This is a very common question that I receive. There are usually several ‘subscribe’ buttons on websites.
These are the icons that are commonly misunderstood:
#1 Email @ Sign
This can mean 2 different things. It can EITHER be a link to a contact (and I mean email) form OR it can be a link to the feed providing the option of email delivery. (I’ll explain in a moment.)
#2 Envelope Icon
This can mean the same thing as the above.
Lately I’ve seen both symbols put together or an @ sign on a RSS sign (#3 image above). This can mean one of THREE options! Keep reading.
#3 RSS Icon
Ironically, this is the easy one. This always means one thing – it is a feed link.
It will link to the site’s feed which is an easy-for-machines-to-digest version of the content. To our eyes, the RSS feed will look like jumbled English. That is why we usually use a “feed reader”. My favorite is Google Reader. Lots of users prefer their email client’s built-in reader, Bloglines or Newzcrawler, although there are literally 100’s of them.
Since most people don’t know how to use a feed reader, most of us offer our readers an easier way – Feedburner. Feedburner is a feed-gatherer (my word). It grabs our feed, and delivers it to our reader’s feedreader. So the flame symbol to the left is actually Feedburner’s logo. It is so popular that the icon is nearly always recognized.
Feed Via Email
Feedburner (and several other good feed ‘gatherers’) deliver the feeds to the reader’s email instead of a feedreader! This is perfect for those readers who want to stay up to date with you, but have no idea what a feedreader is, or couldn’t be bothered with one. What we serve them, is a feed delivered via email and is completely separate from a contact icon, or a newsletter. (Update: Nov. 2012 – see this post for recommendations to move AWAY from Feedburner)
So, to make matters interesting, we throw in the ‘newsletter’. These are intended to be different from feed emails. From a marketing standpoint, newsletters can serve an entirely different purpose. A newsletter can be the contact you have with those who do NOT follow your regular posts. And to be honest, given my time constraints, newsletters are where I often gather most of my information. My feed reader is so full of posts that its stopped counting.
Now that you know what they all are, what do you prefer? And what do you offer on your site? Also, which feed ‘gatherer’ do you use, if any? Do you read blogs in a feed reader?