Wouldn’t it be great if after adding content to your WordPress website or blog, the following happened … all from your post address:
- Site readers could easily understand what your content was about,
- Google could easily find your pages and correctly classify their content for better search results,
- Every single piece of content on your site would have a unique ID, making things easier to manage.
Well, with permalinks this is very easy to do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
What Are Permalinks?
A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual WordPress posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the URL that others use to link to posts or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing readers to a specific post on your website. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your blog permanent, hence a perma-link.
Why Use Permalinks?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications you can use when it comes to publishing search engines 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 improve its SEO aspect considerably.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the structure of URLs when indexing site pages.
Permalinks can be used to turn links on your site into “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks also improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s review why you may need to use permalinks if publishing content in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
The link structure shown above is used by WordPress to locate information inside its database. It doesn’t really mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site search engine optimization.
As the screenshot below shows, many site owners are still using out-of-the-box permalink settings when publishing their content online …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, they are missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get maximum SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s traffic results, you will want to make sure to configure your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.
WordPress offers you the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your pages can go from this …
To something like this …
In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to display posts using SEO-friendly URLs instead of the out-of-the-box URL structure and help every new post you add to your site automatically get better indexing in search engines like Google.
Setting Up WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress main menu, select Settings > Permalinks …
This brings you to 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 a “pretty” permalink instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.
In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) to create SEO-friendly URLs …
(Configure your permalink settings to create search engine-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 readers and search engines understand what your post is about)
How To Create Pretty WordPress URLs
“Pretty” URLs, or SEO-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year the post gets published, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2012’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘09’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘03’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘16’)
- %minute% – The minute your post is published (e.g. ‘51’)
- %second% – The exact second the post is published (e.g. ‘59’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘2401’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if the post title is ”The Five Don’ts Of DIY Home Repair!”, the postname tag will convert this into “the-five-donts-of-diy-home-repair” (all characters converted to lower case and removed punctuation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the words in your post titles 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 correctly formatted 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 choosing ‘Custom Structure’ and adding the /%postname%/ tag.
Optional Permalink Settings
In this section, you can enter custom structures for your tag and category archive page URLs.
You can change the ‘base’ tag or category URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “topics” as your category base would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/topics/uncategorized/’.
So, if you add the following to your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from looking like this …
To this …
If you leave these fields blank the defaults will be used.
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
To get the best possible SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, you will need to set up your WordPress Categories correctly. If you do not have any categories set up, adding a category tag to your permalink forces WordPress to use the default category (uncategorized).
According to WordPress SEO expert Joost de Valk, here are some things to keep in mind if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:
- If your category is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), you may want to use the category tag in 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 share or copy and reduce the SEO benefit.
- If you plan 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 perfect permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure you think will suit your needs best. Your post URLs should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We cover WordPress categories in another tutorial.
Make Your Posts Timeless
Another tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your site is a news blog or there is a special reason why you need to add dates to your post URLs, avoid selecting date-based permalink options when setting up your URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that date your posts)
Although using permalinks that time-stamp your content is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, people are less likely to click on posts that are a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
Changing The Permalink Structure In Site With Published Content
Normally, it’s best to configure your site’s permalinks when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your website is already established or you have a lot of content already indexed in the search engines and you want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is something that absolutely needs doing, as doing so can create issues and loss of traffic.
Add 301 Redirection
As you’ve seen earlier, some WordPress users (or whoever set up their site) are completely unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe you started out using the default WordPress permalinks and now you want to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your site was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is showing as being old and you want to delete the date tags in the URLs.
The best way to change your URL structure without negatively affecting your site’s SEO or rankings is to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links that were set up using the old permalink syntax to destinations that use the new permalinks structure.
Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently relocated to another address. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new site destinations and avoid running into ”page not found” errors if clicking on an old link.
To effectively change your permalink structure and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should set up a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your do this using WP redirection plugins like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid any problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up link redirections using plugins or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your WordPress site to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search results. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation below:
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