Here is an example list of the various ways a person can subscribe to your site’s posts.
- Email Subscription: Readers sign up for an email notification when new content is published on the website.
- Follow: There are many types of follows, adding the site’s activity to your social media stream. WordPress.com offers Follows with the option to get email notifications as well as the site streamed in your Blog Follows stream.
- Feeds: Feeds are the syndicated and distributable version of your content. People use feed readers to keep up with the latest activity on their favorite sites.
A subscription is different from a share. Sharing is a one-time event. The shared article information is not an act of subscribing to or adding the site to your social web stream of information. A subscription is not just support but a choice by the reader to keep up with that site’s activities.
Subscribers are your site’s fan club.
This tutorial will focus on the three types of subscriptions, email, follow, and feeds, to help you promote these subscription options on your WordPress site.
As you add subscription options to your site, check out what your site looks like through email notifications, follows, and feeds. When you design a WordPress Theme, it is important to design for all the ways a site will be viewed and accessed.
For example, the image to the right in this article is a screenshot of a post article on Mashable, a popular online magazine featuring tech news. The designer has incorporated social media sharing, sharing stats, and encouragement of social sharing and subscriptions into the design of the site title area. The little worm-like line to the right of the sharing icons is a trending chart. It shows the popularity of the article based upon the social sharing, showing you the possible creative options.
As you go through this tutorial, examine the traditional examples used to promote sharing and subscription options, but consider how to creatively incorporate sharing and subscriptions into the design of the WordPress Theme. If you are designing for the public with a WordPress Theme, remember that users will customize menus and widgetized areas with their own ideas on where and how to place these icons and links. Give them options but have fun with these as well.
Let’s go through each to look at how they work and some suggestions on how to feature them. At the bottom of the article is a short tutorial on how to create a Subscription Page to bring home all the site’s subscription options into one place.
An email subscription is not a newsletter subscription. In WordPress, it is a subscription for a notification to automatically be sent to all subscribers when you publish a new post. Posts not Pages trigger an email notification, and only when the post is published not edited or updated.
There are a variety of email subscription WordPress Plugins such as the email subscription featured in the JetPack WordPress Plugin. These add a subscription option to your site’s design, typically in the header, sidebar, or footer areas. You may also create a subscription Page in WordPress with the registration form.
I will cover the specifics of creating a Subscription Page further on in this tutorial, however you may create a Page in WordPress specifically for email subscription registration and sign-ups in addition to a Subscribe Page.
To create a Page for email subscription registration only:
- Go to Add > New Page.
- Title the Page appropriate such as Subscribe by Email or Email Subscriptions.
- Write an introduction explaining the purpose of the form, that by subscribing the user will get an email notification every time the site is updated.
- If you are using WordPress.com, add the Blog Subscription Form shortcode:
[blog_subscription_form]in the Editor. If using a WordPress Plugin, following the Plugin instructions for adding the email subscription form to the Page.
- Save or Publish the Page and Preview it. Edit it as needed.
This creates an email subscription Page you can use to link to when promoting your email subscription.
To add an email subscription to a Widget-enabled area of your WordPress Theme:
- Go to Appearance > Widgets.
- Look for Follow Blog via Email and drag it to the sidebar.
- Customize the form according to your needs.
- Save the form.
- Preview the form in your site’s front end view.
- Edit as necessary.
Note that there are three views for the WordPress Email Subscription Widget. There is the view of someone not logged into your site or WordPress.com, the view of a logged in member, and the view of the Widget when the visitor is logged in and subscribed to the site. Depending upon the WordPress Plugin features, these may look different or the same, and may or may not be customizable.
Please note that WordPress.com confuses things by mixing up Follow and Email Subscription. They call email subscriptions Follow Blog via Email and Follow as Follow, then mixes the two up with different features. I’ve asked them to clarify this and hopefully an upcoming release of WordPress will do so.
Until then, when you Follow a WordPress.com site, that site will be listed on the Reader > Blogs I Follow web page within the global dashboard of WordPress.com. The latest updates from the blogs you follow come from their site feeds. If you would like email notification from these sites when they are updated, set your Manage Delivery Settings accordingly, turning your WordPress.com follows into email subscriptions.
Also note that currently WordPress.com members cannot change or remove subscribers to their sites. Their current policy is that if your site is public, email subscriptions and followers are free to register for notification when your site is updated. While WordPress.com takes step to prevent spammy subscriptions, they may still get in your list. For now, ignore them. There is nothing you can do to remove them and it does not hurt your site or SEO ranking.
If someone wishes to change their email notification settings and discontinue their subscription to your site, they will need to access their own Email Delivery Settings.
For more information on email subscription basics in WordPress.com, see:
- Email Subscriptions — Blog — WordPress.com
- Support — WordPress.com
- Following Blogs — Support — WordPress.com
- Follow Blog Widget — Support — WordPress.com
- WordPress.com Support – Manage Delivery Settings
On Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking channels, a follow adds that user to your social stream so you may follow their updates and posts. You may add such follow opportunities on your own site. Remember, following is different from sharing. Sharing is a single action of helping to spread the word about a web page or topic. Following is a form of subscription, adding their publishing stream to yours to monitor.
