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How to Burn Specialized WordPress Feeds for Your Readers

One of the best ways to unlock the potential of your blog is to cede as much control as possible to your readers. With that in mind, one of your goals ought to be to offer potential subscribers different (yet meaningful) ways to consume the content of your site.

Of course, simply offering an RSS feed is a huge step in the right direction.

But what if you’ve been blogging for a while, and now you realize that one RSS feed just isn’t going to cut it anymore? By offering a couple of different feeds, you could really do your users a favor, and this would also allow you to make a more direct appeal to both your existing and potential audience.

What if I told you that this would likely result in more subscribers and more repeat visitors to your site?

When Two Feeds Are Better than One

After fleshing out my most recent re-design here at Pearsonified, I became even more focused on delivering useful, actionable content. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that thus far, but I also felt as though this method of writing was becoming too stifling.

Pearsonified on the Side — the most primary secondary feed on the planet!Inspired by Ben’s asides at OpenSwitch, I decided to free myself to some degree by building my own asides here. Although I’ve never really seen them described as such, asides are a total luxury item for bloggers. Here’s why:

  • Some content just doesn’t warrant a major entry, but perhaps you’d like it on your site nonetheless — asides to the rescue!
  • You can venture a little bit off-topic without interfering with your main stream of articles, which should be relatively focused.

Now that’s great and all, but there’s one major problem with asides.

You don’t want to annoy your loyal subscribers by bombarding them with little tidbits that likely offer far less value than your regular, more thoughtful articles.

They can opt in to receive content like this, but under no circumstances would I recommend pushing it on them without their approval!

So, if you really want to implement asides and still offer your readers control over how they access your content, then you’re going to need a separate feed to handle them.

Burn Baby Burn!

I’ve always learned best by following an example, so that’s what I’m offering here — an example of how I burnt two Feedburner feeds to handle my regular articles and my asides.

The default feed for a WordPress blog is constructed like this:

http://your_WordPress_location/feed/

Before I added asides, this was actually the URI that I used to burn my original Feedburner feed.

Unfortunately, once you decide to implement asides (assuming you use a special category to handle them, which is highly recommended), this default feed will no longer be adequate because it does not allow for the separation of articles and asides. Time for Plan B.

The good news here is that WordPress is flexible, and it will allow you to extract the exact feeds that you want with relative ease. Here’s how it works. Oh, and you’ll have to know the ID of your asides category — in this example, we’ll assume the ID is 40.

Step 1 — Generate a feed for your primary articles

If you want to generate a feed for your primary articles, then all you need to do is find a way to exclude the asides category from your feed. Thanks to the intelligent way feeds are constructed in WordPress, accomplishing this is easy, and you can use the URI below to generate the desired feed.

http://your_WordPress_location/index.php?feed=rss2&cat=-40

The keen observers among you will likely have noticed that the category ID is preceeded by a negative sign. This command generates a query (which produces a feed) but excludes all results from the category with an ID equal to 40.

Step 2 — Generate a separate feed for your asides

So, any ideas on how you might construct the feed for your asides? Yeah, you already know where this is heading…We’ll nix that negative sign!

http://your_WordPress_location/index.php?feed=rss2&cat=40

That’s all there is to it!

Your only challenge now is to present these new options to your readers. Since you already know how much they enjoy being in control, something tells me they’re going to appreciate your feed-burning wizardry :)

Oh, By the Way…

And lest I forget, Pearsonified now comes with two feeds for your viewing, reading, time-wasting, or corporate-dollar-burning pleasure:

I’m not going to stick to any hard and fast rules here, but I plan to use my asides primarily to:

  • Link out to excellent resources that I think you need to know about
  • Showcase bits of graphic (and typographic) design goodness — kinda like this
  • Make important announcements
  • Share funny or interesting stuff that’s just hard to do otherwise

Ya dig? Subscribe already; I promise you’ll enjoy it.

Update: After a few weeks of testing, I decided to roll all my feeds back into one primary feed. I’ve detailed the reasons for this move over here.

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33 comments… read them below or add one

Ben November 18, 2006

:) Your asides look sweet. I think I’m going to offer my feeds the same way you are here. Currently I offer one full feed that includes asides and one feed that does not include asides. I think, however, that I need to publicize them a little better.

