds - and how to set up a Feedburner subscription facility on your blog

Polly says "A girl can never have enough feeds"
Cosmo says "I want a feed too!"

Miki asked me how to set up Feedburner on her blog so this is for her and everybody else who has been wondering!

If you want people to visit your blog you need to help them.
  • First of all you need to activate a feed for your blog.
  • Then you need to offer your visitors a subscription facility - so they can remember where to find you again and/or get your content sent to them every day.
Below I look at how you help people subscribe to your blog and analyse your blog traffic., but first some context........

What is a web feed?
  • Feeds are how you get your data to other people.
  • Feeds contain either a summary of new content from a site or the full text and images
  • Feeds are what people use to subscribe to your blog.
  • Feeds mean people know when you've published new content. Readers/subscribers are fed the latest copy from your blog as soon as its published or whenever you say, without having to visit your blog
  • Feeds are operated by virtually all news websites, blogs and podcasters.
  • Feeds are what power up all the various widgets that you see on blogs.
  • Feeds can be syndicated using a service, like Feedburner, which collects the feed from your blog and sends it to your subscribers to read - either in a feedreader (like Bloglines or Google Reader) or as an e-mail.
Feeds are a way for websites large and small to distribute their content well beyond just visitors using browsers. Feeds permit subscription to regular updates, delivered automatically via a web portal, news reader, or in some cases good old email. Feeds also make it possible for site content to be packaged into "widgets," "gadgets," mobile devices, and other bite-sized technologies that make it possible to display blogs, podcasts, and major news/sports/weather/whatever headlines just about anywhere.
Google - Feed 101
What are the feed formats?

The two main web feed formats are RSS and Atom. As it is older, 'RSS' is frequently used as a generic term to refer to feeds irrespective of type. RSS 2.0 support for enclosures led directly to the development of podcasting.

Atom was developed because of problems with some aspects of RSS feeds. Many podcasting applications, such as iTunes, support the use of Atom 1.0. Blogger uses an Atom feed and all site feeds are published in Atom 1.0 format. However, if you add ?alt=rss to the end of any site feed URL, you can get the same feed in RSS 2.0 format.

FeedBurner can apply services to source feeds of the following formats:
RSS 0.90, 0.91, 0.92, 0.93, 0.94, 1.0, 2.0, and Atom.

What is syndication?

Web syndication usually means making the web feeds from a site available so that other people can be provided with a summary of any content which has been recently added to the site - such as the latest news or blog post or forum posts.

There are various sites which can help you syndicate your blog feed. One of these is Feedburner.

If you choose to 'burn your feed' with FeedBurner, it will check your blog feed for updates approximately every 30 minutes. Then, when it detects changes in your original feed (ie new content), then those changes are read into FeedBurner and the updates are passed through to the FeedBurner "burned" version of your syndicated content.

What is a feed reader?

There are more than 2,000 different types of feed readers - which are used to read the content produced on blogs. Other names for feed readers are news readers or aggregators.

In order to contain the amount of e-mail people get, people often use feed readers to read blog.

I read most blogs I subscribe too in Bloglines Beta. Very few are delivered as e-mails to my Inbox. However I'd always advise bloggers to offer options for both feedreaders and e-mails as everybody's preference varies - and your aim is to make it easy for people to read your blog.

How do I activate my feed in Blogger?

According to the poll on my Blogging for Artists site, over 60% of artists use Blogger for their blogs. So what follows mainly focuses on how to activate your feed in Blogger. However, some of the comments apply to all bloggers irrespective of which platform they use.

This is the Blogger Help page for Feeds and Syndication. In Blogger:
  • go to customize and find the settings tab
  • click on the site feed tab - this is the help page for How do I change my site feed settings?
  • Blog Posts Feed: Decide what you want your blog feed to do - options are None, Short or Full.
    • A short feed means that only a set number of characters are sent in the feed. Somebody reading has to click to see more. If you have your feed set to None then this is (a) useful if you don't want your blog found and (b) means you can't offer a subscription service!!!
    • I have a short feed because (a) I tend to have long posts and (b) because my blog gets scraped on a regular basis by spam blogs and a short feed helps to stop this happening.
  • Blog Comment Feed: Decide what you want to do about the feeds for Comments and per comment - again the options are none, short, and full. Remember that some people like to follow discussions in blog comments and/or get answers to questions posed. I have both of mine set to full.
  • Post Feed Redirect URL: If you have want to burn your post feed using FeedBurner, or used another service to process your feed, you need enter the full feed URL here. Blogger will redirect all post feed traffic to this address.
  • Post Feed Footer: Decide whether you want anything in the footer for your feed. This is where you enter the code if you use ads or other third-party feed additions.
  • Basic tab / Let search engines find your blog? You also need to make sure that you have activated the search engine facility. When you select "Yes" Blogger includes your blog in Google Blog Search but also pings when you publish new content. This allows feedreaders to pick up new content.
What is Feedburner?
FeedBurner is the leading provider of media distribution and audience engagement services for blogs and RSS feeds. Our Web-based tools help bloggers, podcasters and commercial publishers promote, deliver and profit from their content on the Web.
About Feedburner
Feedburner can provide weblog owners and podcasters and other web-based content publishers with the ability to
  • manage and customise their RSS feeds,
  • track usage of their subscribers
  • offer advertising (optional)
It was set up in 2004. In June 2007, Google bought Feedburner for a rumoured $10 million - which in 3 years is not a bad return on investment! As a result there is now a Feed 101 page on the Google support website.