Through the use of WordPress Plugins or the WordPress.com Publicize feature, when you publish a post on your site, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites are automatically notified with an excerpt announcement of your post with a link to it. Your followers on those services will see the announcement in their stream and hopefully share it with others, thus encouraging others to subscribe to your social stream.
If you have a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, or other social media account, you may add links to those accounts to encourage people to subscribe to them. These may be text links or links wrapped around social media icons and graphics within the design and layout of your site. You may add these in a Text Widget in the sidebar, footer, or other widgetized area of your WordPress Theme.
WordPress.com members can add WordPress.com sites to their Reader > Blogs I Follow web page within the global dashboard of WordPress.com. The latest updates from the blogs you follow come from WordPress.com site feeds the member has followed.
To add a WordPress.com Follow feature to your WordPress site (see email subscription section of this article for a graphic of this Widget):
- Go to Appearance > Widgets.
- Add the Follow Blog (not via email) Widget to the sidebar or other area of your site.
- Customize it.
- Save it.
- Preview the front end of your site to see the Follow Widget.
- Edit if necessary.
The WordPress.com Follow feature has the option to add an email notification from these sites when they are updated. Set your Manage Delivery Settings accordingly, turning your WordPress.com follows into email subscriptions.
Feeds are the contextual or text-like version of your website content. Wikipedia defines feeds as “a data format used for providing users with frequently updated content” available by subscription. Feeds are often referred to as RSS or aggregation but RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is one of several types of feeds which include Atom and other XML code formats.
The best way to think of a feed is that it is syndicated or distributed versions of your content. Your content is not restricted to viewing only on your site from within a web browser. The feed allows it to be viewed in feed readers (aka news readers), aggregators, web apps, and mobile apps – anywhere the user wishes to consume your content in a format of their choosing.
Popular feed readers included Google Reader until Google officially announced it would be closing the Google Reader service as of July 1, 2013. Alternatives include Feedly, The Old Reader, Pulse, TinyTinyRSS, Reeder (Mac/iPhone), NetNewsWire, NetVibes, Flipboard (mobile), Google Currents (mobile), Zite (Mobile), Rolio, FeedReader, RSSOwl, GreatNews, Vienna, and Taptu (mobile). So far, Feedly is winning the race as most popular but Flipboard, Google Currents, Taptu, and other mobile-friendly, magazine style feed readers are gaining ground as we become more mobile in our information collection and monitoring.WordPress.com, the Reader > Blogs I Follow includes WordPress.com sites you have set to Follow as well as feeds from non-WordPress.com sites you add to the list, creating a “one stop” feed reader for WordPress.com members. If you would like email notification from these sites when they are updated, set your Manage Delivery Settings accordingly.
On WordPress, feeds are automatically generated. There is no need to promote them or add a third-party feed generator unless you have a specific reason and purpose. Fans may just add your basic site address to their feed reader and the feed will be automatically added.
If you wish to promote your site’s feeds, you may use the RSS Links Widget (not RSS Widget) and add it to your sidebar or other widgetized area on your site.
You may also wish to create your own feed logo or icon, designing it to fit into the site’s design. Many professionally designed sites feature customized graphics representing the various feed and subscription options. The HTML with the images and links around them may be added easily to the Text Widget and placed in the sidebar or footer area, or even added to the navigation menu.
The default WordPress feeds (for WordPress.com and the self-hosted or managed version of WordPress) are:
- Posts (site wide) http://example.wordpress.com/feed/
- Comments (site wide) http://example.wordpress.com/comments/feed/
- Per Post Comments http://example.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/post-title/feed/
- Category http://example.wordpress.com/category/category-name/feed/
- Tag http://example.wordpress.com/tag/tag-name/feed/
- Author http://example.wordpress.com/author/author-username/feed/ such as http://example.wordpress.com/author/lorelle/feed/
The pattern of the link followed by
/feed/ at the end of the link is fairly obvious and consistent throughout all default WordPress feeds.
Site Wide Post Feeds are the most commonly used, updating a feed reader with the latest posts (not Pages) on your site.
Site Wide Comments are rarely used as they generate a feed for all the comments on all the posts (not Pages) on your site. Some people like to monitor all the activity on their site through their feed reader, a form of one-stop information monitoring, thus add this to their reader. I’ve heard from some government agency representatives that they use this to monitor a site’s overall activity when it is under suspicion of illegal or suspicious activity.
Per Post Comments are popular with feed reader fans as they can follow the activity on a post they are interested in or waiting for an answer to their question.
Category and tag feeds allow a user to follow a specific topic of interest on a site. The New York Times is a good example of this as they offer a full feed for a specific area of interest (think category) as well as feed from specific areas of interest within that category (think subcategories) to help readers keep up with the information they need and not everything else going on within the site.
Author feeds are a great way for fans of a specific author on a multiple-contributor site to keep up with the latest updates from them.
Using Feeds Within Your WordPress Site
Feeds may also be incorporated into your WordPress site in a variety of ways.
