Wouldn’t it be great if after adding content to your website, the following happened … just from your web address:
- Readers could gain an understanding of what the content was about,
- Search engines would be able to find your pages faster,
- Every single piece of content added to 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
A permalink is the permanent URL to an individual WordPress post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to organize things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that others will use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to a particular item of content on your site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your blog permanent, hence a perma-link.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
Hopefully, by now you are probably aware 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 its SEO aspect can be considerably finetuned with excellent SEO plugins.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot 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 make the links on your site into “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks also improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s turn our attention to why it’s best to configure your permalinks in WordPress.
By default, a 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 find information within its database. It doesn’t really help your site with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot below taken from Google search listings, many WordPress site owners haven’t set up their permalinks …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, many site owners are missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get greater SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s rankings, you will want to make sure to set up your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless numbers and symbols.
WordPress lets you create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your content can go from this …
To this …
Out of the box, WordPress post URLs are not very SEO-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial explains how to set up your permalinks in WordPress to display your posts with SEO-friendly URLs.
How To Change Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress dashboard area click on, Settings > Permalinks …
This brings 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 a “pretty” permalink 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 …
(Configure 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 post name permalinks helps visitors and search engines understand what the content is about)
Adding SEO-Friendly Tags In Custom Structure
“Pretty” URLs, or search engine-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year the post gets published, four digits (e.g. ‘2016’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘09’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘15’)
- %hour% – The hour your post gets published (e.g. ‘04’)
- %minute% – The minute the post is published (e.g. ‘31’)
- %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘33’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘2390’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if your 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 lower case characters and exclamation symbols deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit this wording 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 choosing the ‘Custom Structure’ setting and adding the /%postname%/ tag.
Optional Permalink Settings
This section lets you set up custom structures for your tag and category pages.
You can change the ‘base’ category or tag for your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, using “topics” as your category base will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/topics/uncategorized/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …
To this …
If you leave the fields blank the default settings will be used.
Remember to save your changes when done …
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 Descriptive Categories
To get the best possible SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, remember 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 points to keep in mind if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:
- If your category name is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), 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 share or copy and decrease the SEO benefit.
- If you are going to post content under multiple categories, then it’s recommended that you do not use the category tag in your permalink structure.
Ultimately, when it comes to using category vs no category there really is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best. Your web addresses should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide detailed information about WordPress categories in other articles.
Avoid Time-Stamping Permalink Syntax
Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your goal is to run a news website or blog or you have any special reason to create dated web URLs, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalink settings when configuring your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your content)
Although setting up URL structures that time-stamp your content is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, people are less likely to click on a post that is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What If My Site Has Published Content?
Normally, your site’s permalinks should be configured when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your website planning process.
If your website or blog 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 really something that needs doing, as doing so can create issues and loss of traffic.
Use 301 Redirects
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, many WordPress site owners (or their web developers) seem to be unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe you started out using the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Perhaps your site was originally set up to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your posts are showing as being old and you want to remove the date tags of your URLs.
To modify your URL structure without impacting your site’s SEO or existing rankings in a negative way you will need to add ‘301 redirections’ to point links that were set up using the previous permalinks structure to web addresses using the new permalink syntax.
A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved to another location. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors when clicking on an old link.
To create an effective syntax change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to configure a redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.
You can site or blog using WP plugins like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up URL redirections using redirection plugins or use the services of a professional)
Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your permalinks to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. To learn more about using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex below:
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