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 …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing a new post on your WordPress website or blog, the following took place … just from your post address:

  • Potential visitors to your site could understand what your page was about,
  • Google would easily discover your post and correctly index the content to improve your search results,
  • Each item of content you create on your website or blog would have its own unique ID, making your site easier to manage.

Well, this is what a permalink lets you do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – Definition

Permalinks are the permanent URLs to an individual post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to organize things together) like archives.

A permalink is the web address that visitors and search engines will use to link to articles or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to your posts. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.

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

Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?

Hopefully, you probably know by now that, WordPress is one of the best CMS tools available when it comes to publishing search optimized content.

WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but the SEO aspect can be easily 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 URLs. Google places considerable weight on the structure of your site’s URLs when indexing its site pages.

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

Now … let’s see the reason why you should use permalinks if publishing content in WordPress.

Normally, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLsThe link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find information within its database. It does not mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site search engine optimization.

As you can see from the image below, many site owners have not yet set up their sites to use permalinks …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

Although Google is clearly still indexing the above sites, these site owners are missing out on extra SEO benefits.

To get greater SEO benefit out of using WordPress 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 numbers and symbols.

WordPress allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your content can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display posts using SEO-friendly URLs instead of the default URL structure and help every new post you add to your site or blog automatically get better indexing in Google.

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Log into your WordPress admin and click on Settings > Permalinks

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

This brings up the Permalink Settings screen …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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 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 …

Change your permalink settings to create search engine-friendly URLs

(Change 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:

http://www.mytravelsite.com/travel-tips/romantic-cruise-holiday-deals

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=686

Using permalinks helps visitors and search engines understand what the content is about

(Using permalinks helps visitors and search engines understand what your content is about)

Pretty URL Tags

“Pretty” URLs, 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. ‘2016’)
  • %monthnum% – The month your post is published (e.g. ‘05’)
  • %day% – The day your post gets published (e.g. ‘21’)
  • %hour% – The hour the post gets published (e.g. ‘19’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘17’)
  • %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘32’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘8582’)
  • %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the 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 lower case characters and exclamation symbols deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can edit this 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 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 …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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 …

Changing Your WordPress Permalinks

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

Permalinks – Optional Settings

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

If you need to configure custom permalinks for your category and tag archive pages you can do this in this section.

This changes the ‘base’ tag or category URLs using the following syntax:

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

For example, using “news” as your category base will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/news/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 …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

To this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Remember to save your changes after you are done …

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 – Tips

Use Descriptive Categories

To get the optimal benefit from 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 Joost de Valk, here are some things to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalinks:

  • If your domain is short and your category name is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), 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 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 using category vs no category there is no perfect permalink structure to use. Choose a permalink structure you think will suit your site best. Your post URLs should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We provide more information about WordPress categories in other tutorials.

Don’t Use Date Permalinks

Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you run a news website or blog or you have any special reason to date your site’s content, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink options when setting up your site’s URLs.

Avoid using permalinks that date your content

(Avoid setting up URL structures that date your posts)

People are less likely to click on a post if it is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.

Changing Permalinks In Site With Indexed Posts

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

Disclaimer

If your site is already established 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 doing so can create SEO issues and loss of traffic.

Add 301 Redirects

As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, some WordPress site owners (or their web developers) seem to be completely unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.

Maybe when you started, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you want to optimize your site better for search engines. Perhaps your website was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your posts are showing as being 2-3 years old and you want to delete the date tags in the permalinks.

The best way to change your permalinks without affecting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links that were set up using the old URL syntax to post URLs using the new structure.

Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently relocated to another destination. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new website destinations and avoid page errors if they click on an old link.

To effectively change your permalink structure and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to add your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.

You can add a link redirection system to your site or blog using a WP 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WordPress plugin

(Set up 301 redirects using plugins or get professional assistance)

Congratulations! Now you know how to change your site’s permalinks to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search results. To learn more about using Permalinks, see the WordPress codex here:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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