Wouldn’t it be great if after adding new content to your site, the following could take place … just from your web address:
- Potential site visitors could quickly glean what your page is about,
- Google could easily discover your page and correctly index the content to improve your search results,
- Each item of content published on your site would have its own unique identifier, making things easier to manage.
Well, this is what permalinks let you do!
How To Set Up And Use WordPress Permalinks
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 web address that others will use to link to your articles or sections of your site or the links you send in emails pointing readers to your posts. Permalinks are often called “pretty” URLs.
Permalinks make the web address pointing to each post on your blog permanent, hence a permalink.
Permalinks – Why Use Them?
Hopefully, you are probably aware that, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to SEO.
WordPress is not only well optimized right out of the box, but the SEO aspect can be easily finetuned using excellent SEO plugins.
If you focus on the SEO aspect of your site or blog, then you should not ignore the importance of your site’s 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 usability, aesthetics, and forward-compatibility of your links.
Now … let’s see why it’s best to use permalinks in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly link-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
The link structure shown above is used by WordPress to find information within its database. It does not help your website with on-site search engine optimization.
As you can see from the screenshot image below taken directly from Google search results, many WordPress site owners haven’t yet configured their sites to use permalinks …
Although these sites are getting their content indexed on search engines, these site owners are missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get the greatest SEO benefit out of using WordPress and improve your site’s traffic results, you should set up your permalinks structure to make it more SEO-friendly by displaying relevant keywords in your URL, instead of meaningless characters.
WordPress offers the ability to create a custom URL structure for your published and archived posts, so your content can go from this …
To this …
In this tutorial, you will learn how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to display posts using search engine-friendly URLs instead of the default linking structure and help every new post you publish get better indexing in search engines.
How To Change WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress dashboard click on, Settings > Permalinks …
This brings you to the Permalink Settings screen …
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 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 …
(Set up your permalink settings to create SEO-friendly URLs)
If you use the custom permalink structure shown in the example above, your URL would look something like this:
Instead of this …
(Using post name permalinks helps search engines and visitors understand what the post is about)
Pretty Permalink Tags
“Pretty” URLs, or SEO-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year the post gets published, four digits (e.g. ‘2015’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post is published (e.g. ‘03’)
- %day% – The day the post is published (e.g. ‘17’)
- %hour% – The hour the post gets published (e.g. ‘17’)
- %minute% – The minute your post gets published (e.g. ‘23’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘34’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘5369’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the 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 letters converted to lower case and punctuation marks removed) in the URL. Tip: You can always edit the words 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 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 …
Or, use one of the following structures:
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 …
Choosing ‘Post name’ is the same as selecting ‘Custom Structure’ and using the /%postname%/ tag.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
In this section, you can set up custom structures for your tag and category archive pages.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag for your URLs using the following structure:
For example, using “topics” as your category base would display your category links as ‘http://domain.com/topics/category_name/’.
So, if you make the following change in your permalinks Optional > Category base settings field …
Your ‘category archives’ page URL will change from this …
To something like this …
If you leave the optional settings fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.
Remember to save any changes when you have finished …
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 Info
Use Descriptive Categories
To get the maximum 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 expert and author of the WordPress SEO plugin Joost de Valk, here are a few points to consider if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalink structure:
- If your category slug is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), 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 share or copy and decrease 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 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 category vs no category there is no ideal permalink structure to use. Use a permalink structure that you think will suit your site 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 other tutorials.
Create Timeless Posts
Another useful tip from Joost de Valk is that unless your site is a news site or you have a special reason to create dated website addresses, it’s best to avoid selecting date-based permalink options when setting up your URLs.
(Avoid setting up URL structures that time-stamp your posts)
Although using permalinks that time-stamp your posts is better that using no permalinks at all from an SEO perspective, visitors 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 Blog Already Has Lots Of Published Posts?
Normally, your site’s permalinks should be configured when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your site planning process.
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 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 up and running for a while can create SEO issues and errors.
As you’ve seen earlier, some WordPress site owners (or their web developers) are unaware of the permalinks feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you want to optimize your site better for search engines. Maybe your website or blog was originally set up to display post dates in your web address and now all of your content is perceived as being out-of-date and you want to delete the date portion of your permalinks.
To change your URL structure without affecting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way you should use ‘301 redirects’ to point all links that were set up using the previous permalinks syntax to web URLs using the new permalinks syntax.
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 website destinations and avoid running into ‘404’ (Page not found) errors if following an old link.
To create an effective permalink structure change and avoid SEO problems, sending visitors to broken links, etc. you should set up your redirection system before messing with the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your do this using a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects, or Redirection, or get a professional to help you set up and redirect your permalinks correctly to avoid issues and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up a redirection system for your changed URLs using redirection plugins or get professional assistance)
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 official WordPress documentation here:
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