Wouldn’t it be great if you could just publish a new post on your website or blog, and the following happened … just from your web address:
- Users could quickly assess what your page was about,
- Google would be able to find your pages faster,
- Each post you create on your site would have a unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, this is what permalinks let you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
Permalinks – Definition
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 other people will use to link to your posts or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing to a specific post on your site. Permalinks are often referred to as “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a perma-link.
Why Do You Need To Use Permalinks?
Hopefully, you probably know that, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems you can use when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can install that can help to fine tuned its SEO aspect considerably.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks are used to make the links on your site into memorable and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks also improve the aesthetics, usability, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s see why it’s best to configure your permalinks in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
The link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find data within your database. It does not mean anything to either visitors or search engines, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.
As you can see from the screenshot image below, many site owners have not yet set up their sites to use WordPress permalinks …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, these site owners are missing out on extra SEO benefits.
To get greater SEO benefit out of using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, you should set up your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless numbers and symbols.
WordPress offers the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your pages can easily go from this …
To something like this …
By default, WordPress URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to set up your WordPress permalinks to display posts using SEO-friendly URLs.
How To Change Your WordPress Permalinks
Log into your WP dashboard and select Settings > Permalinks …
This will bring you to 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 “pretty” permalinks instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default.
In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) 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:
Instead of this …
(Using permalinks helps visitors and search engines understand what the page is about)
“Pretty” URLs, or SEO-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. ‘2014’)
- %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘09’)
- %day% – The day your post gets published (e.g. ‘05’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘08’)
- %minute% – The minute the post is published (e.g. ‘07’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘07’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘4029’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the post title. For example, if your post title is ”It Ain’t Worth Doin’ No More!”, the postname tag will convert this into “it-aint-worth-doin-no-more” (all lower case letters and punctuation symbols deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can edit this 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 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 …
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 choosing ‘Custom Structure’ and using the /%postname%/ tag.
Optional Permalink Settings
Here you can configure custom structures for your category and tag archive pages.
You can change the ‘base’ tag or category of your URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “recipes” as your category base will make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/recipes/uncategorized/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from looking like this …
To something like this …
If you leave these fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.
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
Set Up Your Categories
To get the maximum 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, adding a category tag to your permalink forces WordPress to use the default category (uncategorized).
According to WordPress SEO plugin developer 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 is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), 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 copy or share and decrease the SEO benefit.
- Do you plan to post content under only one category or multiple categories? 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.
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. Choose the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best. Many SEO experts and webmasters recommend making your web addresses short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We provide detailed information about WordPress categories in another tutorial.
Make Your Posts Timeless
Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your goal is to run a news blog or there is a special reason why you need to create dated website addresses, avoid using date-based permalink syntax when setting up your site’s URLs.
(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 if it is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.
What About Established Blogs?
Normally, your site’s permalinks should be configured when you create a new WordPress site. This should be part of your site planning process.
If your website or blog 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 doing so could create issues and loss of traffic.
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, many site owners (or their web developers) seem to be unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress URL structure and now you would like to improve your site’s SEO. Maybe your website or blog 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 delete the date portion of your permalinks.
To change your permalink structure without impacting your site’s SEO or existing rankings in a negative way you should add ‘301 redirections’ to point all links that were set up using the previous permalink syntax to web addresses using the new permalink structure.
A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently relocated. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new site destinations and avoid running into page errors if clicking on an old link.
To create an effective permalink syntax change and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to error pages, 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 plugins 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 problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(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. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex here:
"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)