Feeds in the sidebar or footer areas of a site can be used to feature your other sites or related or favorite and recommended sites, giving your readers the chance to explore related content beyond your site.
Your site’s category feeds may be included in a Widget to promote the most recent articles within each category or a specific category you wish to promote, acting like a mini table of contents to your latest posts by category in the sidebar.
- Go to Appearance > Widgets.
- Add the RSS Widget (not RSS Links) to the sidebar or other widgetized area.
- Customize it by setting the color of the RSS logo and other customization options.
- You may choose from all posts and all comments. If you choose both, chose the option to show text and images or text only as images only does not distinguish between the two feed types visually.
- Save the Widget.
- View the front end of your site to check placement. Edit if necessary.
Feeds can be embedded into posts and Pages with third-party programs only on self-hosted or managed versions of WordPress. While there some ways to incorporate feeds into WordPress.com posts and Pages, it is the official policy of WordPress.com and their WordPress.com Terms of Service that feed streams are not permitted on posts and Pages due to the tendency for abuse. They are restricted only to WordPress Widgets.
With Google Reader ending their reign on feed readers, and many feed readers using their API to maintain their own third-party news feed readers, it will be interesting to see the future of feeds, so stay tuned.
For more information on WordPress and feeds, see:
- Understanding, Using, and Customizing WordPress Blog Feeds
- WordPress Feeds « WordPress Codex
- Feeds — Support — WordPress.com
- What is My WordPress Feed URL? – Perishable Press
- WordPress Plugins for Feeds « Lorelle on WordPress
- Do You Need Permission to Use Feeds
- Don’t You Know What a Feed Is Yet? Get To Know Your Feeds!
- Blog Exercises: Feed Readers « Lorelle on WordPress
- Benefits and Uses of Website Feeds
- Adding RSS Feeds to WordPress
- Playing with WordPress.com New Sidebar Widgets
- One Year Anniversary Review: What are Feeds?
How to Create a Subscription Page
We’ve explored all the different ways to subscribe to your WordPress site. Many of these involve cluttering up your sidebar with subscription links and images. In addition or replacing these, you may wish to create a Subscribe Page for yourself or a client.
A Subscribe Page features all the various ways people can subscribe and follow your site, keeping updated with the latest posts. The Subscribe Page may be featured in your main navigation and in a “button” on the sidebar, a call to action to motivate people to click through and explore the site’s subscription options.
To create the Subscribe Page:
- Go to Pages > Add New.
- Title the Page “Subscribe” or “Subscriptions” if you have enough space within your menu.
Add links or forms to your follow and email subscription options.
If you have a separate newsletter you send out regular to announce activities, products, sales, news, and updates to your site, consider adding the sign-up form here as well.
Find your feeds and add them in a list to help readers subscribe to the feed option of their choice.
To find your various feeds, go through this article to help you find all the various subscription options and make a list of them in a text editor.
For example, the standard format for a category link is
http://example.wordpress.com/category/category-name/feed/. Change the domain name to your site and set the category name to match your categories. Category names with more than one word have a hyphen (dash) between the words such as
Put these in a list. Consider grouping the various options with headings and text to explain them such as your entire site feed in one section, all your category feeds in another, and your most popular site tag feeds in another list.
If you would like to put the orange RSS logo next to your feed links, create one or find one from the many RSS/Feed images on the web. Ensure the image you are using is not copyrighted and is available for public use. The orange rounded-corner square has been accepted as the standard image representing most feeds. You may use that or be more creative by changing the color or shape while still maintaining the look and feel of the intention of the graphic.
There are many feed icon image packs you can download and experiment with for free. Here are some common and standard example images that are royalty free for usage on your site.
To create a text link to the feed, use the following example.
<a href="http://example.com/category/wordpress-tips/feed/" title="Link to WordPress Tips Category Feed"> WordPress Tips Category Feed</a>
To include an image with the text such as in a list of links featuring your various feeds:
<a href="http://example.com/category/wordpress-tips/feed/" title="Link to WordPress Tips Category Feed"> <img src="http://example.com/uploads/2013/03/feed.gif" title="Feed Image" class="alignnone wp-smiley" /> WordPress Tips Category Feed</a>
To feature a feed graphic alone linking to your feeds, use the following code example:
<a href="http://example.com/category/wordpress-tips/feed/" title="Link to WordPress Tips Category Feed"> <img src="http://example.com/uploads/2013/03/feed.gif" title="Feed Image" class="alignnone wp-smiley" /></a>
If you copy the above code, please remove the line breaks so the code is all on one line.
Note that many WordPress Themes feature a border or margins around images which can distort images within text. To set the margins to zero with no border, use the
wp-smiley CSS class which should be included in all WordPress Themes by default to allow smilies or emoticons to be used within the text and not distort the text. The Theme designer may have used something else so create a smiley in a post and preview it, checking the source code of the web page for the class used to style the smiley.
Experiment with the look and feel of your Subscribe Page. Add images and graphics to spice it up beyond just feed icons. Keep the look and feel clean and easy for the user to find the subscription option they prefer to access your site.