I may be a bit slow off the mark here, as WordPress post formats have been around since version 3.1 was released back in February, and even long before that using alternative methods, but I never got round to investigating them until recently.
What I found was that I didn’t really understand what they were, what they were for, and whether they were worth using, so I figure that some of our readers may be in the same boat and so I wanted to write a simple explanation of my understanding of post formats.
If you’re familiar with WordPress, you’ll know what a post is, basically an article on a website, with a title, some content, possibly one or more categories or tags, and sometimes a post thumbnail image.
This works great for articles like this one, where you have a topic you want to write about, and you want your visitors to see the article on your blog page and click through to the post to read the full article.
But what if you want to post something that doesn’t really warrant a full post? Say, a link to an external site that you want your readers to know about, but you don’t want to write a whole article about it. Or an inspirational quote that you want people to see in your blog, but you don’t want to say anything else about it. Or a Facebook or Twitter style status update.
That’s where post formats come in handy. You can give your post one of nine predefined formats, and this will allow it to be displayed differently to a standard post.
For example, if you just want to link to another site, you can give your post the ‘link’ format, and have it link to that site straight from the blog page, bypassing the post altogether.
For a great example of this, see Digging into WordPress. If you scroll down the home page, you’ll see that among the standard posts are several ‘link’ format posts, which you’ll notice by the chain background image. If you click the titles of these posts, rather than taking you to the post itself, you are taken directly to the external site.
Note that these posts still exist as single posts, and still appear in your rss feed, you’re just modifying the appearance of the posts to create a simpler user experience.
There are nine post formats you can choose from:
This gives you a great deal of control over how your content is displayed on your site. You could set up your theme so that ‘quote’ posts appear in your blog page amongst your standard posts, in a nice blockquote style, but do not link to the post itself. ‘Video’ and ‘Audio’ posts could be given their own unique styles too. You can choose to enable as many or as few of the post formats as you need.
Hang on. Hasn’t this always been possible?
In a way, yes. WordPress users have been styling different types of posts in different ways for years, but it has always been done using categories. For example you could put a post in the ‘Links’ category and then assign different styles to any posts in that category.
That’s fine, and that method will still work, but the reason post formats are a more desirable solution is that they provide a standardised list of regularly used formats. This is so that theme designers will be able to design themes that support all available post formats, whereas if you were to define your own formats using categories, chances are no other theme would support them.
Nothing I’ve read about WordPress post formats suggests that there are any disadvantages to using them, but as I read more about them, I started wondering about the SEO implications.
There are two areas where there may be potential SEO drawbacks to using post formats.
The first is having posts with very little content in them. Each ‘link’, ‘quote’ or ‘status’ post is still a post in the database, with its own URL and its own page on the web. If your site is littered with these very short posts, it could be a disadvantage in terms of keyword density, as you would have a lot of pages on your site which don’t appear to be ‘about’ very much.
The second area is the possibility of having pages on your site which are not reachable by the search engines. If you omit the permalink to your ‘quote’ or ‘status’ posts, then there may be no way to reach those posts without typing in the URL directly. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines state that “Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.” so again this could have a detrimental effect on your site’s SEO.
The linking issue could be avoided by giving posts a relevant category in addition to a format, so that all ‘link’ posts would also belong to the Links category.
Any thoughts or insights into the SEO implications of post formats would be very welcome, as well as any inventive uses of post formats that you’ve come across.
For details of how to implement post formats in your WordPress theme, see the codex entry, and the external resources listed at the bottom of that page.