What is a Podcast RSS Feed?

September 9, 2020

If you are a podcaster, or want to start your own podcast, one of the most important terms you should be familiar with is the RSS feed. What is a podcast RSS feed you might ask? We’ll deep dive into RSS feeds in this article, but generally speaking it’s a public “list” of all your podcast episodes, which you can submit to podcast apps and directories.

Let’s get right to it and explore the characteristics of a podcast RSS feed –

What is a Podcast RSS Feed?

RSS (abbreviation: RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) is a web-based feed that groups publicly available content. This content doesn’t have to be podcasts – RSS is widely used for news aggregators, blog posts, WordPress websites, and much more. RSS feeds are standardized and can be processed by RSS “readers” or various applications. The first version of RSS became publicly available around the year 2000, so it’s been around for a while now.

RSS feeds are typically in XML format/structure. The content itself is not restricted – you can add as many entries or tags as you want to.

Now, you probably wonder how all of the above is related to your podcast. There’s a simple explanation – your Podcast RSS feed facilitates the distribution of your podcast.
Once you record your podcast episodes, you somehow need to spread the word and publish them to anyone interested. You don’t have to set up a feed if you don’t want your podcast to be available on platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts, but it does make a lot of sense for most podcasters. (You can also keep a private RSS feed for private podcasting).

Podcast RSS feeds can vary quite a bit, but most tags are pretty much standardized. Here’s an example of an episode “item” entry on a basic feed –

podcast rss feed example
Podcast RSS feed example

Once you have your episodes all gathered in one RSS feed, you can share this URL with your followers so they can subscribe with their favorite app, or submit it to the big podcast directories like Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and the likes.

How to create an RSS Feed for my podcast?

There are really a few ways you can create your podcast RSS Feed. The most obvious one (and easiest) is to create it through your podcast hosting provider. (Buzzsprout / Anchor.fm / Simplecast / many others).

These podcast hosting providers offer a couple of core services for podcasters –

  • Host and distribute your podcast audio files – This is key since you can’t really distribute those files to thousands of listeners from one location (i.e. – your average shared website server). Your podcast hosting service would host all files and distribute them from a global CDN (Content Delivery Network). You can rest assured your listeners can get them without any delay or crash your own website’s servers.
  • Create, host and distribute your podcast RSS feed – When you use a podcast hosting service, they’ll typically create the RSS feed for you. You’ll have to fill a simple form with the details about your podcast show (and additional details for every episode).
    The hosting company then creates a standard feed for you and submits this feed to the platforms of your choice. One additional important detail here is that they also host and distribute your feed. This way you don’t have to worry about the availability and speed rates of your feed (as opposed to hosting it yourself on a regular server).

Creating your own Podcast feed

Another option is to create the RSS feed on your own. There are a few online tools you can use to create your podcast RSS feed. This is helpful if you decide to host the podcast feed yourself. For some of these tools you’ll have to know how to code, but there are also some code-free solutions.

You need to ensure to include the following important tags when creating a podcast RSS feed –

  • Parent <channel> tag – this should include the main details about your podcast (show), a <title> tag with the name of the podcast, a <description> or <content:encoded> tag for your description, an artwork – usually via the <itunes:image> tag or the <image> tag, links, explicit status (yes/no) and so on.
  • Each episode should be nested under its own <item> tag. Each item equals a separate episode.
  • Within each <item> tag, you must include the following tags –
    • <title> – for the title of each episode.
    • <itunes:image> or <image> – for the episode artwork.
    • <link> – with a link to the episode page on your site.
    • <enclosure> – a direct link to the audio file – usually MP3 or M4A.
    • <content:encoded> or <description> – the episode show notes.
    • <guid> – while this might be optional, it’s recommended you provide a unique GUID for each episode to ensure you avoid duplicates.

There are many more optional tags you can use, but the above ones are really the most basic ones you should consider.

Is there a difference between <content:encoded> and <description> ?

The standardization around podcast RSS feed can use a little improvement, or perhaps even move to the more modern JSON format, but currently things are still as they were several years ago. You might be wondering what is the difference between the <content:encoded> tag and the <description> tag, and while there’s no one main, clear answer, the most popular answer would be the following –

The <content:encoded> tag should include the show notes with complete HTML formatting inside – you can include <p> for paragraphs, <ul> or <ol> for lists, and many more standard HTML formatting tags.

The <description> tag should only include the very basic tags, like <a> links but nothing more than that.

The popular podcast apps and platforms would then read your tags and render them accordingly, so make sure to get it correctly.

Conclusion

Podcast RSS feeds are essential for any podcast. It’s important you keep your RSS feed available at all times, and hosted on fast servers to make sure can be easily fetched by podcast platforms. You can also create a complete podcast website from a podcast RSS feed.

Usually the podcast hosting companies can help you create the RSS feed automatically, but you can also create it yourself if you prefer.

RSS feeds can include hundreds (or thousands) of episodes, and can have various tags and types of content included in them.

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