Managing Your Practice

How to set up your own RSS feed


 

In my last column, I reviewed the reasons why RSS news feeds can be a useful tool for keeping abreast on frequently updated information, including blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video, without having to check multiple Web pages every day.

In this month’s column, I will provide pointers on how to set up your own RSS feed. This can help increase readership on your website, publicize a podcast, or keep your patients up to date on the latest treatments and procedures in your practice. And if your name appears in news or gossip sites, you will be alerted immediately.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern, a dermatologist in Belleville, N.J.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

Several options are available, depending on your budget and how involved you want to be in the process: For a monthly fee, many Web hosting services can automatically create and update a feed for you; so, if your website is professionally hosted, check to see if your host offers that service. If not, Web services such as Feedity and RapidFeeds allow you to manage multiple feeds, with automatic updates so that you will not need to manually update your feed each time you update your website content. Feedity’s software can even generate an RSS file without your having to input each item. Other popular options include Web Hosting Hub, Arvixe, MyHosting, and BlueHost. (As always, I have no financial interest in any service I mention here.)

Alternatively, many organizations that publish their own articles and news stories use a content management system (CMS) to organize, store, and publish their material, including RSS feeds. Examples include Drupal and Plone, which are both free, open source programs. Stand-alone RSS creation programs also exist; one popular example is RSS Builder, also a free and open source.

Disadvantages of free systems include advertisements (which can sometimes be removed for a monthly fee) and little or no technical support – and you will probably be limited to a single feed. You’ll also have to add and update headlines, links, and descriptive text manually. Your free feed can become quite expensive if you or staffers are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time maintaining it. Paid RSS editors like FeedForAll and NewzAlert Composer allow easier and less time-consuming content creation and maintenance.

Once you have picked a service or application, you can create your first feed, a process that will be different from program to program. But all feeds will need some basic data: a name (which should be the same as your practice or website); the URL for your website, to help viewers link back to your home page; and a description – a sentence or two describing the general content on the feed.

The next step is to populate the feed with content. Enter the title of each article, blog post, podcast episode, etc.; the URL that links directly to that content; and the publishing date. Each entry should have its own short, interesting description, which is what potential readers will see before they choose to click your entry in their RSS readers, and a global unique identifier (GUID), which the RSS readers use to detect changes or updates.

When all of your content is entered, all that remains is to export your feed to an extensible markup language (XML) file, which will allow visitors to subscribe to it. Upload the XML file to your website, place it on your home page, and click the “publish feed” button.

Once your feed is live, you’ll want to list it on some of the many RSS feed directories to maximize its visibility on search engines. There are literally hundreds of such directories; look for medically oriented ones that do not charge fees, and do not require a reciprocal link back to their website. Add each directory’s URL to your XML file.

Addendum: In my December 2017 column (“Your Online Reputation”), I suggested encouraging your most devoted patients to post favorable reviews about you on the “rating” websites. Several readers (including a practice consultant) have suggested making a laptop or tablet available in your office for that purpose. While that sounds like a great idea, most rating portals track incoming IP addresses, and automatically reject multiple reviews originating from the same computer.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News.

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