Serving Ministry and Business with Integrity

Success with Web Feeds - Part 1

by Lynn Eriksen 

You may have heard about Web Feeds. They are a great tool that encourages return visits by allowing visitors to easily keep track of your site updates. Browsers such as Internet Explorer 7.0, newer versions of FireFox, or Safari allow you and your web site visitors to access them easily. In this article we will explore the following questions:

  • What are Web Feeds?
  • How do I know if a page has a Web Feed?
  • How can I use Web Feeds to promote my web site?

What are Web Feeds?

Web Feeds contain data on recent updates to your web site. Unlike other web pages, a web feed is not designed to be automatically viewed in a browser. Rather, a web feed contains data and it takes a special program to make sense of it. But, as we mentioned above, newer web browsers make it very easy for visitors view and subscribe to any web feed.

What’s the advantage? Users can get your web site updates at their convenience and on their terms. We will elaborate more on this later in the article.

How do I know if a page has a Web Feed?

Web Feed Icon

Safari RSS Icon

A visitor with a newer web browser can easily tell if a web page links to a web feed if the common web feed icon, or 'RSS" icon for Safari, is visible. Here is a list of where the web feed icon appears in newer browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 7.0 – The Web Feed icon appears between the ‘home’ icon and the ‘print’ icon on the main tool bar. If the Web Feed icon lights up orange then a web feed is available for the page. If it is grayed-out then no web feed for the page exists.
  • Fire Fox – If a page has a Web Feed then you will see the orange ‘Web Feed’ icon appear in the far-right of the address bar. If the page does not have a web feed, the icon will not appear.
  • Safari – Similar to FireFox, if a page links to a web feed then an icon will appear in the in the far-right of the address bar. Unlike Internet Explorer or FireFox, Safari uses a blue ‘RSS’ icon.

In addition to these icons location in the browser many pages also contain additional web feed, ‘RSS’ or ‘XML’ icons which visitors can click to subscribe as well.

When users click on these icons they are taken to a special page to view the web feed, and are usually given an opportunity to subscribe. Once subscribed, the browser will automatically get updates for your web site. The subscriber only needs to be online with their browser.

How can I use Web Feeds to promote my web site?

Web Feeds are the ultimate in Permission Marketing because they are 1) non-disruptive, and 2) totally manageable by the visitor. Once a visitor subscribes to a Web Feed you have an interested, qualified visitor that with a strong interest in coming back. Keeping your web feed fresh and focused makes their return visit more likely. Here is a list of possible uses for web feeds:

  • Recent blog posts
  • Recent news items
  • Podcasting  (that is right – a podcast is just a special web feed)
  • Picture gallery updates
  • Product and service special offers

This list certainly is not exhaustive. The basic principle is this: if the visitor needs an update on anything you have to offer, a web feed might be the solution. And, as an extra bonus, web feeds are also indexed by major search engines.

In a follow up article we will explore web feed design and possibilites in more detail.


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