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 after adding content to your website, the following took place … all from your page URL:

  • Potential visitors to your site could glean what your post was about,
  • Google could easily discover your posts and correctly index their content to improve your search rankings,
  • Each piece of content you create on your website would have its own unique identifier, 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?

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

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

Permalinks – Why Use Them?

Hopefully, you are probably aware that, WordPress is one of the best Content Management Systems you can use 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 easily improved using excellent SEO plugins.

If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your website, then you should not ignore the importance of your URLs. Google places considerable weight on the URL structure of your site.

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

Now … let’s turn our attention to the reason why it’s best to 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 …

Changing WordPress PermalinksWordPress uses the above link with a string query to locate data within your database. It doesn’t really mean anything to either search engines or visitors, and it doesn’t help your site with on-site SEO.

As you can see from the image below taken from Google search listings, many WordPress users are still using out-of-the-box permalink settings when publishing content …

Changing WordPress Permalinks

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

To get the maximum SEO benefit out of using 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 pages can easily go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

To something like this …

Changing Your WordPress Permalinks

In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn how to configure your WordPress permalinks to display posts with search engine-friendly URLs instead of the default URL structure and help every new post you publish automatically get better indexing results in search engines like Google.

Changing WordPress Permalinks

In your WP admin menu, click on Settings > Permalinks

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

This brings up the Permalink Settings screen …

Improve Your WordPress SEO With 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 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 Settings – Permalinks

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

(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/travel-deals/cruise-holiday-deals

Instead of this …

http://www.mytravelsite.com/?p=2549

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

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

Using Permalink Tags In Custom Structure

“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% – Month of the year (e.g. ‘04’)
  • %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘07’)
  • %hour% – The hour the post gets published (e.g. ‘13’)
  • %minute% – The minute your post is published (e.g. ‘47’)
  • %second% – The exact second your post is published (e.g. ‘09’)
  • %post_id% – The unique ID # of the post (e.g. ‘8679’)
  • %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the 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 removed exclamation symbols) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit this text 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 …

How To Set Up WordPress Permalinks

Or, use one of the following structures:

How To Set Up Your WordPress Permalinks

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 …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

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

Permalinks – Optional Settings

Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

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

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

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

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

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

How To Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs

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

Improve Your WordPress SEO Using Permalinks

To this …

Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO

If you leave the optional settings fields blank WordPress uses the default settings.

Remember to save your changes when finished …

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 – Additional Notes

Categories

To get more SEO 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 things to consider if you are wondering whether you should add categories to your permalink structure or not:

  • If your domain is short and your category slug is short and descriptive (e.g. uses a relevant keyword or keyword phrase), you may want to add categories 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 copy or share and reduce 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.

Ultimately, when it comes to adding category vs no category there really is no ”better” permalink structure to use. Choose the permalink structure you think will suit your needs best. Your post URLs should be short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.

We cover WordPress categories in other tutorials.

Don’t Use Date Permalinks

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

Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your content

(Avoid using permalinks that time-stamp your content)

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

Changing Permalinks In An Established Site

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

Warning

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 can create SEO issues and errors.

Use 301 Redirection

As you’ve seen in the above screenshots of actual search results, many website owners (or their web developers) seem to be unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.

Maybe you started out using the default WordPress URL structure and now you want to improve your SEO. Maybe your website was originally set up 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 portion of your URLs.

To change your permalink structure without negatively impacting your site’s SEO you will need to add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links that were set up using the old URL structure to links using the new structure.

Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently moved. 301 redirects are the most effective and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new web page destinations and avoid page errors if they click on an old link.

To effectively change your permalink structure and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you will need to configure your redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.

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

WordPress redirection plugin Simple 301 Redirects

(Set up a 301 redirection system for your changed URLs using a WP plugin 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, refer to the official WordPress documentation below:

http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

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"I am beyond impressed with what you have put together. I can tell that you put a ton of hard work into building what you have. You have the absolute best content on WordPress I have ever seen!" - Robert T. Jillie

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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.