Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing a new post on your WordPress website or blog, the following could happen … just from your post address:
- Readers could glean what the content is about,
- Search engines would be able to easily find your post and correctly classify your content to improve your search results,
- Each item of content you create on your website would have a unique ID, making things easier to manage.
Well, this is what a permalink lets you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalink – What Is It?
A permalink is the permanent URL to an individual WordPress post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to organize things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that people and search engines will use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to articles on your site. Some people also refer to permalinks as “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
As you have probably heard by now, WordPress is one of the best CMS tools available when it comes to publishing search engines 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 are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your website, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the structure of URLs when indexing its content.
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 take a look at why it’s best to set up permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.
By default, a WordPress installation uses a URL-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 find data inside your database. It does not mean anything to visitors or search engines, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site SEO.
As the screenshot below shows, many site owners are still using out-of-the-box settings when publishing their content …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, they are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the most SEO benefit out of using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, 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 offers you the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your pages can go from this …
To something like this …
In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display your posts with SEO-friendly URLs instead of the default URL structure and help every new post you publish on your site or blog get better indexing results in Google.
How To Configure Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress 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 search engine friendly URL instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default one.
Common Permalink 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 search engine-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 visitors understand what the content is about)
Creating Pretty URL Tags In Custom Structure
“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. ‘2012’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘03’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘03’)
- %hour% – The hour the post gets published (e.g. ‘19’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘17’)
- %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘29’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘7965’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the post title. For example, if the 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 lower case characters and exclamation marks deleted) 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 selecting the ‘Custom Structure’ setting and adding the /%postname%/ tag.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
If you need to configure custom permalinks for your category and tag archive page URLs here is where you would do this.
You can change the ‘base’ category or tag of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, changing your category base to “recipes” would display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/category_name/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from looking like this …
To something like this …
If you leave these fields blank the default settings will be used.
Remember to save any changes when 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 Info
Use Descriptive Categories
To get greater benefit out of 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 expert and author of the WordPress SEO plugin 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 use categories 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 copy 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 category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. We recommend choosing the permalink structure you think will suit your site 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 articles.
Avoid Using Time-Specific URLs
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website provides news, or there is a special reason why you need to date your content, it’s best to avoid choosing date-based permalink options when configuring your blog’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your posts)
Although using URL structures that time-stamp your posts may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, 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 Lots Of 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 is already established or your site already has many posts 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 making changes to permalinks after your site has been up and running for a while can create issues and errors.
As you’ve seen earlier, some site owners (or their web developers) seem to be unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs 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 posts are perceived as being out-of-date and you want to remove the date tags of the URLs.
The best way to change your URL structure without affecting your site’s SEO in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links using the previous permalinks syntax to URLs that use the new syntax.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently been relocated. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new web page destinations and avoid page errors if clicking on an old link.
To create an effective permalink syntax change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to configure your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your site or blog using a WP redirection plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or use the services of a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up a redirection system for your changed URLs using a WordPress plugin or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your WordPress site or blog to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex here:
"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)