Monday

Using Feeds to
Increase Your Site's Content



There are many ways to increase content on your site, from
manually creating it to purchasing software which will auto
generate it for you.

While I highly recommend you stay away from anything which is
automatically generated I also understand that many people don't
feel comfortable writing.

Therefore, in this article, I look at another way to make your
site appear as if it's changing. That is, incorporating feeds
into your site to improve return visits and build your brand.

Feeds have been growing in popularity for some time. In fact,
there are people who measure such popularity.

While feeds are not the sole property of blogs, we can gauge how
popular feeds are simply by looking at the "state of the
blogosphere."

According to Technorati
(http://www.technorati.com/weblog/2005/08/34.html), the
blogosphere is doubling every 5 months or so. That means that
5 months from now there will be twice as many blogs (and feeds)
as there are now.

In many cases, the only way to access that content, aside from
regularly visiting a site, is through their feeds.

But that's not the only use for feeds. Many services have sprung
up which allow you to search and aggregate those feeds. Services
such as Feedster and even Google News allow you to search for
phrases and output an RSS feed which could then be imported into
a feed reader.

In other words, if you wanted to get the most recent news about
Google from Google News you could search for "Textlinkbrokers"
(http://news.google.com/news?q=textlinkbrokers) in Google News
and then copy the RSS feed URL
(http://news.google.com/news?q=textlinkbrokers&ie=UTF-8&output=rss)
into your favorite news reader.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Well that's great news, but
how does that help with my site?"

Well now that you know how to auto generate feeds for virtually
any topic you want, you can then import the feeds into your site
using various methods.

Inserting Feeds Into Your Site

Obviously you can't just link to the feed, or paste the XML
output into your pages. It wouldn't be readable. What you need
is some tool to convert the feed into something that is
readable. And there are many out there to do just that.

So let's look at the easiest - a Javascript from a hosted
service like FeedRoll (http://www.feedroll.com/rssviewer/).

Using a service like FeedRoll you can input the URL of the feed
you want, make some basic style changes and it will provide you
with a Javascript you can then install on your site pages that
will display the feed within your page content. One problem I
have with FeedRoll is that you are limited to the list of feeds
they provide. There was a time when you could use any feed URL,
but they've since changed it.

The only other way to use FeedRoll with your own feed is to buy
their software package (http://www.feedforall.com/) which will
allow you to export the feed into HTML code that you can paste
on your site.

However, if the feed you do like is in the list, then you could
simply make the style changes you want, copy the Javascript code
onto your page(s) and you are done. Once you've saved the page,
load it in your browser and voila - you have regularly updating
news headlines on the page.

But what if you want something a little more sophisticated?

Well there are options here as well including ASP and PHP based
code which can take a live feed and format it on the fly.

Therefore, if you have a dynamic site and don't mind monkeying
around in the code this may be the solution for you.

Using PHP to Display Feeds

The benefit of using PHP to display RSS is that the contents of
the feed displayed on the page can be spidered and indexed by
search engines. That means links can be followed. That also
means that if you have your own feed, you can place it on your
home page (for example) to offer crawlers quick and easy access
to your latest new content.

One of my favorite PHP based converters is called CaRP
(http://www.geckotribe.com/rss/carp/). There are both free and
commercial versions which allow you to not only display the
feed as HTML but also customize it any way you want with style
formatting and even images displayed in feeds (much like you
see on Google News now).

It can be a little tricky to set up at first as it isn't
strictly PHP, but once you start playing around with the values
you begin to realize just how flexible it is.

I know I use it on a personal site to display not only the
latest industry news but also my most recent blog posts and
forum entries. This way crawlers can get into that new content
quickly through direct links on the home page.

Using ASP to Display Feeds

Just like the PHP example above there is also an ASP script
which will take an RSS feed and output it as static HTML.

My favorite is this feed converter
(http://bytescout.com/how_to_display_rss_using_asp.html) which
also allows you some leeway in outputting the feed the way you
see fit.

If you are comfortable with ASP, you will see how easy it is to
manipulate the script to suit you. Even if you aren't an ASP
guru, you'll find the script fairly easy to implement with
commented prompts throughout the script telling you how to make
it work.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many ways to display feeds on sites -
from hosted services to scripts embedded in ASP or PHP. Really
the only thing limiting you is your ability and imagination.

I can tell you from experience that I've used all the above
versions and I'm happy with each of them.

Also, because they will take any feed, your options for what
you want to show are also only limited by your ability and
imagination.

For example, I use the ASP one on an ASP site to display recent
news from Google News. I have pages set up that pull Google news
into a Google page, Yahoo! News into a Yahoo! Page and so on.

With the PHP (CaRP) script, I have the most recent blog posts
and forum entries displayed on the home page of my site to help
crawlers find the new content quickly.

With clients who have limited abilities or technical support
I've implemented hosted versions as they are much easier to do.

So my recommendation to you is try them out and find the one
that best suits you. If you don't like the ones I've suggested,
a simple search on your favorite search engine should return
you lots of different options.
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