Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply publish content on your WordPress website, and the following would then take place … just from your URL:
- Visitors could quickly glean what the page was about,
- Search engines would easily discover your pages and correctly classify their content for better search results,
- Every single content item on your website or blog would have a unique identifier, making your site easier to manage.
Well, this is what WordPress 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 people and search engines will use to link to posts or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing readers to your posts. Some people refer to permalinks as “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.
Why Use Permalinks?
As you are probably aware, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to publishing search optimized content.
WordPress is not only well optimized straight out of the box, but the SEO aspect can be considerably improved using excellent SEO plugins.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you should not ignore the importance of its URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the URL structure of a site.
Permalinks can be used to make the links on your site into “prettier” and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks can also improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s review why you may need to use permalinks 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 …
WordPress uses the link structure shown above to find data inside its database. It doesn’t really help your website with on-site search engine optimization.
As the screenshot below shows, many WordPress users have not 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 potentially missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get the most SEO benefit from using 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 something that is non-SEO friendly like this …
To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …
Out of the box, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. This tutorial explains how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to help your content rank better in search engines.
Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress administration section select, Settings > Permalinks …
This brings 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 a “pretty” permalink instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default one.
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 search engines and readers understand what your content is about)
Adding Pretty URL 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 the post is published, four digits (e.g. ‘2012’)
- %monthnum% – The month your post is published (e.g. ‘12’)
- %day% – The day your post gets published (e.g. ‘16’)
- %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘09’)
- %minute% – The minute the post gets published (e.g. ‘21’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘21’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘1062’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of your post title. For example, if your 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 characters and removed exclamation marks) 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 …
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 the ‘Custom Structure’ option.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
In this section, you can configure custom structures for your category and tag page URLs.
You can change the ‘base’ tag or category URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “news” as your category base would make your category links display as ‘http://domain.com/news/category_name/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from looking like this …
To something like this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank the default settings will be used.
Remember to save your changes after you are 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 – Tips
Set Up Your Categories
To get the best benefit out of using Permalinks, it’s important 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 you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:
- If your category 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 share or copy and reduce 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 really is no ideal permalink structure to use. Choose a permalink structure that you think will suit your needs best. Your post URLs should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We cover WordPress categories in another tutorial.
Create Timeless Posts
Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you run a news website or there is a special reason why you need to date your content, avoid using date-based permalink options when setting up your site’s URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your content)
Although setting up permalinks that date your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, people are less likely to click on posts that are several years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.
What If My Blog Already Has Indexed 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 or blog has been running for a while or your site already has a lot of posts 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 errors.
As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, some WordPress users (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 permalinks and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is showing as being old and you want to delete the date tags of the URLs.
To edit your permalink structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO or existing rankings you should add ‘301 redirects’ to point all links that were set up using the previous permalink structure to web URLs using the new structure.
Search engines interpret a ’301′ code as a link that has permanently moved to another destination. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new web page destinations and avoid running into page errors if clicking on an old link.
To create an effective syntax change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should install and set up a redirection system before changing 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 help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid any problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up link redirections using a WP plugin or use the services of a professional)
Congratulations! Now you know how to change your WordPress permalinks to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. To learn more about using Permalinks, refer to the official WordPress documentation here:
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