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Are you letting Feedburner hold you hostage?

Posted By Stephan Spencer 23rd of June 2005 RSS 19

I don’t have a problem with Feedburner (I use their service myself and I think it’s great), so please don’t think that I’m picking on them. But wouldn’t the last thing we would want to do as bloggers be to publish to the world an RSS feed URL that we don’t own? I see it as no different from handing out thousands of business cards with an @earthlink.net address proudly printed on it — rather than one @ your own domain name. Cuz then, you’re married to Earthlink (or in the case of your RSS feed… Feedburner). If you switched services, your existing subscribers would all need to update their feed URLs in their news readers. And what’s the likelihood of that happening!

So what can we do about it? Using a URL from your blog’s domain then having your webserver serve up a 301 “permanent redirect” that redirects to whatever your feeds.feedburner.com/[your-feed-here] URL could be a good option, except for the fact that some news readers choke on the redirect (such as NetNewsWire).

Hopefully the news readers and web-based aggregators will all realize that they need to handle redirects properly, just like all the web browsers have for years. Maybe they’ll read this post. ;-)

Why did I specifically recommend a 301 redirect, not a plain ol’ 302 redirect? Because a 301 — unlike the usual 302 temporary redirect that most everyone uses — lets the search engines like Google know that the redirect is pointing to a stable destination, and therefore the link juice (e.g. Google PageRank) should flow to the destination URL. Now this isn’t a big deal now, since the major search engines aren’t doing anything much with RSS feeds yet (indexing the content, crawling the item links, etc.), but it will come…

If you want to see this 301 in action, here’s a URL to my RSS feed, which redirects to Feedburner:

http://www.stephanspencer.com/feed/

Here’s how I set it up in my .htaccess file:

RewriteRule ^feed/$ http://feeds.feedburner.com/scatterings [R=301,L]

The URL of my feed that I told to Feedburner when setting up my account was:

http://www.stephanspencer.com/index.php?feed=rss2

Then if I ever want to move away from Feedburner to another service, I would simply adjust my RewriteRule (or RedirectPermanent, if you prefer to use that instead) directive in my .htaccess file to point to the new service.

Any thoughts on a path forward here? Or is this a non-issue to you folks?

About Stephan Spencer
Stephan Spencer is founder and president of Netconcepts, a web agency specializing in search engine optimization and ecommerce. Clients include REI, Verizon, InfoSpace, Sara Lee Direct, Home Shopping Network, and others. Stephan is a frequent speaker for organizations such as the DMA, AMA, JupiterMedia and Internet World. He is also a Senior Contributor for MarketingProfs.com and a contributor to Catalog Age and Multi Channel Merchant.
Comments
  1. I just thought of a work-around. You could set up a DNS entry of feeds.yourdomainname.com (or whatever it is) to be an alias (a “CNAME”) to feeds.feedburner.com. Then, if you switch from Feedburner, you’d update the CNAME to point to the hostname of the new service. This approach does have a big shortcoming… that is that the rest of the URL has to match exactly. For example, this would work:

    http://feeds.stephanspencer.com/scatterings

    because my Feedburner URL is

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/scatterings

    but the following URL would not:

    http://feeds.stephanspencer.com/feed/

    Not exactly ideal, but at least it’s a step in the right direction of owning your own feed URL when you use a hosted feed service…

  2. Wouldn’t it just be far easier not to use feedburner in the first place?

  3. Yeah, I still use 302 instead of 301, because this causes search engines to use MY feed URL. If you use 301, they will completely ignore your feed URL and index your feed using FeedBurner’s URL.

    Remember that 301 is “Moved Permanently.” If you have even the slightest idea that you might drop FeedBurner in the future, then 301 probably isn’t for you.

    Another option might be to use 307, but I haven’t really explored the (apparently subtle) differences between 302 and 307.

  4. Any thoughts on a path forward here? Or is this a non-issue to you folks?

    This is an issue for me, because I don’t understand the technical meanings of those words you guys were talking about (.htaccess, 301, 302, 307). I just started a blog recently on blogger.com and wonder about future issues that I will have to face if and when I’m ready to move to my own server and domain. This is a great topic and the redirect is a great idea. I just wish there was something out there for us future bloggers that aren’t so tech-saavy… for instance … would redirects like those tiny.url’s work?

    HART

  5. In case it’s of any use, FeedBurner recently blogged about how people can leave their service if they want to, and the steps that they will take:

    http://www.burningdoor.com/feedburner/archives/001251.html

  6. A bit off-topic, but I just wanted to say that I only recently dicovered this blog and I am completely impressed by the great articles!

