The trouble with RSS feeds

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of RSS feeds. Coupled with a nice RSS reader, they let you keep on top of the latest blogs from your favourite websites. And they make it quick to sift through lots of news.

If you run a WordPress website: by default anyone can check out your RSS feed – even if you don’t link to it with one of those handy little RSS buttons.

That’s useful. But it can cause trouble.

What’s the problem with RSS feeds?

As much as I like RSS feeds – if you’ve never paid any attention to yours whatsoever – this useful function could also be causing you problems:

  1. Dodgy people can use your RSS feed to steal your content
  2. RSS feeds can prevent your blogs from converting website visitors

Yikes! Sounds scary.

Don’t panic. Let’s look at these points in a little more detail, and pay our RSS feed some attention. If only this once.

Even if you aren’t as much of a fan of the good old RSS reader as I am, you shouldn’t ignore your own RSS feed completely.

Dodgy people stealing content

Scrapers are basically bots that read your website and nick your words to use on their own site, or to use in those annoying spam comments you sometimes see.

They work in a similar way to Google when it indexes your website. They read the HTML on your website and convert it into an easy-to-read format.

But scrapers are bad. Very bad. While different scrapers goals vary, none of them are trying to help you out. On the whole, they’re using your words to save writing nice, original copy for themselves.

If a scraper takes your copy and sticks it on another website – this can be terrible for your SEO. Google recognises if multiple websites display the same copy and it’ll penalise accordingly – even if the copy was yours to start with.

Very quickly you can find your stolen page de-indexed – never to see the light of day in a Google search engine results page again.

And even if someone hasn’t built themselves a bot to do this – well this is where that RSS reader comes in.

It’s nice and easy for someone to rip off your entire blog if they have an RSS reader. If someone can read your entire blog post through their RSS reader, then they can also steal your entire blog post – without you ever knowing who dunnit.

RSS readers losing you sales

And if dodgy people can get your entire blog post through their RSS reader – so can your target audience.

An RSS reader imports RSS feeds, so you can get a summary of articles you’re interested in, all in one place, as they’re posted online.

That’s not so bad – anyone seeing your content is good for brand recognition, of course.

But let’s get real:

The purpose of your blog is to convert. If your target audience are reading all your posts offsite, there’s no way of knowing if they’re doing their job of converting. Now or ever.

And if they can get your brilliant content without even visiting your website, it’s more difficult to drive people to a conversion.

A degree of offsite promotion is great – on social media, for example, where you have some control and some metrics to judge conversion. But just isn’t the case with an RSS feed, so you need to be more careful about how much you let people view.

As I mentioned, WordPress blogs come with an easy-access RSS feed.

Anyone can type your website address followed by /feed into their RSS reader to get a nice stream of all your blogs. And you’ll never know they’ve done this. So you won’t be able to track it.

How to sort out your WordPress RSS feed

Well, that’s all very doom and gloom.

But don’t worry, it’s easy to fix.

Here’s how:

First of all – in your WordPress admin, click on Settings then Reading. Here you’ll see a few simple settings relating to your blog post.

Take a look at the option: For each article in a feed, show – this is the setting you want to pay attention to.

Select Summary then click Save Changes

And you’re done.

From now on, anyone subscribed to your RSS feed will just get a short summary each time you publish a blog post – rather than the entire post.

Just enough to tempt the reader onto your site, so you can track if and when people read your posts. And increase your chances of readers converting to sales, newsletter sign up, or reaching any of your specific website goals.

If you want to go a step further, you can use a plugin like Yoast SEO to protect against scrapers stealing your blog summaries. You can use this plugin to add a copyright blurb to each of your posts.

To do this automatically on all your posts:

Install the Yoast SEO plugin, then click SEO and Advanced and go to the RSS tab.

Then follow the easy instructions to customise the snippet you want to include before and/or after posts in RSS feeds.

That way, if those pesky scrapers try to post your content onto another website, it’s going to be pretty darn obvious to readers and search engines.

This is one of those easy to overlook issues, much like your 404 page. But it’s so easy to fix – it’d almost be silly not to.

In just a few seconds you can go some way to protect your unique content and preserve your website metrics. And your hardworking copywriter will rest a bit easier too.

For blog posts worth stealing, get in touch!

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