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Designing With Code: Leveraging RSS

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

By Kris Hadlock

RSS may be a simple programming language, but you can use it to market and publish any information to unlimited sources across the web. Plus, it's completely free. In this article, I'll explain a couple different ways to leverage the power of RSS by both syndicating your own content and using others to add some flavor to your web site. Free advertising, news distribution, and instant content production are just a few of the possibilities when leveraging RSS.

Free Advertising

To maximize your marketing dollars, it's important to expand your marketing strategies beyond email and start using RSS to deliver messages. A successful email marketing campaign can be very effective—I'm not saying that RSS marketing is a replacement for email; rather it can be a successful addition to a marketing strategy.

By definition, RSS syndication is used to simultaneously distribute information to multiple sources on the web. This is where a good campaign starts—getting your message through to as many people as possible and hoping to convert readers into buyers, or at least into a devoted audience interested in your product. Your "product" can be anything from yourself to your company or your company's products. The only part that takes work is getting people to subscribe and having a clear message that sticks with readers.

You also want to use RSS syndication to increase your online visibility, which helps you stand out from the competition. With all the possible companies in the market, the personality behind the product is important and, ultimately, what people remember. If people like you or your company, then you have their attention; once you have their attention, you can effectively deliver your message.

So, do some searches on your niche, find lists to which you can add your RSS feed, and—if you have a clear, useful message—people will eventually begin to listen.

No Writing Necessary

If you're lacking content on your web site, or simply looking to add some additional information to spice it up, look no further. You can use RSS to deliver content from other sources directly on your own web site. Let's say that we have a technology web site and we're looking to feature some technology-based articles. We can easily find the feeds by doing a few searches on RSS or simply going to our favorite web sites and gathering the addresses to their feeds. In fact, this very web site (Informit.com) has RSS feeds for articles that you can feature on your web site, so we're going take advantage of this situation.

After you find the feeds you want to feature on your site, you'll want to find an RSS widget that you can use to automatically gather up these feeds and display them. You can choose from any number of widgets that perform these very tasks or, if you're feeling adventurous, you could even build your own. I won't show you how to create your own widget in this article, but in a previous article called RSS Aggregation with PHP and AJAX, I show you how to create an Ajax/PHP solution, which can be used as a starting point.

For this article, I found a JavaScript component, which I used to gather the "most recent articles" feed from Informit.com. The component is actually created on the fly using an RSS JavaScript Generator from a company called BlogHarbor. The generator is a demo version of what is offered in BlogHarbor's blogging service, but there are many other widgets out there, so don't feel locked in to using this solution. The great thing about this widget, however, is that it's JavaScript-based so you don't have to worry about the technologies offered on your server. Also, it has a generator (Figure 1) that you can use to enter a feed's URL, set the number of posts to display, and customize the CSS for final display on your own site.

After you've completed the generator form, you can either see a preview (Figure 2) or generate the final JavaScript (Figure 3), which can then be added to your web site.

No Writing Necessary

Whether you have something to say or are simply looking to add content to your web site, RSS offers a way to deliver and receive content in an extremely simple format. To learn more about RSS, you can visit the Articles section of my web site at http://www.studiosedition.com/articles where you will find ways to leverage the technology with Ajax and PHP, or read about the anatomy of the RSS format.