Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing content on your WordPress site, the following happened … all from your page URL:
- Readers could gain an understanding of what your content is about,
- Search engines could discover your posts faster,
- Each content item published on your site would have its own unique ID, making your content easier to manage.
Well, this is what permalinks let you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
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 other people 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 site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your website permanent, hence a perma-link.
Permalinks – Why Use Them?
As you have probably heard by now, WordPress is one of the best CMS tools available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only well optimized right out of the box, but there are SEO plugins you can install that can help to improve its SEO aspect.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you cannot ignore the importance of your URLs. Google tends to give special significance to the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks are used to make the links on your site into “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s turn our attention to the reason why you may need to set up permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.
Normally, a default WordPress installation uses a URL-naming structure for your posts that isn’t search engine friendly and looks like this …
WordPress uses the link with a string query shown above to find data within its database. It doesn’t really help your site with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot image below, many WordPress site owners are still using out of the box settings when publishing content …
Although these sites are still getting their content indexed on search engines, these site owners are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get maximum 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 offers you the ability to 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 …
In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to display posts with search engine-friendly URLs instead of the default linking structure and help every new post you add automatically get better indexing results in search engines like Google.
Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress dashboard click on, Settings > Permalinks …
This brings 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 one set by default.
Permalinks - Common Settings
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 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 visitors and search engines understand what your content is about)
Adding Search Engine-Friendly Tags In Custom Structure
“Pretty” permalinks, or SEO-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year of the post, four digits (e.g. ‘2018’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘10’)
- %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘05’)
- %hour% – The hour the post is published (e.g. ‘03’)
- %minute% – The minute the post gets published (e.g. ‘29’)
- %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘56’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘7941’)
- %postname% – A sanitized version of your post title. For example, if the post title is “Top Five Budget Travel Tips!”, the postname tag will convert this into “top-five-budget-travel-tips” (all letters converted to lower case and exclamation symbol deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can edit this wording 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 correctly formatted 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 using the /%postname%/ tag.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
In this section, you can enter custom structures for your category and tag archive pages.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag for your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, using “news” as your category base would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/news/uncategorized/’.
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 these fields blank the default settings 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 – Tips
Set Up Categories
To get greater SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, remember 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 points to keep in mind if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalink structure:
- 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 copy and decrease 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.
Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to category vs no category there really is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure you think will suit your site best. Your web addresses should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide detailed information about WordPress categories in another tutorial.
Avoid Using URL Structures That Date Your Posts
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your site is a news blog or there is a special reason why you need to create dated post addresses, avoid choosing date-based permalink syntax when configuring your site’s URLs.
(Avoid using URL structures that time-stamp your posts)
Although using URL structures that date your posts may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, people are less likely to click on a post that is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
Changing Your Permalink Structure In Blog With Published Posts
Normally, your permalinks should be configured when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your website is already established or your site already has a lot of posts indexed in the search engines and you would like to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is absolutely necessary, as doing so could create issues and errors.
Use 301 Redirection
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, some WordPress users (or whoever set up their site) seem to be unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe you started out using the default WordPress URL structure and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your site 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 of your URLs.
The best way to modify your URL structure without impacting your site’s SEO in a negative way is to use ‘301 redirects’ to reassign all links using the old permalinks syntax to destinations using the new structure.
Search engines interpret a ’301′ code as a link that has permanently moved elsewhere. 301 redirects are the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if they click on an old link.
To create an effective syntax change and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to 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 WP redirection plugins like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up URL redirections using a WordPress plugin or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your WordPress site or blog to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. To learn more about using Permalinks, see the WordPress codex below:
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