Wouldn’t it be great if after publishing new content on your website, the following could take place … all from your web address:
- Users could easily tell what the post is about,
- Search engines would easily find your post and correctly index your content for better search rankings,
- Every single item of content published on your site would have its own unique identifier, making your site 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 WordPress 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 articles or sections of your site or the links you send in an email pointing readers to a particular post 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 Do We Need To Use Them?
As you probably know, WordPress is one of the best CMS applications available when it comes to publishing search engines optimized content.
WordPress is not only great for SEO out of the box, but there are excellent SEO plugins you can use that can easily help to fine tuned its SEO aspect.
If you are looking to optimize the SEO aspect of your site, then you cannot ignore the importance of your URLs. Google places considerable weight on 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 see the reason why you may need to use permalinks when publishing content in WordPress.
Typically, a default WordPress installation uses a non-search engine friendly link-naming structure for your posts that looks like this …
As the screenshot taken directly from Google search listings below shows, many WordPress site owners have not yet configured their permalinks to publish search optimized content …
Although Google is still indexing the above sites, many site owners are missing out on additional SEO benefits.
To get the maximum SEO benefit from 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 content can go from something that is non-SEO friendly like this …
To something like this …
Out of the box, WordPress URLs are not very search engine-friendly. This step-by-step tutorial explains how to configure the Permalinks section of your WordPress site to get better indexing in search engines.
Configuring Your WordPress Permalinks
In your WordPress administration section select, Settings > Permalinks …
This will bring up 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 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 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:
Instead of this …
(Using post name permalinks helps readers and search engines understand what your page is about)
Creating Permalink Tags In WordPress
“Pretty” permalinks, or SEO-friendly URLs, are created by adding one or more ‘tags’ in the Custom Structure field:
- %year% – The year your post is published, four digits (e.g. ‘2015’)
- %monthnum% – The month the post gets published (e.g. ‘12’)
- %day% – Day of the month (e.g. ‘21’)
- %hour% – The hour your post is published (e.g. ‘12’)
- %minute% – The minute the post is published (e.g. ‘26’)
- %second% – Second of the minute (e.g. ‘24’)
- %post_id% – The unique ID # of your post (e.g. ‘9101’)
- %postname% – A correctly formatted version of the post title. For example, if your post title is ”Ten Signs That You’re About To Get Fired From Your Job!”, the postname tag will convert this into “ten-signs-that-youre-about-to-get-fired-from-your-job” (all lower case characters and no punctuation marks) in the URL. Tip: You can edit the words in your post title 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 …
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 adding the /%postname%/ tag in ‘Custom Structure’.
Permalinks – Optional Settings
This section lets you configure custom structures for your category and tag archive page URLs.
This changes the ‘base’ category or tag of your URLs using the following syntax:
For example, changing your category base to “topics” will make your category links display 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 go from looking like this …
To something like this …
If you leave the fields blank WordPress uses the defaults.
Remember to save any changes after 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 – Tips
Use Descriptive Categories
To get the best possible 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 plugin developer Joost de Valk, here are a few points to keep in mind if you are wondering whether or not to add categories to your permalinks:
- If your category slug is short and descriptive (e.g. adds a relevant keyword or keyword phrase to your URL), 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.
- 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 using category vs no category there really is no ”better” permalink structure to use. Choose the permalink structure that you think will suit your site best. Many SEO experts and webmasters recommend making your web addresses short enough to be attractive and long enough to be descriptive.
We cover WordPress categories in other articles.
Avoid Setting Up URL Syntaxes That Date Your Content
Another great tip from Joost de Valk is that unless you run a news blog or you have any special reason to create dated post addresses, it’s best to avoid using date-based permalink syntax for your blog’s URLs.
(Avoid using permalinks that time-stamp your content)
Although using permalinks 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 Already Has Published Content?
Normally, your permalinks should be set up when you perform a new WordPress installation. This should be part of your website planning process.
If your site is already established 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 making changes to permalinks after your site has been up and running for a while could create SEO issues and errors.
Add 301 Redirection
As you’ve seen earlier, some site owners (or their web developers) are completely unaware of the SEO-friendly URLs feature of WordPress.
Maybe when you started out, your site used the default WordPress permalinks and now you would like to optimize your site better for search engines. Perhaps your website or blog was configured to display post dates in your URLs and now all of your posts are showing as being 2-3 years old and you want to delete the date portion of the URLs.
To edit your URL structure without impacting your site’s SEO or rankings in a negative way you should add ‘301 redirects’ to reassign links that use the old permalink structure to web addresses using the new structure.
Search engines interpret a code ‘301’ as a link that has permanently relocated. 301 redirects are the most efficient and search engine friendly way to redirect users to new site destinations and avoid ‘404’ (Page not found) errors when they click on an old link.
To create an effective syntax change and avoid damaging your rankings, sending visitors to error pages, etc. you should add a redirection system before changing the permalink structure of your site.
You can add a link redirection system to your do this using a 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 any problems and troubleshoot any errors.
(Set up URL redirections using a WordPress plugin or get professional assistance)
Congratulations! Now you know about the built-in system WordPress uses to display SEO-friendly URLs for your posts and improve your search search rankings. For additional information on using Permalinks, see the official WordPress documentation here:
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