Last month, I discussed RSS news feeds as a useful tool for keeping abreast of frequently updated information, such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video, without having to visit a multitude of different Web pages each day.
This month, I’ll explain how to set up your own feed, which is useful if you want to increase the readership on your website, or publicize a podcast, or keep your patients abreast of your practice’s latest treatments and procedures. It will also alert you immediately if your name pops up in news or gossip sites.
There are several options, depending on your budget, and how involved you personally want to be in the process: Many Web hosting services will automatically create and update your feed for a monthly fee; so if you already have a professionally hosted website, 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 hosting options include Web Hosting Hub, Arvixe, and MyHosting, among many others. (As always, I have no financial interest in any service I mention here.)
Another option, used by many organizations that publish their own articles and news stories, is a content management system (CMS), an application designed to organize, store, and publish content, including tools for adding RSS feeds. Examples include Drupal and Plone – both free, open-source programs.
Alternatively, you can download a stand-alone RSS creation program, then create and update your feed manually. Again, there are many options to choose from. One popular example is RSS Builder, a free, open source RSS creation program that allows you to create RSS files, upload them to your website, and automatically manage them to some extent. Disadvantages of free systems include advertisements (sometimes removable for a monthly fee), scarce or nonexistent technical support, and in many cases, no option to create more than one feed. You may also have to manually add new headlines, links, and descriptive text yourself. Your “free” feed can become quite expensive if you or staffers are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time maintaining it. Paid programs such as FeedForAll allow easier creation and maintenance, and less time commitment.
Once you have chosen your service, create your first feed. The process will differ from program to program, but the general idea is the same for almost all of them. All feeds will need some basic data: A title (which should be the same as your website or podcast); 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.
Once you’ve entered this information, you can start populating the feed with content. Enter in 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 but sweet description; this is what your readers will see before they choose to click your entry in their RSS readers. You can add author information and further comments if needed. Add a new entry for each piece of content that you want to broadcast.
Most RSS apps suggest that you assign each item in your feed a global unique identifier (GUID), which RSS readers use to determine if an item has been changed or updated. Each feed item should have its own GUID, particularly if multiple items are located at the same URL.
Once you’re done entering in all of your content to your feed, you need to export it to an XML file, which will allow visitors to subscribe to your feed. Then upload the XML file to your website, place it on your homepage, and click the Publish Feed button.
Once your feed is live, consider submitting it to some of the many RSS feed directories (also called aggregate sites) that collect articles from similar interests and can significantly increase your viewership. Search for medically oriented directories, and others that match the interests that your feed addresses, and submit each directory’s URL to your feed’s XML file.
Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a long-time monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at [email protected].