What is an RSS Feed and How Do RSS Feeds Work?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Mass communication comes in many forms. When you prefer to receive your information digitally, you have the chance to search for specific topics in the news and other realms of interest. An RSS feed helps organize the news you want and delivers it to a curated feed reader personalized by you.

In this article, we will learn all about an RSS feed, how it works and how to create one that will deliver the results you want.

What is an RSS feed?

The RSS in RSS feed stands for "really simple syndication" and refers to simple text files of information used in a format called XML (Extensible Markup Language). An RSS file format includes two levels of organization. The first level includes the name and organization of your site or blog. The next level includes the item description. Subscribing to an RSS feed is an efficient way to stay up-to-date on the latest online news or content created by the sites you care about. Here are a few examples of topics that have popular RSS feeds:

Examples of popular RSS feeds

  • News

  • Sports

  • Technology

  • Business

  • Politics

  • Religious

  • Gaming

  • Cooking

  • Forums

  • Podcasts

Depending on your interests, you may choose to focus on a particular topic in your feed reader. Students can enhance their learning experience in a given topic by subscribing to several RSS news feeds in subjects like business, politics or technology. Meanwhile, businesses looking to improve their knowledge of online marketing can benefit from RSS feeds featuring content from their competitors and the latest industry news.

Related: Top 10 Study Skills and Techniques

How do RSS feeds work?

Once you subscribe to an RSS feed, new content like news articles, blog posts and company updates are automatically sent to a feed reader that includes a summary of new information. This means you won't have to go searching for the latest information on your own or follow a company's social media accounts. Content is delivered to your feed in real-time so you always have the most recent content at the top.

How to create an RSS feed

Now that you understand how an RSS feed works, you can create your own feed to start receiving content updates. Here are some simple steps to creating an RSS feed:

  1. Install a web-based feed reader.

  2. Make a list of your favorite sites.

  3. Subscribe to the feed.

  4. Organize your feeds into folders.

If you spend a lot of time online, an RSS feed can be a huge timesaver. Here is more information on how you can set up a feed that will provide and organize updates from your favorite companies:

1. Install a web-based feed reader

Search for a popular online feed reader that will deliver the features or solutions you want. Some are designed for simplicity, others are more specific for people looking to use an RSS feed for professional purposes. You'll even find that some feed readers were created with visual appeal as a high priority. Try a few out to see which suit your needs best.

2. Make a list of your favorite sites

To take full advantage of an RSS feed reader, you'll want to make a list of sites you visit frequently. These could include popular news sites, company blogs, personal blogs and other forms of content. Once you've written your list, you'll be ready to move onto the subscription step.

3. Subscribe to the feed

Once you've set up a feed reader account through a specific platform, you can start adding sites to your feed reader. The process of adding a new feed to your feed reader can be accomplished through the platform itself, which may be easier than trying to locate that iconic RSS feed symbol that looks like an orange box containing a tilted WiFi-like symbol. It may also have the letters RSS and XML.

This may be as easy as clicking a + button, then copying and pasting the URL of the sites you want to follow. You may get a message that tells you a site doesn't have an RSS feed set up. If so, keep reading to learn how you can generate a feed on most any site.

4. Organize your feeds into folders

Once you've created a great list of feeds to follow, you can stay organized by separating them into folders. You can label them by topic, level of importance or by time. The amount of folders that you create should help you stay organized, not take away from your overall plan of organization.

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How to find and create an RSS feed from scratch

Because RSS feeds are not as highly used as they once were, many sites do not prominently display the RSS feed icon. This may be due to an oversight or may even be intentional. Regardless, you can still find a site's RSS feed in another way. When sites are built using a Content Management System or CMS, they typically include an RSS feed by default. Follow these steps to find a hidden RSS feed for a web page:

  1. Try adding /feed/ to the end of the URL.

  2. If that doesn't produce any results, look at the HTML source of the website page.

  3. Right-click a site page and select "page source." A new window will appear.

  4. Use the "find" (Ctrl + F for PC or Command + F for Mac), then type in RSS.

  5. Look for the feed's URL contained between the quotes after href=.

Once you can find the RSS feed name, you'll be able to add it to your feed reader. There are instances where an RSS feed just does not exist for a page and you won't be able to add one.

Frequently asked questions about RSS feeds

Like many technological concepts, RSS feeds can take some time and experimentation to learn. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions that people have about them:

Do people still use RSS feeds?

While not as common as they were years ago, people still use RSS feeds to help manage and read online content. Usage of RSS feeds has declined drastically due in part to the rise of social media sites that deliver content in an engaging way. Another reason that businesses do not prioritize updating RSS feeds is likely because they don't see the value in the amount of effort it takes. They choose to focus on publishing social media content or promotional emails.

Related: Creating a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy

What is the biggest benefit that RSS feeds provide?

There are many reasons why people choose to set up RSS feeds. But the biggest reason is that RSS feeds truly focus on providing you with the most up-to-date content from the companies you choose to follow. Feed readers organize new content in real-time so you know you're always reading the latest. This saves you the time it takes to visit countless websites and scroll for new information. Plus, you won't have to take the additional steps it takes to create and log into social media sites.

How hard is it to set up an RSS feed reader?

The process of setting up an RSS feed reader does not take long at all thanks to several free online feed readers. Do some research to find out which ones are the best. Then you can begin the process of creating a feed reader account that will store your RSS feeds. It should take less than 10 minutes.

How popular will RSS feeds be in the future?

It's hard to tell how long it will take for something like an RSS feed to become irrelevant. People who are currently using a feed reader tend to have specific reasons for using one and will continue to do so unless another method of organization comes along that is better. But for now, RSS feeds provide a great service in organizing the latest digital information.

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