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Wait!

Before you comment or answer – did you actually read the whole question?

Did you notice that the question ends in the word "button" ?

If this is how the question appeared to you:

enter image description here

then please reread it and try to process the last word, too, before you post.

Thank you.


Now that you've read all of the question title ( "button" ! ), here is the question text itself:

Question

Although all my sites have had feeds since RSS has been introduced 17 years ago, personally, I have never used them. So I'm a bit unfamiliar with how users actually interact with the feed links on my sites.

As I understand it, those users that use RSS or Atom feeds do not actually click the in-page links to the feeds but use a feed aggregator plugin which reads the rel=alternate links from the head section of source code of a website, finds the link to the feeds there, and notifies the user of its existence.

So what do we need an in-page feed button for?


Explanation

To clarify, here is a screenshot from a random blog, showing the RSS icon besides a link to the feed:

enter image description here

An in-page link or button like this seems common in most blog themes, while professional publications such as the NY Times do not offer an in-page link to their feeds anywhere on their site (although they have feeds and link to them in the head section of their source code).

When professional news sites do offer an in-page link to their feeds, then because they offer a confusing number of different feeds, and the link usually leads to a page explaining the nature and content of the feeds you can subscribe to. Here is an example from the Huffington Post. But even when it is present, the in-page link to the feed page itself is nondescript and in the footer:

enter image description here


Reminder

Did I mention that my question asks about in-page feed buttons?

  • 2
    I usually search for that RSS button, press it and then copy the URL to my RSS reader... – wb9688 Apr 13 '16 at 11:41
  • 1
    I actually had a hard time finding an example for an RSS button. A couple of years ago, every web page had one of those huge orange icons. Now, all of the larger sites and most of the blogs have no button at all, many don't even have links. In blogs, Twitter seems to have replaced feeds. I wonder how you manage to get your feeds, if you rely on the button. – user52244 Apr 13 '16 at 12:08
  • 1
    @what To the contrary, most of the sites I visit do have a RSS button. – Rob Apr 13 '16 at 13:34
  • 2
    Related on UX: What is the optimal placement for the RSS icon? is there any? but the answers don't address the possibility that the button might not be needed at all. – Stephen Ostermiller Apr 13 '16 at 16:10
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    Most of the answers here are just saying "I find RSS buttons useful". Come on, people. That's not an answer. The question isn't "Do you, personally, find RSS buttons useful" and it's not a vote. The question is "Are RSS buttons useful in general?" – David Richerby Apr 13 '16 at 18:47
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Possible advantages of having visible feed links:

  • For visitors that know what feeds are:

    • If they (currently) don’t use a user agent with feed autodiscovery¹, they still get informed that you offer feeds and which URLs they have.
    • If they use a user agent with feed autodiscovery, they might not expect to find a feed on your site (and therefore don’t pay attention to the autodiscovery icon), or might not intend to subscribe to your feed. Stumbling upon the visible feed link could remind them or "convince" them to subscribe ("Ah, a feed … why not").
    • Search engine users might try to find your feed by searching for "… feed". Having a link that contains this keyword helps here.
  • For visitors that don’t know what feeds are:

    • They get the chance to learn about it.²
  • If you offer multiple feeds:

    • Some user agents with feed autodiscovery only discover / allow accessing the first³ feed, so these users still have the chance to find your other feeds thanks to the visible links.
    • It can be too complex to describe their meaning/differences in the title attributes. A separate page that links and describes all your feeds offers more clarity.

Possible disadvantages of having visible feed links:

  • They need some space.
  • The site design might not be suitable for adding them.

Only you (with your site and users in mind) can decide what’s more important.


¹ Feed autodiscovery works by using link (or a/area) elements with the alternate link type and the feed format in the type attribute (i.e., application/rss+xml or application/atom+xml).

² You’re one of today’s lucky 10000. ;-)

³ The HTML5 spec defines that the first one is the default feed:

The first […] must be treated as the default syndication feed for the purposes of feed autodiscovery.

N.B. This very question ("[icon] question feed") as well as the linked XKCD comic ("RSS Feed - Atom Feed") contain visible feed links.

  • 5
    Another advantage (by example): Desktop users who like your site, but read RSS on a different device now know it's worth looking up the feed. (Strictly speaking that doesn't need a button, just a way to inform them) – Chris H Apr 14 '16 at 8:05
  • Thank you, @Chris. I wasn't aware that feed readers might be a separate application, without browser integration. Very valuable feedback. – user52244 Apr 14 '16 at 10:47
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I use RSS all the time, and I find RSS buttons on websites very useful. Simple, when I see them, I know website offer RSS, it is more intuitive way to find feeds than checking footer or something else. I usually expect RSS button to be next to social media icons/buttons, or a small/discreet icon with text somewhere in header.

