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 …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

Wouldn’t it be great if you could publish content on your website, and the following happened … just from your post address:

  • Visitors could easily assess what your content was about,
  • Search engines could discover your posts faster,
  • Each content item on your website or blog would have its own unique identifier, making your content easier to manage.

Well, with WordPress permalinks you can!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – Definition

A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual WordPress posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to organize things together) like archives.

A permalink is the web address that people and search engines will use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to content items on your website. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.

Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a permalink.

Why Use Permalinks?

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 the SEO aspect can be considerably enhanced with excellent SEO plugins.

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you cannot ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Google places considerable weight on the URL structure of a site.

Permalinks can be used to turn links on your site into “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.

Now … let’s review the reason why you should use permalinks in WordPress.

By default, a WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL structure for your posts that looks like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEOThe link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find data within your database. It doesn’t really help your website with on-site SEO.

As you can see from the image below, many site owners haven’t configured their permalinks to publish search optimized content …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Although Google is still indexing the above sites, these site owners are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.

To get the best possible SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s rankings, 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 easily go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

In this tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to display your posts using SEO-friendly URLs instead of the default linking structure and help every new post you publish get better indexing results in search engines.

How To Change Your WordPress Permalinks

In your WordPress main menu, click on Settings > Permalinks

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

This brings up the Permalink Settings screen …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

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 need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default.

Common Settings

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

Change your permalink settings to create SEO-friendly URLs

(Set up your permalink settings to create SEO-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/europe-travel/3-favorite-european-cruise-destinations

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=9008

Using post name permalinks helps search engines and readers understand what the post is about

(Using permalinks helps search engines and visitors understand what your post is about)

How To Create Permalink Tags

“Pretty” URLs, or search engine-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:

  • %year% – The year your post is published, four digits (e.g. ‘2014’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘08’)
  • %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘17’)
  • %hour% – The hour your post gets published (e.g. ‘17’)
  • %minute% – The minute the post gets published (e.g. ‘10’)
  • %second% – The exact second the post gets published (e.g. ‘51’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘2537’)
  • %postname% – A correctly formatted 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 removed punctuation mark) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the URL text 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 …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Or, use one of the following structures:

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Practical 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 …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Permalinks – Optional Settings

Changing WordPress Permalinks

This section lets you configure custom structures for your category and tag URLs.

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

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

For example, using “recipes” as your category base would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/uncategorized/’.

So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

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

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

To this …

Changing WordPress Permalinks

If you leave the fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.

Remember to save any changes when finished …

Changing Your WordPress 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 Information

Categories

To get greater 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 expert Joost de Valk, here are some points to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalinks:

  • If your domain is short and your category slug is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), 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 share or 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 perfect permalink structure to use. Use the 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 cover WordPress categories in another tutorial.

Avoid Time-Specific Permalink Syntax

Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you run a news website or you have a special reason to date your content, avoid selecting date-based permalink options when setting up your URLs.

Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your content

(Avoid setting up permalinks that date your content)

Although using permalinks that time-stamp your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, people are less likely to click on posts that are a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.

Changing Your Permalink Structure In An Established Site

Normally, your site’s permalinks should be set up when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your website planning process.

Warning

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 changing permalinks after your site has already been up and running for a while can create SEO issues and loss of traffic.

301 Redirects

As you’ve seen earlier, some site owners (or whoever set up their site) seem to be unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.

Maybe you started out using 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 URLs and now all of your content is showing as being two or three years old and you want to remove the date portion of your URLs.

To modify your permalinks without negatively impacting your site’s SEO or rankings you should use ‘301 redirects’ to reassign all links using the previous URL structure to web URLs using the new structure.

A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved elsewhere. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid page errors when clicking on an old link.

To create an effective syntax change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should add your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.

You can WordPress site or blog using a redirection plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid issues and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WordPress redirection plugin

(Set up 301 redirections using redirection plugins or use the services of a professional)

Congratulations! Now you know how to change your WordPress site or blog’s permalinks to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex below:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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