WordPress Permalinks: All you need to know [Uses, Structures and SEO]

WordPress Permalinks: All you need to know [Uses, Structures and SEO]

So I’m a fan of WordPress and I find it to be a great content management system. With the latest update (WordPress 4.0) things have got even cooler.

If you are a website owner running your website on WordPress, I am sure you would have somehow come across the term – permalink!

If not, I understand – you are already using your permalink, but you are not aware of it and that’s fine.

So in this post, I am going to go into the in-depth details about WordPress permalinks – as in, how you could use your permalinks for a good url structure and how you can optimise your urls for search engines by choosing the right structure of permalinks that suit your website.

Now, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to choosing the right WordPress permalink structure – if such a structure exists, every website owner will use it for sure, right?

So let’s get started!

What is a WordPress permalink?

Permalinks are nothing but the URL structures that represent a page on your website. The name permalink represents permanent link for that page – meaning this particular permalink will be permanent and will represent that page forever and it will not die or go invalid (even if it is a 404 page, it still represents that particular, original page).

For instance the URL of this page is this > http://www.besthostinganddesign.com/wordpress-permalinks/

People can access this page (a blog post) on my website by typing in this URL. Well, usually this applies for a home page where people would remember a site’s homepage URL. In this case, this website’s home page URL is http://www.besthostinganddesign.com – and if people remember my brand, and if they want to access my website they can type in this URL into their browser’s address bar.

But for blog posts,  it is quite hard for people to remember the exact URL – now, can you remember this URL and type it in your address bar when you need to read this post? I’m sure you cannot!

In this case (for inner pages of a website) permalinks are more useful to search engines than people. If people search for a relevant term in the search engines then, the search bots crawl the indexed pages and display the URLs of the websites it thinks are relevant to what was searched.

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So, can I use the default permalink structure in WordPress?

Well, while WordPress is a great content management system, you cannot use the default permalink structure as such. Let’s take a look at how the default permalink structure looks for posts, pages, categories etc.

You can view your current permalink structure by going to your WordPress dashboard > Settings > Permalinks

WordPress permalink structure

Now what you see by default certainly not clean and not user-friendly AND not search engine friendly. Users and search engines are the ones who will be benefited by a permalink and if the structure is disappointing to both of them, it is not good to use it!

Well not just the readers but even the owner of the blog cannot identify the post if they look at this permalink structure.

But if the permalink structure is of no use to search engines and readers then why is WordPress using it as default? Well, that default permalink structure is based on the WordPress database – each post, page, category etc. has a number (id) attached to it in the WP database. And this default permalink basically displays that number.

So if you want to have a permalink structure that is user-friendly and seo-friendly, then you should change your website’s default WordPress permalinks.

Let’s see what are the options and what option would suit you.

What permalink structure options are available in WordPress?

Let’s take a look!

The default option > http://www.besthostinganddesign.com/?p=123 – we’ve already talked about it!

Day and name > http://www.besthostinganddesign.com/2014/09/06/sample-post/ – this option displays the post published date, followed by the post slug.

Month and name > http://www.besthostinganddesign.com/2014/09/sample-post/ – this option displays the month in which the post was published, followed by the post slug.

Numeric > http://www.besthostinganddesign.com/archives/123 – this is another not-so-friendly version.

Post Name > http://www.besthostinganddesign.com/sample-post/ – this is the most user-friendly and seo-friendly permalink structure since by default (when this option is chosen) whenever you create a new post, the permalink populates based on the post title. Since you probably will have the headline of the post to be humanly readable and since you will also have the necessary keywords, choosing this option will help you create a URL for your webpage that is friendly to both your readers and search engines.

Custom structure > Apart from all these options that are pre-made you can use your own custom defined permalink structure.

What to use as a custom structure?

You have a wide variety of options like these:

%post_id% – the id of the post in the WordPress database

%year% – the year in which the post was published

%month%, %day%, %minute%, %second – the month, day, exact minute and exact second in which the post was published, respectively
… and so on.

You can find all of the options available at this page.

What WordPress permalink option should you choose?

Well there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this! But it is important that you choose the one that fits your business. I am sure hearing this kind of a statement will be disappointing – but that is the truth.

Having said that, I am NOT going to leave you just like that. Let’s see what options you can choose depending upon the type of your website.

The default option > I will personally rule out this option. I don’t see it to be either useful to people or bots.

