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Should You Use Full or Partial RSS Feeds?

Credit: BruceTurner

Credit: BruceTurner

RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a technology that’s been around for a very long time. It’s what powers Feedburner and other email subscription services, delivering blog posts into email boxes and RSS readers on a daily basis. One of the big debates, especially early on in a blog’s life, is whether you should be using full feeds, where entire blog posts appears in the RSS feed, or partial feeds, where only a teaser appears in the RSS feed.

In this post, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of both, what my preference is, and how I set it up so that you can do both.

Full Feeds

Pro: Convenient for readers. When you offer full feeds, readers get the entire post in an email or their RSS reader. They don’t need to click through to your site to read the whole thing and that can be very convenient for them. As you can imagine, it’s nice to be able to read a lot of blog posts from a variety of sources from a single page, in the case of an RSS reader. Also, if someone is reading your feed through their mobile device, perhaps with a less than speedy connection, it really is much easier to read if there are full feeds.

Pro: Reduces load on your site. This won’t look as nice for your traffic numbers but it does lessen the load on your website’s server, which may or may not be a big factor for you. If you use shared hosting, which is less reliable, then this is a “nice to have” type of benefit. If you use something more robust, you probably don’t care about this benefit.

Con: You don’t control the reading experience. (Readers don’t go to your site, which reduces advertising revenue too) One man’s load reduction is another man’s advertising revenue reduction. The broader reason is that you lose control of the reading experience when the reader views it in their email or reader. Microblogger has a look to it, a look that I like, and one that I hope readers like. When you read it through email, you don’t get that full experience, which does have an impact. You also don’t get to see the comments that appear right afterwards and your likelihood of contributing a comment are much lower. The overall experience is different.

Con: Simple to steal content and republish. This is the biggest con – a content thief doesn’t have to do as much work to republish your content if the entirety of the post is available through an RSS feed. If they wanted to steal your content and you didn’t have an RSS feed, they’d have to scrape it off the page. With a full RSS feed, all the markup is there so that scraping it is nearly trivial.

Partial Feeds

As you can imagine, the arguments for partial feeds are mirror opposites to the full feeds. The two major pro reasons are that readers will now go to your site, instead of reading it entirely within an email or reader, which lets you control the user experience and earn some additional advertising revenue. This will be a minor inconvenience to your readers but will be a small deterrent to content thieves, since they will be able to scrape your pages if they really want your content.

I’m Partial to Partial

As a reader, I obviously prefer full feeds, but I don’t mind it if a blog offers partial feeds. I don’t believe that you need full feeds to “keep readers happy.” If your content is good, readers will want to read it and will be willing to click through to read it. If they aren’t willing to do it, either they’re not the right reader (content doesn’t match their needs) or you’re not writing good enough stuff. In either case, full feeds won’t help.

There was this one time that a reader emailed me to complain that I had a partial feed. He told me that he liked my blog and that he wanted to keep reading but that using partial feeds was a huge turn off. He was considering unsubscribing because of partial feeds.

I acquiesced and gave him a full feed link because I wanted him to keep reading. The reality is that he was a bully. He bullied me to get what he wanted. He never commented (at least with that email) and had never emailed me before. If he didn’t like the content enough to click his index finger to read the whole thing, did I really want him around?

My primary reason for using partial feeds is because I prefer to control the user experience of reading an article. I want readers to see the comments that come after a post and be drawn into the discussion. In many cases, I think the discussion adds a lot to the post and it’s important they get to see those comments.

I’m less worried about scrapers and as for advertising, I’ve done tests and I know regular readers, those who have multiple visits, simply do not click on advertisements. You can do full feeds or partial feeds, it will not impact your advertising revenue. (If you’re concerned and have a large readership on RSS, you can always see feed advertising to mitigate any potential losses)

In other words, there is no clear answer, it comes down to personal preference.

And there’s a way to do both…

How to Set Up Both

On Bargaineering, I allowed readers to register, for free, in order to participate in a points reward system. While they earned points they could use in auctions, they also earned a few other benefits such as reduced ads (which didn’t impact revenue) and access to a Full RSS feed. While I preferred the readers to visit the site, I recognized that some people want full feeds and I wanted to give them that option. Setting it up was remarkably easy but you need to use Feedburner.

The basic setup is simple:

  • Set up WordPress to publish a full feed.
  • Set up two Feedburner feeds – YourSiteFeed and YourSiteFeedFull

1. Setting up WordPress
Just go to Settings -> Reading and look for the setting “For each article in a feed, show” — make sure that is set to Full Text, then click Save Changes.

2. Set up Two Feedburner feeds
If you followed my instructions on how to set up a Feedburner feed, then you’ll already have one feed set up. Just follow those instructions and set up a second feed, this time naming it YourSiteFeedFull (obviously changing it to match your site’s name, you don’t need to put Full, just something that helps you know the difference).

Right now, both feeds are publishing full feeds because that’s what they are getting from WordPress. You will use Feedburner to convert it to a partial feed by going to the Optimize tab and looking for Summary Burner in the menu:

Activate that service for your main feed and now you have yourself both a partial and a full feed. You can publish your partial feed on your site and then keep the full feed in your back pocket to give out to regular readers or commenters as you see fit.

Which do you prefer?

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In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog ( that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

12 responses to “Should You Use Full or Partial RSS Feeds?”

  1. Phil says:

    Interesting post I am just going through this choice not sure which will be better for me.

    I am leaning more towards partial as it increase’s the visitors to the post plus comments and social sharing.

  2. Michael says:

    I’m partial to full feeds. While I see the value of driving reader visits with partial feeds, I think it’s counterproductive. I’d rather not throw up any barriers between readers and my content. Plus, if you use monetize with affiliate programs, full feeds will put them right there in front of your subscribers instead of requiring an extra click to see them.

  3. Michael says:

    I forgot to mention… Even if someone offers a partial feed, I’ll be reading the full feed if I’m reading it at all. There are a number of services out there that convert partial feeds into full feeds. So, if you’re content is really, really, *really* good, I’ll go to the trouble of converting it. But more often than not, I see a partial feed, delete it, and move on. There are plenty of great writers out there that don’t make me jump through hoops to read their stuff.

  4. I prefer full feeds, but that’s because I do a lot of reading on my phone. I came to your site today to read this via my phone but your pop up box dominated my screen and I couldn’t kill it.

    • Jim says:

      Yikes, it’s not supposed to pop up on mobile devices… I’ll try to fix that (thanks for letting me know)

      And I switched to full feeds, summary is the default and I never checked! 🙂

  5. Julia says:

    We’re finding that some topic aggregators (for us, Drinkwire @ require full feeds. I was thinking about seeing if there was a way to create a secondary feed – a “hidden” one for Drinkwire (full feed) and a public one which only shows partial & directs traffic back to the site. Definitely on the to-do list!

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