Wouldn’t it be great if after adding a new post to your site, the following could take place … just from your page address:
- Potential site visitors could easily gain an understanding of what your page was about,
- Search engines could find your posts faster,
- Each content item published on your site would have a unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, with permalinks you can!
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 others will use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing readers to your posts. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your website permanent, hence a perma-link.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
As you are probably aware, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but there are SEO plugins you can use that can help to improve its SEO aspect further.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot ignore the importance of its URLs. Google places considerable weight on the structure of URLs when indexing its content.
Permalinks are used to turn links on your site into “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s review the reason why you may need to configure your permalinks in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL structure for your posts that looks like this …
The above link structure is used by WordPress to locate information inside its database. It doesn’t really help your website with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot below taken directly from Google search results, many site owners haven’t yet set up their sites to use WordPress permalinks …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, they are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the greatest SEO benefit out of using 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 posts, so your pages can easily go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …
To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …
Out of the box, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial explains how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to help you get better indexing results in Google.
How To Change WordPress Permalinks
From your WP administration menu, click on Settings > Permalinks …
This will bring 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 “pretty” permalinks instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default one.
Common Settings – Permalinks
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 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 visitors understand what the page is about)
Search Engine-Friendly Tags
“Pretty” permalinks, 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. ‘2015’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘07’)
- %day% – The day the post is published (e.g. ‘12’)
- %hour% – The hour your post is published (e.g. ‘17’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘04’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘24’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘1792’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your 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 letters converted to lower case and no punctuation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the URL 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 correctly formatted 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
If you need to configure custom structures for your tag and category archive pages you can do this in this section.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag for your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, changing your category base to “travel” will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/travel/category_name/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …
To this …
If you leave the 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 – Additional Info
To get more SEO 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 expert and author of the WordPress SEO plugin Joost de Valk, here are some points 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 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 share or copy and reduce 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 it’s recommended that you do not use 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 really is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use the permalink structure that you think will suit your site best. Many SEO experts recommend making your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in other articles.
Create Timeless Posts
Another tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website provides news or time-specific information, or you have any special reason to date your content, avoid using date-based permalink settings when configuring your site’s URLs.
(Avoid using permalinks that date your content)
Although setting up permalinks that time-stamp your content may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, people are less likely to click on a post that is 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 Indexed Content?
Normally, it’s best to set up your site’s permalinks when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your website or blog 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 already been going for a while could create SEO issues and loss of traffic.
Use 301 Redirection
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, many WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are completely unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe you started out using the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to improve your site’s SEO. Maybe your website was configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is showing as being two or three years old and you want to delete the date portion of your URLs.
To modify your permalink structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO you will need to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign all links using the old permalinks syntax to destinations using the new syntax.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved to another destination. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new site destinations and avoid running into page errors when they click on an old link.
To create an effective syntax change and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you will need to configure a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can site or blog 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 any issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up URL redirections using a WP plugin or get professional assistance)
Congratulations! Now you know how to configure your WordPress site or blog to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts. To learn more about using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation 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)