Day and name > As we have discussed earlier, this option will display the publish date of the post followed by the post slug. If you are running a news based website, where you publish time sensitive news updates, choosing this option will benefit your readers a lot. They can see the date of the news from the URL itself.

Month and name > This is a simplified version of the Day and name option. If you don’t need a very precise date to be displayed on your URL but rather would prefer merely the month, then you can choose this option. Both the Day and name and Month and name options will suit news based websites.

Numeric > This is another option that I will totally rule out.

Post name > This is one of the best SEO friendly options that would suit any website. And I use it on all my sites.

If you prefer using a custom structure > As you can refer above, there are a variety of custom permalink options. For instance, if yours is a multi author blog where your team writes content, then you might want to add %author% to your URLs so the post URL would display something like this > http://www.besthostinganddesign.com/jane/wordpress-permalinks (in this case the permalink is %author%/%postname%).

%category%/%postname% > This is another user-friendly option that creates hierarchical structure for your URLs and hence will help users to clearly see what kind of post they are reading. It will display the post category followed by the post slug – this gives a breadcrumb like structure right there in your URL. This option is also an SEO-friendly choice assuming that you have highly focused, sharp categories on your blog that are also your top keywords.

However there is a catch with this option. If your post falls into more than one category, your URL could be a mess. So  I stayed away from using this option 🙂

A word of caution about changing WordPress permalinks

Permalink structure is something you should decide before you launch your website. If you decide to change the permalink structure later, you will mess up. Your old post/page links will all become dead (they will return a 404 page).

If you really have to change your permalink structure at a later time, you have to make sure your old URLs are properly redirected (with a 301) to the new structure. You could use the Redirection plugin for this. Or you could use this handy line of code by Joost of Yoast.

Whatever permalink structure you choose, and click Save, your .htaccess file will be automatically updated so the permalink option stays put throughout the site!

Again, decide on your WordPress permalink structure before you launch your site. Or make sure you do a proper redirect.

WordPress permalinks: Conclusion

The WordPress permalink structure plays a vital role in your WordPress site set up. In order for your WordPress site to be user-friendly and to be optimised for search engines, you need to pay attention on how you set your permalinks.

It is best to avoid using the default WordPress permalink structure. Ideally, whenever you setup a new WordPress website, you need to visit the Permalink section and set it up correctly. This will ensure that all your posts and pages have your desired URL structure throughout the site, right from the start.

If you have an established website with quite some posts and pages already, and if don’t quite like your current permalink structure, you could change it! But you have to make sure you properly redirect your old URLs to avoid a bunch of 404 pages on your website.

Hope you found this post useful. If so, please do share this post with your friends!

About the Author

I'm Jane, the owner of Best Hosting And Design, where I help bloggers and website owners to create and maintain their websites. Check out the services I offer here so you can make use of them. For cutting-edge business tips, please head over to Jane Sheeba.

Leave a Reply 12 comments

Reginald Chan - September 8, 2014 Reply

Jane,

Excellent tutorial. Probably, I would say this is one of the most complete tutorial I seen about permalinks.

My preference would be %post-name% and that works well for me. I tried removing the category from the permalink as it increases the length of it 🙂

Thanks for sharing!

    Jane - September 19, 2014 Reply

    I’m SO glad you liked the post Reginald. Yes apart from messing up the permalink when you choose more than 1 category for a post, the category option also makes the url much longer!

Prashanth K - September 9, 2014 Reply

“.. If you decide to change the permalink structure later, you will mess up..”. WP should automatically write to .htaccess for the redirection with all the newer versions.

Bea Vanni - September 9, 2014 Reply

Very useful post, Jane, and thank you for making it so clear. I particularly liked your commentary on the different ways a post could appear in the permalinks. Excellent!!

    Jane - September 19, 2014 Reply

    You are very welcome Bea 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

Sangeetha Menon - September 10, 2014 Reply

Personally I use the %post-name% for my blog posts.

Ravi Chahar - September 10, 2014 Reply

Hi Jane,

For beginners it’s very important to know about WordPress permalinks.

There are many options to choose but as you have mentioned that is followed by post name is good.
Many bloggers prefer to have date consisting in their permalinks which is not much familiar.

Thanks for sharing with us.:)

Have a nice week ahead.

~Ravi

    Jane - September 19, 2014 Reply

    You are welcome Ravi. Yes the date format is a good choice too!

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