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 add a new post to your website or blog, and the following took place … all from your post URL:

  • Visitors could easily determine what the content was about,
  • Search engines could find your posts faster,
  • Every item of content published on your website would have its own unique ID, making things easier to manage.

Well, with permalinks you can!

How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks

Permalinks – Definition

Permalinks are the permanent URLs to an individual post, category, or other taxonomy (a way to group 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 to your posts. Some people also refer to permalinks as “pretty” URLs.

Permalinks make the URL pointing to each post on your site permanent, hence a perma-link.

Why Use Permalinks?

As you are probably aware, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems available when it comes to publishing search engines optimized content.

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

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your website, then you should not ignore the importance of its site’s URLs. Search engines like Google tend to give special significance to the URL structure of your site.

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

Now … let’s review why it’s best to use 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 …

Changing Your WordPress PermalinksWordPress uses the link with a string query shown above to locate data within 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 listings, many site owners haven’t set up their permalinks …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, many site owners are potentially missing out on extra SEO benefits.

To get maximum SEO benefit from using 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 offers the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published posts, so your content can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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 search engine-friendly. This tutorial explains how to set up the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to help your content rank better in Google.

Changing WordPress Permalinks

In your WordPress dashboard select, Settings > Permalinks

How To Configure WordPress Permalinks

This brings you to the Permalink Settings screen …

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs

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 need to specify a different Permalink structure than the default.

Common Settings – Permalinks

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

(Change 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/europe-cruises/best-value-european-river-cruise-destinations

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=1614

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

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

Search Engine-Friendly Tags

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

  • %year% – The year of the post, four digits (e.g. ‘2016’)
  • %monthnum% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘12’)
  • %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘19’)
  • %hour% – The hour your post gets published (e.g. ‘17’)
  • %minute% – The minute the post gets published (e.g. ‘19’)
  • %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘43’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘9619’)
  • %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 lower case characters and no punctuation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the URL text 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 …

Setting Up WordPress 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 …

Changing WordPress Permalinks

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

Optional Permalink Settings

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

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

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

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

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

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To something like this …

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Remember to save any changes when you have finished …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With 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 maximum benefit from 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 plugin developer 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 name is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), 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 decrease the SEO benefit.
  • 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.

Despite being the subject of intense debate in WordPress SEO circles, when it comes to adding category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure that you think will suit your needs best. Many SEO experts recommend making your web addresses short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We cover WordPress categories in another tutorial.

Avoid Time-Specific Permalinks

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

Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your posts

(Avoid setting up URL structures that date your content)

Although using URL structures that date your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, 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 Site Has Lots Of Content?

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

Important Info

If your site has been running for a while 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 doing so could create SEO issues and errors.

301 Redirects

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

Maybe you started out using the default WordPress URL structure and now you want to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your site was configured 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 in the permalinks.

To modify your permalink structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO or rankings you should add ‘301 redirects’ to point all links that use the old URL syntax to destinations that use the new permalinks syntax.

Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently moved elsewhere. 301 redirection is the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid ”page not found” errors if following an old link.

To effectively change your syntax and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you will need to add your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.

You can add a link redirection system to your site or blog using WordPress 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 issues and troubleshoot any errors.

WordPress redirection plugin Simple 301 Redirects

(Set up URL redirections using redirection plugins or use the services of a professional)

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

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

***

"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now

***

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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 tutorials that show you how to use WordPress to grow your business online with no coding skills required! Get our FREE "101+ WordPress Tips, Tricks & Hacks For Non-Techies" e-course with loads of useful WordPress tips!

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