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Writing RSS-Reader Friendly Posts

I’ve mentioned before how much I depend on and love RSS feeds. Google Reader is one of those tabs I always have open in Firefox. And with literally hundreds of posts to look through, I’m  inevitably drawn to those that look interesting- by that, I’m not just talking about a catchy title (although that always helps!)- I mean posts that are formatted well.

The thing is, because RSS Readers are not web browsers, they strip your content down to- well, to just your content. As a subscriber to your RSS feed, I don’t get to see your fancy background or your jazzy sidebars or your 500-pixel-tall header. In RSS Readers, content is truly king. Here are some tips on formatting your next blog post:

  • Headers and sub-headers are your friends. When writing a blog post, I like to think less New Yorker, more Reader’s Digest. By adding headers and sub-headers to the different parts of your post, you break up the monotony- and allow your reader to jump to another section if he/she so chooses.
  • Use lists. See what I’m doing here? By formatting these tips as a list, I’m separating them from the rest of the post- so again, you don’t just see paragraphs and paragraphs of text. Because you’re expecting tips, your eyes can go straight to the list, knowing that’s where the meat of the post probably is.
  • Write shorter paragraphs. You know not to be afraid of white space- and that goes for the space between paragraphs too. Yes, it’s all about breaking up those loooooong paragraphs that look boring (even though they may not be).
  • Watch how you align your images. The safest way is to put your image on one line, with a nice strong break before the following text. If you must do the left or right align thing, you should be using CSS anyway.
  • Publish full posts. Okay, so that doesn’t have much to do with formatting- I just had to sneak it in there. Please, please publish full posts in your RSS feeds.

Do you have any tips on formatting posts? What types of posts catch your eye in your RSS reader?


  1. By Binny V A posted on March 11, 2009 at 8:24 pm
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    This is something I would never recommend in usual circumstances – but its a valid point in this case…
    Use inline styles rather than CSS class/id to style elements in your post. As the CSS file is not loaded by the RSS reader, all the style will be lost.

  2. By Ahmad Alfy posted on March 11, 2009 at 10:29 pm
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    I liked when you said ( In RSS Readers, content is truly king )
    I had all the thoughts you talked about :)

    Specially the last point!! It’s really important!!

    @Binny: Inline style-sheet is a bad practice, why would you style posts for RSS anyway?

  3. By Ryan Williams posted on March 11, 2009 at 11:10 pm
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    I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have much beyond the basics (ie: HTML’s default formatting).

    If you start putting inline styles in, you risk making your items incompatible with whatever feed reader happens to be displaying it. And with so many different readers out there, all with differing abilities to handle HTML — don’t forget email clients and standalone readers — it’s a bit dicey.

    At the very most, I’d say reserve inline styling for floating images. But even then, that could wreck a feed reader that happens to, say, have an extremely thin width (eg: along the lines of iGoogle, although I believe that cleverly forces images to be smaller anyway).

  4. By Chung Bey Luen posted on March 12, 2009 at 3:07 pm
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    Great tips. I always use header, subheader and short paragraph.

  5. By Nick Rinylo posted on March 13, 2009 at 9:37 am
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    I actually agree with Ryan Williams, I don’t like the idea of inline styles, this is also poor in terms of SEO. It essentially means that your adding extra lines of code.

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