The demise of Google Reader is a strong signal that RSS feeds are all but dead. Sure, they still remain a great way to keep in touch with your favorite websites and it’s not going anywhere because it’s still incredibly useful for other reasons. But as far as regular visitors go, asking them to subscribe to your RSS feed – that’s ancient history now. More recent techniques are all about using social media, and Facebook in particular.
But if you don’t want to go to social media route or you need something in addition to it, there are still ways to quickly and easily allow your users to follow your blog. The first is via email delivery and the second is by tapping into the WordPress.com blog network.
There are still individuals who like to get email updates of their favorite posts. It also helps you create a personalized mailing list of your most loyal subscribers. It might seem antiquated in today’s day and age for someone to receive website updates via email, but it’s still surprisingly common. In any case, it costs you nothing to have a simple form asking people to enter their email address so they can get notified of updates.
But we also have to take care of the spam problem. For this reason, we want a solution that employs a one-time verification of an email ID before activating the subscription. Luckily for us using WordPress, we already have such a widget with the ubiquitous Jetpack plug-in. Take note – if you’re not using Jetpack on your self hosted WordPress blog, you’re really missing out.
To activate email subscriptions using Jetpack, go to the plug-in settings from the WordPress dashboard and make sure that the “Subscriptions” option is enabled as shown here:
Once that’s done, simply go to Appearance -> Widgets, and search for the “Blog Subscriptions” widget to add to your sidebar.
If your theme doesn’t support sidebars, you can manually add one using just a bit of PHP code. Configure the options in the “Blog Subscriptions” widget, save your changes, and you should get a simple and attractive email subscription form on your blog like this:
Leveraging the WordPress.com Network
Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the true magnitude of the WordPress.com blog network. For the most part, I’ve been largely locked out of it because I have a self hosted site. But native WordPress.com free blogs have a nifty “Follow” button on the bottom right-hand corner that allows other WordPress.com users to subscribe to blog updates with the click of a button. Here’s what it looks like:
Allowing users logged into WordPress.com to quickly follow your blog with just a single mouse click is incredibly attractive and far more efficient than making them type in their email ID. It’s also less intrusive since they don’t receive an email asking them to confirm the subscription. Luckily for us self hosted bloggers, WordPress came up with a way to allow even self hosted blogs to tap into this network.
We start off by visiting the Follow button generation page. In this, we type in the name of our website as well as the options that will make it fit well into a theme. Do you want to show the number of blog followers? Do you want to display the blog name?
Once you settle on these options, scroll down and click the “Generate” button. This will give you a preview of what your button will look like as well as the HTML code in the box below.
Once you’re satisfied with the appearance, it’s time to paste the code into a text widget. As before, go to the widget section of your WordPress dashboard and place a “Text” widget into your desired location. Simply paste the code that was generated earlier into the “Content” area and give your widget a title..
Save your changes and reload your website. You should now see a “Follow” button similar to the preview you viewed earlier.
True, it’s not exactly the same as the Follow interface on native WordPress blogs, nor does it give you a nice confirmation pop-up once you click on it. But it gets the job done and is a one click solution for the huge community of WordPress.com users to follow your blog updates.
These strategies combined with smart social media subscription tools will make sure that you grow your blog audience and keep them informed of any new developments.