Wouldn’t it be great if you could publish a new page on your website or blog, and the following took place … all from your URL:
- New visitors could gain an understanding of what the page is about,
- Google could easily find your post and correctly index your content to improve your search rankings,
- Each content item published on your website or blog would have a unique ID, making your content easier to manage.
Well, this is what a WordPress permalink lets you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
What Are Permalinks?
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to an individual WordPress post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to organize things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that visitors and search engines will use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to content items on your site. Permalinks are often referred to as “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a permalink.
Permalinks – Why Do We Need To Use Them?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can use that will help to fine tuned its SEO aspect considerably.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Google tends to pay special attention to the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks can be used to turn links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks can also improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s review why you may need to use permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.
By default, a WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL structure for your posts that looks like this …
The link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find data inside your database. It doesn’t really mean anything to search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.
As the screenshot from Google search results below shows, many site owners haven’t set up their sites to publish search optimized content …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, these site owners are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the most 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 characters.
WordPress allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your content can go from this …
To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …
By default, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial shows you how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display your posts using search engine-friendly URLs.
Changing WordPress Permalinks
Log into your WordPress admin and select 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 “pretty” permalinks instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.
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 search engines and readers understand what your page is about)
Adding SEO-Friendly Tags In WordPress
“Pretty” URLs, 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. ‘2013’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘10’)
- %day% – The day your post gets published (e.g. ‘09’)
- %hour% – The hour your post gets published (e.g. ‘23’)
- %minute% – The minute the post gets published (e.g. ‘06’)
- %second% – The exact second the post gets published (e.g. ‘35’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘2245’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if the 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 punctuation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the words in your post titles 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’ option and using the /%postname%/ tag.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
In this section, you can set custom structures for your category and tag pages.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag URLs using the following structure:
For example, changing your category base to “topics” will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/topics/category_name/’.
So, if you add the following to your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …
To something like this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.
Remember to save any 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
To get more benefit from 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 category 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 and decrease the SEO benefit.
- If you are going 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 category vs no category there really is no ”better” permalink structure to use. We recommend choosing the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best and that will make your site’s web addresses short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in another article.
Make Your Content Timeless
Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website is a news site or there is a special reason why you need to add dates to your post URLs, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalink options when setting up your URLs.
(Avoid using permalinks that date your posts)
Visitors are less likely to click on a post that is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
Changing Permalinks In Site With Published Content
Normally, it’s best to set up your site’s permalinks when you install a new WordPress site. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your site is already established 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 really something that needs doing, as doing so can create issues and errors.
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, many website owners (or whoever set up their site) seem to be unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to improve your site’s SEO. Maybe your site was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are showing as being two or three years old and you want to remove the date tags of your permalinks.
The best way to edit your permalinks without impacting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirects’ to point all links set up using the previous permalinks syntax to web addresses that use the new permalink structure.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently relocated to another destination. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new site destinations and avoid ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if they click on an old link.
To create an effective permalink structure change and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to set up your 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 problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up 301 redirects using redirection 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. To learn more about using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex below:
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