Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Using Feedburner with Blogger



Once you have your Blogger account working, you may have heard about a free tool provided by Google called Feedburner, but what is it? Even if you already use it, you may not be quite sure what it does. As well as trying to explain this as simply as I can, I also want to highlight some potential log-jams that you may encounter.


Once you have started publishing to your blog, you will want people to find and read it. Relying on them finding it by accident through a Web search is not really going to work so you will be sharing each post into news streams such as those in Google+ (Circles and Communities) and Facebook. However, it’s easy to miss stuff in these streams, and if someone wants to follow your every word then they will need a way for them to subscribe and be notified when something new has been published.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom are both mechanisms for the syndication of Web feeds. In other words, they allow changes on one site to be syndicated to one-or-more other sites. In the context of a blog, this simply means that they allow users to see when new material has been published. When users subscribe to a Web feed, they may see these changes through a feed reader (such as Google Reader, Bloglines, or NetVibes) or by email. A feed reader is sometimes called an aggregator program as it allows you to bring together content from multiple feeds (e.g. from different blogs) so that you can view them all in one place.

A feed reader just needs the URL of the target blog (e.g. http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com) for it to subscribe. It’s not unlike an email program in that it periodically checks your subscribed feeds and shows the number of new posts. You can then decide to selectively download and read them. This is all very well if you’re familiar with those tools, or you don’t mind learning new tools. However, many people would prefer to just receive a simple email containing the latest blog post when it appears.

So where does Feedburner fit into this? Well, Blogger can publish updates via four different feed URLs, such as:

Atom feeds:-
http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default
http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/atom.xml
RSS feeds:-
http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss
http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/rss.xml

It’s possible for other sites and tools to make use of any of these, and you would have no ability to see the total number of your subscribers. Those subscribers may not see identically-rendered copies of your post either. What Feedburner does is redirect all these URLs to a new data feed of its own, such as:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/blogspot/xxxxxx

The xxxxxx is a string of characters generated for you. This redirection means your subscribers will all feed from the same place, and Feedburner can then generate subscriber statistics for you.

In order to set this up, you must first have a Feedburner account. Go to Feedburner and sign in with your Google Account. Put your Blog URL (e.g. http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/) into the 'Burn a Feed Right This Instant' and click ‘Next’. Specify a feed title, and take note of the ‘Feed Address’ that it creates for you as you’ll need to tell Blogger about it. The Feedburner account should now show up in your Google dashboard (https://www.google.com/settings/dashboard) along with your Blogger account, etc.

Then go to your Blogger dashboard. Select Settings→Other from the left panel, and go to the Site Feed section. In the ‘Post Feed Redirect URL’ field, enter the URL of your Feedburner feed (e.g. http://feeds.feedburner.com/blogspot/xxxxxx). Set the ‘Allow Blog Feed’ field to “Full”.

OK, you now have a Feedburner feed. Now let’s make it easy for email subscribers. Go back to your Feedburner account, select the Publicize tab, and then the ‘Email Subscription’ entry on the left. Click ‘Activate’. You can now customise some settings under the ‘Email Subscription’ section such as the title/body used for confirmation emails, the title used for notification emails, and the time-of-day when notifications should be sent.

Back in the Blogger dashboard, select Layout on the left. Pick a panel (usually the right panel) and ‘Add a Gadget’. Choose the ‘Follow By Email’ gadget, provide a label for the email address field, and specify the Feedburner feed URL, as shown above. This will provide a very simple field on each blog page into which a user can enter an email address. Those users will be sent a confirmation email which they must respond to in order to receive email notifications from your blog.

So far, so good; I hope. A quick search of the Internet, though, shows lots of people have problems getting email subscription working, so what’s the problem? Well, Feedburner keeps a copy of the last few blog posts so that it can compare them with the latest information from your original blog feed, and so only notify people of updates. However, it has a space limit of 512KB. Note that this is the size of the HTML rather than of your original text, and it does not include any images or attachments. It’s therefore a little difficult to gauge. The two main issues are exceeding this size limit, and having unrecognisable content in your feed.

Preparation of your blog post in Microsoft Word can be a cause in both of these issues, but this has already been covered in my previous post at: Using Microsoft Word with Blogger.

In the Feedburner dashboard, under the Troubleshootize tab, there are tools to validate the original (Blogger) feed and the Feedburner feed. If these show errors such as the following then there’s a simple explanation:

Undefined entry element: georss:featurename 3 occurrences
... 2" width="72" /><thr:total>0</thr:total><georss:featurename>Naples, FL,

Undefined entry element: georss:box 3 occurrences

nt>26.1420358 -81.7948103</georss:point><georss:box>25.913972299999998

The problem here is that you’ve set a Location in the ‘Post Settings’ down the right-hand side of your blog-post.  This generates geocoding data for you but — at the time of writing ― it’s not a in a format expected by Feedburner, and so it throws-up as a result. If you simply unset that Location property on your post then this error should go away.

Another reason for exceeding the size limitation is if you generate a lot of lengthy blogs, or even a few very lengthy ones. By default, Blogger provides details of the last 25 posts to Feedburner and the sum total of this may be too great. This can be restricted with a parameter on the end of your original feed address. Click the ‘Edit feed details…’ button at the top of the page, and add a max-result parameter to the end of the ‘Original Feed’ address, such as:

http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?max-results=3

I specified a very low value for myself since, although I only generate about one post per week, they tend to be quite large.