Wouldn’t it be great if you could just publish a new post on your WordPress website or blog, and the following would then happen … all from your post address:
- Potential visitors could glean what your content is about,
- Google would discover your pages faster,
- Every single piece of content you create on your site would have its own unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, with WordPress permalinks you can easily do this!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – What Are They?
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 posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to a specific item of content on your site. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Use Permalinks?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but the SEO aspect can be easily enhanced with excellent SEO plugins.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Search engines like Google tend to give special significance to the structure of URLs when indexing its content.
Permalinks are used to turn links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks are also used to improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s take a look at the reason why you may need to configure your permalinks in WordPress.
By default, a WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
The above link structure is used by WordPress to locate information within its database. It does not mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.
As the screenshot below shows, many WordPress site owners haven’t yet set up their sites to use WordPress permalinks …
Although these sites are still getting their content indexed on search engines, the owners of these sites are missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get the best possible SEO benefit from using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, you will want to make sure to configure your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.
WordPress lets you create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your pages can easily go from something that is non-SEO friendly like 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 your posts using SEO-friendly URLs instead of the default URL structure and help every new post you add automatically get better indexing in search engines like Google.
Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WP main menu, select Settings > Permalinks …
This brings 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.
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 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 permalinks helps readers and search engines understand what your page is about)
Pretty Permalink 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, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2014’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘03’)
- %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘26’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘02’)
- %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘13’)
- %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘13’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘7680’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if the post title is ”It Ain’t Worth Doin’ No More!”, the postname tag will convert this into “it-aint-worth-doin-no-more” (all letters converted to lower case and no exclamation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the words in your post title 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 …
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’.
Optional Permalink Settings
If you need to configure custom permalinks for your tag and category archive page URLs you can do this in this section.
You can change the ‘base’ tag or category of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, changing your category base to “recipes” would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/uncategorized/’.
So, if you enter the following in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will go from this …
To this …
If you leave these fields blank the default settings will be used.
Remember to save any changes when 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 Notes
Use Short, Descriptive Categories
To get the most SEO 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 Joost de Valk, here are a few points 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 slug 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 share and reduce the SEO benefit.
- If you plan to post content under multiple categories, then we recommend not using the category tag in your permalink structure.
Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to adding category vs no category there is no perfect permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure you think will suit your needs best. Your web address should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide more information about WordPress categories in other articles.
Create Timeless Posts
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website is a news blog or there is a special reason why you need to add dates to your post URLs, it’s best to avoid choosing date-based permalink options when configuring your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that date your content)
Although using URL structures that date your posts may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, visitors are less likely to click on posts that are several years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What If My Site Already Has Lots Of Content?
Normally, it’s best to set up your permalinks when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your website planning process.
If your website 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 absolutely something that needs doing, as doing so can create issues and loss of traffic.
As you’ve seen in earlier screenshots, some site owners (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 would like to improve your site’s SEO. Maybe your website was configured to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are perceived as being outdated and you want to delete the date portion of the permalinks.
To change your permalink structure without impacting your site’s SEO in a negative way you will need to use ‘301 redirections’ to reassign all links that use the old URL structure to URLs using the new structure.
Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently moved to another location. 301 redirects are the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) 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 should install and set up your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can WordPress 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up 301 redirects using a WP plugin or get professional help)
Congratulations! Now you know how to change your blog’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:
"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now