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.

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

Wouldn’t it be great if you could add new content to your site, and the following would then happen … all from your web address:

  • Readers could quickly gain an understanding of what the content was about,
  • Google would be able to easily discover your pages and correctly classify their content for better search rankings,
  • Every content item published on your site would have a unique identifier, making things easier to manage.

Well, this is what a WordPress permalink lets you do!

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 URL 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 posts on your site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.

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

Permalinks – Why Do You Need To Use Them?

As you are probably aware, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications you can use when it comes to publishing search engines optimized content.

WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but its SEO aspect can be easily improved with excellent SEO plugins.

If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you should not ignore the importance of its URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the structure of your site’s URLs when indexing site pages.

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

Now … let’s see why you may need to use permalinks if publishing content in WordPress.

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEOWordPress uses the link structure with a string query shown above to locate 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 the screenshot taken directly from Google search listings below shows, many WordPress users haven’t yet configured their permalinks …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Although these sites are still getting their content indexed on search engines, the owners of these sites are missing out on additional SEO benefits.

To get the most SEO benefit from using and improve your site’s traffic results, you should 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 lets you create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can easily go from this …

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

Out of the box, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this tutorial, you will learn how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to get better indexing in search engines.

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

Log into your WP dashboard and click on Settings > Permalinks

Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

This brings you to the Permalink Settings screen …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

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 one set by default.

Permalinks > Common Settings

In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) to create search engine-friendly URLs …

Change your permalink settings 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:

http://www.mytravelsite.com/cruise-travel/seven-top-european-cruise-destinations

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=8856

Using permalinks helps search engines and visitors understand what your post is about

(Using permalinks helps search engines and readers understand what the content is about)

How To Create Pretty WordPress URLs

“Pretty” permalinks, 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. ‘2010’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘12’)
  • %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘01’)
  • %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘13’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘08’)
  • %second% – The exact second your post gets published (e.g. ‘32’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘2551’)
  • %postname% – A sanitized version of your post title. For example, if your post title is ”Ten Best Hotels In Cote D’Azur!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-best-hotels-in-cote-dazur” (all letters converted to lower case and no punctuation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the URL text in the post slug field on the Add/Edit Post/Page screens.
  • %category% – A correctly formatted 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 …

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

Or, use one of the following structures:

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

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 …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Permalinks – Optional Settings

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

If you need to set up custom structures for your tag and category page URLs you can do this in this section.

This changes the ‘base’ category or tag for 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 will make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/news/category_name/’.

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

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from looking like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To something like this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Remember to save any changes when you are done …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Permalinks – Additional Notes

Use Short, Descriptive Categories

To get the most benefit from 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 things to keep in mind if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalink structure:

  • If your domain is short and your category name is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), you may want to add categories 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 share 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 category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Choose a permalink structure that you think will suit your needs best. Your web addresses should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We cover WordPress categories in other tutorials.

Avoid Date-Based Permalinks

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

Avoid using permalinks that date your posts

(Avoid using permalinks that time-stamp your posts)

Although using URL structures that date your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, people are less likely to click on a post if it is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.

What If My Site Has Lots Of Content?

Normally, it’s best to set up your permalinks when you install a new WordPress site. This should be part of your website planning process.

Useful Information

If your site has been running for a while or your site already has many posts indexed in the search engines and you want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is really something that needs to be done, as changing permalinks after your site has already been going for a while could create issues and loss of traffic.

Add 301 Redirects

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

Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress URL structure and now you want to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website or blog was configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are showing as being old and you want to delete the date portion of your permalinks.

The best way to modify your permalink structure without affecting your site’s SEO in a negative way is to use ‘301 redirections’ to point all links that were set up using the old permalink syntax to web addresses that use the new permalink structure.

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

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

You can site using a WP redirection plugin 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.

WordPress redirection plugin Simple 301 Redirects

(Set up a 301 redirection system for your changed URLs using 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 and improve your search search rankings. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation below:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and has authored hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for beginners. WPCompendium.org provides detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress with no coding skills required and grow your business online at minimal cost!

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