What is RSS and How Does it Work? An In-Depth Guide for WordPress Users

Hey there! As someone who has been working with websites for over 15 years, I‘ve seen all the ins and outs of RSS feeds. I know they can seem technical and confusing at first. But I promise RSS is something you want to take advantage of once you see the benefits!

In this guide, I‘m going to walk you through exactly what RSS is, how it works, why it‘s useful, and how to make the most of it for your WordPress site. I‘ll share plenty of tips from my own experience publishing and optimizing feeds across dozens of sites over the years.

So buckle up! By the end, you‘ll have a firm grasp on RSS feeds and how to use them to take your site‘s reach to the next level. Let‘s dig in…

A Quick History of RSS Feeds

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) first emerged back in the late 1990s as a way for websites to share updates. The technology was originally developed by Netscape but soon spread across the web.

RSS Timeline

Early on, different websites implemented RSS in slightly different ways. So the "Rich Site Summary" format standardized things to make sharing and reading feeds easier.

Over the years, RSS proved itself as a key way for publishers to distribute content and users to consume it. By the mid-2000s, it was a web standard included across most major platforms, programs, browsers, and websites.

These days, RSS has become a bit of a "forgotten technology" that often goes overlooked compared to social media sharing and email newsletters. But RSS still powers a vibrant ecosystem of content consumption, and it offers unique benefits beyond other distribution channels.

The Nuts and Bolts of How RSS Feeds Work

On a technical level, RSS feeds work using XML to structure pieces of content from a website along with some metadata.

For you non-techies, XML is just a standardized way of formatting data in a machine-readable way. Don‘t worry about the details.

Here‘s a simplified glimpse at what an RSS feed looks like:



  <description>WordPress Tutorials</description>

    <title>My First Article</title>
    <pubDate>Sun, 19 Mar 2023 16:45:00 +0000</pubDate>

    <title>My Second Article</title>
    <pubDate>Mon, 20 Mar 2023 09:30:00 +0000</pubDate>



The <channel> contains metadata about the overall feed. Then each <item> represents a single article or post from the site.

This XML feed document lives at a defined URL endpoint on any WordPress site, usually yourdomain.com/feed.

When new content gets published, it shows up as a new <item> in the feed. RSS reading apps can request this feed URL to see if new items exist.

That‘s the basic gist of how RSS technology works behind the scenes. Now let‘s look at why it‘s so useful.

The Key Benefits of RSS Feeds for Content Creators and Consumers

So why has RSS stood the test of time as a critical part of the content landscape? A few core benefits make it a win-win for both publishers and readers:

For content creators:

  • Increased exposure as feed subscribers visit your site.
  • Builds loyalty by delivering your latest updates automatically.
  • Lets niche followers subscribe to just the content topics they want.
  • Flexible content format suitable for many platforms.
  • Saves you effort; readers come to your content rather than the other way around.

For content consumers:

  • Massive convenience; new content automatically delivered to you.
  • Stay perfectly up-to-date from your favorite sites without having to visit them.
  • Customizability to subscribe to exactly the feeds you want.
  • Ability to take feeds on the go; read on any device offline.
  • Discovery of new sites and topics via recommendations and searching.
  • Time savings of content coming to you in one place.

RSS strikingly benefits both publishers and readers in complementary ways. That‘s why it has stuck around as a key part of the web‘s fabric for over 20 years.

Who Uses RSS Today? The Numbers

Given how long RSS has been around, who is actually using it in 2023?

While it doesn‘t garner as many headlines as social media, RSS still serves a core audience of millions of loyal subscribers.

RSS Usage Statistic Charts

According to Feedly, one of the leading RSS readers:

  • Over 24 million people use Feedly as of 2022
  • Average Feedly users follow 187 feeds
  • Feedly users read 60 million articles per day
  • The most popular RSS categories are technology, politics, science, and business

Additionally, leading RSS provider Inoreader reports over 5 million active users reading over 1 billion articles a month via their platform.

