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.

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Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing a new page on your website or blog, the following took place … just from your web address:

  • Readers could easily gain an understanding of what the page was about,
  • Google would easily find your page and correctly classify your content to improve your search rankings,
  • Every post on your website or blog would have its own unique ID, making things easier to manage.

Well, with permalinks this is really easy to do!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalink – What Is It?

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 URL that other people will use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing readers to articles on your site. Some people also call permalinks “pretty” URLs.

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

Permalinks – Why Use Them?

Hopefully, you probably know by now that, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to SEO.

WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but its SEO aspect can be considerably finetuned with SEO plugins.

If you focus on the SEO aspect of your website, then you cannot ignore the importance of your URLs. Search engines like Google place considerable weight on the structure of your site’s URLs when indexing content.

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

Now … let’s take a look at the reason why it’s best to configure your permalinks if publishing content in WordPress.

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEOThe above link structure is used by WordPress to locate data inside its database. It does not mean much to anyone, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site search engine optimization.

As you can see from the screenshot image below taken from Google search results, many WordPress site owners haven’t set up their sites to publish search optimized content online …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

Although Google is still indexing the above sites, these site owners are missing out on additional SEO benefits.

To get more SEO benefit from using WordPress and improve your site’s traffic results, you will want to make sure to configure your permalinks structure to make it more search engine-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.

WordPress lets you create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can easily go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

To something with an SEO-friendly URL like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Out of the box, WordPress URLs are not very SEO-friendly. In this tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to get better indexing in search engines like Google.

How To Configure WordPress Permalinks

Log into your WP admin and click on Settings > Permalinks

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

This will bring up the Permalink Settings screen …

Configuring 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 search engine friendly URLs instead for our posts. To do this, we will need to specify a different Permalink structure than the one set by default.

Common Settings

In the Common Settings section, select Custom Structure, then add one or more ‘tags’ (see below) to create SEO-friendly URLs …

Change your permalink settings to create search engine-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/budget-cruises/romantic-european-river-cruises

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=7240

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

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

Permalink Tags

“Pretty” permalinks, 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. ‘2013’)
  • %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘07’)
  • %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘20’)
  • %hour% – The hour your post gets published (e.g. ‘03’)
  • %minute% – Minute of the hour (e.g. ‘34’)
  • %second% – The exact second the post is published (e.g. ‘37’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘6478’)
  • %postname% – A sanitized version of your post title. For example, if the post title is “Top Five Budget Travel Tips!”, the postname tag will convert this into “top-five-budget-travel-tips” (all lower case letters and exclamation symbols deleted) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the URL wording 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 …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Or, use one of the following structures:

How To 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 …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

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

Permalinks – Optional Settings

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

This section lets you configure custom structures for your tag and category archive page URLs.

You can change the ‘base’ category or tag URLs using the following structure:

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

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

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Changing Your WordPress Permalinks

To this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

If you leave these fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.

Remember to save your changes when finished …

Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks

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

Use Short, Descriptive Categories

To get the best possible SEO 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are some points to keep in mind if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:

  • 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 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 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.

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

We cover WordPress categories in another article.

Avoid Setting Up URL Syntaxes That Date Your 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 site’s content, it’s best to avoid choosing date-based permalink settings when configuring your site’s URLs.

Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your posts

(Avoid using permalinks that date your content)

Visitors are less likely to click on a post if it is several years old, even if the content is relevant to what they are searching for.

Changing Permalinks In An Established Site

Normally, it’s best to configure your permalinks when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your site planning process.

Disclaimer

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 absolutely necessary, as changing permalinks after your site has already been going for a while could create issues and errors.

Use 301 Redirects

As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, some WordPress site owners (or their web developers) seem to be completely unaware of the search-friendly URLs 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 site was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your posts are perceived as being outdated and you want to remove the date portion in your permalinks.

The best way to edit your URL structure without impacting your site’s SEO in a negative way is to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign all links set up using the previous permalinks structure to destinations using the new syntax.

A code ‘301’ is interpreted by search engines as a link that has permanently been relocated to another destination. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new website destinations and avoid ”page not found” errors if they click on an old link.

To create an effective permalink structure change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should install and set up a 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 use the services of a professional to assist you with setting up and redirecting your permalinks correctly to avoid any issues and troubleshoot any errors.

Simple 301 Redirects - WordPress redirection plugin

(Set up a 301 redirection system for your changed permalinks using redirection plugins or get professional help)

Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts. For additional information on using Permalinks, refer to the official WordPress documentation below:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

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