Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply add a new page to your WordPress site, and the following took place … just from your page address:
- Site readers could easily gain an understanding of what the content is about,
- Google would be able to discover your posts faster,
- Every post created on your site would have a unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, with permalinks this can easily be done!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
What’s A Permalink?
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 web address that people 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 your posts. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Use Permalinks?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but the SEO aspect can be considerably fine tuned with SEO plugins.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your website, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Google tends to give special significance to the structure of URLs when indexing content.
Permalinks are used to turn links on your site into “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks also improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s see why you may need to set up permalinks in WordPress.
By default, a WordPress installation uses a link-naming structure for your posts that isn’t very search engine friendly and looks like this …
WordPress uses the above link with a string query to locate data inside your database. It does not help your website with on-site SEO.
As the screenshot image from Google search results below shows, many WordPress users have not yet configured their permalinks …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, the owners of these sites are missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get maximum 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 numbers and symbols.
WordPress allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your pages can go from this …
To this …
By default, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to help your content rank better in Google.
How To Change WordPress Permalinks
In 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 search engine friendly URLs instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default one.
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 …
(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 readers understand what the post is about)
Creating Pretty WordPress URLs
“Pretty” permalinks, or search engine-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. ‘2012’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘04’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘03’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘15’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘57’)
- %second% – The exact second your post gets published (e.g. ‘39’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘2744’)
- %postname% – A sanitized version of your post title. For example, if your post title is ”Ten Best Hotels In Cote D’Azur!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-best-hotels-in-cote-dazur” (all characters converted to lower case and no exclamation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the wording in your post title 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 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 adding the /%postname%/ tag in the ‘Custom Structure’ setting.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
Here you can set custom structures for your category and tag pages.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag for your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, using “recipes” as your category base would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/category_name/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from looking like this …
To this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank the defaults will be used.
Remember to save any changes after 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
Use Short, Descriptive Categories
To get the most 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are a few points 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 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 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.
Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to adding category vs no category there really is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure that 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.
Make Your Posts Timeless
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your site is a news blog or you have any special reason to create dated website addresses, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink options for your blog’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that date your content)
Although setting up URL structures that date your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, visitors are less likely to click on posts that are several years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What About An Established Blog?
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.
If your website 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 something that needs doing, as doing so can create issues and errors.
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some website owners (or whoever set up their site) seem to be unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you want to improve your site’s SEO. Maybe your website was originally set up to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your content is showing as being two or three years old and you want to remove the date tags of the permalinks.
The best way to modify your URL structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO or existing rankings is to use ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links set up using the previous permalinks syntax to URLs using the new permalink structure.
Search engines interpret a ’301′ code as a link that has permanently relocated to another address. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if following an old link.
To effectively change your syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to 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 plugins 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up 301 redirects 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, see the official WordPress documentation here:
"This is an awesome training series. I have a pretty good understanding of WordPress already, but this is helping me to move somewhere from intermediate to advanced user!" - Kim Lednum