First off, what is a feed?
It’s a pipeline that sends regular updates from digital content creators automatically when the creators post them. When you subscribe to a feed, you’ll receive anything they publish via the feed.
Feeds are syndications, or distribution systems for fresh content. They can be used for blogs, video posts, news headlines, company announcements, or any other digital information that is published ore refreshed regularly. Subscribers get an alert which may include link, title, author, date of publication, or other metadata.
RSS and Atom feeds
RSS and Atom feeds are the most used, and are different types of feeds. Not only that, but there are two different kinds of Atom feeds (see below). They all do basically the same thing, but just as iPhones, Androids, and land lines are all phones, there are some significant differences between the way they do what they do. For the purpose of this post though, I will treat them as equals, as their differences don’t affect the properties I’m discussing.
Allowing an RSS or Atom feed of your material allows other outlets such as aggregators and email clients to channel your content to end users. Your posts may go to an aggregate news site or directly a follower’s inbox.
Viewers subscribe to RSS and Atom feeds so they can stay informed on their favorite content creators, colleagues, business trends, etc.
Use RSS and Atom feeds safely
The problem with RSS and Atom feeds is that hackers can use them to scrape content from you and post it as their own. In this scenario, they can claim it as theirs and they (not you) will rank for it with search engines. What jerks. So: feeds aren’t inherently bad for your site, but they can leave your vulnerable. Happily, there are ways to combat scrapers.
Yoast, my preferred SEO tool, has settings that assure that you will be credited with the content, not the nefarious rascals who tried to steal it. These settings are easy to use and are available in the free version.
To disable RSS feeds entirely on a WordPress site, you need to use a plugin. There are many, but I use SiteGround Security Optimizer, which provides a simple toggle switch to turn feeds off and on.
If you decide to include RSS and Atom feeds on your site, be deliberate in how you set them up and test them before launching. Mailchimp has an excellent checklist for setting up an RSS feed about half-way through this post.
So: to feed or not to feed?
RSS and ATOM feeds are a good choice for content creators who produce regularly or who want to build their email list. If your work relies primarily on evergreen content which doesn’t change often, it’s not for you. But if you post daily, weekly, monthly, or somewhere in between, an RSS or Atom feed may be a good way for your to build business.