Monday, January 18, 2010

Use Feedburner to improve your blog

Over the past several years, a number of my friends have gotten married, moved across the country, or both. As such, they have all been starting blogs to share details about how their lives are going. Blogs are nothing new, of course, but most people are still using their blog the way they did several years ago. The tools and features have improved dramatically, and yet the majority of blogs still hearken back to the days of Xanga. Most people change the background color, or pick a design theme and leave it at that. Very few do anything more, even though the tools are there.

Most blog owners probably have no idea how many people actually read their posts. We assume that a few people probably visit the site itself on a regular basis, that some people read it from the links we share, and that maybe a few people read the RSS feed. (Though, if I had to guess, I'd say that most blog owners don't even know what RSS is).

The truth is that more people subscribe and read via RSS than we think. We spend a considerable amount of time customizing the visual appeal of the site itself, and yet often give very little thought to our loyal readers who subscribe to the feed.

You already know my thoughts on RSS as well as how it works. Feedburner is a tool that takes the basic functionality of your blog's feed and adds an almost overwhelming amount of extra features and power. It gives you the ability to customize your feed as extensively as you customize your blog itself. Let's look at some of Feedburner's best features.

Feedburner takes your standard blog feed and redirects it. This means that visitors to your site never see your original site feed. This allows you to change your blog service at any time without disrupting your feed. If you switch from Wordpress to Blogger, for example, your original site feed will change, but Feedburner will simply redirect your new feed to all your existing readers, meaning they won't have to change a thing. 

Embed Extra Information
If you use a feed reader yourself, you've undoubtedly seen feeds with extra links at the bottom of each post. Things like comments, Facebook post links, Delicious share links, email links, etc. This is hugely helpful for your readers, and Feedburner easily lets you add all this to your feed.

Feed Count
With your standard blog feed, you have no way of knowing how many people are subscribing. Feedburner gives you a detailed count of your readers, and even lets you add a little counter widget to your blog sidebar. If you're reading this on The Dastardly Report site itself, you'll see the Feedburner count widget on the right side. For those who like detailed statistics, you can visit your Feedburner account to see very detailed graphs and info on browser use, feed reader use, etc.

Post to Twitter
This is a feature I just discovered. Feedburner can automatically post updates from your feed to Twitter (with more social networks likely coming soon). This works very similar to the way works, but it's likely more reliable. Twitterfeed is a nice service, but it adds another link to the chain, and (at least in my experience), it's been down way too frequently. It's much easier to add sharing settings from right within Feedburner.

That's just a brief overview of some of Feedburner's coolest features. There are dozens more, including podcast settings, advertising settings, compatibility settings, email and subscription settings, etc. It really gives you the ability to customize your feed in ways that best serve your loyal readers. For anyone who is serious about their blog and wants it to be as good as it can be, Feedburner is a really invaluable tool.