Wouldn’t it be great if after adding a new post to your website, the following happened … just from your post URL:
- Visitors could easily determine what the post was about,
- Search engines could easily find your page and correctly index your content to improve your search results,
- Each post on your website or blog would have its own unique identifier, making your site easier to manage.
Well, this is what a WordPress permalink lets you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalink – What Is It?
Permalinks are the permanent URLs to your individual WordPress posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that other people will use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to posts on your site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.
Permalinks – Why Do I Need To Use Them?
Hopefully, you are probably aware by now that, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications you can use when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only well optimized right out of the box, but the SEO aspect can be considerably fine tuned with excellent SEO plugins.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you cannot ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Google tends to pay special attention to the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks are used to make the 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 take a look at the reason why it’s best to configure your permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.
Normally, a default WordPress installation uses a link-naming structure for your posts that isn’t search engine friendly and looks like this …
WordPress uses the link structure with a string query shown above to find data inside its database. It doesn’t really mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot image below, many WordPress users are still using out of the box settings when publishing content …
Although these sites are still getting their content indexed on search engines, many site owners are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the most SEO benefit out of using and improve your site’s traffic results, 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 allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your content can go from this …
To this …
In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display posts using search engine-friendly URLs instead of the default URL structure and help every new post you add automatically get better indexing in search engines like Google.
Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress admin 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 search engine-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 search engines and readers understand what your page is about)
Creating SEO-Friendly Tags In WordPress
“Pretty” permalinks, or SEO-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. ‘2015’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘01’)
- %day% – The day the post is published (e.g. ‘30’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘20’)
- %minute% – The minute your post is published (e.g. ‘13’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘28’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘8491’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if the post title is “Top Five Budget Travel Tips!”, the postname tag will convert this into “top-five-budget-travel-tips” (all letters converted to lower case and punctuation symbols removed) in the URL. Tip: You can always 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 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’ setting.
Optional Permalink Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your tag and category archive page URLs.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag URLs using the following syntax:
For example, using “topics” as your category base will make your category links display 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 change from this …
To something like this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank WordPress uses the default settings.
Remember to save your changes after 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 Short, Descriptive Categories
To get more 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, 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 name 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 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 it’s recommended that you do not use the category tag in your permalink structure.
Ultimately, when it comes to category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure you think will suit your site best. Many SEO experts recommend making your web addresses short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in another tutorial.
Avoid Using Date-Based Permalinks
Another tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your site provides news or time-specific information, or you have a special reason to date your site’s content, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalinks when setting up your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your posts)
People are less likely to click on a post that is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
Changing Permalinks In Site With Published Posts
Normally, it’s best to configure your permalinks when you install a new WordPress site. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your website is already established or your site already has a lot of content indexed in the search engines and you want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is something that absolutely needs doing, as doing so can create SEO issues and loss of traffic.
Add 301 Redirects
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some site owners (or their web developers) are completely unaware of the search-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. Maybe your website was originally set up to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your content is showing as being old and you want to delete the date portion in the URLs.
To modify your permalink structure without impacting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way you will need to add ‘301 redirections’ to point all links that use the previous permalink syntax to URLs using the new syntax.
Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently moved. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid running into page errors when they click on an old link.
To create an effective permalink syntax change and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to set up a redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.
You can WP site or blog using a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to assist you with setting up and redirecting your permalinks correctly to avoid any problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up 301 redirects using redirection plugins or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts. To learn more about using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation below:
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