Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply add content to your WordPress website or blog, and the following would then take place … just from your page address:
- Site visitors could understand what the content is about,
- Search engines would be able to easily discover your pages and correctly classify their content to improve your search rankings,
- Every post 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
Permalinks – What Are They?
A permalink is the permanent URL to an individual post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that others will use to link to posts or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to a specific post on your site. Permalinks are sometimes referred to as “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a perma-link.
Permalinks – Why Use Them?
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 use that will help to finetune its SEO aspect.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you cannot ignore the importance of your URLs. Search engines like Google tend to give special significance to the structure of URLs when indexing pages.
Permalinks can be used to make the 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 may need to set up permalinks in WordPress.
Typically, a default 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 does not mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site search engine optimization.
As you can see from the screenshot below, many WordPress users have not yet set up their permalinks …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, the owners of these sites are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the most SEO benefit from using WordPress and improve your site’s traffic results, 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 lets you create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can easily go from this …
To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …
By default, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. This tutorial explains how to configure your WP permalinks to automatically get better indexing in search engines.
Configuring WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress dashboard section 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 will 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 SEO-friendly URLs …
(Change 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 visitors and search engines understand what the page 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 your post is published, four digits (e.g. ‘2010’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘08’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘18’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘08’)
- %minute% – The minute your post gets published (e.g. ‘58’)
- %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘57’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘9160’)
- %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 symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can edit this 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 …
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’ option.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
This section lets you set up custom structures for your category and tag URLs.
You can change the ‘base’ category or tag URLs using the following structure:
For example, changing your category base to “travel” would display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/travel/uncategorized/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …
To something like this …
If you leave these fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.
Remember to save your changes after you are done …
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 Notes
Use Descriptive Categories
To get the most benefit out of 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 a few 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 and reduce the SEO benefit.
- 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.
Ultimately, when it comes to category vs no category there really is no perfect permalink structure to use. Choose a permalink structure that you think will suit your needs best. Your web addresses should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We cover WordPress categories in other tutorials.
Don’t Use Date Permalinks
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 URLs, avoid using date-based permalink options when setting up your blog’s URLs.
(Avoid using permalinks that date your posts)
Visitors are less likely to click on posts that are a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What If My Blog Already Has Content?
Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your website planning process.
If your website has been running for a while 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 something that absolutely needs doing, as changing permalinks after your site has been going for a while could create issues and errors.
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, many WordPress site owners (or whoever set up their site) seem to be completely 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 optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website or blog was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is showing as being old and you want to delete the date tags of your permalinks.
To change your URL structure without negatively affecting your site’s SEO or rankings you will need to use ‘301 redirects’ to point links that were set up using the old permalink structure to URLs that use the new permalink syntax.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently been moved to another location. 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 following an old link.
To effectively change your syntax and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to install and set up a redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.
You can WordPress site or blog using a 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up 301 redirects using redirection plugins or use the services of a professional)
Congratulations! Now you know how to configure your WordPress site or blog’s permalinks to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation below:
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