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 add content to your site, and the following would then happen … just from your page URL:

  • Readers could easily determine what your content was about,
  • Search engines would be able to discover your posts faster,
  • Every single content item created on your site would have a unique ID, making your site easier to manage.

Well, this is what WordPress permalinks let you do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – What Are They?

Permalinks are the permanent URLs to an individual WordPress post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to organize things together) like archives.

A permalink is the web address that other people will use to link to articles 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 blog permanent, hence a permalink.

Why Use Permalinks?

As you have probably heard by now, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to publishing search engines optimized content.

WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are SEO plugins you can install that will help to finetune its SEO aspect further.

If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you cannot ignore the importance of its URLs. Search engines like Google tend to pay special attention to the URL structure of your site.

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 take a look at why you should use permalinks in WordPress.

By default, a WordPress installation uses a URL structure for your posts that isn’t search engine friendly and looks like this …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLsWordPress uses the link structure with a string query shown above to find data within your database. It doesn’t really mean anything to either search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site search engine optimization.

As the screenshot below shows, many WordPress site owners have not yet set up their permalinks …

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

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

To get optimal SEO benefit out of using WordPress 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 numbers and symbols.

WordPress allows you to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can easily go from this …

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display your posts using search engine-friendly URLs instead of the out-of-the-box linking structure and help every new post you add get better indexing in search engines like Google.

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

From your WP main menu, click on Settings > Permalinks

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

This brings you to 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 …

Configure 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/travel-deals/how-to-save-money-on-cruise-travel

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=6768

Using post name permalinks helps readers understand what your content is about

(Using permalinks helps search engines and visitors understand what your page is about)

Pretty URL Tags

“Pretty” permalinks, 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. ‘2010’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘09’)
  • %day% – The day the post gets published (e.g. ‘04’)
  • %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘17’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘15’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘54’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘3891’)
  • %postname% – A sanitized 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 characters converted to lower case and no exclamation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can 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 correctly formatted 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 …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using 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 …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

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

Permalinks – Optional Settings

Changing WordPress Permalinks

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

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

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

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

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

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

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

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

To something like this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

If you leave the optional settings fields blank the defaults will be used.

Remember to save any changes when done …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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 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 a few points to keep in mind 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 share or copy and reduce the SEO benefit.
  • 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 really 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 more information about WordPress categories in another tutorial.

Don’t Use Date Permalinks

Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website provides news or time-specific information, or you have any special reason to date your site’s content, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink settings for your blog’s URLs.

Avoid using URL structures that time-stamp your content

(Avoid using URL structures that date your posts)

People are less likely to click on a post if it is a couple of years old, even if the content is relevant to the answers they are searching for.

What About An Established Blog?

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

Important Info

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 would like to change the permalink structure, make sure that this is something that absolutely needs doing, as changing permalinks after your site has already been going for a while can create issues and loss of traffic.

Use 301 Redirection

As you’ve seen earlier, some site owners (or whoever set up their site) are unaware of the search-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.

Maybe you started out using the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your site was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are perceived as being out-of-date and you want to delete the date tags of your URLs.

The best way to edit your permalink structure without impacting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirects’ to point all links using the old permalink structure to destinations that use the new permalink syntax.

A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently moved. 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 following an old link.

To create an effective syntax change and avoid damaging your search rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should set up a redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.

You can WordPress site using a 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 problems and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WP redirection plugin

(Set up 301 redirects 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. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the WordPress codex below:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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