Wouldn’t it be great if after adding a new page to your WordPress website or blog, the following could take place … all from your page URL:
- Site readers could glean what your post is about,
- Google could find your pages faster,
- Every single post on your website would have its own unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, with permalinks this can easily be done!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual WordPress posts, categories and other taxonomies (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 an email pointing readers to content items on your site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Use Permalinks?
As you are probably aware, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only well optimized right out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can use that can help to improve its SEO aspect considerably.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site, then you should not ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Google tends to give special significance to the URL structure of your site.
Permalinks can be used to turn links on your site into memorable and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks can also improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s see the reason why it’s best to set up 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 …
WordPress uses the above link structure with a string query to find data within its database. It does not help your site with on-site search engine optimization.
As the screenshot below shows, many WordPress users have not yet configured their permalinks …
Although these sites are still getting their content indexed on search engines, many site owners are missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get the best SEO benefit from using and improve your site’s traffic results, you should 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 offers you the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can easily go from this …
To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …
Out of the box, WordPress post URLs are not very SEO-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial explains how to configure your WP permalinks to display your posts with SEO-friendly URLs.
Configuring WordPress Permalinks
From your WordPress administration 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 search engine friendly URLs instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default.
In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) to create search engine-friendly URLs …
(Change 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 search engines and readers understand what your page is about)
Search Engine-Friendly Tags
“Pretty” permalinks, or SEO-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year your post is published, four digits (e.g. ‘2010’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘11’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘18’)
- %hour% – The hour the post gets published (e.g. ‘13’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘04’)
- %second% – The exact second the post gets published (e.g. ‘21’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘5459’)
- %postname% – A sanitized version of the post title. For example, if your post title is “Top Five Budget Travel Tips!”, the postname tag will convert this into “top-five-budget-travel-tips” (all lower case characters and removed exclamation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the URL text in the post slug field on the Add/Edit Post/Page screens.
- %category% – A sanitized 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 selecting ‘Custom Structure’ and adding the /%postname%/ tag.
Optional Permalink Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your category and tag archive pages.
You can change the ‘base’ category or tag for your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, changing your category base to “recipes” would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/category_name/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …
To something like this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.
Remember to save any changes when 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 – Additional Information
Set Up Categories
To get greater benefit out of using Permalinks, you will need 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are a few points to consider 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 add categories 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 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 category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. We recommend choosing the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best and that will make your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in other articles.
Don’t Use Date Permalinks
Another great 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 web addresses, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalink syntax for your URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that date 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 posts that are several years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
What If My Blog Already Has Lots Of Content?
Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your site has been running for a while 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 could create issues and loss of traffic.
Use 301 Redirects
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some WordPress site owners (or whoever set up their site) 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 website was configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are perceived as being out-of-date and you want to remove the date portion in your URLs.
The best way to edit your permalinks without negatively affecting your site’s SEO is to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links using the previous URL structure to links using the new structure.
Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently moved. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new web page destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if following an old link.
To effectively change your syntax and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should install and 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 a 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 use the services of a professional)
Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your WordPress site or blog permalinks to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search results. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the WordPress codex here:
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