Should you really be hosting your own RSS feed? What about FeedBurner or your media host?
Where you host your podcast feed is one of the most-debated topics among podcasters. One thing is absolutely true, you must own your feed.
Some podcasters will tell you that owning your feed means hosting it on your own server. But others will say that owning means using a third-party service that supports a redirect.
Here are three reasons why you may not want to host your own podcast RSS feed on your own server.
1. Website stability
When your podcast RSS feed is on the same server as your website, you risk hindering your podcast downloads when your website has problems. Even when your web host promises 99.99% uptime, that leaves about 53 minutes of potential downtime per year, but you could likely see more than that.
If you're featured somewhere and 1,000 people try to load your site at the same time, it could crash your website and bring your RSS feed with it.
Plugins like PowerPress are great for making and managing your RSS feed. You could use Angelo Mandato's Static Feed plugin for WordPress to reduce how much work your website has to do to serve an XML file for your RSS feed. But even this static file will be inaccessible if your server crashes.
2. Bandwidth requirements
There is no hard rule about the size of your RSS feed. But some services, such as FeedBurner, impose their own requirement that the feed be below 512 KB. This is still a reasonable guideline, if for no other reason than consideration for your subscribers who have to download that feed file every time their app checks for new episodes.
Now, consider the bandwidth needs to serve even a 256-kilobyte (KB) file (1/4 of a megabyte). Whenever a podcast app checks for a new episode, it downloads that entire RSS feed in a single file. If you have 1,000 subscribers, that could be 250 megabytes (MB) of bandwidth for them all to check your feed.
But most podcast apps will check for new episodes multiple times per day—as often as once per hour as a background task. Thus, 1,000 podcast apps would be downloading a 256 KB file 24 times in a day, which would require nearly 6 gigabytes (GB) of bandwidth per day! If you publish a 30 MB podcast episode every week and all 1,000 people download it, your weekly media hosting bandwidth (about 29 GB) would actually be less than your weekly feed hosting bandwidth (about 41 GB)!
Now imagine how much more bandwidth you would need if your feed was bigger, or you had more subscribers!
While your RSS feed is not as big of a file as your media files, the feed would be downloaded more often and could actually cause more problems on your server than hosting your media on your server.
3. Feed volatility
This is the most-cited reason for generating and hosting your podcast feed away from your website content management system (CMS), like WordPress.
It's true that some themes, plugins, or buried website options can break your RSS feed. This can happen by either inserting invalided information, changing how the tags are populated, or stripping functionality.
I've helped several podcasters before with my flat-rate, standard feed repair service. I've seen membership plugins, SEO plugins, themes, and simple user error corrupt a podcast feed.
Yes, it is possible to break your podcast RSS feed with even popular plugins. The more plugins you have on your site, the more chances there are that something could break.
But before you panic, realize that as long as you use tested, respected, and well-written plugins, the chances of breaking your feed are quite low.
4. Dangers on shared hosting
On shared hosting, every account has equal access to the server's resources. If someone else's account is compromised or the cause of abuse, it affects the rest of the accounts—up to thousands of other websites.
The most common effect of this abuse is that your website will run extremely slowly (even with all plugins disabled) and your feed may often timeout. Raise this issue with your shared web-hosting provider and they will fix it. But you're still susceptible to someone else's indiscretions.
If you have a small audience (under 300 downloads per episode), then issues #1 and #2 may never cause a problem for you. Don't worry about it for now, but you should have a plan for if you get popular.
For podcasters with larger audiences, or who want to be future-proof, there are four possible solutions.
- Expensive: Upgrade your hosting—Shared hosting usually can't handle popular sites and podcasts. You may need to upgrade your podcast hosting to VPS, dedicated, or some kind of specialized hybrid. This will give you clearly understood resource limits that you can monitor.
- Easy: Use FeedBurner or another third-party feed service—One of the few benefits left of FeedBurner is that it can offload your podcast RSS feed to its own server, thus removing the demand on your own server. I recommend staying away from all of FeedBurner's additional features (especially SmartCast). If you try another feed service, make sure they offer a permanent 301 redirect if you decide to leave.
- Extra steps: Use your media host's RSS feed—If your media host, such as LibSyn or Blubrry, create an RSS feed, you could use their feed to power your podcast. This can even result in a faster feed because of optimized systems that serve the XML file. Be cautious of using any provider's feed if they don't offer a permanent 301 redirect in case you want to leave. If they don't (and the list is shrinking), then use a third-party feed service (like FeedBurner) or your own 307 redirect on your domain in order to own the URL that subscribers use.
- Cumbersome: Manually host your feed somewhere else—Using the Static Feed plugin for WordPress, manual coding, or other tools, you can have an actual .xml file as your RSS feed. You could then host this file on another server (like second hosting account or Amazon S3) or on a CDN (like Amazon CloudFront, Rackspace Cloud Files, or MaxCDN). But this can quickly become costly on a CDN, and the whole process will be cumbersome to transfer the XML file every time you publish or update an episode. Additionally, CDNs take time to propagate changes, so you could be waiting for hours or days for your RSS feed to update.
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