Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing content on your WordPress site, the following took place … all from your web address:
- Site readers could assess what your post was about,
- Google could easily discover your posts and correctly index their content to improve your search results,
- Each post published on your website would have a unique identifier, making your site easier to manage.
Well, with WordPress permalinks this is really easy to do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
What Is A Permalink?
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to an individual post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that people and search engines will use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to articles on your site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your blog permanent, hence a permalink.
Permalinks – Why Use Them?
As you have probably heard by now, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications you can use 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 improve its SEO aspect.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot ignore the importance of its URLs. Search engines like Google tend to pay special attention to the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks are used to make the links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks also improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s turn our attention to why it’s best to configure your permalinks when 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 …
The link structure shown above is used by WordPress to locate information inside your database. It does not mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot below taken directly from Google search results, many site owners haven’t set up their permalinks …
Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, these site owners are missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get greater SEO benefit from using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, you should configure your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.
WordPress allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your content can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …
To something like this …
In this tutorial, you will learn how to set up your WordPress permalinks to display posts with SEO-friendly URLs instead of the default linking structure and help every new post you publish get better indexing results in search engines like Google.
Changing WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress administration menu, click on 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 search engine friendly URLs instead for our posts. To do this, we will 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 …
(Set up 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 search engines and readers understand what the page is about)
Using Permalink Tags In WordPress
“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 gets published, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2010’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘05’)
- %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘10’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘11’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘24’)
- %second% – The exact second the post gets published (e.g. ‘14’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘6488’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the 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 lower case letters and removed punctuation symbols) 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 the ‘Custom Structure’ setting and using the /%postname%/ tag.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your category and tag pages.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “travel” as your category base would make your category links display 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 something like this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank WordPress uses the default settings.
Remember to save your changes after you are 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 – Additional Information
Use Short, Descriptive Categories
To get the best possible 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, WordPress will use the default category (uncategorized).
According to WordPress SEO expert Joost de Valk, here are a few things to keep in mind if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalink structure:
- 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 reduce the SEO benefit.
- Do you plan to post content under only one category or multiple categories? 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 using category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure that you think will suit your site best. SEO experts recommend making your web address short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide detailed information about WordPress categories in other tutorials.
Make Your Posts Timeless
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you plan to run a news site or you have a special reason to date your content, avoid selecting date-based permalinks when configuring your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your posts)
Although setting up URL structures that date your content may be considered 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 The Permalink Structure In An Established Blog
Normally, your permalinks should be configured when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your website planning process.
If your website or blog is already established or your site already has a lot of content 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 loss of traffic.
Use 301 Redirects
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, some WordPress users (or their web developers) are unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started, 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 configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are showing as being old and you want to delete the date tags in your permalinks.
To edit your permalink structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO or rankings you will need to use ‘301 redirections’ to reassign links that use the previous permalink syntax to destinations using the new structure.
Search engines interpret a ’301′ code as a link that has permanently moved to another destination. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new web page destinations and avoid ‘404’ (Page not found) errors when they click on an old link.
To create an effective permalink syntax change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to set up your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your site or blog 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 any problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up 301 redirections using a WP plugin or get professional assistance)
Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your site’s permalinks to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search results. To learn more about using Permalinks, see the WordPress codex here:
"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum