Use the WordPress RSS feed correctly: How it works

With a WordPress RSS feed, you can keep your readers up to date with automatic updates regarding blogposts and magazine articles. It can be set up via the WordPress RSS feed widget, via RSS plugins as well as manually. We explain how WordPress RSS feeds work, how to set them up and how to disable them again. We also introduce some suitable RSS plugins.

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What is an RSS feed?

Really Simple Syndication - that’s what the abbreviation RSS stands for. This refers to the automatic, ‘really simple distribution’ of website information. With RSS files, web feeds can be made available to readers clearly and up to date. Especially for blogs and websites with regular content, the RSS feed informs readers about updates. Feed subscribers thus always stay up to date.

How does a WordPress RSS feed work?

The way a WordPress RSS feed works is rather simple. Readers or customers who subscribe to your feed receive updates on news, posts, or recent articles via so-called feed readers or RSS plugins. Feed reader software polls feeds at specific intervals and lists new posts in a summary. This way, readers stay informed even if they subscribe to many web feeds. Links in the feed reader take subscribers to the related sources. The RSS file format is an XML file that conveys information about website content to feed readers with appropriate tag markup.

Advantages of RSS feeds

Unlike a newsletter, you don’t have to actively interact with subscribers to your WordPress feed. You simply keep your website updated with exciting content on a regular basis, while subscribers receive updates on new releases.

Benefits at a glance:

  • Readers/subscribers stay informed automatically via feed readers or plugins
  • Customers receive news about articles in online shops
  • Links in the RSS feed take readers to the original website
  • RSS feed does not require permanent editing
  • RSS feed software is usually free for users
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How to use a WordPress feed with RSS?

What few WordPress users know: The CMS has a built-in WordPress feed feature and will automatically create an RSS feed for your website. You can view this at your WordPress feed URL by writing /feed after your domain name (e.g. www.[your domain.]com/feed). When you retrieve the URL, you will see your feed as an XML file. To make interested visitors aware of your WordPress feed, you should set up a link in the sidebar to subscribe to your RSS feed.

In the following, we present three variants of how you can use a WordPress RSS feed.

WordPress RSS feed widget

By default, WordPress comes with a built-in RSS widget that you can easily place in a widget area of your WordPress site. Proceed as follows:

Step 1: In the WordPress backend, go to ‘Design’, to ‘Customize’, and then to ‘Widgets’. WordPress widgets are dynamic modules like the RSS feed that can be positioned on the front end of the WordPress site.

Step 2: First, select an area on your page where you want to insert the RSS widget. Click the insert block icon (square with plus symbol) at the desired location to select and add the RSS widget from the available list.

Step 3: The RSS widget will now be added to your website frontend (e.g. in the sidebar). Address your RSS widget by entering your WordPress RSS URL as the destination address.

Step 4: Customise the features by specifying how many posts or summaries of new posts are displayed under ‘More Options’. You can also add information such as date and author.

Step 5: Visitors to your website can now get an overview of the latest posts on your site itself in the RSS feed and subscribe to the RSS feed. By the way, you can use the RSS widget to collect and display not only your own, but also new posts from other websites.

Step 6: It is advisable to write a summary for each post, which can be displayed automatically in the feed. Summaries for posts can be added in the sidebar under ‘Settings’ and ‘Read’.

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WordPress RSS Feed Plugins

If you want to use the full functionality of a WordPress RSS feed without acquiring programming skills, use RSS plugins. RSS plugins offer you different functions for RSS feeds. Among other things, you can divide the subscription of feeds into categories or insert images and media.

Option 1: To add a WordPress RSS plugin to your website, go to ‘My Website(s)’ > ‘Plugins’ > ‘Upload Plugin’ > ‘Add New’. Now select the plugin ZIP file you downloaded earlier and click ‘Install Now’. After that, you need to activate the plugin.

Option 2: Alternatively, you can install plugins directly through WordPress. To do this, go to ‘My Website(s)’ > ‘Plugins’ > ‘Add New’. There you can pick out plugins by function, popularity, or rating and add them to your WordPress site via ‘Install now’.

