Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing new content on your WordPress website, the following happened … all from your page URL:
- Site readers could quickly assess what your content was about,
- Google would easily find your posts and correctly classify their content for better search results,
- Every content item on your website would have its own unique identifier, making your content easier to manage.
Well, with WordPress permalinks you can!
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 group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that other people use to link to posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to content items on your blog. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your site permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
As you are probably aware, WordPress is one of the best CMS tools available when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are SEO plugins you can use that can easily help to finetune its SEO aspect.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Search engines like Google tend to pay special attention to the structure of URLs when indexing its content.
Permalinks are used to make the links on your site into memorable and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s take a look at why you may need to configure your permalinks in WordPress.
By default, a WordPress installation uses a link-naming structure for your posts that isn’t search engine friendly and looks like this …
WordPress uses the above link structure with a string query to locate information within your database. It does not mean anything to search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site SEO.
As the screenshot below shows, many WordPress users haven’t yet set up their permalinks …
Although these sites are still getting their content indexed on search engines, many site owners are missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the best SEO benefit out of using WordPress 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 characters.
WordPress gives you the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can easily go from this …
To this …
By default, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. In this tutorial, you will learn how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to help your content get better indexing in search engines like Google.
How To Change WordPress Permalinks
From your WordPress admin menu, click on Settings > Permalinks …
This will bring 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 default.
Permalinks - Common Settings
In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) to create SEO-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 permalinks helps search engines and visitors understand what your content is about)
Using 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 gets published, four digits (e.g. ‘2015’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘06’)
- %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘29’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘21’)
- %minute% – The minute the post gets published (e.g. ‘38’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘15’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘3939’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted 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 letters and no exclamation 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 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’ option.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
Here you can configure custom structures for your tag and category page URLs.
You can change the ‘base’ tag or category of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, changing your category base to “news” will make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/news/category_name/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …
To something like this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank the default settings will be used.
Remember to save any 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 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, adding a category tag to your permalink forces WordPress to use the default category (uncategorized).
According to WordPress SEO expert and author of the WordPress SEO plugin Joost de Valk, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure 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 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 and decrease the SEO benefit.
- If you plan 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 category vs no category there really 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 site’s web addresses 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 tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your aim is to run a news blog or you have a special reason to add dates to your URLs, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink syntax when setting up your blog’s URLs.
(Avoid using URL structures that date your posts)
People are less likely to click on posts that are a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
Changing Permalinks In Blog With Published Content
Normally, your site’s permalinks should be configured when you install a new WordPress site. This should be part of your site 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 would like to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is really necessary, as changing permalinks after your site has already been running for a while could create SEO issues and errors.
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some WordPress site owners (or whoever set up their site) are unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website or blog 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 delete the date portion in your permalinks.
To modify your permalinks without negatively affecting your site’s SEO or existing rankings you should use ‘301 redirections’ to reassign all links that were set up using the previous URL syntax to web URLs using the new structure.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new website destinations and avoid ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if clicking on an old link.
To effectively change your syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should set up a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can WP site or blog using redirection plugins like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or use the services of a professional to assist you with setting up and redirecting your permalinks correctly to avoid any issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up 301 redirections using plugins or use the services of a professional)
Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex below:
"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group