In my previous post about How To Configure RSS for your WordPress Website, I promised I would add another post about RSS via email.
Now that we understand that RSS is a feature of most blogging platforms that can send your Blog posts to subscribers, in addition to people subscribing via a Feed Reader such as Feedly, you can also give your subscribers the option of subscribing to your Blog Posts via email using RSS.
This means that whenever you publish a new Blog Post on your WordPress site, your subscribers will receive an email with the content of that post in an email. In this post I will discuss the two external services that I have used for clients.
FeedBurner was bought by Google many years ago and so if you already have a Google Account you can do a search for FeedBurner and log in with your Google Account. If you don’t have a Google Account you will need to create one.
The first thing you need to do in FeedBurner is burn a feed. This means locating your WordPress Website’s RSS Feed Address and inserting that on the the FeedBurner setup page. Google will then redirect that feed address to a new feed address that they create for you.
In FeedBurner you need to go through all the setup steps to configure your feed, activate some services, and then locate the code to embed on your Blog page for subscribers to sign up. Typically this sign up form is placed somewhere on your Blog page’s sidebar. Simply use the Text Widget in WordPress and paste the sign up form embed code into it. You can also edit that code if you need to adjust the width of the form and make any other changes you wish.
Inside FeedBurner you can also edit the colors and fonts used on the email although it’s more difficult to give it a really professional polish. That said, it’s the Content your subscribers are looking for so FeedBurner handles the job nicely.
MailChimp is an email newsletter service, but it also has the added advantage where users can setup an RSS Driven campaign. MailChimp also gives users a very generous free plan, so check it out. You can gather a lot of subscribers before you start paying.
The other advantage of using MailChimp over Feedburner is that design wise, you can design your email template to look like your website. FeedBurner’s design options are not as pretty as MailChimp.
After you’ve created your MailChimp account you need to create a new RSS Campaign. There are about five or six setup steps to setup the campaign, so you will again need to locate your RSS Feed Address. During the setup phase you will also need to design the email template so for example you may need to create a new header image for your template, and get hold of the color codes your site uses.
When you choose an email template to design from, make sure it’s an RSS Template. This will insert most of the code you will need into the Email template so all you need to do design wise is choose your colors, fonts, and insert your header image. The design phase of your email template is the longest part. If you don’t have time to finish it, you can save your work and come back and finish it at a later time.
Also during the setup phase you can send yourself a test email. In the test email MailChimp will grab the last Blog post published on your site and send it to you. Once you receive that email you can make any last minute layout or design changes.
The final phase of setting up an RSS campaign is to confirm the campaign and then hit the Start RSS button. Now, every time you publish a new Blog post, that Blog post will be emailed out to your subscribers on the professional looking template you designed.
Now that your RSS campaign has been created you need to also find the embed code for a sign up form and embed it in a Text widget on your WordPress site. MailChimp will generate a fairly large form so what you also need to do is reduce the width of the form so that it fits nicely in your sidebar.
You add the embed code exactly as I described above. Drag a new Text Widget into your sidebar and paste the sign up form code there. If you’re not sure how wide your sign up form should be, just experiment until you get the dimensions right. MailChimp has options at the side of the form setup to change the form dimensions. Start with say 300 px wide and reduce or increase as needed.
Why use RSS instead of an ordinary email Newsletter?
This is a great question. If you’ve read any of my other posts on here you’ll know that Google loves websites with lots of great content. So one strategy for business is to make your website and it’s Blog the main source of all your business content. You need to Blog for SEO reasons so why not make this your newsletter as well? It saves having to come up with two different sources of content – i.e. one for your Blog and one for your newsletter.
Yes there are cases where you want to send newsletter type information to only your customers. In that case you can always create a Regular Campaign in MailChimp and send that out to your Customer List.
Email Rules, Regulations and Legalities
All Bloggers and website owners should understand that generally speaking, you just can’t add people to your email list unless you obtain their permission first.
Most countries have laws to fight against SPAM. SPAM is considered unsolicited email – email you did not sign up for.
Therefore, with either FeedBurner or MailChimp your subscribers need to validate their email address before they are added to your list.
When people fill out the subscribe form on your website they are sent a confirmation email which asks them to click on a link. This confirms to the email service that yes, this person does want to subscribe to this content.
The email also says if you did not sign up to this list, to ignore it.
In this way, anyone subscribing from your website becomes a genuine subscriber.
If you have an existing client base, it’s probably okay to add their email addresses to your list, especially customers that you communicate regularly with. I should also explain, you can manually add subscribers to your list, or import them from a spreadsheet directly into MailChimp. (I don’t think you can manually add subscribers into Feedburner).
