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RSS Feed vs. Email Subscription: What's the Difference?

Michael Reynolds

Posted by Michael Reynolds on 7/15/13 1:40 PM

RSSI was asked recently, “What’s the difference between an RSS feed and an email subscription?” To accurately answer, let’s take a look at what both are and the benefits.

What is an RSS feed?

RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" and it's just that - a way to syndicate your content to other sites or tools. RSS is simply a stream of data that consists of a lightweight subset of the content it is sourced from. It includes the article titles, summary, and link back to the original post.

If you look in the upper right corner of this blog post, you'll see a little orange icon under the email signup option. The icon has lines inside of it that make it look like it's broadcasting radio waves. This is the standard symbol for RSS. If you click this icon, you'll be given options for subscribing to our blog using the RSS reader of your choice. (Popular ones include Google Reader, NetNewsWire, FeedDemon, and Flipboard). These applications let you create a dashboard of articles using RSS feeds that you subscribe to.

What are the benefits of RSS?

Offering an RSS feed gives you the ability to embed your content on other sites. If you would like to share your content with other sites and allow them to publish your articles within their content, you can give them a link to your RSS feed and they can easily embed it. Whenever you publish a new post, it will also update their website in real time.

RSS feeds are easy to add, and they can be used for other types of content like events, news, etc., though the most popular use is in a blog. Having an RSS feed maximizes your chances that visitors will stay connected to your content. If you're not offering RSS as a subscription option on your blog, be sure to remedy this soon. You could be missing out on subscribers!

What is an email subscription?

An email subscription is when people subscribe to your new posts via email. This means that they receive notifications via email without having to actually visit your blog. It offers a valuable service to readers who don’t want to miss your posts. It’s a free service and is valuable especially if your blog is rarely updated since the content is pushed directly to your readers.

What are the benefits?

Email subscriptions are automated - meaning it’s hands-off. You don’t have to manually subscribe or unsubscribe readers; it happens all by itself. (The email comes with instructions in the footer for how to unsubscribe.) By having email subscriptions, you’re keeping readers in a more personal way. A high number of email subscribers is just as important and impressive as your monthly visits - plus, it shows a dedicated and involved readership. If your blog doesn’t have an email subscription box, I highly recommend it!

So what’s the difference?

The main difference is that RSS feeds go to your RSS reader, while email subscriptions go to your inbox. RSS feeds won’t get trapped in your email spam filter, and they have no file size limits. They are 100% deliverable and can include podcasts. Email is a bit more limited. However, some people prefer to have all information sent directly to their email inbox. 

Which do you prefer - RSS feeds or email subscriptions?

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