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Chris P. November 18, 2006

Ben,

So if you’re offering two types of feeds, then I take it you’re no longer using the Category Visibility plugin to handle the asides…

Am I right?

Oh, and I’m planning on releasing a combined feed as well, but this post was all I could muster up last night before 3 am.

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Jeroen Sangers November 18, 2006

If I know that a site I like (such as yours) is using WordPress, many times I generate my own personal feeds for that site. If I am only interested in one category, I open up the archive page for that category, stick /feed/ behind the URL and voila! Once you know the structure, you can generate any feed you want for any WordPress site. In your case, you only redirect two of the thousands possible feeds to feedburner, all the others are still directly accessible from WordPress.

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Mike November 18, 2006

I’m all about the combined feed. I can tell in my most excellent feed reader, Feed Demon, whether I want to click thru or not and I’m willing to give up that 5 seconds to you .. since you’ve earner that trust.

When you do a combined feed, do I have to delete the one I have now and re-up for 6 more years ?

And are combinos white and pink like albinos ?

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Chris P. November 19, 2006

Jeroen,

That’s all true, but I still want to get people thinking about providing user-centric services at their sites. Give readers as much as possible, while requiring them think and act as little as possible.

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Chris P. November 19, 2006

Mike,

When I offer the combined feed, you’ll have to switch over to it. I had to go this route because I didn’t want to bombard my current subscribers with both my articles (which they’re accustomed to) and the asides (which may piss them off).

I was somewhat afraid to throw a curveball out there that could cause some subscribers to hit the road.

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Mike November 19, 2006

Well alright Mr. Asides, whatever the hades they are, I’ll do it for you.

But nobody else !

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Ravi November 20, 2006

Except for extreme cases where people want to write a TON of side-topic posts…creating another feed just for asides seems like overkill for most people.

Seems more confusing for the end-user/reader than anything else. More options are not always a good thing.

If people read a blog in a feed reader, it is trivial to skip over posts that aren’t relevant. If people are reading on the blog frontpage…you can prevent your “aside” posts from appearing by just choosing not to display them on the front page of the blog.

that said, thanks for writing about this, I definitely learned something new today!

-Ravi

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Adam November 20, 2006

I think I would be pissy if I had to subscribe to more than one, as long as it’s easy to pick the full feed, then I’m all for it.

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Ben November 20, 2006

So if you’re offering two types of feeds, then I take it you’re no longer using the Category Visibility plugin to handle the asides…

That’s correct. It wasn’t a great option because while it did keep the asides out of the main feed it also made the asides category feed unviewable. It was like the asides category couldn’t exist anywhere except for on my blog and that was really not an option.

Reply

Ben November 20, 2006

BTW, are you using a feedburner redirect plugin?

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Chris P. November 20, 2006

Ben,

I came to the same conclusion regarding the Category Visibility Plugin, and yes, I’m using the excellent Feedburner Plugin from Steve Smith.

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Ben November 20, 2006

Me too. Just wondering.

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Chris P. November 20, 2006

It’s the only way to travel. Caddy-lac staaayyyle.

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Mike November 21, 2006

What makes this plugin all that and a bag of chips ?

Why have I never heard of it before ?

Why did I eat that BBQ for dinner ? Bleaaahhhh !

Reply

Chris P. November 21, 2006

Mike,

If you burst onto the scene with your Feedburner feed, then you’re good to go. However, it is far more likely that you started out with a few available feeds (all of them default from WordPress), including:

  • RSS 2.0
  • RSS 0.92
  • RSS 1.0
  • Atom

Because of this, it was highly possible that your RSS user base was spread across a variety of feeds instead of just one central feed. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to generate a reliable metric like your total number of subscribers.

The best way to handle this, then, is to consolidate your feeds and have them all point to a single, master feed.

Steve Smith’s Feedburner Plugin handles that job for ya, and it goes a long way towards setting things up so that you can pull a reliable metric.

As for you never hearing about it before, well, I’ve never spoken about it here :) And Brian works all that magic behind his burgundy Copyblogger curtain.

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Mike November 21, 2006

Thanks for the edutaiment Pearsonidude.

NOW I understand.

We started every blog with Feedburner, I believe, so we should be okey dokey.

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Sean November 22, 2006

thanks a lot for this – who knew it was so simple!?!

thanks!