What I would do though, where you are adding email addresses yourself, is just send them an email and say something like “Hey Bob, I am just letting you know I’ve put you on our company’s email newsletter list, if you do not wish to receive these emails there is an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email”. Alternatively just email them and ask them for their permission.
In this way you protect yourself from customers becoming cranky at you. Or, the first time you send out an email Newsletter to existing customers, make sure you tell them you added them to the list and if they don’t want further emails they can unsubscribe. In fact you could make the first email purely about that. That way you start with clean and happy existing customer list.
It’s important to understand that some people get stressed out from Inbox overload and I don’t blame them. As much as they may love your Company, they may not want email newsletters from you so be open and transparent with them and save yourself the grief of complaints.
Strategies to build a subscriber list
Your website visitors need a reason to subscribe to your email newsletters. A lot of sites use enticements such as a free give away for signing up or they hold a competition. On the competition angle, if you are at a Trade show or exhibition this is a great place to get subscribers. Offer a competition to be in the draw for [a prize] which entices people to get onto your list. Or if you are speaking somewhere do the same thing. Have someone other than yourself signing people up to your list after your talk. People love incentives.
On the website itself, you could offer something like “each month, quarter, half year, year all email subscribers go into a draw to win [a prize] ” and make it something pretty enticing or valuable.
So many sites are doing the free eBook thing now and whilst it does work in some circumstances it may not generate great results. In this regard the Content of the eBook must be really valuable to the subscriber and not just some recycled information that your visitors have read before.
Pop Up Forms
Unless you have a really high ranking site with lots of visitors daily, you will most probably find that not a lot of people sign up. A lot of websites use Pop Up forms to encourage people to sign up and from what people say they can and do achieve results in some situations.
However personally I am not a fan them. To me there is nothing worse than landing on a site for the first time and finding this big pop up form in my face. I haven’t even read their content yet. How can I possibly know if I want to sign up?
If you are going to use Pop Up forms I suggest using something so that it’s not so intrusive. There are lots of WordPress Plugins that handle Pop Up forms. I would be inclined to find one that only popped up once a visitor was leaving the site.
A final word of encouragement
If you are going to go through all the loops to set this up, or you hire someone like myself to do it for you, make sure you are prepared to or are in the habit of Blogging regularly. Yes I am guilty of not Blogging very often, particularly in the early years of my business. I was so busy building sites I didn’t have time or energy to Blog. This year I made myself a new year’s resolution that no matter how busy I get, I will make time for Blogging. If I don’t lead by example, how can I expect my clients to do the same?
Lastly setting this up involves a lot of time. If you are going to do this yourself, do it when you are mentally prepared. There’s a lot to learn and it’s easy to become distracted or give up when it all gets too hard.
It takes a lot of time and testing the first time around. I put off learning MailChimp’s RSS campaigns because I knew it involved a lot of time and effort. I had to wait until I was clear before I could focus on it properly. Even now, setting this up for a client is no small job.
For this reason I encourage clients to get into the habit of Blogging regularly first. What is the point of spending all that money setting this up when you do not Blog regularly? Yes, time is something we all wish we had more of. However, you really do need to make the time to get familiar with how to Blog and get into the habit of Blogging regularly for your RSS campaigns to be effective and to build a good size subscriber list.
What is RSS? And why your website should have it.
How to configure RSS for your WordPress Website
Once WordPress is installed on your hosting, an RSS Feed address is automatically generated. There are two easy ways to discover what your RSS Feed address is.
1. Hold your mouse cursor over any RSS icon on your site. It should display your RSS Feed Address such as http://geekgirlwebworks.com.au/feed.
An RSS Icon will look something like the image left.
RSS icons are almost always in Orange and depicted with the dot and the semi circular lines. If your WordPress site does not have a Feed Icon displayed the other way to discover it is to view the source code on your site.
2. Every web browser has a way to view the source code. Navigate to your WordPress site’s home page with whatever web browser you use and then look at the source code.
In Firefox’s menu navigate to Tools, Web Developer and then Page Source.
In Internet Explorer’s menu navigate to View and then Source.
In Chrome navigate to More Tools and then View Source.
The source code is the raw code that makes up your website page/s.
Look for the Feed Address. Below is the RSS Feed Address as displayed in my Firefox Browser for my site. I have underlined the feed address in Red. Note that you only need the part that starts with http:// so in this case the correct Feed Address I am looking for is http://geekgirlwebsworks.com.au/feed/
3. Now that we know the Feed Address, we can configure the RSS Widget so that you can display this in the sidebar of your Blog page.
To navigate to Widgets in WordPress you need to select Appearance and then Widgets in your WordPress Dashboard Menu. These should be displayed on the left hand side of your WordPress Dashboard.
