What is RSS?

If you want your podcast to be found by listeners, it's essential to know your RSS from your elbow

If a podcast is released, but nobody can find it, does it make a sound? Well, no – and that’s why having an RSS feed for your podcast is essential. 

The short answer to the question “What is RSS?”, in the context of podcasts, is that it’s the way your show can be organised and easily distributed to listeners. While your podcast can exist without a supporting RSS feed, you’d be making the job of attracting a critical mass of listeners nigh on impossible.

RSS is a simple way for websites to syndicate content to subscribers in real-time, without them needing to constantly check-in. It’s old technology and declining in use for text, but for podcasts, it’s become the de facto way that the main platforms index new episodes for users to easily find. In short, if you don’t have an RSS feed, your podcast won’t be found.

If you use a podcast hosting platform, RSS will be taken care of for you as part of the deal, but anybody can set up their own via certain website builders, WordPress plugins or by taking matters into their own hands and coding their own. Once generated, the RSS can be shared with the big podcasting platforms, allowing users to stay on top of every episode as it airs.

Here’s what you need to know about podcast RSS.

What is RSS?

As mentioned above, RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication”, and despite being essential for the medium, the acronym predates the word “podcast” by about five years.

RSS was introduced by the internet browser Netscape as a way for users to keep track of updates to their favourite websites without having to manually check for new posts. It’s some simple code which ensures that when an article is published, a subscriber’s RSS feed will be updated with the new post.

For most users, RSS and its familiar orange icon – two curved lines broadcasting from a small dot – is a somewhat dated way of following websites, hence Google’s contentious decision to close down its popular RSS-based Reader application all the way back in 2013. 

But for podcasts, this relic of the web’s early days has proved the underlying system by which listeners find new shows and stay on top of episodes as they’re released. It just happens out of view.

How does RSS work for podcasts?

While people don’t tend to follow podcasts with their own RSS readers, the underlying technology is used by podcast directories like Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, BeyondPod, Overcast and Spotify to show new episodes as they’re released.

Every time you upload a new episode of your podcast to your hosting site, the RSS feed will reflect the change, and podcast directories will take this information, updating their own listings, and pushing new episodes to eager subscribers.

The information contained in the RSS doesn’t need to be anything too detailed – think title, description, show notes, image, summary and language — though things like Podcast Namespace are trying to standardise more in-depth details such as chapters, donations, credits and trailers.

Does my podcast need an RSS feed?

Technically, no. The podcast itself is the audio or video file, while the RSS feed is the link between said file and the listeners. Anybody can download and listen to a podcast once it’s released, if they can find it.

But that “if” is massive. Without an RSS link containing key information about your show, then your podcast will be available, but near impossible for listeners to track down. While they could listen by hunting down the file manually, most won’t. 

In other words, to actively grow your audience in the hyper-competitive field of podcasting, yes, you need an RSS feed. 

How do I get an RSS feed for my podcast?

The good news is that if you use a podcast hosting service, such as Podbean, Buzzsprout, Captivate.fm or Libsyn, you’ll have an RSS feed automatically included. You may have to set it up inside the host, but handholding will be provided, and once all the pertinent details are entered, your podcast will begin to appear in podcasting apps around the world.

If you’re not signed up to a podcast hosting platform for whatever reason, you can add your own to your website (a website’s own RSS feed in itself won’t be sufficient, because it will also contain non-podcast content). 

But help is at hand. If you have a WordPress site, then the Seriously Simple Podcasting plug-in will help you build a podcast-only RSS feed that you can submit to podcast directories yourself, while sites built with Squarespace also have a built-in RSS feed for publishing podcasts if you like.

Podcast RSS feed requirements

With sufficient coding know-how, you can also go your own way and make your own podcast RSS feed using a text editor such as TextEdit or Notepad. 

However, there are a few things to bear in mind to make sure your podcast is actually accepted by the big players. As a rule of thumb, follow the rules Apple has for its Podcasts platform, and you’ll be fine with all the major players. To recap, these requirements state that your RSS must:

  • Meet RSS 2.0 specifications, and not have password protection. 
  • Have the following XML declaration: <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?><rss version="2.0" xmlns:itunes="http://www.itunes.com/dtds/podcast-1.0.dtd" xmlns:content="http://purl.org/rss/1.0/modules/content/">
  • Include artwork for your show. 
  • Have HTTP HEAD requests and byte-range requests.
  • Have <enclosure> tags with three components: URL, length and type
  • Include a “Global Unique Identifier” (GUID) – this cannot be changed.
  • Only use ASCII filenames and consist only of conventional letters (a-z or A-Z) and numbers (0-9).
  • Follow the correct case sensitivity.

If you’re not into coding, most of these points may be lost on you – and if that’s the case, then you’re best off having a podcast hosting platform or plugin doing the heavy lifting on your behalf. 

But if you do want to try to build your own podcast RSS feed, the good news is that Apple Podcasts will inform you if there’s a problem that needs correcting.