One of the basic steps in setting up a blog that makes the most of the medium is getting an account with Feedburner.com. No matter what blogging platform you use to write your blog, there are good reasons why you should use Feedburner. Below are some reasons why, followed by some steps on how to use the service.
First: What is Feedburner?
The simplest answer to this question is that Feedburner republishes your RSS blog’s RSS feed (or any RSS feed for that matter) to make it much friendlier, more powerful and more useful.
What am I going to get out of this?
- Find out how many people are subscribed to your RSS feed. These are the folks who are going to keep coming back to your content, more than any other group of visitors to your site. It’s good to know how many of them there are and how that number has changed over time.
- Make it easier than ever for readers to subscribe to your feed. By email, MyYahoo, Bloglines, Newsgator and more are all options with at most two clicks of a lambs tail when you use Feedburner. And it’s so much more friendly than a Movable Type or WordPress “subscribe to this blog’s feed” link with a whole bunch of XML behind it. Here – go click on my feed and see how pretty it is.
- You are going to set up Feedburner to automatically ping Technorati and everybody else who ought to know when you’ve posted something new on your blog so that it will show up in search engines.
- There are lots of extra features that are easy to select as add-ons to your feed. For example, people who subscribe to my feed see links after every item to email that post to some one, save it in del.icio.us, see how many comments on are on that post and make a comment themselves. You can also display inbound links to that item and lots more.
- If you change blogs, you can just point your new blog’s feed at your Feedburner account and not loose any subscribers.
There are lots of other reasons you might want to use Feedburner.com, but those are my big ones and aren’t they enough? Make it easy for people to subscribe to your blog’s feed, for you to know how many people have subscribed, for search engines to know when you have something new for them to index and for your readers to do extra things they like to do with each item in your feed. I think these reasons alone make Feedburner.com an essential part of blogging.
How do I do it?
Ok, you’re convinced, that’s good. Grab your blog’s native feed URL by copying the link to subscribe (if you write a blogger.com blog, it’s myblogissilly.blogspot.com/atom.xml except of course your blog isn’t silly).
Now paste that puppy into the front page of Feedburner. Setting up an account there is easy and it is free. After you tell the service just a wink about yourself (not very hard, this part) then you can bop around and optimize the features. My advice is to optimize in every way available that’s free. And if you have some funds available, take these people up on their premium services because they are an institution of great public good and deserve it.
Make sure you turn on the Pingshot service under the Publicize tab. And unless you have a blog that only people interested in new web technology are reading (like this one, I believe) you should make sure to turn on the Email subscription option.
You will get a snippet of code for the email subscription option. That is to be copied and pasted into a good place on the sidebar of your blog’s template. Then you can go to the Chicklet Chooser page and get the code for your RSS subscription option’s link. I recommend selecting the standard icon, when readers click through it they will see all the other options on the pretty RSS feed page. If you want to see how this looks, you can go and click on my orange icon in my right hand sidebar here.
Grab that code for what Feedburner calls your chicklet (your new “subscribe” button) and paste that into your blog’s sidebar template.
We’re almost there, just a few more steps. If your blog software already had a link to your RSS feed in your sidebar, delete it. You don’t want some people subscribing to the naked feed and some to the shiny new Feedburner.com feed or else you’ll lose out on a lot of what you gain from the service.
Next, this is the hardest part. Go into your blog’s template, go to the header section, and replace the code for the blog’s native feed or feeds with your new Feedburner.com feed. This step may be a real challenge is you use a system that doesn’t let you get to your template code easily.
Mine now reads:
< link rel='alternate' type='application/rss+xml' title='Marshalls Web Tool Blog' href='http://feeds.feedburner.com/MarshallsWebToolBlog'>
It used to have a number of other links in it, different versions of RSS, etc. But that was when I was using my old feed, the one Word Press publishes automatically. I just took those out and replaced them with the above. You can do that too. Then your pings will be more successful (don’t ask me why, ask Technorati) and subscribers who use auto detect systems to subscribe (rather than copying and pasting the URL of your feed into their feed reader) will get the right one.
Finally, I highly recommend making a post to your blog telling your readers that they can now subscribe to your blog’s feed using your fancy new feed URL. This will spur some new subscriptions and let subscribers to the old feed know that they need to get with the program – so you can count them and they can see your souped up feed in their feed readers.
A final note: you can run any feed through Feedburner.com and get a pretty new feed with pinging, subscriber numbers, browser friendliness instead of pages of XML code. I have 15 feeds in my Feedburner.com account, and I certainly don’t have 15 blogs. Other ways I’ve used the system include:
Blogsafer.org change tracking - A few months ago I helped set up a wiki about anonymous blogging to avoid government repression in a number of places around the world called Blogsafer.org. People who want to help keep the wiki good and spam free and keep track of changes made to it for any other reason, can subscribe by RSS or email to get notification of any changes made to the text. I just took the wiki’s own “recent changes” RSS feed and ran it through Feedburner.
Ok, I hope this is helpful. I can’t emphasize how highly I recommend using Feedburner. Please let me know if any of the above needs further clarification. If you are interested in the inner sanctum of Feedburner.com and how it works, check out this podcast interview with Rick Klau. If you are interested in hearing about the company’s future aims, check out this podcast interview of Klau. If you are really into it, the company blog is great.
I don’t know if I should have put this at the top or here at the end, but I have also written a long post about how I teach people to read RSS feeds.
NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.