    This Feedburner ‘hostage situation’ is something that made me decide not to use Feedburner. How great to see that there are some smart folks around to help out with these issues!

  7. A bit off-topic, but I just wanted to say that I only recently dicovered this blog and I am completely impressed by the great articles!

    This Feedburner ‘hostage situation’ is something that made me at the time decide not to use Feedburner. How great to see that there are some smart folks around to help out with these issues!

  8. Never give your brand away! That said, I would love to get a better idea as to what my feed-based traffic is.

  9. I use feedburner in addition to the automatic feed generation already done by WordPress, so I am not married to feedburner’s service. It’s just an alternative for my readers.


    David
    p.s. – I scored an interview with Orderedlist.com’s Steve Smith

  10. I don’t follow why you’d want to use a permanent redirect. If feedburner burns to the ground one day all your subscribers, whose feedreaders happily started pulling your feeds from feedburner, are no longer subscribed to your content.

    I guess you can trust that they will come crawling back to find the original feed…

  11. I also use the 301 redirect for my site, and still publicize the original rss link that originates from my domain. On a slightly off-topic note, is pagerank really “transferred” by using a 301 redirect? Because I have a subdomain that I intend to move to a domain of its own, but I’m afraid of losing its current pagerank.

  12. Great comments, everyone! In response:

    IO ERROR, for me it’s fine that the feeds.feedburner.com page ends up in the index, it’s a necessary evil so that the PageRank score flows through. The main concern for me is that those who have already added my feed to their newsreader don’t have to change the URL.

    HART, tinyurls from tinyurl.com won’t work, because you can’t change their destination after you create them.

    Darryl, it’s to avoid the situation of having to post an RSS entry that asks everyone to “Unsubscribe from this feed and resubscribe to it at this new URL” if I find that another service like SimpleFeed is better than Feedburner. Undoubtedly there would be some subscriber attrition through the process. Kinda like when a blogger moves off of blogger.com and abandons the blog with a “we’ve moved” post.

    markku, Yes, it is transferred.

  13. Great discussion guys! A few notes from our (FeedBurner’s) point of view:

    Steven (#1), we just launched a service that lets you keep *everything* on your domain. That is, you set up feeds.yourdomain.com (or whatever you want), then people access to your feed at feeds.yourdomain.com/[feed_uri] — there is no redirecting and no mucking around in htaccess required on your end. Here’s the announcement: http://www.burningdoor.com/feedburner/archives/001270.html

    David (#8), you certainly can offer your FeedBurner feed alongside the feed generated by WordPress, but you’re missing out on a lot of benefits for yourself and your users. Only if all of your traffic is running through your FB feed can you make sure you’re getting full use of our stats tools. If you give users the option of using the FB feed or another, you’re only seeing a part of your traffic reflected in your stats. (And that’s not very helpful to you as a publisher.)

    Having said that, we’re by no means trying to snatch your feed away from you or lock you in. If you have the means to setup a redirect, we highly recommend doing so. If you don’t have the means, you can at least take advantage of our cancellation program that helps you transition away from FB.

  14. I have a few thoughts on the subject: please see my recent post entitled FeedBurner on Your Terms. I hope it helps!

  15. […] from Feedburner

    I’m guest blogging over at Problogger.net, and my recent post Are you letting Feedburner hold you hostage? generated […]

  16. Anonymous says: 07/18/2005 at 6:19 am

    Just stopped by to visit and got the crunch on your stuff in here – bravo!

  17. Darren,

    Enjoy reading your blog. I visit almost everyday. I just started to use RSS feeds through Feedburner.com. It seems that some days I will start to have people linking to me, like 5 links and then the next day they are gone?

    Do you think this is people unlinking or something wrong with the feed. Anyway it just seems strange that they would all drop in one day. It has happened to me twice. Any comments or suggestions?

  18. […] Problogger says “So what can we do about it? Using a URL from your blog’s domain then having your webserver serve up a 301 “permanent redirect” that redirects to whatever your feeds.feedburner.com/[your-feed-here] URL could be a good option, except for the fact that some news readers choke on the redirect (such as NetNewsWire).” […]

  19. […] I’m guest blogging over at Problogger.net, and my recent post Are you letting Feedburner hold you hostage? generated some interesting discussion, including several comments from Feedburner itself. In fact, Eric Lunt from Feedburner formulated a thoughtful response within his own blog. […]

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