Wouldn’t it be great if after adding content to your WordPress website, the following took place … all from your post URL:
- Visitors could determine what your page is about,
- Search engines would be able to find your posts faster,
- Every single content item published on your website would have a unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, this is what WordPress permalinks let you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to your individual posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to organize things together) like archives.
A permalink is the URL that people and search engines use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to content items on your blog. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your blog permanent, hence a perma-link.
Permalinks – Why Do We Need To Use Them?
Hopefully, you are probably aware by now that, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications you can use when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only well optimized right out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can use that will help to finetune its SEO aspect.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site, then you cannot ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Search engines like Google tend to give special significance to the structure of URLs when indexing its site pages.
Permalinks can be used to make the links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s review the reason why you may need to configure your permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL structure for your posts that looks like this …
The link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find information inside its database. It does not mean anything to either search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site search engine optimization.
As the screenshot below shows, many WordPress users are still using out-of-the-box permalink settings when publishing content online …
Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, they are potentially missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get the most SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s rankings, you will want to make sure to configure your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.
WordPress lets you create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can go from this …
To something like this …
Out of the box, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial explains how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display posts with SEO-friendly URLs.
Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress main menu, click on Settings > Permalinks …
This will bring up the Permalink Settings screen …
As mentioned earlier, by default WordPress web URLs use characters like question marks and numbers to create unique Post Ids and URLs. We want to create “pretty” permalinks instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.
Common Permalink Settings
In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) to create SEO-friendly URLs …
(Set up your permalink settings to create SEO-friendly URLs)
If you use the custom permalink structure shown in the example above, your URL would look something like this:
Instead of this …
(Using permalinks helps search engines and readers understand what your page is about)
Search Engine-Friendly Tags
“Pretty” URLs, or search engine-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year of the post, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2012’)
- %monthnum% – The month your post gets published (e.g. ‘01’)
- %day% – The day the post is published (e.g. ‘25’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘23’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘35’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘10’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘9006’)
- %postname% – A sanitized version of the post title. For example, if the post title is ”Ten Signs That You’re About To Get Fired From Your Job!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-signs-that-youre-about-to-get-fired-from-your-job” (all letters converted to lower case and removed punctuation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can edit this text in the post slug field on the Add/Edit Post/Page screens.
- %category% – A correctly formatted version of the category name. Nested sub-categories appear as nested directories in the URI (Uniform Resource Identifier – the string of characters used in the URL). Tip: You can edit this text in the category slug field in the New/Edit Category screens.
- %author% – A sanitized version of the author name.
Note: When using multiple tags, separate each tag using a ‘/’ (forward slash), or hyphen.
For a quick setup, choose the Custom Structure option, and enter the code below into the ‘Custom Structure’ field …
Or, use one of the following structures:
Tip: If you want search engine friendly URLs for your posts, but don’t want to use a custom permalink structure using tags, then choose Common Settings > Post name instead …
Choosing ‘Post name’ is the same as adding the /%postname%/ tag in ‘Custom Structure’.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
Here you can configure custom structures for your category and tag archive pages.
This changes the ‘base’ tag or category of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “news” as your category base will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/news/uncategorized/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from looking like this …
To this …
If you leave these fields blank WordPress uses the default settings.
Remember to save your changes after you have finished …
Permalinks – Useful Tips
Sometimes, when you are creating a new post and haven’t given the content a post title yet, the WordPress Autosave feature will save your draft with an assigned numerical permalink (see the example URL in the screenshot below) …
To fix this and give the post its proper permalink, go to ‘Edit Post’ …
Click on the ‘Edit’ button in the post slug section …
Select all content in the post slug field and delete it …
Click ‘OK’ …
The post slug entry will be replaced with the correct permalink based on your post title …
Here is a quick recap of the process …
Remember to update your post to save the changes …
Your permalink should now reflect the new post title …
Note also that when you change the URL of a published post, you should also create a redirect link …
If you change your post title at a later date (e.g. you think of a more compelling post title or use a headline generator tool to help you come up with some killer post titles), remember to fix the permalink to match the new post title and add a redirection to the new post URL …
Make sure that your permalinks match the titles of your posts and pages to help site visitors find what they are looking for and ensure that search engines will better index your content …
Permalinks – Tips
Use Short, Descriptive Categories
To get more benefit from using Permalinks, it’s important to set up your WordPress Categories correctly. If you do not have any categories set up, WordPress will use the default category (uncategorized).
According to WordPress SEO expert and author of the WordPress SEO plugin Joost de Valk, here are some things to keep in mind if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalinks or not:
- If your domain is short and your category name is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), you may want to add the category tag to your permalink.
- If your post slug (the part of your URL that identifies your post) is too long, it can make your post URL harder to copy or share and decrease the SEO benefit.
- If you are going to post content under multiple categories, then we recommend not using the category tag in your permalink structure.
Ultimately, when it comes to adding category vs no category there really is no ideal permalink structure to use. We recommend choosing the permalink structure you think will suit your site best and that will make your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide detailed information about WordPress categories in other articles.
Avoid Setting Up Permalink Syntaxes That Date Your Content
Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website is a news site or there is a special reason why you need to create dated website URLs, it’s best to avoid choosing date-based permalink options for your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that date your posts)
People are less likely to click on a post that is several years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What If My Site Has Lots Of Indexed Content?
Normally, your site’s permalinks should be set up when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your website planning process.
If your website or blog has been running for a while or your site already has many posts indexed in the search engines and you want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is really something that needs to be done, as making changes to permalinks after your site has already been going for a while can create issues and errors.
Use 301 Redirection
As you’ve seen earlier, many WordPress site owners (or their web developers) seem to be completely unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you want to optimize your site better for search engines. Perhaps your site was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your posts are showing as being 2-3 years old and you want to delete the date tags in the permalinks.
To modify your permalink structure without affecting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way you should use ‘301 redirects’ to reassign all links using the previous permalinks syntax to post URLs using the new permalinks structure.
Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently relocated to another destination. 301 redirects are the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid running into page errors if following an old link.
To create an effective permalink syntax change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you will need to set up a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can site using a WordPress plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to assist you with setting up and redirecting your permalinks correctly to avoid problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up link redirections using redirection plugins or get professional assistance)
Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex here:
"This is an awesome training series. I have a pretty good understanding of WordPress already, but this is helping me to move somewhere from intermediate to advanced user!" - Kim Lednum