So while it doesn‘t get the headlines, RSS remains very much alive and well-used today, with millions of dedicated subscribers consuming billions of articles monthly.

The technology definitely isn‘t going away, and it presents a major opportunity for content creators to reach an engaged audience.

Now let‘s look at some of the most popular platforms people use today to consume these RSS feeds and content…

Top RSS Readers and Aggregators

In order to leverage RSS feeds, you need a tool to consume them – what‘s referred to as a feed reader or aggregator app. There are excellent options across all devices and platforms:


Feedly is arguably the most popular RSS reader app today. I‘ve personally used it for years and recommend it for the great interface, organizing features, apps, and flexibility.

Feedly RSS Reader


Inoreader takes a more minimalist approach focused on delivering content quickly and cleanly. It‘s another top choice available across web, mobile, and extensions.


The Old Reader

The Old Reader brands itself as a classic Google Reader replacement and has a passionate userbase who love its simple reading experience.


NetNewsWire is a power user RSS reader praised for its speed, keyboard shortcuts, and customization options, especially popular among Mac users.

NetNewsWire Mac App


NewsBlur combines an RSS reader with an intelligent news personalization engine for customized feeds based on your engagement. It‘s available across web and mobile apps.


Bloglovin‘ is a reader tailored for fashion and lifestyle content. But it works great for any feeds if the aesthetics appeal to you.

Of course there are many other excellent RSS readers across mobile, desktop, web, and more. But in my experience Feedly and Inoreader offer the best blend of features, user experience, apps, and value.

How to Subscribe to RSS Feeds

The process of subscribing to RSS feeds only takes a few minutes to get up and running. Here‘s a quick walkthrough using Feedly:

  1. Signup for a Feedly account at feedly.com/i/welcome

  2. Install the mobile app or browser extension – this allows fast one-click subscribing to sites as you browse

  3. Search or enter feed URLs – find sites related to topics you like or directly add feeds you already read

  4. Click Follow or Add – subscribe to any feed with just one click!

  5. View feeds under Following – easily skim headlines and click any article title to read the full content

  6. Organize feeds using topics or tags for a customized reading experience

And that‘s really all there is to it! In 5 minutes you can be subscribed to dozens of great sites and have new articles automatically delivered to your reader.

The process works similarly for most other popular RSS readers like Inoreader as well. Just look for "Follow", "Subscribe" or "Add".

Now let‘s go over where to find that handy RSS feed URL on any website.

Finding a Website‘s RSS Feed URL

Every WordPress website automatically generates an RSS feed available at yoursite.com/feed. This provides RSS versions of your blog posts.

Some other places to find a site‘s RSS feed URL:

  • Look for a link in the footer labeled "RSS" or "Feed"
  • Try adding /rss, /feed, or /rss2 to the end of the site‘s URL
  • Google "[site name] RSS feed" and see if it‘s listed anywhere
  • Use browser extensions like RSS Subscription Button that detect feed links on pages
  • Search sites like RSSFinder that index available feeds

If you find a site doesn‘t have a public RSS feed, try contacting the owner to request they add one. An engaged audience Always appreciates subscription options.

You can also use a third-party service like Feedity that attempts to generate an RSS feed from any webpage. This automated approach can be hit or miss.

But in most cases, if a website cares about its content, it will have implemented an RSS feed URL for easy syndication.

How to Optimize Your WordPress RSS Feed

Now let‘s shift gears and talk about RSS feed best practices specifically for your WordPress site. Here are my top tips for making sure your built-in RSS feed looks great:

  • Headline images – Include eye-catching featured images in your posts since many feed readers display artwork alongside headlines.

  • Full content – Don‘t just show excerpts. Provide your complete articles in the feed so subscribers get full value.

  • Metadata – Use clear <title>, <description> and categories so readers know what the feed contains.

  • Code quality – Keep your feed code clean andformatted properly for best compatibility across RSS consumers.

  • Limits – Adjust feed limits and caching settings so new content appears quickly.

  • Ping services – Ping Feedly and other aggregators after publishing to speed up content indexing.

