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.

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

Wouldn’t it be great if you could publish a new page on your WordPress site, and the following happened … all from your post address:

  • Potential site visitors could glean what the post was about,
  • Search engines would easily find your page and correctly classify the content for better search rankings,
  • Every content item created on your website or blog would have its own unique identifier, making things easier to manage.

Well, with permalinks this is really easy to do!

Permalinks – Definition

Permalinks are the permanent URLs to your individual posts, categories and other taxonomies (a way to organize things together) like archives.

A permalink is the URL that other people use to link to posts or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing to a particular item of content on your site. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.

Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your blog permanent, hence a perma-link.

Permalinks – Why Use Them?

As you have probably heard by now, 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 its SEO aspect can be considerably fine tuned using excellent SEO plugins.

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 give special consideration to the URL structure of a site.

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

Now … let’s take a look at why you may need to configure your permalinks if publishing content in WordPress.

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEOWordPress uses the above link structure to locate information within your database. It doesn’t really mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your website with on-site SEO.

As the screenshot image taken directly from Google search results below shows, many site owners haven’t yet set up their permalinks …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Although Google is clearly still indexing the above sites, the owners of these sites are missing out on extra SEO benefits.

To get more SEO benefit out of using WordPress and improve your site’s rankings, you will want to make sure to configure your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-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 pages can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

To something like this …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

Out of the box, WordPress post URLs are not very search engine-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial shows you how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to automatically help you get better indexing in Google.

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

Log into your WP admin and click on Settings > Permalinks

Setting Up WordPress Permalinks

This brings you to the Permalink Settings screen …

Configuring 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 a “pretty” permalink instead for our posts. To do this, we need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.

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

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=684

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

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

Creating Search Engine-Friendly Tags In WordPress

“Pretty” URLs, or search engine-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:

  • %year% – The year the post gets published, displayed as four digits (e.g. ‘2014’)
  • %monthnum% – The month your post gets published (e.g. ‘08’)
  • %day% – The day your post gets published (e.g. ‘04’)
  • %hour% – Hour of the day (e.g. ‘15’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘20’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘26’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘8679’)
  • %postname% – A sanitized version of your post title. For example, if your post title is ”Ten Best Hotels In Cote D’Azur!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-best-hotels-in-cote-dazur” (all characters converted to lower case and punctuation marks deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the wording 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 Using Permalinks

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 …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

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

Optional Permalink Settings

Configuring WordPress Permalinks

Here you can configure custom structures for your tag and category archive page URLs.

You can change 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 “news” will 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 …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To something like this …

Changing WordPress Permalinks

If you leave these fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.

Remember to save your changes when finished …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With Permalinks

Permalinks – Additional Information

Set Up Your Categories

To get the maximum SEO benefit out of using Permalinks, remember 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 some things to keep in mind 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 categories 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 and reduce 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 it’s recommended that you do not use the category tag in your permalink structure.

Ultimately, when it comes to category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use the permalink structure you think will suit your site best. Many SEO experts recommend making your post URLs short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We cover WordPress categories in other articles.

Avoid Date-Based Permalink Syntax

Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your website provides news or time-specific information, or there is a special reason why you need to date your content, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalink options when setting up your blog’s URLs.

Avoid setting up permalinks that time-stamp your content

(Avoid setting up permalinks that date your posts)

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 Changing Permalinks In Blogs With Indexed Content?

Normally, your site’s permalinks should be configured when you create a new WordPress site. This should be part of your site planning process.

Info

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

301 Redirection

As you’ve seen earlier, some WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are unaware of the permalinks 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 website was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your posts are perceived as being outdated and you want to delete the date portion of your permalinks.

To modify your permalink structure without affecting your site’s SEO or existing rankings in a negative way you will need to use ‘301 redirections’ to reassign all links that were set up using the previous URL syntax to URLs using the new permalinks syntax.

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

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

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

Simple 301 Redirects - WP redirection plugin

(Set up link redirections using a WP redirection plugin 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. To learn more about using Permalinks, refer to the official WordPress documentation here:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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"This is an awesome training series. I have a pretty good understanding of WordPress already, but this is helping me to move somewhere from intermediate to advanced user!" - Kim Lednum

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE WordPress tutorials for beginners. Our detailed step-by-step tutorials will save you money and teach you how to start, manage, and grow a website or blog using WordPress that puts you in complete control and delivers results with no coding skills required!

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