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Dave Forde November 26, 2006

Is there such a thing as “too many” feeds to be offered? Looking at some of the newspapers they can offer up to 20 different feeds.

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Chris P. November 26, 2006

Dave,

I definitely think you can hit a point of feed overload. The trick in that situation is to only offer the individual feeds where they are most relevant.

For instance, let’s say a newspaper is burning feeds for its individual sections:

  • World News
  • Local News
  • Business
  • Lifestyle
  • Sports
  • Classifieds

Offering all of these in one spot on the main page may seem like a good idea, but it’s really overwhelming to folks who are not familiar with RSS as a means of content propagation.

In this case, it makes far more sense to offer the Sports feed on the Sports page, and to keep that part of the site and that stream of information separate from the rest of the content.

I think the bottom line for newspaper sites (and other large online media outlets) is that they’ve just included RSS as a feature, but they haven’t really implemented it in the best way.

It’s still confusing to your average consumer, and until more attention is paid to the architecture and the information surrounding feed delivery, RSS will remain under-utilized by the masses.

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Sean November 30, 2006

I have sub-categories for my asides ( i know, anal) – so is it possible to exclude subcategories from my feed as well?

basically, is it possible to exclude multiple categories.

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Chris P. November 30, 2006

Sean,

Yes it is. For each category you want to exclude, just append the feed URL with this:

&cat=-14

where “14” is the ID of the category you wish to exclude. So in practice, you may have a feed URL that has a few suffixes, like so:

...php?feed=rss2&cat=-7&cat=-14

Reply

Sean November 30, 2006

awesome, thanks – really appreciate all the advice, it’s been quite helpful in a few ways.

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Sean November 30, 2006

maybe i’m trying for a bit too much here, but it doesn’t work unfortunately – i get a muddled up feed afterwads, it all seems backwards.

i went for this…. quite long, so maybe i should reconsider my category structure.

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Chris P. November 30, 2006

Sean,

I hit that link, and it appeared to be A-OK from where I’m sitting. I didn’t inspect the feed content that closely, though, so perhaps you have some leakthrough content that I didn’t catch.

The bottom line here (for me, anyway), is that I believe people really need to reconsider how they use categories.

In my opinion, you have two different ways of “categorizing” content. One method, the use of categories, is tied to the WordPress backbone; the other, tagging, is independent of WordPress and is more suitable for public consumption.

Personally, I like to use categories to control the display of information on my Web site, and if I were to implement tags, I would do so to help the public slice and dice my content.

So, categories are for the Webmaster, and tags are for the people.

Ya dig?

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Sean November 30, 2006

yeah, that makes a lot of sense… i went on a spree deciding i was going to hyper organize… but f-that… posts are tagged for a reason.

thanks.

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Mark December 1, 2006

I’m just putting together my very first blog and I was thinking of creating something like your asides (of course I didn’t have a cool name for it). I decided to just concentrate on the main content for now, since I still don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’ll try it later. I had a different idea for how I was going to implement it, but I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.

I was going to set up a second instance of wordpress just for the aside content. Then I’d configure the RSS sidebar widget in the main site to display posts from the aside feed. The trick would be to make the two sites seamless, but then I’d have a whole new set of categories for the asides.

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Chris P. December 1, 2006

Mark,

I toyed with this idea much earlier in the year, and at the time, I understood a lot less about the WordPress architecture than I do now.

That said, I couldn’t figure out a way to target one particular DB over the other. I guess theoretically, you might be able to write a SQL query that targets a specific DB, but if this can be done without rewriting the core WordPress framework, then this is all news to me.

For now, I’d stick with the categories if I were you ;)

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shawn blanc December 10, 2006

Chris – I’m right on the edge of setting up asides for my site. Do you think it was worth it for your readers?

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Chris P. December 11, 2006

Shawn,

I think asides have added an extra dimension to this site, and they’ve allowed me to extend my creativity beyond the confines of a particular post topic.

I love em, frankly, and the response from users has been much better than I could have anticipated.

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Tom February 9, 2008

Another great post.

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Doug C. April 10, 2010

I’ve tried this several times and all I keep getting is just another RSS feed to the blog section on my site. I guess I’m missing something. Any suggestions?

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Doug C. April 10, 2010

Ah, nevermind. Brain moves slowly these days. I just had to find the right feed link for my tutorials. I was using the wrong one, doh!

Reply

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