Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing a new post on your site, the following happened … all from your page URL:
- Potential site visitors could quickly determine what the page is about,
- Search engines would be able to find your pages faster,
- Every post you create on your website or blog would have its own unique identifier, making your content easier to manage.
Well, this is what permalinks let you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to an individual post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to organize things together) like archives.
A permalink is the URL that others use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to articles on your site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
As you are probably aware, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems available when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can install that can help to improve its SEO aspect further.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site, then you should not ignore the importance of its 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 “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s see why you should set up permalinks in WordPress.
By default, a WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
The link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find information inside its database. It doesn’t really mean anything to visitors or search engines, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site SEO.
As the screenshot from Google search listings below shows, many site owners have not set up their sites to use permalinks …
Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, many site owners are potentially missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get the maximum SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s rankings, you will want to make sure to set up your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.
WordPress lets you create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your content can go from this …
To something like this …
In this tutorial, you will learn how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display your posts using search engine-friendly URLs instead of the out-of-the-box linking structure and help every new post you publish on your site automatically get better indexing in search engines like Google.
Changing WordPress Permalinks
In your WP admin menu, 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 a search engine friendly URL instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.
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 …
(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:
Instead of this …
(Using post name permalinks helps readers understand what the page is about)
“Pretty” URLs, 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. ‘2010’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘11’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘27’)
- %hour% – The hour your post is published (e.g. ‘22’)
- %minute% – The minute your post is published (e.g. ‘54’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘46’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘5068’)
- %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 letters converted to lower case and removed punctuation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the wording 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 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 selecting ‘Custom Structure’ and using the /%postname%/ tag.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your category and tag archive page URLs.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “travel” as your category base would display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/travel/uncategorized/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from looking like this …
To this …
If you leave these fields blank the default settings will be used.
Remember to save your changes when 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 the best SEO benefit from 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are a few points to consider 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 share or copy 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.
Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to using category vs no category there really is no ideal permalink structure to use. We recommend choosing the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best and that will make your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in other tutorials.
Make Your Content Timeless
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website provides news or time-specific information, or you have any special reason to add dates to your post URLs, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalink options when setting up your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your posts)
Although using URL structures that time-stamp your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, people are less likely to click on a post that is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What If My Site Already Has Published Posts?
Normally, it’s best to configure your permalinks when you perform a new WordPress installation. 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 want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is really something that needs to be done, as making changes to permalinks after your site has been running for a while could create issues and errors.
As you’ve seen earlier, many site owners (or their web developers) are unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to improve your SEO. Maybe your website or blog was configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is showing as being old and you want to remove the date tags of the URLs.
To change your URL structure without affecting your site’s SEO or existing rankings in a negative way you will need to add ‘301 redirects’ to point all links that use the previous URL syntax to web addresses that use the new permalink structure.
Search engines interpret a ’301′ code as a link that has permanently moved elsewhere. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new web page destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if they click on an old link.
To effectively change your permalink structure and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should set up your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.
You can site or blog using WordPress redirection plugins like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to assist you with setting up and redirecting your permalinks correctly to avoid problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up a 301 redirection system for your changed URLs using a WP redirection plugin or get professional assistance)
Congratulations! Now you know how to configure your site to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation here:
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