  • Use plugins – Tools like FeedWP provide enhanced feed management.

  • Submit feeds – Have your RSS feed indexed on sites like Feedspot to get discovered.

Optimizing these types of settings helps ensure your feed looks great and subscribers can consume it easily across the various apps and readers.

How to Grow Your RSS Subscribers (Feed Marketing!)

An RSS feed on its own doesn‘t do much good unless people actually subscribe to it. Here are my top strategies for promoting your feed:

  • Email newsletter – Promote your RSS feed as a supplement to your email updates. Offer it as an additional subscription option.

  • Follow buttons – Add RSS follow buttons prominently on your site. This prompts readers to subscribe.

  • Social promotion – Post your RSS link on social profiles and share new articles as available via the feed.

  • Niche outreach – Contact related sites and newsletters to see if they‘ll promote your feed as a good one for their audience to follow.

  • Cross-promotion – Partner with other sites to cross-promote each other‘s feeds and gain exposure to new potential subscribers.

  • Guest posts – When writing posts for other sites, mention your feed as a way to keep up with your latest insights.

  • Email signatures – Add your RSS feed link in your email signature.

  • Business cards – Print your RSS URL on business cards and handouts.

Consistently promoting your feed across channels maximizes the chances of turning casual readers into engaged subscribers.

Think of gaining RSS subscribers much like email list growth. A variety of touchpoints are needed to convert site visitors into ongoing followers.

Creative Ways to Use RSS Beyond Just Feed Subscription

While subscribing users to your content feed is the most obvious use of RSS, some creative applications open up unique possibilities:

  • Send new posts to social media automatically via IFTTT recipes.

  • Email RSS posts into newsletter campaigns as bonus updates between editions.

  • Repurpose feed content into audio versions using text-to-speech for podsasts.

  • Import items from related RSS feeds into your CMS as curated content.

  • Create category-specific feeds only for certain post types like press releases.

  • Forward your feed into messaging apps like Slack or Discord so your posts appear there.

  • Allow visitors to subscribe to feeds of user-generated content like comments or forums.

  • Use multi-format feeds like JSON or Atom for modern APIs and webhooks.

  • Build an email list by capturing subscribers who opt-in via your RSS feed.

Don‘t limit yourself to just a basic feed URL. There are very creative ways to leverage RSS throughout your site and workflow.

Top RSS Plugins to Enhance WordPress Feeds

The built-in RSS feed capabilities of WordPress cover the fundamentals. But plugins can introduce advanced customizations and options:

  • Feedzy – Display and customize feeds from any external site.

  • RSS Importer – One click importing of posts from RSS feeds.

  • WP RSS Aggregator – Advanced auto-importing of RSS feeds as posts.

  • Feed Them Social – Show Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc feeds on your site.

  • RSS Post Importer – Automatically grabs RSS feeds and imports them as posts.

  • Feedweb – Customize and optimize your RSS feed output.

The possibilities of RSS become even more robust with the enhancements added by plugins. Import, display, and customize feeds from anywhere on your site.

Key Takeaways and Where to Go From Here

I hope this guide shed light on what RSS is and how you can leverage it for your WordPress site:

  • RSS allows users to subscribe and follow sites to get new content automatically.

  • Millions still use RSS today to consume content in feed readers.

  • Optimizing and promoting your RSS feed helps grow engaged followers.

  • Creative applications of RSS exist beyond just a basic subscription feed.

  • Plugins add advanced customizations and feed management capabilities.

Here are a few suggested next steps to put your new RSS knowledge into action:

  • Subscribe to RSS feeds in your niche to stay atop the latest content.

  • Start telling readers about your feed and placing "Subscribe" buttons prominently.

  • Implement an RSS plugin to display feeds or customize yours.

  • Automate publishing your feed content to social media and email lists.

  • Find innovative ways to repurpose your feed content to new formats.

If you invest time in your RSS feed, it will reward you back with more loyal, engaged subscribers and readers! Let me know if you have any other questions. I‘m always happy to chat more about RSS.

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.