5 Tips for More Readable RSS Feeds: Good Typography & Design

August 4, 2009 | Design Basics, Web Design

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rssfeed+frameIf you write a blog or have other content that people subscribe to in an RSS feed, read these 5 tips to make your feed more readable.

Before the tips, ask yourself whether you want to have the entire post available in the feed, or if it will be truncated. If it’s truncated, readers are forced to click to your site to finish reading.

Reasons to truncate:

  • To increase revenues for advertisements that are only seen on your site
  • To increase the chance that a reader will move from your blog post to another part of your site

Reasons to provide a full feed:

  • It is more likely that readers will actually read your content, as there is a significant drop off whenever you ask people to click through to read the full post
  • If you are working to provide expertise and build brand presence, it’s more important that people actually read your thoughts, regardless of where they do it

5 Tips for More Readable Feeds

Designing a blog feed is a bit like an assignment from Design 101 in design school. You need to rely on the basics of good typography and simple layouts. Working with little variation in type styles and the most basic image manipulation, you need to make it readable.

  1. Use paragraph breaks and line breaks. Generally, paragraph breaks have an extra blank line space after it. A line break (made by holding down the shift key + return/enter) moves the cursor to the next line without leaving a space. Use each one consistently, and use them to separate items.
    Example that needs help-
    American Express OPEN blogs: They do not consistently put any type of break between the bio line and the start of the article. It’s hard to figure out where the piece starts.

    Notice the bio line running into the main text.

    Notice the bio line running into the main text.

  2. Use bold face. Use it on your sub-heads and use it to highlight key words and phrases within the text. Most of your readers are pressed for time, and this helps with the skimming process. You gotta realize that many (most!) of your readers are probably skimming.
    Example: This blog uses an H2 for the subheads which is bolded as part of the css. However, in the feed the bold does not show up unless I specifically add. So in WordPress I make each sub-head an H2 and then highlight and make it bold.
  3. Use an image, if it helps. A picture is worth a thousand words, and when reading feed after feed with lots of type a picture is a very compelling. But I see some blogs that use cheesy, images that I know are cheap, and really add nothing to the piece.
    Example that needs help-The Fast Company Design feed: Many of these feeds are directly talking about a piece of design that is shown in the blog. But their feeds don’t include the image so it’s confusing or even worthless.
  4. If it doesn’t show, clue the reader in. Video doesn’t pull in to feeds, which can actually be a crafty way to force people to click through to your blog. But make sure it’s clear that you are writing about a video.
    Example: In the text (near the top) indicate the name and link to the video. Your quick summary or description may also help persuade someone to take the time to click.
  5. Be consistent and don’t go overboard. While most feeds are a bit on the boring side, I get a few that somehow manage to get too much color, too many fonts styles and way too many poor-quality stock images into their feeds.
    Example: Generally, if your blog itself uses simple, well-designed css styles they will carry over well to your feed.

Final tip

My final tip is to make sure you test out our feeds. As I mention in tip #2, I didn’t realize my bolded H2 heads were not showing up bold until I tested it. Try your feed in different readers to see what it looks like.

Also, if you are only providing a truncated feed, think about what you are including. Will people understand what you are writing about and be compelled to click to your blog?

BTW, do you prefer full or truncated feeds?

2 comments

  1. Mike Maddaloni - The Hot Iron | August 4, 2009 at 6:27 am

    One other tip I will add is do not use special HTML characters such as the emdash, as I have noticed it appears as a funny character in Google Reader.

    As for full vs. partial feeds – FULL! I wrote something on this in the past:

    http://www.thehotiron.com/index.php/site/comments/do_you_prefer_full_or_partial_blog_feeds/

    I wrote this a while ago, but I believe in it fully. The main argument for partial feeds is to drive people to the Web site. However, your feed content does not stand alone, and going to the Web page may not be an option – or desire – for the reader. I mentioned a survey by Darren Rouse, and he has written a lot more on this just recently.

    mp/m

  2. Emily Brackett | August 4, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Mike, Thanks for your comment. I don’t want this to be a debate on full vs partial (although I prefer full). But mostly to think about how to format for feeds. I think that those folks posting only partial feeds have an extra challenge because you have to think about how your truncated content works in a feed. Make sure that it’s understandable enough to compel someone to go over and read the whole feed.

    BTW, I use em dashes frequently in my posts. They seem OK in my feeds, what do they look like in yours? To create the em dash I use WordPress’ tool for special characters.

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