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.

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing content on your website, the following could take place … all from your page address:

  • Site visitors could easily tell what your page was about,
  • Search engines would easily discover your posts and correctly classify their content for better search rankings,
  • Each content item published on your site would have its own unique identifier, making your site easier to manage.

Well, this is what permalinks let you do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalink – What Is It?

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

A permalink is the URL that others will use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to a specific item of content on your website. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.

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

Permalinks – Why Use Them?

As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best CMS tools you can use when it comes to publishing search optimized content.

WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can use that can easily help to enhance its SEO aspect.

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site, then you cannot ignore the importance of its site’s URLs. Google tends to give special significance to the structure of URLs when indexing content.

Permalinks can be used to make the 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 see the reason why you may need to configure your permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEOWordPress uses the above link structure to find data 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 taken from Google search results, many WordPress site owners have not yet configured their sites to use permalinks …

Setting Up WordPress Permalinks

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

To get the most SEO benefit from using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, 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 characters.

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

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

To something like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

By default, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. In this tutorial, you will learn how to set up your permalinks in WordPress to get better indexing results in search engines like Google.

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

From your WP administration menu, click on Settings > Permalinks

Changing WordPress Permalinks

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 “pretty” permalink 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 …

Configure your permalink settings to create search engine-friendly URLs

(Configure your permalink settings to create SEO-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/how-to-save-money-on-cruise-travel

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=610

Using permalinks helps readers and search engines understand what your content is about

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

Creating SEO-Friendly Tags In Custom Structure

“Pretty” permalinks, or SEO-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. ‘2013’)
  • %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘04’)
  • %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘17’)
  • %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘20’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘13’)
  • %second% – The exact second the post gets published (e.g. ‘23’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘1458’)
  • %postname% – A sanitized version of your post title. For example, if the post title is ”The Five Don’ts Of DIY Home Repair!”, the postname tag will convert this into “the-five-donts-of-diy-home-repair” (all lower case letters and punctuation marks removed) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the wording in your post titles 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 …

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

Or, use one of the following structures:

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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 …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Permalinks – Optional Settings

Setting Up WordPress Permalinks

In this section, you can set up custom structures for your tag and category page URLs.

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

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

For example, changing your category base to “topics” would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/topics/category_name/’.

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

How To Configure Your WordPress Permalinks

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

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

To something like this …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

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

Remember to save any 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 – Additional Information

Use Short, Descriptive Categories

To get the optimal SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, you will need to set up your WordPress Categories correctly. If you do not have any categories set up, WordPress will use the default category (uncategorized).

According to WordPress SEO plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are some things to keep in mind if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalinks or not:

  • 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 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 and decrease the SEO benefit.
  • 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.

Ultimately, when it comes to using category vs no category there really is no ”better” permalink structure to use. We recommend choosing the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best and that will make your web address short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We provide more information about WordPress categories in another article.

Make Your Content Timeless

Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website provides news or time-specific information, or you have a special reason to create dated post addresses, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink options when configuring your site’s URLs.

Avoid using permalinks that date your posts

(Avoid using permalinks that time-stamp your content)

Although setting up permalinks that date your posts may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO point-of-view, 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.

Changing Your Permalink Structure In Site With Indexed Posts

Normally, it’s best to set up your site’s permalinks when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your site 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 want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is really necessary, as making changes to permalinks after your site has been running for a while can create SEO issues and errors.

301 Redirects

As you’ve seen earlier, some WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are completely unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.

Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to improve your SEO. Perhaps your website was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your posts are perceived as being outdated and you want to remove the date tags in the permalinks.

The best way to change your permalink structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO is to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign all links set up using the previous permalinks syntax to post URLs using the new structure.

A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved to another destination. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors when clicking on an old link.

To create an effective syntax change and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you will need to install and set up your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.

You can WordPress site or blog using a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to assist you with setting up and redirecting your permalinks correctly to avoid issues and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WP plugin

(Set up URL redirections using plugins or use the services of a professional)

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

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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"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

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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 detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

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