Permalinks, or permanent links, are the URLs that point to specific web pages on your WordPress site, be it individual posts/pages or category/tag archives. They are meant to remain the same, indefinitely. Permalinks are what people enter into their browsers in order to view your web pages, to read your content. They are what search engines (and other websites) use to link to your site. One can therefore say that permalinks are the gateways to your website that play an important role in overall site optimization.
The Default WordPress Permalink Structure
WordPress, by default, uses a permalink structure that takes the form of a URL followed by a query string that identifies the pertinent post ID. For instance, if N is the post ID number, the default WordPress permalink structure would be www.websitename.com/?p=N.
This default permalink structure is unreadable to humans, and hence, is termed to be ‘ugly’. Ugly permalinks are neither user-friendly nor search engine friendly. It is therefore recommended that you switch to a more SEO friendly WordPress permalink structure.
Other ‘Pretty’ Permalink Structures in WordPress
In addition to the default permalink structure, WordPress offers the following permalink structures for you to choose from:
Day and Name: Here, your page URL will include the year, month, and date that a post was published, followed by the post name.
Month and Name: In this case, your page URL will be two characters shorter than the previous case, as it includes only the year and month that the post was published, and of course, the post name.
Numeric: Here, your page URL will simply include the ID of the post (again, not very SEO friendly).
Post Name: Here, your page URLs will include the post name alone, making them short and memorable. And so, most WordPress users prefer to use this permalink structure for their websites.
Custom Structure: Here, you get to create your very own permalink structure by making use of one or more of the following structure tags:
%postname% – stands for the post slug
%post_id% – stands for the post ID
%category% – stands for the category the post was published under
%year% – stands for the year the post was published
%monthnum% – stands for the month the post was published
%day% – stands for the day the post was published
%hour% – stands for the hour the post was published
%minute% – stands for the minute the post was published
%second% – stands for the second the post was published
%author% – stands for the name of the author who published the post
Out of the structure tags mentioned above, the first six are more commonly used than the rest.
The above permalink structures are better organized than the default one, making it way easier for both visitors and search engines to navigate to your content. They help optimize your SEO and attract more and more users to your site. These permalink structures are often referred to as ‘pretty permalinks’.
Some Permalink SEO Tips
- Include the post name in your permalink; it is what matters the most – from both SEO and user perspective.
- Use simple and short permalinks that are less than 100 characters in length. So even if your article title is longer than usual, remember to cut it short in the URL, so that it falls within the 100-character limit (it’s best to use 3-5 words in the URL slug).
- While it is advisable to include a keyword in your permalink, refrain from stuffing it with keywords (that’s just shabby).
- Avoid using stop words (like a, the, is and are) in your permalinks. For instance, if your article title is ‘Stop using stop words in your permalinks’, you can leave out ‘in’ and ‘your’ from your page URL.
- Use hyphens as separators not underscore. So, for the article title mentioned above, a good page URL would be: www.websitename.com/stop-using-stop-words-permalinks.
Changing Permalinks on a Live Site
It is wise to choose a permalink structure for your WordPress site at the beginning itself. Changing the permalink structure of a live site, especially one that’s been running for more than six months, can drastically affect your SEO rankings. If you want to change your permalinks and avoid antagonizing users and search engines, here’s what to do:
- change the page URLs from the back end
- 301 redirect all the previously used URLs
To ensure that you don’t mess up, it’s a good idea to make a complete list of the previous URLs as well as what they’ll be redirecting to. And if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can always hire a professional to set up the redirects for your site. In spite of all this, you’ll still be losing all your social media share counts though, no changing that.
A pretty permalink structure is no doubt more user-friendly and SEO-friendly than the default one WordPress provides. It is always advisable to define your website permalink structure right at the beginning of your WordPress journey. However, if you should ever reach that point on the road where updating the permalink structure of your site means better SEO, then go for it! Just make sure to properly redirect your old URLs to the new ones.
And yeah, do remember to keep your site completely backed up before changing the permalink structure on your live site.