Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing content on your WordPress website or blog, the following happened … all from your page address:
- Potential visitors to your site could understand what your page was about,
- Search engines would easily discover your posts and correctly classify their content to improve your search rankings,
- Each piece of content published on your site would have its own unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, with permalinks you can!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – What Are They?
A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual WordPress posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that others use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to content items on your blog. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your blog permanent, hence a perma-link.
Permalinks – Why Use Them?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems available when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but its SEO aspect can be easily enhanced using SEO plugins.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the URL structure of your site.
Permalinks are 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 take a look at the reason why you may need to configure your permalinks when publishing content 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 …
The above link structure is used by WordPress to locate data inside its database. It does not help your website with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot image below taken directly from Google search results, many WordPress users haven’t yet set up their sites to publish search optimized content online …
Although Google is clearly still indexing the above sites, they are potentially missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get maximum SEO benefit out of using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, you will want to make sure to configure 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 …
To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …
In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display posts using SEO-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.
Changing WordPress Permalinks
From your WP admin menu, click on Settings > Permalinks …
This brings 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 a “pretty” permalink instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default.
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)
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 content is about)
“Pretty” permalinks, or search engine-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year the post is published, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2010’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘01’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘22’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘19’)
- %minute% – The minute the post is published (e.g. ‘06’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘29’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘6166’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the post title. For example, if your post title is ”It Ain’t Worth Doin’ No More!”, the postname tag will convert this into “it-aint-worth-doin-no-more” (all lower case characters and no punctuation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can 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 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 adding the /%postname%/ tag in ‘Custom Structure’.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your tag and category pages.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag URLs using the following syntax:
For example, using “recipes” as your category base will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/uncategorized/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from this …
To this …
If you leave these 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 greater SEO benefit from using Permalinks, you will need 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 Joost de Valk, here are some points to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalink structure:
- If your category name is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), 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 or share and decrease 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 it’s recommended that you do not use the category tag in your permalink structure.
Ultimately, when it comes to adding category vs no category there really is no perfect permalink structure to use. Use the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best. Many SEO experts and webmasters recommend making your web addresses short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We cover WordPress categories in another article.
Avoid Using Date-Based Permalinks
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your aim is to run a news blog or you have any special reason to create dated web URLs, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalinks when configuring your URLs.
(Avoid using permalinks that time-stamp your content)
Although setting up permalinks that time-stamp your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, people are less likely to click on a post if it is several years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
What About Blogs With Indexed Content?
Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you first install WordPress. 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 want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is absolutely necessary, as changing permalinks after your site has already been going for a while could create issues and loss of traffic.
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, many WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are completely 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. Perhaps your website was originally set up 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 tags of the permalinks.
The best way to change your permalink structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO or rankings is to use ‘301 redirections’ to reassign links that were set up using the old URL syntax to web addresses using the new permalinks syntax.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has been permanently relocated to another destination. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid running into page errors when clicking on an old link.
To effectively change your syntax and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should install and set up your 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 assist you with setting up and redirecting your permalinks correctly to avoid any problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up link redirections using redirection plugins or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search results. To learn more about using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation below:
"I have used the tutorials to teach all of my clients and it has probably never been so easy for everyone to learn WordPress ... Now I don't need to buy all these very expensive video courses that often don't deliver what they promise." - Stefan Wendt, Internet Marketing Success Group