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 you could simply add new content to your site, and the following took place … all from your page URL:

  • Potential visitors to your site could tell what your post is about,
  • Google would be able to easily discover your pages and correctly index their content to improve your search results,
  • Every single post created on your website or blog would have a unique identifier, making your site easier to manage.

Well, this is what WordPress permalinks let you do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – Definition

Permalinks are the permanent URLs to your individual posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to group things together) like archives.

A permalink is the web address that others use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to a particular item of content on your blog. Some people refer to permalinks as “pretty” URLs.

Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your blog permanent, hence a permalink.

Why Use Permalinks?

As you have probably heard by now, WordPress is one of the best CMS tools available when it comes to publishing search engines optimized content.

WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but the SEO aspect can be further finetuned using SEO plugins.

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your website, then you should not ignore the importance of its URLs. Google places considerable weight on the URL structure of your site.

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 take a look at the reason why you should set up permalinks in WordPress.

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

Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLsThe above link structure is used by WordPress to find data inside its database. It does not help your site with on-site search engine optimization.

As the screenshot from Google search results below shows, many site owners are still using out-of-the-box permalink settings when publishing content …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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

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

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

How To Change Your WordPress Permalinks

To something like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Out of the box, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure your permalinks in WordPress to display your posts with search engine-friendly URLs.

Changing Your WordPress Permalinks

From your WP administration menu, click on Settings > Permalinks

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

This will bring up the Permalink Settings screen …

Configuring Your WordPress 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 search engine friendly URLs instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default.

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

(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:

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

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=181

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

(Using post name permalinks helps visitors understand what your content is about)

Adding 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 the post is published, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2013’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘01’)
  • %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘10’)
  • %hour% – The hour the post is published (e.g. ‘21’)
  • %minute% – The minute the post is published (e.g. ‘06’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘43’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘418’)
  • %postname% – A sanitized version of your post title. For example, if your post title is ”Ten Signs That You’re About To Get Fired From Your Job!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-signs-that-youre-about-to-get-fired-from-your-job” (all letters converted to lower case and no punctuation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the URL wording 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 …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Or, use one of the following structures:

How To Set Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Useful 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 …

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

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

Optional Permalink Settings

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

You can change the ‘base’ tag or category of your URLs using the following structure:

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

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

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

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

To something like this …

Changing Your WordPress Permalinks

If you leave these fields blank the default settings will be used.

Remember to save any changes when 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 – Additional Info

Set Up Categories

To get the best possible 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 and author of the WordPress SEO plugin 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 slug is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), you may want to use the category tag 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 or share and reduce the SEO benefit.
  • Do you plan to post content under only one category or multiple categories? If you are going 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 using category vs no category there is no ”better” permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure you think will suit your needs best. Many SEO experts and webmasters recommend making your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We cover WordPress categories in other tutorials.

Create Timeless Posts

Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website is a news site or you have any special reason to date your site’s content, avoid selecting date-based permalink syntax for your URLs.

Avoid using URL structures that date your posts

(Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your posts)

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

What About Sites With Indexed Posts?

Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your website planning process.

Important Info

If your site is already established or you have a lot of content already indexed in the search engines and you would like 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.

Use 301 Redirection

As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some WordPress users (or whoever set up their site) seem to be unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.

Maybe you started out using the default WordPress URL structure and now you want to improve your site’s SEO. Maybe your site was originally set up to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your content is showing as being two or three years old and you want to remove the date portion of your URLs.

To edit your permalink structure without negatively affecting your site’s SEO or rankings you should use ‘301 redirections’ to point links that use the previous URL syntax to URLs that use the new structure.

A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved to another location. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid ”page not found” errors when following an old link.

To effectively change your syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you will need to set up your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.

You can site or blog using a WordPress redirection 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WordPress plugin

(Set up 301 redirects using a WP plugin or use the services of a professional)

Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display search engine-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex here:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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"I was absolutely amazed at the scope and breadth of these tutorials! The most in-depth training I have ever received on any subject!" - Myke O'Neill, DailyGreenPost.com

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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.