Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply publish new content on your website or blog, and the following took place … just from your post URL:
- Readers could quickly tell what the content was about,
- Google would be able to find your posts faster,
- Every content item added to your website would have its own unique identifier, making your content easier to manage.
Well, with permalinks this can easily be done!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
What Are Permalinks?
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to your individual WordPress posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to group 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 URLs to each post on your site permanent, hence a perma-link.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
Hopefully, you probably know by now that, 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 its SEO aspect can be considerably finetuned with 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 structure of your site’s URLs when indexing its pages.
Permalinks can be used to turn links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks also improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s see why you may need to set up permalinks in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly link-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
The above link structure is used by WordPress to find information inside its database. It does not help your website with on-site search engine optimization.
As the screenshot taken directly from Google search results below shows, many site owners have not set up their permalinks to publish search optimized content online …
Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, they are missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get optimal SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s traffic results, you should configure your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless numbers and symbols.
WordPress offers the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your pages can easily go from this …
To something like this …
By default, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. In this tutorial, you will learn how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display your posts with search engine-friendly URLs.
Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress admin click on, Settings > Permalinks …
This will bring 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 one set by default.
Common Permalink Settings
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 post name permalinks helps readers understand what your page is about)
Adding Pretty URL Tags In Custom Structure
“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% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘02’)
- %day% – The day your post gets published (e.g. ‘09’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘06’)
- %minute% – The minute the post gets published (e.g. ‘07’)
- %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘49’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘2333’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if the 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 exclamation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the URL text 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 ‘Custom Structure’ and adding the /%postname%/ tag.
Optional Permalink Settings
If you need to set up custom structures for your category and tag archive pages you can do this in this section.
This changes the ‘base’ tag or category URLs using the following syntax:
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 field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from looking like this …
To something like this …
If you leave the fields blank the defaults will be used.
Remember to save your 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 – Additional Information
Use Descriptive Categories
To get the maximum benefit from using Permalinks, it’s important 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are a few things to consider if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:
- If your domain is short and your category name is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), you may want to use the category tag in 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.
- Do you plan to post content under only one category or multiple categories? If you plan to post content under multiple categories, then we recommend not using the category tag in your permalink structure.
Ultimately, when it comes to adding category vs no category there 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 cover WordPress categories in other tutorials.
Create Timeless Posts
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 choosing date-based permalinks when configuring your blog’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your content)
Although setting up URL structures that time-stamp your posts may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, 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.
What About Blogs With Indexed Posts?
Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you install a new WordPress site. This should be part of your website 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 something that absolutely needs doing, as changing permalinks after your site has been up and running for a while can create SEO issues and loss of traffic.
Use 301 Redirection
As you’ve seen earlier, many WordPress site owners (or whoever set up their site) are completely unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress URL structure and now you would like to improve your SEO. Maybe your site was configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are perceived as being out-of-date and you want to delete the date tags of your permalinks.
To edit your permalinks without impacting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way you should add ‘301 redirections’ to point all links that use the old permalink syntax to destinations using the new permalink syntax.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved elsewhere. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if clicking on an old link.
To effectively change your syntax and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should set up your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your 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 problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up a link redirection system for your changed permalinks using redirection plugins or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know how to configure your blog’s permalinks to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. To learn more about using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex below:
"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)