Then you will see a page where all available Widgets are displayed. Look for the Widget called RSS and drag it to the sidebar you want to display it on.
Once your RSS Widget is in place you need to configure it.
Here is a screenshot of my RSS Widget which has already been configured.
Once you save your RSS Feed Widget it will automatically display in the sidebar that you dragged it to. If your Theme has multiple sidebars you can repeat the process if you want to display it on other sidebars.
Now what you’ve just done here is configured the part where people using Feed Readers such as Feedly can subscribe to your Blog posts and everyday Feedly will update their Feedly Reader with your latest post or posts if you’ve published more than one.
There is another way to configure your Feed and that is setup through a service called Feedburner. A cool feature of Feedburner is that you can log in to the Feedburner dashboard and view how many subscribers you have to your site. This post does not cover setting up with Feedburner but I will make a post on doing that soon. Also don’t worry about using this method first. If you opt to setup Feedburner later it won’t be a problem having set this up already. We will only need to modify the Feedburner Feed Address in the above widget and if you do setup with Feedburner they will re-route your Feed Address to a new one generated by them.
In this instance we are aiming for a simple RSS Setup so that at least people using Feed Readers such as Feedly can subscribe to your Blog Posts easily. In this simple setup we don’t know how many people are subscribing through RSS but we can install a Plugin to obtain this information and view it in the WordPress Dashboard.
The Plugin I recommend is called Simple Feed Stats by Geoff Starr. If you are going to install a free Plugin for this purpose, make sure you install one that is compatible with your version of WordPress and that the developer is regularly updating it. I have used other Plugins developed by Geoff Starr and I note he has a history of updating his plugins which is great. Thank you Geoff Starr!
Once you install Simple Feed Stats you need to make some choices on the setup page.
To find the Simple Feed Stats page look under Settings, Simple Feed Stats and select it in your WordPress Dashboard.
At this time I do not want to display my RSS Feed Subscriber count on my site so I am not going to discuss those options here.
However, I do want accurate reporting and I do want to know how many real people are subscribing to my Blog, so under Options in Simple Feed Stats I checked the following options.
Display Your Feed Stats On Your Site
If you do want to display your Feed Stats on your Blog there are a number of Shortcodes you can use. A Shortcode is a set of square brackets with instructions in between them. They can be used in Posts, Pages and Widgets depending upon what the Shortcode does.
To find the available Shortcodes for this Plugin, navigate to Template Tags and Short Codes within Settings – Simple Feed Stats and use the Shortcode appropriate for the function you need.
For example you could drag a text widget into your sidebar and use a Shortcode to display the number of Subscribers to your Blog.
Tip: Don’t use the PHP codes unless you know and understand PHP and what to do with it. Shortcodes are for non-developers and people who don’t understand programming, so use Shortcodes as they are the easiest to work with.
View Stats in your WordPress Dashboard
This plugin will put the Stats of your Feeds into your WordPress Dashboard. Below is a screenshot of the Dashboard Widget.
I plan on writing two more posts on RSS so subscribe to my Blog if you want to get those. One will be on Feedburner. Feedburner is useful if you want to offer your Blog Subscribers the option to get your posts by email. Also the other option that you can offer using email subscriptions to your Blog is by using MailChimp. Each one will need a separate post of it’s own to explain how to set it up.
With this site I use the normal RSS method for Feed Readers and I have also configured MailChimp to send out my Blog Posts as email newsletters for those who opt to subscribe that way. What I like about the Mailchimp option is that you can design your newsletters to look like your site which is pretty cool.
I should also point out that for my clients who plan on Blogging regularly I setup this for them.
What is RSS? And Why Your Website Should Have it
One of the most misunderstood features of WordPress, and other Blog style platforms is that your website visitors can subscribe to your website’s RSS Feed.
What this means is that every time you publish new Blog content (which you might call News on your site), that published content is automatically sent to your subscriber’s email address or to their Feed Reader. If your website is configured correctly your visitors can normally choose the subscription method that they prefer.
A Feed Reader is a program or service that amalgamates Feed Subscriptions so that they can all be read in one place, such as Feedly. This is great for people who do a lot of internet searches on their favorite topics. They can subscribe to their favorite Blogs and never miss a post from those sites. Every day Feedly updates their Feed Reader with the latest posts from sites they subscribe to.
Why I recommend WordPress as a website platform for my clients is because the client can publish their own Blog or News articles to the site, as well as edit and update their pages, as well as build a subscriber base to their site using RSS.
