FeedBurner – Optimize, Syndicate, and Track RSS Feeds

An RSS feed is actually nothing more than a file in an XML format (the XML format may be according to a certain feed format such as: RSS, ATOM, etc.). Typically, you maintain and publish your feed file on your website, but you may have a content management system that auto generates your feed file (similar to how blogging websites do it) but the end result is the same: your website provides a link that if people click on it, they are given a feed file.

Your feed file goes nowhere by itself! To be effective it must be easily integrated into how people find, subscribe to, and read feed information. Many people utilize and read feed information without even knowing that it is a feed.

A feed file alone will miss a very large segment of potential audiences that do not know how to find it, nor utilize it. You need a service that will cause your feed information to be published and made visible in all the places where people go and frequent on the web.

FeedBurner is a free service that enables you to take your feed file and:

  1. Analyze statistics related to how your feed is being subscribed to and read, and through what channels.
  2. Optimize your feed for easier feed reader setup and utilization by other people and websites.
  3. Publicize your feed via other: websites, widgets, search services, and by email.

When you leverage a powerful service like FeedBurner, your feed information will quickly be placed on other websites and become visible within many search services (like Google, Yahoo, etc.) often within hours of you publishing that information within your feed. These search and subscribe services on the web LOVE feeds! It is kind of like their “favorite meal” because to them it means “new, fresh content for my service” and when you utilize a feed this way they will quickly reward you with a greater audience and traffic to your website information.

In addition, emails can be generated on your behalf to whatever size of an audience that has subscribed for your email service (this is also provided free by FeedBurner).

1. Register for a Free FeedBurner Account

To utilize FeedBurner, visit www.FeedBurner.com and register for an account. Use your agency’s Google account to register for a FeedBurner account. The account should be something like: webmaster@department.ca.gov. If people subscribe to your feeds by email, FeedBurner will display this email address in the email that gets sent out, but you can change this email address after you set up FeedBurner.

FeedBurner will want you to register your first feed with them (see below), so be sure you have already placed that feed file on your webserver, and then type in the full URL to that feed.

Note: it asks you if you are a “podcaster,” meaning do you have media files (sound or video) that you are publishing via this feed. If this feed is not for a podcast, but you have other feeds that are, do not check this box because the question is only for the feed you are submitting now.

Next you will need to give your feed a title and designate what the URL will look like through FeedBurner.

FeedBurner will automatically generate a URL name, but you may still want to change it to make if more meaningful and representative of its content.

Your first feed has now been “burned,” but there are many more configurations to be done to fully take advantage of the FeedBurner service. You could click on the “Next” button and it will walk you through some additional, initial configurations. We recommend you click on the “Skip directly to feed management” link.

2. Analyze Your Feed Usage and Channels Using FeedBurner

FeedBurner’s “Analyze” Feed Statistics service provides the capability to:

  • Know how many have subscribed to your content via feed readers, aggregators, and bots (from Google, Technoratti, etc.).
  • Show stats for what content was viewed, and what was clicked on.
  • Show stats for “uncommon uses” such as your feed within a widget.
  • Track podcast stats if your feed is for a podcast.

As you click through the individual statistics items you will find them pretty self-explanatory.

“Headline Animator” statistics is for placing an animated image of some kind in the headline of your feed. This is not recommended as it will tend to only distract from the important content within your feed, and we are not trying to make money on advertising via our feeds.

FeedBurner Configure Stats (shown below) covers a number of statistics related to your feed. Typically you would “check” all that apply (including the podcasting one if you have a podcast.) Note: the “For my site, track” option is for a type of analytics for your website, and this is better accomplished by utilizing Google Analytics.

3. Optimize Your Feed For Easier Integration and Utilization

FeedBurner “Optimize” provides numerous ways to enable your feed to be easily integrated and utilized by others. Here are some of the features:

  • Make it “click” easy for people to place your feed into any feed reader/aggregator they are familiar with.
  • Add additional introductory text and images to your feed (if you have not already done this before “burning” your feed with FeedBurner).
  • Make your feed compatible with any feed feeder/aggregator (regardless if that aggregator only accepts RSS or ATOM) with “Smartfeed.”
  • GeoTag your feed so people can know where your feed is published from (Sacramento State Capitol, etc.).
  • Enable podcast compatibility and integrated publishing through iTunes, Yahoo Media RSS, etc.
  • Provide “event” feeds (only list events in the future and show the data-time of the event)

There are numerous other additions for your feed under the option of “FeedFlare,” but they add additional links-tags to the bottom of each feed (that people often do not want, nor would expect in a feed) and they distract from the important information within your content. There is a better way to allow users to easily bookmark your web content utilizing a service like “www.addthis.com.” Take a look at www.usa.gov (on the right hand side of their web pages) for an example of easy social bookmarking.

In addition, the rest of the remaining options have to do with integrating content from other resources on other websites. You must be careful to not add content you cannot control that would be associated with your feed. In addition, you must be concerned over how that content would be presented even if you do have control.

“More” is not always “better,” and can often distract from important information.

The “BrowserFriendly” option allows you to specify what feed reader services (websites and applications that people prefer to use for reading feeds) that you will provide “quick-setup” links so they can subscribe to your feed with a single “click”. It is not recommended you select them all because this will create an ugly feed page for individuals to initially deal with. A better way to configure this is to click on the “more subscription options” link, and you will find an “Add to Any Feed Reader” option.

Below is an example of what the initial page looks like when an individual clicks on “Subscribe to this feed.”

4. Publicize Your Feed

FeedBurner’s “Publicize” service provides the capability to:

  • “BuzzBoost HTML” – the ability to have your feed content placed on your own webpage by FeedBurner.
  • Allow people to subscribe to your feed content via email.
  • “PingShot” – notify a multitude of internet services each time you put out a new post to your feed (including search engines, feed aggregators like Technoratti, etc.) enabling your feed content to be searchable in the various web search services within hours of publishing them, and enabling your feed to show up in numerous other websites on the Web. FeedBurner will check every half-hour to see if your feed has new content, and if so will do a “pingshot.” If you have a type of “emergency” notification you want Feedburner to “pingshot” on right away, you can accomplish this by manually “pinging” Feedburner under their “Troubleshootize” tab. Note: there are other more extensive “pinging” services available on the web also such as: Pingoat or Ping-O-Matic.
  • Feed count – show off your feed circulation.
  • “Awareness API” allows other services to also be able to see your circulation stats and show that information when they would show your feed on their website or within their service.

Not Likely Utilized by Government

  • The “Headline Animator” capability creates a potentially distracting animated headline image to your feed. It is typically used by those who do advertising within their feeds.
  • “Chicklet Chooser” is the placing of links to the many feed reader services. As already noted above under “Optimize – Browser Friendly” options, the better way to create a “cleaner” way of presenting all the feed reader choices is to use the “Add to Any Feed Reader” option. Adding via “Chicklet Chooser” will do one of two things: (1) you will have to be selective and exclude many feed reader links, or (2) you will have to attempt to include them all creating a very “muddy” feed with feed reader links all over the place. Consequently, we do not recommend using the “Chicklet Chooser” option.
  • “Creative Commons” option is about placing a particular “content licensing” on your content. Not necessary for government content as it is public information we put on the Web.
  • “Password Protector” option is so you can require people to know a password to be able to get at your feed. Not a typical configuration for public information.
  • “NoIndex” option for us is probably in total conflict with the main reason we would use FeedBurner. NoIndex options are for keeping your content from being indexed by search engines, or by Yahoo Pipes (a feed repurposing service). Consequently, it is recommended you do not use the NoIndex option.


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