Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply publish a new page on your WordPress website or blog, and the following took place … just from your URL:
- Potential visitors to your site could easily tell what your page is about,
- Google would find your pages faster,
- Every single item of content published on your website would have its own unique ID, making things easier to manage.
Well, with WordPress permalinks you can!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to an individual WordPress post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the URL that visitors and search engines will 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 website permanent, hence a perma-link.
Permalinks – Why Do We Need To Use Them?
As you have probably heard by now, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems you can use when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but its SEO aspect can be further fine tuned using SEO plugins.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site, then you cannot ignore the importance of its site’s URLs. Google tends to give special consideration to the URL structure of your site.
Permalinks can be used to turn links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s see the reason why it’s best to set up permalinks in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a URL-naming structure for your posts that isn’t search engine friendly and looks like this …
The above link structure is used by WordPress to find information within its database. It doesn’t really mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the image below taken from Google search results, many WordPress users are still using out of the box permalink settings when publishing content …
Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, they are potentially missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get greater 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 search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless numbers and symbols.
WordPress allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your pages can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …
To this …
Out of the box, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial shows you how to set up your permalinks in WordPress to display posts using SEO-friendly URLs.
Changing Your WordPress Permalinks
From your WP dashboard menu, select 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 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 …
(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 visitors and search engines understand what your content is about)
Creating SEO-Friendly Tags
“Pretty” permalinks, or search engine-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. ‘2017’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘07’)
- %day% – The day your post gets published (e.g. ‘24’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘09’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘47’)
- %second% – The exact second the post is published (e.g. ‘05’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘5535’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if your post title is ”Ten Signs That You’re About To Get Fired From Your Job!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-signs-that-youre-about-to-get-fired-from-your-job” (all letters converted to lower case and removed exclamation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the wording 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’ setting.
Optional Permalink Settings
If you need to configure custom structures for your category and tag page URLs here is where you would do this.
You can change the ‘base’ category or tag of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “travel” as your category base will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/travel/category_name/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from this …
To this …
If you leave these fields blank the defaults will be used.
Remember to save your changes when 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 – Additional Notes
Use Descriptive Categories
To get the optimal 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalinks:
- If your domain is short and your category 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 copy and decrease the SEO benefit.
- If you are going to post content under multiple categories, then we recommend not using the category tag in your permalink structure.
Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to adding category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Choose the 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 provide more information about WordPress categories in other articles.
Avoid Using Time-Specific URLs
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your site is a news site or there is a special reason why you need to add dates to your URLs, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink syntax for your URLs.
(Avoid using URL structures that date your content)
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 The Permalink Structure In An Established Blog
Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you perform a new WordPress installation. 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 would like to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is something that absolutely needs doing, as doing so can create issues and errors.
Add 301 Redirection
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, many WordPress users (or their web developers) are completely unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress URL structure 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 showing as being old and you want to remove the date tags of the URLs.
The best way to edit your permalink structure without affecting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirections’ to point links that use the old permalink syntax to links that use the new syntax.
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 users to new website destinations and avoid page errors if they click on an old link.
To effectively change your permalink syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should install and set up a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can site or blog using a redirection plugin 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up link redirections using plugins or get professional assistance)
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, see 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)