Four examples of RSS feed plugins

            

Plugin

            
            

Features

            
            

Feedzy RSS Feeds

            
            
  • Custom import of unlimited RSS feeds
  • Feeds can be divided into categories
  • Integration of images and interactive elements
  • Different feeds can be posted as widget
  • Optimised for mobile devices
  • Fast loading speed through automatic caching
  • Available as free version and as pro version (from $59/£44)
            
            

FeedWordPress

            
 
  • Import RSS feeds from various sources for small and large WordPress sites.
  • Easy compatibility with other WordPress tools
  • Very user-friendly with access via the dashboard
  • Available as a free version and as a paid premium plugin
 
            

WP RSS Aggregator

            
 
  • WordPress-owned plugin for easy imports (also from external feeds)
  • Intuitive configuration and display of RSS feeds
  • Unlimited number of feeds can be integrated via shortcode on website
  • Optimised display for mobile devices
  • Multilingual with translation function
  • Integrates YouTube or Vimeo videos and opens them in the feed
  • Available as free version or as Premium ($59/£44)         
 
            

Category Specific RSS Feed Subscription

            
           
  • Users can subscribe to feeds divided by user-defined categories in a special menu (in addition to the general RSS feed)
  • Feed menu can be specified and created according to tags
  • Can display RSS feed of tags next to posts
  • Creates tag clouds with linked tags and associated RSS feeds        
            

Create WordPress RSS feed manually

With appropriate programming skills, a WordPress feed can be created and managed manually. For this you have to create a new PHP file in the folder for WordPress themes. However, this option is recommended only for experienced WordPress users. The RSS feed is a text file in XML format, which is retrieved and read by RSS readers of the subscribers. The structure of the file consists line by line of the following basic tags:

  • <?xml version="1.0"encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>: Refers to the use of XML version 1.0, Western European character set (can be adjusted depending on the country and user)
  • <rss version="0.91">: Gets the root tag of the feed
  • <channel>: Gets the feed channel
  • <title>: Defines the RSS feed name
  • <link>: Links to the associated URL source
  • <description>: Description of the channel
  • <image>: Insertion of an RSS title image
  • <item>: Creates an RSS short article with optional article information such as short description, date, link to source.
  • </channel> </rss>: Finaliszes the XML document of the feed.

To tell browsers and feed readers that your website contains an RSS feed, it is recommended to include a header with the following code:

<link rel="alternate" < codesnippet>
type="application/rss+xml"
title="RSS"
href="http://www.website-name.com/rss.xml">

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How to disable an RSS feed in WordPress again

Since not everyone needs an RSS feed, the integrated WordPress RSS feed can of course be deactivated. For this either plugins are used or a small intervention in the current WordPress theme.

Deactivate with RSS plugin

Special plugins ensure that all feeds on a WordPress site (RSS, Atom, and RDF feeds) are disabled. Disable Feeds is a free plugin that you install from the dashboard (‘Add New’) or from the plugin search. The plugin disables feeds only. Associated feed links to articles must be deleted in the theme code or in widgets. A paid plugin that can be used not only to disable feeds, but also to use other WordPress optimisation features is perfmatters.

Customise WP code

If you would rather not use plugins, you can edit the PHP file of the current theme in the WordPress backend. To do this, go to ‘Design’ and ‘Theme Editor’ and look for the functions.php file in the explorer on the right. Paste the following code right after the end of the file and save the changes:

function itsme_disable_feed() {
    wp_die( __( 'No feed available, please visit the <a href="'. esc_url( home_url( '/' ) ) . ' ">homepage</a>!' ) );
}
Add_action('do_feed', 'itsme_disable_feed', 1);
Add_action('do_feed_rdf', 'itsme_disable_feed', 1);
Add_action('do_feed_rss', 'itsme_disable_feed', 1);
Add_action('do_feed_rss2', 'itsme_disable_feed', 1);
Add_action('do_feed_atom', 'itsme_disable_feed', 1);
Add_action('do_feed_rss2_comments', 'itsme_disable_feed', 1);
Add_action('do_feed_atom_comments', 'itsme_disable_feed', 1);

This is how you disable RSS, RDF, and Atom feeds on your website.

Tip

If you create your own WordPress website, you should also think about WordPress SEO and mobile usability through WordPress AMP plugins. If you use WordPress with a connected online shop, you can win over potential buyers with positive, integrated customer reviews using WordPress review plugins.


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