The 1 Thing You Need To Know About Your RSS Feed

There’s a lot of debate around whether or not you should “rent or own” your podcast’s RSS feed these days. Should you be completely responsible for it? Should you own it – host it on your website? Or should you rent your RSS feed’s delivery through a 3rd party service? While the debate rages on with good arguments on either side of the fence, there’s ultimately only one thing that matters – just one thing you need to ensure, that will make or break your RSS feed and your podcast.

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The 1 Thing You Need To Know

Let’s face it, the one and only thing that you need to know about your RSS feed is that it works. It needs to work consistently and constantly. It needs to be available at all times. When someone wants to check for your latest episode, it can’t be down. Your RSS feed needs to work. Always.

There are a lot of factors that go in to keeping your RSS feed up all the time, including whether you “own” or “rent” your RSS feed and distribution. I’m taking the terms from real-estate here, where you either rent a house/apartment/condo/whatever, or you buy it and own it, paying a mortage (or flat out buy it if you’re wealthy enough). The analogy isn’t perfect, but it illustrates both the befits and drawbacks of both ideas.

To Own Your RSS Feed?

Owning your RSS feed means having it served from your website. When someone wants to subscribe to your RSS feed, they go to your website and get a URL that points to your domain name for the feed. The feed is built and served by your website. This is similar to owning a house. Once you own it, you’re responsible for it.

Benefits Of Ownership

There are two primary benfits of owning your RSS feed distribution:

  1. Traffic goes to your site
  2. A 3rd party service going down won’t take your feed down

The primary benfit is being in complete control over your feed. There is never a third party involved in getting your feed distributed to other people. When you get a lot of traffic on your blog and / or podcast, you are the one that gets the traffic on your site.

If a third party site that hosts your RSS feed goes down for some reason, you may be out of luck while you wait for it to come back up. Owning your RSS feed means you are not waiting on a third party service to fix their stuff.

There are some other small benefits as well, but these are the major ones that you’ll get. Unfortunately, though, there are also downsides to ownership.

Downsides Of Ownership

While the major benefit of ownership is being in complete control of your feed, there are downsides as well.

  1. You are responsible, not someone else, when it breaks
  2. You may not get the best statistics for your RSS

The major downside is that you are completely responsible for your feed! Again, it’s like home ownership. The moment you go from renting your home/apartment/whatever, to owning it, you are suddenly responsible for it. Yes, you can hire someone else to maintain it for you, but it’s ultimately up to you make sure the maintenance happens.

When was the last time you had a plumbing leak in your house? Was it fun to call plumbers and get charged $150/hr or more? When your website goes down, guess who gets to fix it… or at least has to call someone to fix it. And guess how much they’ll charge you to fix it?

The last major downside is statistics. Unless you have a great log analyzer service, you’re not going to get very good statistics from your own RSS feed. It takes a fair amount of work to analyze logs from your website and create something meaningful from it. Chances are, you’ll be using a third party for the analytics, anyways.

To Rent Your RSS Feed Distribution?

“Renting” your RSS feed is similar to renting an apartment or house. It means you have *a third party involved and the RSS feed that people subscribe to is not directly on your website**. There is a service you’re using to host your podcast audio, and generate your RSS feed for you. All of the major podcast hosts, including SignalLeaf, will do this for you.

Benefits Of Renting

There are two primary benefits to renting:

  1. You are not responsible for the feed going down
  2. You can get better stats from a 3rd party service

Owning your RSS feed delivery sounds great, until you realize that you are solely responsible for keeping the feed up and running. If you are distributing the RSS feed from a third party service, though, then that party becomes responsible.

Services like FeedBlitz specialize in keeping systems up and running. They have a very large infrastructure dedicated to this. They will make sure that your RSS feed is avaialble all the time. How much money are you willing to spend on your own servers to ensure they are always up?

Statistics and analytics for your RSS feed are also important. You need to know how many subscribers you have on your RSS feed and be able to compare that to your downloads for episodes. Having your RSS feed hosted by the service that also hosts your podcast audio means you’ll be able to get better stats on your subscribers.

Downside Of Renting

There are 3 major downsides to renting your RSS feed:

  1. Third party goes down, you go down
  2. Someone else gets the RSS feed traffic
  3. Changing your RSS feed is hard

The primary problem of using a third party is the possibility for them going down. If they go down, you are waiting for them to come back up before your RSS works again. I honestly don’t think this is much of a problem. The podcast hosting and RSS generating services out there are going to be solid. They won’t get much business if they aren’t.

The second problem is that someone else gets the RSS feed traffic. You are trading traffic to your site for the security of having someone else host your RSS feed, basically. This is ok by me, as the RSS traffic isn’t that important. You need people to see your website and your content, and for that you want traffic on your site. But when it comes to RSS? It doesn’t matter as much. RSS is consumed by computers, not by people.

If you’re using a 3rd party podcast hosting service for your RSS feed and you want to switch away from them, you may run in to some problems. Several of the big name players in podcast hosting make it very difficult for you to migrate somewhere else and keep your RSS feed and subscribers. It’s a difficult problem to solve, and some of the services out there make it more difficult on purpose. They don’t want you to leave because they lose money. That’s a horrible thing to do to customers, even if the problem of migrating to another host is difficult.

The Best Of Both?

There’s a lot of debate about owning vs renting, and for good reason. There are positives and negatives of both. Personally, I prefer a middle ground approach where I have a third party service syndicating my RSS feed.

Rent The Distribution!

Two good examples of 3rd parties that let you “rent” RSS distribution are Feedburner and FeedBlitz. Both of these services will take your RSS feed from wherever you generate it, and syndicate it to as many subscribers as you need.

By having a 3rd party syndication service, you get several benefits:

  1. You’re not responsible for the maintenance
  2. You can change the source of your RSS feed any time
  3. If your site goes down, the RSS stays up

I’m not willing to spend much money on server farms and large operations to keep my websites up and running, honestly. I just don’t have the money to do this. I’d rather pay to rent space on someone else’s service so that they can be responsible for it. This can be detrimental to my RSS feed, though. So I prefer to have a 3rd party distribution service, like FeedBlitz, handle the distribution of my RSS feed.

With a service like FeedBlitz or FeedBurner, migrating to a new blog platform or website service is also easy. I can change the source of my RSS any time I want. I don’t have to worry about losing subscribers, because FeedBlitz is going to have the same URL for my RSS all the time. I just point FeedBlitz at my new RSS source, and all of my subscribers are instantly seeing the feed from the new location. The subscribers don’t have to do anything.

Lastly, if my site goes down, the RSS feed for my subscribers won’t go down with it. I can have my blog down for hours or days on end (which I don’t want to do, of course) and my subscribers will still be able to get to the RSS feed because the 3rd party syndication service is handling it.

Remember The 1 Thing You Need To Know

In the end, there is one thing that you need to know about your RSS. You need to know that it works. Beyond that, there is still plenty of room for debate about whether or not you should own your RSS feed and it’s syndication.

If you’re going to own the RSS feed, I personally think it’s a good idea to use a 3rd party syndication service. Even if you’re using a 3rd party syndication, though, I think it’s a good idea to have your podcast RSS served by the podcast host so that you can get the best possible stats off the RSS feed. If (when) you need to change podcast hosting services, the 3rd party will be there to ensure you don’t lose subscribers.