Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply publish content on your WordPress website or blog, and the following took place … all from your web address:
- Readers could determine what the page is about,
- Google could easily discover your page and correctly classify its content to improve your search results,
- Every content item created on your website would have a unique identifier, making your content easier to manage.
Well, this is what permalinks let you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
What’s A Permalink?
A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to organize 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 an email pointing readers to a specific post on your site. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your site permanent, hence a perma-link.
Permalinks – Why Use Them?
Hopefully, you are probably aware by now that, WordPress is one of the best CMS tools available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are SEO plugins you can use that will help to fine tuned its SEO aspect considerably.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Google tends to pay special attention to the URL structure of a site.
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 turn our attention to why you may need to set up permalinks if publishing content in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a link-naming structure for your posts that isn’t very search engine friendly and looks like this …
WordPress uses the above link structure to locate information within your database. It doesn’t really help your site with on-site search engine optimization.
As you can see from the image below, many WordPress users haven’t set up their sites to publish search optimized content …
Although Google is clearly still indexing the above sites, the owners of these sites are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get optimal SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s rankings, you should configure your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-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 pages can easily go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …
To something like this …
By default, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this tutorial, you will learn how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to help your content rank better in search engines like Google.
Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
From your WordPress dashboard 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 search engine friendly URL instead for our posts. To do this, we will 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 search engine-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 post name permalinks helps readers understand what your content is about)
WordPress Permalink Tags
“Pretty” URLs, or SEO-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year the post is published, four digits (e.g. ‘2013’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘04’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘06’)
- %hour% – The hour your post gets published (e.g. ‘03’)
- %minute% – The minute the post is published (e.g. ‘09’)
- %second% – The exact second the post is published (e.g. ‘17’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘2418’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the post title. For example, if your post title is ”It Ain’t Worth Doin’ No More!”, the postname tag will convert this into “it-aint-worth-doin-no-more” (all letters converted to lower case and removed exclamation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the URL 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 the ‘Custom Structure’ setting.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
If you need to configure custom structures for your category and tag page URLs you can do this in this section.
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/category_name/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from this …
To something like 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 SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, it’s important 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are a few things to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalink structure:
- If your category slug is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), you may want to use categories 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 copy or share and reduce the SEO benefit.
- Do you plan to post content under only one category or multiple categories? 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 category vs no category there really is no perfect permalink structure to use. Choose a permalink structure that you think will suit your needs best. Many SEO experts recommend making your web address short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in another article.
Avoid Setting Up Permalinks That Date Your Content
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website is a news blog or there is a special reason why you need to add dates to your URLs, avoid selecting date-based permalink syntax when setting up your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your posts)
Although using permalinks that time-stamp your content is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO point-of-view, visitors are less likely to click on posts that are several years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
Changing Permalinks In Blog With Indexed Content
Normally, your site’s permalinks should be configured when you create a new WordPress site. This should be part of your website planning process.
If your website has been running for a while or you have a lot of content already indexed in the search engines and you would like to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is really necessary, as changing permalinks after your site has been going for a while could create issues and loss of traffic.
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some website owners (or their web developers) are unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress URL structure and now you want to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website or blog was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is showing as being 2-3 years old and you want to remove the date tags of the URLs.
The best way to edit your URL structure without affecting your site’s SEO in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirections’ to reassign links using the old permalink structure to URLs using the new permalinks syntax.
Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently moved to another destination. 301 redirects are the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid ”page not found” errors when clicking on an old link.
To effectively change your permalink structure and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should install and set up your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your do this using a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or use the services of a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up link redirections using a WP plugin or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts. To learn more about using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex here:
"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)