Wouldn’t it be great if after adding a new post to your WordPress site, the following took place … all from your page address:
- Potential visitors could easily tell what the page is about,
- Search engines could easily discover your pages and correctly index their content for better search rankings,
- Each piece of content added to your website would have a unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, this is what permalinks let you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to organize things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that visitors and search engines use to link to posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to your posts. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your site permanent, hence a permalink.
Permalinks – Why Use Them?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but its SEO aspect can be further improved using SEO plugins.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you cannot ignore the importance of its URLs. Google tends to give special significance to the URL structure of your site.
Permalinks are used to turn links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks can also improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s review the reason why it’s best to use permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a link-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 information inside its database. It doesn’t really mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site SEO.
As the screenshot image taken directly from Google search listings below shows, many WordPress users are still using out of the box settings when publishing their content …
Although these sites are still getting their content indexed on search engines, these site owners are missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get the most SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s rankings, you should set up 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 posts, so your pages can easily go from this …
To this …
By default, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to set up your permalinks in WordPress to display posts with search engine-friendly URLs.
Changing Your WordPress Permalinks
Log into your WordPress administration section and select 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 “pretty” permalink 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 …
(Set up 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 post name permalinks helps readers and search engines understand what the post is about)
Search Engine-Friendly Tags
“Pretty” permalinks, or search engine-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year the post gets published, four digits (e.g. ‘2016’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘03’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘15’)
- %hour% – The hour the post is published (e.g. ‘17’)
- %minute% – The minute your post gets published (e.g. ‘05’)
- %second% – The exact second the post gets published (e.g. ‘32’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘1735’)
- %postname% – A sanitized version of the post title. For example, if your post title is ”The Five Don’ts Of DIY Home Repair!”, the postname tag will convert this into “the-five-donts-of-diy-home-repair” (all lower case characters and removed punctuation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the URL wording 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’ option and adding the /%postname%/ tag.
Optional Permalink Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your tag and category URLs.
This changes the ‘base’ tag or category of your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, changing your category base to “topics” will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/topics/category_name/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from this …
To something like this …
If you leave these fields blank the defaults will be used.
Remember to save any 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 most SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, it’s important 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 Joost de Valk, here are some things to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalink structure:
- 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 share or copy and decrease 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 adding category vs no category there really is no perfect permalink structure to use. Use the permalink structure that you think will suit your needs best. Many SEO experts recommend making your web address short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We cover WordPress categories in another tutorial.
Make Your Posts Timeless
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you run a news website or blog or there is a special reason why you need to create dated post addresses, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink settings for your site’s URLs.
(Avoid using permalinks that date your posts)
People are less likely to click on a post if it is several years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What About Sites With Indexed Content?
Normally, your site’s permalinks should be set up when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your site 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 absolutely something that needs to be done, as doing so could create issues and errors.
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, many WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website or blog was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your content is perceived as being outdated and you want to remove the date portion of your URLs.
The best way to edit your permalink structure without affecting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign all links that use the previous URL syntax to web URLs using the new permalink structure.
A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently relocated to another destination. 301 redirects are the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid ”page not found” errors if they click on an old link.
To effectively change your permalink structure and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you will need to set up your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your do this using WordPress redirection plugins 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 URL redirections using plugins or get professional assistance)
Congratulations! Now you know how to set up your site to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the official WordPress documentation here:
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