Wouldn’t it be great if after adding a new page to your website or blog, the following happened … just from your web address:
- Potential visitors could determine what the post is about,
- Search engines could easily discover your post and correctly index the content to improve your search rankings,
- Each item of content created on your website would have its own unique ID, making your site 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 group things together) like archives.
A permalink is the web address that other people use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to content items on your site. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only well optimized right out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can install that can help to finetune its SEO aspect further.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot ignore the importance of its site’s URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks can be used to make the 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 see the reason why you may need to configure your permalinks in WordPress.
By default, a WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly link-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
WordPress uses the above link with a string query to find information within its database. It doesn’t really mean anything to search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot image below, many WordPress users have not configured their permalinks …
Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, the owners of these sites are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get greater SEO benefit out of using WordPress and improve your site’s traffic results, you should configure your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless numbers and symbols.
WordPress offers the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …
To something like this …
By default, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this tutorial, you will learn how to set up your permalinks in WordPress to automatically help you get better indexing in Google.
How To Change WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress dashboard 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 search engine friendly URL instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.
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 understand what the page is about)
Pretty URL Tags
“Pretty” URLs, 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. ‘2014’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘06’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘04’)
- %hour% – The hour the post gets published (e.g. ‘24’)
- %minute% – The minute your post is published (e.g. ‘50’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘50’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘4876’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if your post title is “Top Five Budget Travel Tips!”, the postname tag will convert this into “top-five-budget-travel-tips” (all lower case characters and exclamation marks deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the URL text 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 ‘Custom Structure’.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
This section lets you set up custom structures for your category and tag archive pages.
This changes the ‘base’ tag or category URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “topics” as your category base would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/topics/uncategorized/’.
So, if you add the following to your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from looking like this …
To something like this …
If you leave these fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.
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 – Tips
To get the maximum 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 keep in mind if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalinks:
- 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 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 we recommend not using the category tag in your permalink structure.
Ultimately, when it comes to adding category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Choose a permalink structure that 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 Time-Specific Permalink Syntax
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you run a news site or there is a special reason why you need to add dates to your URLs, avoid using date-based permalink settings when configuring your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your content)
People are less likely to click on posts that are several years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
Changing The Permalink Structure In Blog With Published Content
Normally, your permalinks should be configured when you create 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 posts 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 issues and loss of traffic.
Add 301 Redirects
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some WordPress users (or their web developers) are completely unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.
Maybe you started out using the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website 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 tags of the permalinks.
To change your permalinks without impacting your site’s SEO or existing rankings in a negative way you will need to add ‘301 redirections’ to reassign links set up using the previous permalink structure to destinations using the new permalink structure.
A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new site destinations and avoid page errors if clicking on an old link.
To effectively change your permalink syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should install and set up a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can WP site using a 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 any problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up URL redirections using redirection plugins or get professional assistance)
Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts. To learn more about using Permalinks, refer to the official WordPress documentation below:
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