How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Learn how to set up permalinks in WordPress for improved content navigation and better search engine optimization …

Setting Up WordPress Permalinks

Wouldn’t it be great if you could add a new post to your site, and the following happened … just from your page address:

  • Potential site visitors could tell what your post was about,
  • Google would be able to easily find your posts and correctly index their content to improve your search rankings,
  • Each post on your website would have its own unique ID, making things easier to manage.

Well, with WordPress permalinks this is very easy to do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – Definition

A permalink is the permanent URL to an individual WordPress post, category, or other taxonomy (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 emails pointing readers to posts on your site. Permalinks are also referred to as “pretty” URLs.

Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.

Why Use Permalinks?

Hopefully, by now you probably know that, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications you can use 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 will help to improve its SEO aspect further.

If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you should not ignore the importance of its site’s URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on 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 usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.

Now … let’s review why it’s best to set up permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.

Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a URL structure for your posts that isn’t search engine friendly and looks like this …

Changing WordPress PermalinksWordPress uses the above link with a string query to locate data within your database. It does not mean anything to search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site search engine optimization.

As the screenshot image below shows, many site owners haven’t yet configured their sites to use WordPress permalinks …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Although Google is still indexing the above sites, the owners of these sites are missing out on additional SEO benefits.

To get the greatest SEO benefit from using and improve your site’s traffic results, you should set up your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.

WordPress offers the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To something like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to set up your WordPress permalinks to display posts with SEO-friendly URLs instead of the default URL structure and help every new post you publish on your site or blog get better indexing in Google.

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

In your WordPress admin select, Settings > Permalinks

How To Configure WordPress Permalinks

This brings up the Permalink Settings screen …

Changing Your WordPress Permalinks

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 “pretty” permalink instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.

Common Settings

In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) to create SEO-friendly URLs …

Configure your permalink settings to create SEO-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:

http://www.mytravelsite.com/cruise-travel/cruise-holiday-deals

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=4849

Using permalinks helps visitors understand what your post is about

(Using post name permalinks helps visitors understand what the post is about)

How To Use Permalink Tags In WordPress

“Pretty” permalinks, or SEO-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. ‘2011’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘06’)
  • %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘30’)
  • %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘23’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘06’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘47’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘1864’)
  • %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the post title. For example, if the 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 characters and removed exclamation marks) 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 …

Changing WordPress Permalinks

Or, use one of the following structures:

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

Tip

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 …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

Choosing ‘Post name’ is the same as adding the /%postname%/ tag in ‘Custom Structure’.

Optional Permalink Settings

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

If you need to configure custom permalinks for your category and tag page URLs you can do this in this section.

You can change the ‘base’ category or tag URLs using the following syntax:

  • domain.com/category_base/category_name
  • domain.com/tag_base/tag_name

For example, changing your category base to “travel” 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 …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from this …

How To Configure Your WordPress Permalinks

To this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

If you leave the optional settings fields blank the default settings will be used.

Remember to save any changes when you are done …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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 Short, Descriptive Categories

To get more 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 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 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 and reduce the SEO benefit.
  • Do you plan to post content under only one category or multiple categories? 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 category vs no category there is no perfect permalink structure to use. We recommend choosing the permalink structure you think will suit your site best and that will make your web address short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We cover WordPress categories in another tutorial.

Don’t Use Date Permalinks

Another tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you run a news website or blog or there is a special reason why you need to add dates to your post URLs, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink options for your blog’s URLs.

Avoid using URL structures that date your posts

(Avoid using URL structures that date your posts)

Although setting up permalinks that date your posts may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, visitors are less likely to click on a post that is several years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.

What About Established Sites?

Normally, it’s best to configure your site’s permalinks when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your site planning process.

Important

If your website or blog 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 making changes to permalinks after your site has been running for a while can create SEO issues and errors.

Use 301 Redirects

As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some WordPress users (or whoever set up their site) are unaware of the SEO-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 or blog was configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is perceived as being outdated and you want to delete the date portion of the URLs.

The best way to modify your permalinks without affecting your site’s SEO or existing rankings in a negative way is to use ‘301 redirections’ to reassign all links that were set up using the previous permalinks structure to links that use the new syntax.

A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently relocated to another destination. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid ”page not found” errors when they click on an old link.

To effectively change your permalink structure and avoid SEO problems, 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 WordPress site using a redirection plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or use the services of a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid any problems and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WP redirection plugin

(Set up URL redirections using plugins or use the services of a professional)

Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your site’s permalinks to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the WordPress codex here:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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