Why would one want an RSS feed incorporated into their site?
Answer: Because search engines love 'em and more and more people are including feed-reading software in their online toolkit.
There are websites that can help you put together an RSS ("Really Simple Syndication" or "Rich Site Summary" or "RDF Site Summary") feed for your site, but they are really easy to make all by yourself.
Step 1: Create your feed file
This file is a simple text file, not unlike an HTML file, that is saved into the main website directory with either the .XML file extension or the .RSS file extension. Let's use .XML for this example.
Like HTML, tags are used to indicate the sections of data contained in the file. Also like HTML, you need to include some language version information at the top of the file so the reader knows what you are trying to do.
Here's a simple RSS/XML file:
<?xml version="1.0" ?>
<title>My Web Site</title>
<description>This is my web site, where I post my web stuff.</description>
<description>Read about how cool I am and how hard I work.</description>
The first line tells the feed-reader to use XML version 1.0 for interpreting this file.
The second line is the start of the RSS tag, within which the feed channel goes.
Next, we see the CHANNEL tag, within which the actual feed information goes.
The first TITLE, DESCRIPTION and LINK tags contain the default information for the feed. It's used by some readers as a basis for the rest of the info, but it's not normally used by most feed readers except as a default.
Following the default info come a series of ITEMS. Each ITEM contains one of the elements of the feed. You can have up to 15 ITEMs in each file. I have included one complete ITEM for this example.
In my Firefox browser with the infoRSS extension installed, I see each ITEM's TITLE scrolling along my status bar. When I hold my cursor over a TITLE, the DESCRIPTION pops up. When I click on a TITLE, it activates its LINK.
Take a moment to note the way the tag "containers" are laid out:
<?xml version ... ?>
<rss ... >
Great! Fill in the info with good stuff from your site, save the file in your main directory with an .XML extension and you've got yourself a feed. For this example I am naming my feed "feed.xml". Now let's get it into place where the search engines can find and use it.
Step 2: Publishing your feed
You can do this using one or both of these methods (or other methods): (1) link to the XML file, usually using one of those orange "XML" or "RSS" images, and (2) include a reference to the file in the code of your web pages.
<a href="/feed.xml"><img src="xml.gif" border=0 alt="Feed" /></a>
Put that anywhere it looks good on your page(s). The closer to the start of your page code, the better. Make sure you grab the GIF file from somewhere.
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="/feed.xml" />
Put that in all of your HEAD sections on all of your pages. (Since I use "included" files, I simply put it in the header include file and all of my pages use it.)
Now you will have (1) a little orange XML graphic linked to your feed, which is enough for the search engines to spider, and (2) an indicator to browsers and readers that recognize such things that "this page has an RSS feed you can use". In my Firefox browser, this results in a different little orange indicator in my status bar that I can click on to add the feed to the feeds that infoRSS uses.
Many site administrators update the ITEMs in their XML files every time they add new pages or change their site content, as this keeps things fresh for the search engines. It is not necessary to do that ... you can make one feed and leave it alone for years ... but it does give you the opportunity to emphasize new material both for the engines and for your repeat visitors who have added your feed to their reader. There are also many other tags that you can include to help search engines figure out when you have added new ITEMs or to describe the contents of your feed. Here's a lot more detail about RSS and the XML formatting it uses.