Resolving RSS feed problems needs perseverance

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on an updated look and feel for my website that hosts my primary blog. It’s not had such TLC since I refreshed it in 2017 with a new (and still current but tweaked) WordPress theme.

I’m using a combination of Elementor Pro and CSS Hero to do the visual work. Both are great tools that offer a literal drag-and-drop experience to WordPress site layout and presentation that lets me get things done fast without diving in to code.

Of course, there are times when you need to look at code, even edit it, especially if something doesn’t work or behaves weirdly (happens with plugins mostly).

And then there’s the RSS feed.

I wanted to bring in the three most recent posts from my podcast blog. Note this was for posts, not the MP3 audio files. But I had the devil’s job figuring out why the RSS feed from the podcast blog would either show nothing in the RSS widget I’d set up for it on the primary blog’s new home page except an error, or actual content.

The content state seemed to be random. Sometimes there was content, other times not. When there was no content, the widget displayed this error text: “RSS Error: A feed could not be found at [location]; the status code is 200 and content-type is text/html”.

Running the feed through various feed validators got a pass, all saying the RSS validated correctly, although most did display quite a few warnings. The feed validated but the display errors on the blog persisted.

After trying four or five different RSS widgets, I abandoned this approach and instead just showed a podcast badge with a concise description and a link to the website. That’s where things ended up.

But I was curious. Why was this happening? Then I ran the feed one more time through the W3C validator – and it did not validate! Instead I got the lines of errors that you see in the screenshot on this page.

Some online research suggested that a plugin was most likely the culprit.

The most popular troubleshooting path to follow would be deactivating all plugins on my own site, not the podcast blog, and then reactivating them one by one until the error stopped. That would indicate which plugin I had installed was the problem.

While I was pondering this, I’d set up another widget to bring in posts from this blog, you one you’re reading, via its RSS feed.

I got errors with that one too!

I realised that I must address this and therefore try the step by step approach with the plugins.

A fleeting thought occurred to me – what if the theme is the issue? Each one on both blogs that deliver the content I’m looking for via their RSS feeds? That question had popped up in one or two answers to my earlier online research. It would be a lot simpler to change themes than deactivate plugins one by one (and I have over 40 plugins installed and active on my main site). With this blog, the one you’re reading, I’ve had a few issues in the past with the theme and so I decided to first try switching to a default theme here and see what happened.

This is the easiest approach as I’ve done no customised work here at all, mainly because this blog runs on hosted whereas my main site is self-hosted with signficant customisation and plugins. Changing the theme there is not a task to lightly undertake.

So I changed the theme here – and had no RSS errors at all. The widget on my main blog correctly displayed the content from this blog via RSS as it was configured to do.

RSS widget

Clearly there was something in the original theme I was using here that caused the RSS error in the display on my other site, the destination, where the widget was installed. Since changing the theme here, I’ve had no errors at all with the RSS feed in the widget on my other site. I’ve not learned exactly what the error was and exactly what fixed it. At the moment, I don’t really care – everything is working properly!

Projected thinking now – could the theme on my podcast blog be the source of the issue that caused the still-unresolved errors on the destination, ie, my other site? That might be worth testing.

One conclusion I draw from this – even if over 95% of the results you get from researching an issue recommend a clear course of action, listen to your gut feeling if you believe there might be another option to consider first.