Wouldn’t it be great if after adding content to your WordPress website or blog, the following happened … all from your URL:
- Potential site visitors could easily tell what your content is about,
- Search engines would be able to discover your pages faster,
- Every single post created on your site would have a unique ID, making things easier to manage.
Well, with WordPress permalinks this is really easy to do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to your individual posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to organize things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that other people use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to your posts. Permalinks are sometimes referred to as “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a perma-link.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems you can use when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are SEO plugins you can use that will help to enhance its SEO aspect considerably.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your website, then you should not ignore the importance of its site’s URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks are used to make the 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 turn our attention to the reason why it’s best to set up permalinks if publishing content in WordPress.
Normally, 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 locate information inside its database. It doesn’t really help your website with on-site search engine optimization.
As the screenshot image below shows, many site owners are still using out of the box permalink settings when publishing content online …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, they are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the best SEO benefit from using WordPress and improve your site’s traffic results, you should 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 and archived posts, so your pages can go from this …
To this …
Out of the box, WordPress URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to help your content rank better in search engines like Google.
Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress admin 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 need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default one.
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 permalinks helps search engines and readers understand what your post is about)
Creating SEO-Friendly Tags
“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, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2010’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘03’)
- %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘03’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘11’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘18’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘05’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘9008’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if your post title is ”Ten Signs That You’re About To Get Fired From Your Job!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-signs-that-youre-about-to-get-fired-from-your-job” (all letters converted to lower case and removed punctuation marks) 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 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 selecting ‘Custom Structure’ and adding the /%postname%/ tag.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your tag and category pages.
You can change the ‘base’ tag or category of your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, changing your category base to “topics” would display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/topics/uncategorized/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from looking like this …
To this …
If you leave these fields blank WordPress uses the default settings.
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 – Additional Notes
Use Descriptive Categories
To get the optimal benefit out of using Permalinks, remember 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 things to consider if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:
- If your category slug 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 copy and reduce the SEO benefit.
- If you plan to post content under multiple categories, then we recommend not using the category tag in your permalink structure.
Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to adding category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use the permalink structure you think will suit your site best. Your post URLs should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in another tutorial.
Avoid Time-Stamping URLs
Another tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your aim is to run a news website 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 for your URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your posts)
Visitors are less likely to click on posts that are a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
What If My Site Has Published Posts?
Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you create a new WordPress site. 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 would like 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 can create SEO 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 completely unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe you started out using the default WordPress URL structure and now you would like to improve your SEO. Perhaps your website or blog was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your content is showing as being 2-3 years old and you want to remove the date tags in the permalinks.
The best way to edit your URL structure without negatively affecting your site’s SEO or rankings is to use ‘301 redirects’ to point links set up using the previous permalinks structure to page URLs using the new permalinks syntax.
A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid running into page errors when clicking on an old link.
To effectively change your syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should install and set up a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your site or blog using a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up URL redirections using plugins or use the services of a professional)
Congratulations! Now you know how to change your WordPress site or blog 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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