RSS feeds allow users to receive a brief description of your latest web article alerting them to your new posting, so why not consider optimising this summary to really entice readers?
RSS feeds are an excellent way of keeping people informed of the latest additions to your website. They do this by displaying a short summary of your web article in the user’s RSS reader as a teaser to your main article. But, rather than leave things to chance, wouldn’t it be better to carefully hand craft the RSS summary to maximise your chances of pulling in the reader?
Partial RSS Feeds
Some websites like to supply the entire content of their web articles in what is supposed to be the RSS summary or description field. This type of RSS feed is commonly known as a full feed. If this seems a little confusing, then my previous article on RSS Feeds: Full Fat or Semi-skimmed, should help explain the difference between full and partial feeds in a little more detail.
If you’re a proponent of full RSS feeds, or the website that you write for operates in this fashion, then writing custom RSS summaries is not really an option for you.
However, if your website publishes its RSS feed as a partial feed (only a summary of your website article is included in the RSS feed) then writing a custom summary of your article especially for your RSS feed could be of tremendous value to you.
If your website is powered by a Content Management System (CMS), such as the popular WordPress blogging platform used on this website, then the chances are that your RSS feed will be automatically generated by the system software.
If you are supplying your RSS feed as a partial feed (just sending a summary of your article) as opposed to a full feed (sending the entire content of the article in the RSS), then the summary of your article in the feed is probably automatically lifted from the first paragraph of your article, and not even the entire paragraph at that, unless you have taken alternative action!
This is obviously not an ideal situation as, depending how punchy your first paragraph is, the chances are a much better job could be done writing a brief summary with a little extra effort. You might have spent hours working on your latest literary epic, so why not spend a few minutes more to really sell it?
Custom RSS Summaries
A good example of using custom article summaries for RSS feeds is the BBC News website. Each article on their website has a headline or title, which is used as both the RSS title and main story headline. However, the RSS feed descriptions are one line summaries of the articles, which themselves are more condensed versions of the first teaser paragraphs of the articles in question.
With the attention span of the average web user being comparable to the domestic goldfish, the advantage of using a short but snappy, carefully crafted summary of your web article for the RSS feed to instantly grab their attention should be immediately obvious.
Summarise the Summary
So next time you write a blog or web article and write a summary for the first teaser paragraph, spend a few extra minutes summarising the summary into a single line for your RSS feed (assuming you’re using partial feeds) to really grab your reader’s attention.
If you are a WordPress user, then WordPress caters for this facility with its excerpt field in each post. If this field is filled in, then its content is used as your feed’s summary for each article (if you have selected the summary option for your feed). If this field is NOT filled in, then a portion of your article’s first paragraph is taken for the RSS summary instead.
Which would you prefer? A custom summary, or a half cut up first paragraph?