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 content to your site, and the following happened … just from your URL:

  • Potential visitors to your site could quickly determine what the page was about,
  • Google would easily find your post and correctly index its content for better search rankings,
  • Every single item of content on your website would have its own unique ID, making things easier to manage.

Well, this is what permalinks let you do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – What Are They?

A permalink is the permanent URL to an individual WordPress post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to organize things together) like archives.

A permalink is the URL that others use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to content items on your website. Permalinks are also referred to as “pretty” URLs.

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

Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?

As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to SEO.

WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can use that can easily help to improve its SEO aspect.

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site, then you cannot ignore the importance of your site’s URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the structure of URLs when indexing pages.

Permalinks can be used to make the 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 it’s best to configure your permalinks when 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 …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With PermalinksThe link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find data within its database. It doesn’t really mean anything to either search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.

As the screenshot image taken from Google search results below shows, many WordPress users haven’t yet configured their sites to publish search optimized content …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, these site owners are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.

To get the best SEO benefit out of using 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 numbers and symbols.

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

By default, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to get better indexing in Google.

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

In your WordPress dashboard select, 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 will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by 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 …

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

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=1864

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

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

Pretty Permalink Tags

“Pretty” permalinks, or search engine-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:

  • %year% – The year of the post, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2012’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘10’)
  • %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘12’)
  • %hour% – The hour your post gets published (e.g. ‘04’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘20’)
  • %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘16’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘1641’)
  • %postname% – A correctly formatted 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 characters converted to lower case and removed punctuation 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 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:

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

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 …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Optional Permalink Settings

Changing WordPress Permalinks

If you need to configure custom structures for your category and tag archive pages here is where you would do this.

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

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

For example, changing your category base to “recipes” will display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/uncategorized/’.

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To this …

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

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

Remember to save any changes when done …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Categories

To get the maximum SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, remember 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 expert Joost de Valk, here are a few points to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalinks:

  • If your domain is short and your category 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 or 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.

Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to category vs no category there is no perfect permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure that 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 detailed information about WordPress categories in other articles.

Avoid Setting Up URL Syntaxes That Date Your Posts

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

Avoid using URL structures that time-stamp your posts

(Avoid using URL structures that date your content)

Although using permalinks that time-stamp your content may be considered better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, visitors are less likely to click on a post that is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.

What About Changing Permalinks In Sites With Published Content?

Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your website planning process.

Disclaimer

If your website or blog has been running for a while 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 something that needs to be done, as doing so can create issues and loss of traffic.

Use 301 Redirects

As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, some site owners (or whoever set up their site) seem to be completely unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.

Maybe when you started, 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 originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is showing as being two or three years old and you want to remove the date portion in your permalinks.

The best way to modify your permalinks without negatively impacting your site’s SEO or existing rankings is to add ‘301 redirections’ to point links that were set up using the old permalink structure to destinations using the new permalink syntax.

Search engines interpret a ’301′ code 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 ‘404’ (Page not found) errors when 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 configure your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.

You can add a link redirection system to your do this using a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid any problems and troubleshoot any errors.

WP plugin Simple 301 Redirects

(Set up 301 redirects using a WordPress plugin 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 search rankings. To learn more about using Permalinks, see the WordPress codex 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 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.