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 you could simply publish a new page on your website, and the following would then happen … just from your page URL:

  • New visitors could tell what your post was about,
  • Search engines would easily discover your post and correctly index your content to improve your search results,
  • Each post you create on your site would have its own unique identifier, making things easier to manage.

Well, with WordPress permalinks you can!

Permalinks – Definition

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

A permalink is the web address that people and search engines will use to link to posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to a specific item of content on your website. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.

Permalinks make the URLs to each post on your website permanent, hence a permalink.

Permalinks – Why Do I Need To Use Them?

Hopefully, you probably know that, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to publishing search optimized content.

WordPress is not only well optimized right out of the box, but there are SEO plugins you can install that can further help to enhance its SEO aspect.

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Search engines like Google tend to pay special attention to the URL structure of a site.

Permalinks can be used to make the links on your site into memorable and more “search engine friendly” URLs. Permalinks can also improve the usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.

Now … let’s turn our attention to why it’s best to set up permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.

Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly URL structure for your posts that looks like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEOWordPress uses the link structure with a string query shown above to find information within your database. It doesn’t really mean anything to 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 WordPress site owners haven’t set up their sites to publish search optimized content online …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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

To get the best SEO benefit out of using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, you should set up your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-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 content can easily go from this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To this …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

By default, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to automatically get better indexing results in Google.

Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks

Log into your WP administration section and click on Settings > Permalinks

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

This brings up the Permalink Settings screen …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With 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 a search engine friendly URL instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default one.

Common Permalink Settings

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 SEO-friendly URLs

(Configure 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/travel-deals/five-best-european-cruise-destinations

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=2867

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

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

Creating Pretty URL Tags In Custom Structure

“Pretty” URLs, or search engine-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. ‘2016’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘02’)
  • %day% – The day the post is published (e.g. ‘02’)
  • %hour% – The hour the post gets published (e.g. ‘15’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘36’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘13’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘5613’)
  • %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 letters converted to lower case and punctuation symbols deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the words in your post titles 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 With SEO-Friendly URLs

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 …

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

Choosing ‘Post name’ is the same as selecting ‘Custom Structure’ and using the /%postname%/ tag.

Optional Permalink Settings

How To Change WordPress Permalinks

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

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

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

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

So, if you add the following to your permalinks Optional > Category base settings section …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

To this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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

Remember to save your changes when done …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

Permalinks – Tips

Use Descriptive Categories

To get the greatest SEO benefit from using Permalinks, remember 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 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 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 share or copy 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 adding category vs no category there 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 post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We provide detailed information about WordPress categories in another article.

Avoid Setting Up Permalink Syntaxes That Date Your Posts

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

Avoid using permalinks that time-stamp your posts

(Avoid using URL structures that time-stamp your content)

Although setting up URL structures that time-stamp your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO aspect, people are less likely to click on a post that is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.

Changing The Permalink Structure In An Established Site

Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you first install WordPress. This should be part of your website planning process.

Important

If your website has been running for a while or your site already has a lot of posts indexed in the search engines and you want to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is something that absolutely needs doing, as doing so can create SEO issues and loss of traffic.

301 Redirection

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

Maybe you started out using the default WordPress URL structure and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Perhaps your website was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your content is perceived as being out-of-date and you want to remove the date tags of your permalinks.

To edit your permalinks without negatively affecting your site’s SEO or rankings you will need to use ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links that were set up using the previous URL structure to post URLs that use the new permalink syntax.

Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently relocated to another address. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect visitors to new site destinations and avoid running into page errors when clicking on an old link.

To create an effective permalink structure change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should set up your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.

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

WP plugin Simple 301 Redirects

(Set up 301 redirects using plugins or use the services of a professional)

Congratulations! Now you know how to change your blog to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the WordPress codex here or contact us for assistance with your WordPress site:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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"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)

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

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