I guess some websites do not offer links/icons to RSS because only small percent of users finds that useful. And people using RSS are usually a bit more advanced users who can find RSS by googling it or typing /rss after the website url.

So, from my point of view (as RSS user and web designer) I find RSS icons/links useful, but I could live without them.

  • 1
    Obviously, RSS users find the links useful. The question is whether RSS users are a large enough fraction of the site's audience to make this worthwhile. (For example, a US-based website might find it useful to include a Spanish translation, whereas a Chinese-based website probably wouldn't. I accept this isn't a great analogy, since translating a website into a different language is way more effort than adding an RSS link.) – David Richerby Apr 13 '16 at 18:45
3

My thoughts from an ecom+blog perspective: You do not need the button itself unless you want to offer something for a user using their eyes, without any helper tools alerting that RSS is available, to click into the feed.

IMO the preferred way to alert automation/tools/reader-plugins that a feed is available is to use rel="alternate" link in the <head> metas. This is helpful for both users as well as SEO in some circumstances.

So the feed route would look like this in <head>: <link rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="Products On Sale Feed (Atom 1.0)" href="https://www.example.com/rss/onsale" />

In addition you can put a similar meta link in each category/archive/whatever listing just the entities within that scope: <link rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="A category feed (Atom 1.0)" href="https://www.example.com/rss/a-category"/>

It seems like all the helpful automation still finds it no problem, and constantly comes back to check for new content. Our logs are constantly filled with all the search bots (and others not-Google) hitting those feeds. Compared with the sitemap, there are about 4x as much interest in various feeds, especially on sale and latest content. As far as humans go, we have yet to have even 1 single person click the RSS button out of hundreds of thousands of visits to that area below the fold.

PS: Our #3 session affinity group is "technophiles" so it's not like they are unsure what RSS means.

2

If for no other reason, it lets people know there is a RSS feed. Whether they click on it or not doesn't matter.

1

After all those years, RSS has deescalated. New methods like push notifications dominated the RSS. But it doesn't mean RSS or RSS buttons are not needed anymore. RSS can be used as a mini API to interact with a website's content. I don't think there is any simpler way to do this.

In regard to buttons, RSS buttons are the most compact way to notify users that your site has RSS. As all web sites can have different RSS urls, buttons to redirect to them are required.

I think there are a lot of people who prefer raw RSS urls rather than accessing through a plugin.

  • 4
    This doesn't seem to address the issue of the buttons specifically. The question isn't asking whether to offer RSS, it's asking whether the button is needed/useful. You may want to edit your answer to avoid downvotes. – a CVn Apr 13 '16 at 14:54
  • "RSS buttons are the most compact way to notify users that your site has RSS" - RSS buttons are not the most compact way. The "most compact way" is to remove the RSS button and simply have the appropriate link element in the head section - which you should have anyway. In theory, this link element is all that's required and is what RSS readers will look for. – MrWhite Apr 15 '16 at 12:01
0

I find them very useful. We all associate with well-known images or icons and if I'm browsing a site and want to know if it has a feed I might like to subscribe to, the little orange button stands out.

From there, my workflow is this: I'll right-click and get the feed link. (If not, like your news site example, it'll take me to a page full of RSS links). I paste that feed link into my aggregator, which is a separate app, not a plug-in.

The alternative is to paste the site URL into the aggregator and get the feed(s) that way. The former is my preferred method. If the site doesn't have a button (or an RSS link), I won't go to my aggregator and paste the URL in just to see if there any feeds available, because convention dictates there's usually a button there.

There has to be either a link or a button for me. Because my aggregator is a separate application, I'd otherwise have to paste in a site URL to see if it has a feed. So whilst it's nothing more than a link with an image it's the inherent association with RSS that makes it useful.

For me it's just like any social media button - instant recognition.

  • Thank you. Your explanation that your aggregator is a separate app and your reminder that we conventionally expect a button when there are feeds are very useful. – user52244 Apr 14 '16 at 10:45
0

In page RSS buttons provide an important function beyond simply telling the end user that RSS is available. Some users do not use an automated RSS feed reader which captures feeds from all sites they visit rather they manually choose which sites feeds they want to look at. The best option is to have both the rel=alternate tag as well as the RSS button. The rel=alternate can be used by automatic feed aggregators but the button can be used by end users who use a local feed program such as Outlook as they can click on the feed link and it will open and add the feed to their feed reading program.

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