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, FeedBurner is growing faster than MySpace and Digg with 385% traffic growth. As of 28th February 2008 it had 1,432,752 feeds by 802,775 publishers with an awful lot of subscribers!

How to burn a feed using Feedburner

You can Watch a short movie (3:14, 4.6 MB, no audio) about how to burn or you can read the following.
  • This page explains about publishing your blog using Feedburner.
  • There are also handy QuickStart guides for Blogger, WordPress, TypePad, or MySpace. These walk you through the easy process of turning your blog content into a feed-friendly format. They do it rather better than me.
  • You start by putting your blog URL into the 'menu line' on the home page of Feedburner. You don't need to know the URL for your blog, the process wil tell you what's available.
  • You set an account with Feedburner at the same time as you begin to burn a feed - so you'll need to have decided on a user name and password in advance. You'll be asked for to say what these are when you start to burn your feed.
  • Don't forget to publicise your new feed facilities on your blog. Read this page for how to promote your feedburner feed using Blogger
  • You can also set up Feedburner as an e-mail service and include a Feedburner e-mail subscription widget to your blog. This is how to do it in:
  • Don't forget to make your subscriptions service easy to find on your blog. I notice them in the most peculiar places on some people's blogs. I have stats at the top of my right hand column and then subscription services BEFORE anything else. My subscriber numbers started to climb as soon as I put these two together at the top of the right hand column. I also have a subscription service included in the blog footer element. If anybody has taken the trouble to read through a week's blog posts then I want to make sure they get the opportunity to subscribe!
  • If you get stuck, you can also ask for more help in the Feedburner Forums
How to track your feed traffic

You can track all of your feed traffic - including people who have subscribed in feed readers and never visit the site - by changing the feed redirect in Blogger (on the Settings/Feed tab)to include the Feedburner feed address. Blogger will then redirect all post feed traffic to this address. Mine looks like this - when I did this for the first time, I was rather surprised by the jump in numbers! The only problem then is if the Feedburner site goes 'down' (very rare) - in which case you then need to switch back temporarily to the conventional feed address.
What is a subscriber? And what is a web hit

You can add a feed counter to publicise your circulation statistics directly on your blog (or anywhere else you can post HTML). You can a;so change what it looks like.

Just go to the Publicise page. This is more information about adding a feed counter to your blog. That's the icon right at the very top of the right hand column of this blog.

I only show subscribers NOT page views/web hits in the stats at the top of the right hand column. See below as to why.

FeedBurner’s subscriber count is based on an approximation of how many times your feed has been requested in a 24-hour period. Subscribers is inferred from an analysis of the many different feed readers and aggregators that retrieve this feed daily. Subscribers is not computed for browsers and bots that access your feed.
Feedburner -What is a Subscriber? How does FeedBurner tally them?
and a web hit is comething different. If each blog post has a unique URL, then all clicks to individual ppsts count as a hit - and would give a grossly inflated count figure - hence why I stick with subscribers. I know my hits figure is MUCH bigger! ;)
We record a hit each time someone loads your feed in a web browser, feed reader or other program. When bots and automated services request your feed, that also counts as a hit.
Feedburner - what is a feed hit?
How to monitor your feed traffic

Most of you have probably already got a stats service on your blog - however you can also look at your blog stats on Feedburner. Check out the Anaylze tab. This is the FeedBurner Stats Overview and FAQ and you can read more about them here.

Tweak your feed

Feedburner provides some publishing tips here.

How to get a site for a specific label

Can I get site feeds for specific labels? - tells you what to do to if the blog you read is using labels and also has site feeds enabled. You can then pick and choose which topics you want to subscribe to. The format for label feeds is this:

Scraping a Feed

Blog scraping provides content for Splogs. If this has happened to you try setting your site feed to 'short'. My experience was that it usually stops it (for a while) and seems to help a lot to reducing it to minor levels. Use Google Alerts to check for scraping.

FREE Publication

I will be making this post available as a FREE pdf publication on my website so you can print it off and have it to hand while setting up your feedburner account. Check back to see whether I've got it transcribed.

Making A Mark: other posts about blogging

If you've learned something in reading this blog post you might like to check out other posts I've written in the past about blogging