When someone is subscribing to your site they are essentially saying to you “Yes I like your information, I would like to be sent more”. Not everyone who comes to your site is a buyer straight away, but a subscription option is a way for people to stay in touch with you. If you are publishing regular posts or news articles it may prompt that subscriber’s memory when they receive new information from you that yes, they want to buy a product or service from you. Or they may just want to read any new content that you publish because you are teaching them something useful.
If you are selling products or a service, the Blog format is a great way to provide additional product information to your website readers and subscribers. For example, a site that sold mobile phones might publish a Category of Blog Posts on getting the best from their Android Phones. These posts could talk about cool Apps that are available for Android as well as other information about how to work around known issues. It can provide a level of customer service in that customers don’t need to call you up, they can read your blog posts and either make a buying decision or fix a problem without bothering you. And you can also educate and teach your customers about whatever it is that you sell or provide.
Whilst putting together content regularly is frankly a big pain in the neck for some business owners, you are doing yourself and your existing and potential customers a big dis-service if you don’t. I know from my own buying experience, I tend to buy from sites that have comprehensive information about their product or service. If I buy software for example, I often read all their FAQ’s to make sure it has all the features that I want. I will watch demonstration videos on how it works before I buy. I will review all the other important information. Essentially the better this information is put together the more sales you will generate.
With WordPress, not only can you put out the written word in a post but you can also embed videos for people to watch, or audio files for them to listen to, in addition to offering items to download.
One way to generate good content for your site is to think of all the possible questions your client’s ask you and get to writing posts on those topics, or put together some videos or audio files . WordPress can handle all these content types, and through RSS and the power of sharing on Social Media, you have the ability to create a very informative website about whatever it is you sell or provide services for.
Lastly, WordPress allows you to build an Authority Website. An authority site is a site that Google considers has a lot of great information on a particular topic. If your website only consisted of pages, eventually you’d have too many pages to make the site helpful. This is why the Blog format is so good. You can continue to publish so much information and the posts are stacked on the Blog page, one above the other. As we can divide our posts into Categories, we can display all our Blog Categories and people can find the information that interests them.
Update 23/01/2014: This post is now slightly out of date. Google have since retired the Google Reader. I have written a more comprehensive post about RSS in this post:
What is RSS? And Why Your Website Should Have It
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and it basically means that when new content is added to your website, a syndication service sends out an alert to your ‘subscribers’.
Subscribers can receive your new content via a ‘Feed Reader’, or via email. Some web browsers also facilitate the receipt of RSS content.
A typical program or service to receive RSS Feeds is the Google Reader. It’s a free service. If you have a Google Account you can add the Google Reader as a service. Next time you are on a website or Blog that offers an RSS feed you can subscribe to it and all new content will be sent to the Feed Reader. A feed reading program looks quite similar to an email program in that it lists the sites that syndicate content in one column, and their content items in another. Subscribers can then read your new content without visiting your site, or they can click through to your site and read it there.
Google also offer a service called Feed Burner for Blog and website owners. When I set this service up for you, your clients can receive your feeds via an email to their email account or to their Feed Reader program or service. They choose the option that they prefer when they are subscribing. I personally enjoy the emails being sent to my email account. Not all Blogs and Websites use Feedburner – although if they don’t they are often missing the option to give their subscribers the email option rather than the content being delivered to a Feed Reading program.
It’s for this reason I really like Feedburner and encourage website owners to utilise the service. I normally set this up for my clients if they plan on adding new content to their Blog/Website. Another good option for distributing your blog content via email is through MailChimp’s RSS Newsletters.
Another great selling point for WordPress is that it can have multiple users and also multiple user roles.
In most cases myself and the client have Administrative User Accounts. This means we have total control over the site.
If you want to let your staff add content to the site, we can set them up with their own user accounts with the appropriate priviledges. For example, they may be allowed to login, write content, and publish content but the content needs to be approved by an administrator before it goes live. There are lots of possibilities where WordPress is concerned.
It’s not really necessary for your new website to be submitted to search engines because as long as one site (e.g. mine) is linking to it, it will be naturally indexed next time a search engine crawls my site.
Once Google finds your new website, it’s just a matter of time before the other Search engines also index it.
There may be a case to answer to manually submit your site to smaller search engines but truthfully I never do this, because most people use Google, Bing or Yahoo for web searching, so the statistics say. As long as your site is coming up in the major search engines, you’re pretty well covered by those three.
That said, there is a case for submitting your site to as many business directories as possible. Business directories tend to be found before individual websites in some cases, especially when people are searching for local businesses. I often do this for my clients, after their site goes live. These sites are also crawled regularly by search engines so as soon as your site is linked from one of those yours will get listed in the search engine.
If you’re moving a site to WordPress, see my post about this subject. In that I explain that I will arrange for all your page links to be diverted to your new site.