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 …

Changing WordPress Permalinks

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just add a new page to your website, and the following would then happen … just from your page URL:

  • New visitors could easily understand what your post is about,
  • Google could discover your posts faster,
  • Every single piece of content created on your website would have a unique identifier, making your content easier to manage.

Well, with WordPress permalinks you can!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – Definition

A permalink is the permanent URL to your individual WordPress posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to organize things together) like archives.

A permalink is the web address that other people will use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to content items on your blog. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.

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

Why Use Permalinks?

Hopefully, you probably know that, 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 the SEO aspect can be easily finetuned with SEO plugins.

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you should not ignore the importance of its URLs. Google tends to pay special attention to the URL structure of your site.

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

Now … let’s review the reason why it’s best to configure your permalinks if 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 …

Setting Up WordPress PermalinksThe link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find data within its database. It doesn’t really help your website with on-site search engine optimization.

As the screenshot image below shows, many WordPress users haven’t 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 more SEO benefit from using and improve your site’s traffic results, you should set up your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-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 go from this …

How To Set Up Your WordPress Permalinks

To this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

In your WordPress administration menu, select Settings > Permalinks

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

This brings you to the Permalink Settings screen …

How To Configure 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 will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default one.

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 …

Set up 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/europe-travel/cruise-holiday-deals

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=6423

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

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

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, four digits (e.g. ‘2013’)
  • %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘08’)
  • %day% – The day the post is published (e.g. ‘12’)
  • %hour% – The hour the post is published (e.g. ‘23’)
  • %minute% – The minute your post is published (e.g. ‘21’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘31’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘3264’)
  • %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if your post title is “Top Five Budget Travel Tips!”, the postname tag will convert this into “top-five-budget-travel-tips” (all lower case characters and punctuation marks deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit this 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 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 …

Setting Up 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 adding the /%postname%/ tag in the ‘Custom Structure’ option.

Optional Permalink Settings

Changing WordPress Permalinks

If you need to set up custom structures for your category and tag archive page URLs here is where you would do this.

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

  • 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 add the following to your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

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

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

To something like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Remember to save any changes after you are done …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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 – Tips

Categories

To get maximum 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 points to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalinks:

  • 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 or share and decrease 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 using category vs no category there is no perfect permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure that you think will suit your needs best. SEO experts recommend making your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We provide more information about WordPress categories in another article.

Avoid Setting Up URL Structures That Date Your Content

Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website provides news or time-specific information, or you have any special reason to add dates to your post URLs, avoid selecting date-based permalink settings when setting up your URLs.

Avoid using permalinks that date your content

(Avoid setting up 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, visitors are less likely to click on posts that are a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.

Changing Permalinks In An Established Site

Normally, it’s best to configure your permalinks when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your site planning process.

Disclaimer

If your website or blog 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 issues and loss of traffic.

301 Redirects

As you’ve seen earlier, many WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are 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. Perhaps your site was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your posts are perceived as being out-of-date and you want to remove the date portion of your permalinks.

To change your permalinks without affecting your site’s SEO in a negative way you should add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links that were set up using the old permalink structure to web URLs using the new structure.

A ’301′ code is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently relocated. 301 redirection is the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors when clicking on an old link.

To create an effective permalink syntax change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should set up your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.

You can add a link redirection system to your site or blog using a WordPress 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 any issues and troubleshoot any errors.

WP redirection plugin Simple 301 Redirects

(Set up a link redirection system using redirection plugins 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 official WordPress documentation 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

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