Some aspects of podcasting are invisible, but crucial to your podcast’s success. One is the RSS feed. Some people say you don’t need an RSS feed to make a podcast. Others claim that RSS is the crucial difference between podcasts and other streaming content. In this article, I’ll answer the question, “What is an RSS feed for podcasting?”. We’ll also discuss why it matters, and how to see this elusive creature in its native habitat.
What Is an RSS Feed for Podcasts?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Syndication means the transfer of content from one organization to another. For example, when a TV sitcom’s reruns go into syndication, the original production company lets another network control the back catalog of episodes, and show them to their audiences.
RSS is a web feed (a piece of code) that transfers content from the media host (where the file is stored) to an app or a directory where people can consume it. For example, digital editions of newspapers and magazines send new articles to newsreader apps, where people can read or listen to them. With podcasts, an episode is stored on a media host (also known as a podcast hosting provider) and travels via RSS to a podcast directory (a listening app or platform). Here’s what it looks like in Buzzsprout:
How Do I Get an RSS Feed for My Podcast?
You might already be panicking about having to hand-code one of these RSS feed thingies, but there’s no need to worry. Your RSS feed will be created for you automatically when you sign up for a podcast hosting service and enter your show’s details.
Do Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts Use an RSS Feed?
Yes. When you’re ready to publish, you don’t upload the podcast episode directly to a directory, like Apple Podcasts or Google. Instead, you upload it to your podcast hosting service, where the episode is stored. The RSS feed brings the podcast episode from the media host to podcast apps or directories (such as Apple, Spotify, The Podcast Index, and so on), where audiences can find and listen to them.
An Analogy to Understand Podcast RSS: The Train, The Route, and The Station
Let’s say that your podcast is a train. The episodes are the individual train cars packed with cool people and ideas. The RSS feed is the railroad track route on which the train travels. The station is the directory where people meet the train.
Someone clicks on a link in a directory, such as Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. This requests your episode. The train (your podcast) chugs along from the railyard (the hosting service) along the route (the podcast feed) to the train station (the directory), where its friends (the podcast’s audience) are waiting to greet them. They don’t need to know anything about the train tracks, how it works, or where it came from. All they know is that there’s stuff on that train they want (your podcast’s content).
So, Dr. Analogy, what’s the engine, then? That’s the beauty of the RSS feed. There’s no engine; the tracks bring the train to the station. The audience clicks on a link to request the episode, and the tracks bring the train to the station.
The RSS feed is a standardized, computer-readable format for consistency. This way, the train can use that route every single time, without getting lost or derailed. Because the route is standardized, the people waiting at the station know the train will arrive.
A conveyor belt is probably a better analogy, or a monorail. Monorails are cool.
What Are The Steps To Use an RSS Feed URL?
- Set up your show in your podcast hosting service. The podcast hosting service generates a piece of code, which is your RSS feed.
- Publish at least one episode. This is where an Episode Zero or a podcast trailer helps.
- Copy that RSS feed code and take it to directory websites (such as the Apple Podcasts Connect portal).
- Follow the directory’s instructions, enter the RSS feed URL, and you’re all set.
Here’s an example from inside the Alitu interface. Alitu is a podcast hosting platform, as well as a place to easily record and edit your show.
Check out our guide to the Best Podcast Directories for an in-depth look at this.
You can also use an RSS feed to:
- Make audiograms on Headliner, to promote your show
- Make a podcast website using Podpage
- Use (some) AI tools to generate promotional assets for your show, such as show notes, blog, or social media posts
…and, in the future, probably more.
Spotify for Podcasters, RSS, and Video Podcasts
If you want to use a RSS feed for podcasting and combine video with your audio podcast, there are a few considerations.
A lot less apps and directories support playing video podcasts than they do audio podcasts. The “big dog” of podcast players, Apple, has supported video since 2005, but it’s not so easy to navigate. You also end up with two different versions of your podcast (the video one and the audio one), which arguably, splits your audience.
Spotify (next in line to the Throne) has become a very popular place to consume video podcasts. Spotify’s app helps podcasters upload video episodes to their RSS feed, but they’re not without their quirks, either. Video podcasts on Spotify are only available on Spotify – nowhere else.
So if you want to upload a video podcast and make it available via RSS to anywhere that supports it (except Spotify), you can use Podbean as your hosting provider. Or, you can make a “Spotify-Exclusive” video podcast using Spotify for Podcasters.
To be honest, though, most podcasters who do video just run a companion YouTube channel and upload there. With video podcasting, there’s no real optimal answer just yet – despite the fact that RSS makes it technically very easy to support.
What About YouTube for Podcasters?
YouTube doesn’t currently use RSS. They recommend you upload video files in YouTube Studio and create a playlist. YouTube’s Support resources say, “In the future, we plan to offer support for creators to upload audio podcasts through RSS feeds.”
If you want to have your podcast on YouTube, go for it! I heartily applaud your decision. It’s important, now more than ever, to diversify your podcast distribution and make sure it’s available wherever people consume content.
But, I recommend you also upload it to a media host and distribute it via RSS. Typically, people who search for podcasts to listen to are more likely to use a podcast directory, and search by topic, or browse categories. If you only have your podcast on YouTube, it won’t be available in any podcast directories.
Why Are RSS Feeds Essential for Podcasting?
RSS feeds are stable, standardized routes that information can use to travel where people need it. The feed’s owner controls it, not a hosting service or directory. Posting your content within only one company’s system (such as “exclusive” podcasts, or within a social media platform) is limiting. Your podcast might be subject to the whims of the platform owner. If they pull up stakes and disappear one day, your content won’t reach its audience anymore. Plus, when podcasters control their RSS feed, they control how they monetize their content. Acast CEO Ross Adams wrote,
“RSS and the open ecosystem promote innovation… Your bond with your listeners is the most important relationship in all of podcasting — and it needs care and respect. You’ve no doubt nurtured it for years already, working hard to build your audience and keep them coming back every time you publish a new episode. Your RSS feed allows you to own that relationship.“5 Reasons Why All Podcasters Need RSS,” Ross Adams
So, Do I Own My RSS Feed?
Probably. Almost all podcast hosting providers will help you move your RSS feed to another host without any issues. You’d just create your new account, and both platforms will work with you to handle the transfer. Changing podcast host is all done behind the scenes, and your content will be totally unaffected in all the apps and directories it’s available. This is yet another big plus of RSS for podcasters!
RSS is a URL, and So Much More
The humble RSS feed, that no one ever sees, is a uniform resource locator. It indicates a stable web feed, where information travels between creators and their audience. It’s a beautiful thing. You’ll see it in your media host, and you might see it if you subscribe to a private podcast. More often than not, it works for you invisibly.
Podcasting is both a science and an art form. It’s not difficult to learn, but it can be a challenge to keep on going. Earlier on, I mentioned Alitu as a podcast hosting option to create your own RSS feed. Alitu is more than a media host, though; it’s a fully-fledged ‘podcast maker’ tool with recording, editing, and production tools designed to be simple and fast. If you’re thinking of starting a podcast, try it out for free and see what you think.