How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Learn how to set up permalinks in WordPress for improved content navigation and better search engine optimization.

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing a new page on your WordPress website, the following could happen … just from your page URL:

  • Potential visitors could quickly glean what your page is about,
  • Search engines could discover your posts faster,
  • Every single content item on your website or blog would have a unique ID, making your site easier to manage.

Well, with permalinks this is very easy to do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalink – What Is It?

A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to group things together) like archives.

A permalink is the web address that people and search engines will use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to your posts. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.

Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your blog permanent, hence a perma-link.

Why Use Permalinks?

Hopefully, you probably know that, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications you can use when it comes to publishing search optimized content.

WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can install that can further help to fine tuned its SEO aspect.

If you focus on 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 URLs when indexing its pages.

Permalinks can be used to make the links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks also improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.

Now … let’s see the reason why you may need to use permalinks in WordPress.

Normally, a default WordPress installation uses a URL-naming structure for your posts that isn’t search engine friendly and looks like this …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLsThe link structure shown above is used by WordPress to locate information within your database. It doesn’t really mean anything to visitors or search engines, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site SEO.

As the screenshot from Google search listings below shows, many WordPress users haven’t yet configured their sites to use permalinks …

How To Configure WordPress Permalinks

Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, they are potentially missing out on additional SEO benefits.

To get the greatest SEO benefit from using and improve your site’s traffic results, you will want to make sure to configure your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless numbers and symbols.

WordPress allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your pages can go from this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

To something like this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to display posts using search engine-friendly URLs instead of the out-of-the-box URL structure and help every new post you add automatically get better indexing results in search engines.

Setting Up WordPress Permalinks

From your WordPress administration menu, click on Settings > Permalinks

Changing Your WordPress Permalinks

This will bring up the Permalink Settings screen …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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 need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default.

Common 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 search engine-friendly URLs

(Set up 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:

http://www.mytravelsite.com/river-cruises/how-to-save-money-on-cruise-travel

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=4082

Using permalinks helps search engines and readers understand what your page is about

(Using post name permalinks helps readers understand what the content is about)

How To Create Permalink 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 the post gets published, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2018’)
  • %monthnum% – The month your post is published (e.g. ‘10’)
  • %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘10’)
  • %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘08’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘33’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘37’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘5459’)
  • %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the post title. For example, if the post title is ”Ten Best Hotels In Cote D’Azur!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-best-hotels-in-cote-dazur” (all characters converted to lower case and no exclamation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the words in your post titles 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 …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Or, use one of the following structures:

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Practical Tip

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 …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

Choosing ‘Post name’ is the same as adding the /%postname%/ tag in the ‘Custom Structure’ setting.

Optional Permalink Settings

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

Here you can configure custom structures for your category and tag URLs.

You can change the ‘base’ category or tag for your URLs using the following syntax:

  • domain.com/category_base/category_name
  • domain.com/tag_base/tag_name

For example, changing your category base to “travel” would display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/travel/category_name/’.

So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …

How To Set Up WordPress Permalinks

Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …

Changing WordPress Permalinks

To something like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

If you leave the fields blank WordPress uses the default settings.

Remember to save any changes after you have finished …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Set Up Your Categories

To get the best possible SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, remember 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 keep in mind if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:

  • If your domain is short and your category slug is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), 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 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.

Ultimately, when it comes to adding category vs no category there is no perfect permalink structure to use. Use the permalink structure you think will suit your site best. Many SEO experts and webmasters recommend making your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We provide detailed information about WordPress categories in another tutorial.

Avoid Using URL Syntaxes That Date Your Content

Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your site is a news site or you have any special reason to date your site’s content, avoid using date-based permalinks when setting up your URLs.

Avoid using URL structures that date your content

(Avoid setting up URL structures that date your posts)

People are less likely to click on posts that are several years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.

What If My Blog Has Indexed Content?

Normally, your site’s permalinks should be configured when you install a new WordPress site. This should be part of your website planning process.

Important Info

If your website or blog 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 really something that needs doing, as doing so can create issues and errors.

301 Redirects

As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.

Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you want to improve your SEO. 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 outdated and you want to remove the date portion of your permalinks.

To modify your permalink structure without impacting your site’s SEO in a negative way you will need to use ‘301 redirections’ to point all links that use the previous URL syntax to URLs using the new permalink syntax.

Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently moved. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new website destinations and avoid running into ”page not found” errors if clicking on an old link.

To effectively change your syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to add a 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 problems and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WP plugin

(Set up link redirections using a WordPress redirection plugin or use the services of a professional)

Congratulations! Now you know how to configure your blog to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search results. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex here:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

Originally published as How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks.