What do you think of when you think of SEO?
“Permalink” is probably not the first or the second, maybe not even the tenth.
The truth, however, is that permalinks and SEO have a lot more in common than you might think and – if done right – they can play an important role in improving your website’s rankings. Fortunately, they are also easy to master.
Let’s see how permalinks work, how to create them and how to set them in WordPress.
Let’s break down the permalink of this post.
You first have your domain (and in some cases a subdomain) that your website lives on. It is followed by the path indicating the location of the page. In this example, the article is under the Marketing category.
The last part of your URL is the slug – an essential part of your permalink and critical to SEO as it tells search engines how to index your website.
Each component creates a permanent link that leads to a specific page on your website that is unlikely to change, hence the name “permanent”.
If you don’t customize your URLs with permalinks, you’ll be given a random ID. The problem is that this is not attractive to site visitors and is not optimized for search engines.
For example, let’s say you blog about Sponsored Tweets and their value. Should the URL look like this:
Probably the first, right?
Great slugs should include the keywords that the post is targeting. Take our example above: “sponsored-tweets-guide”.
Through this permalink, the reader (and Google) will know that the page has a Sponsored Tweets Guide and is targeting the keyword “Sponsored Tweets”. This makes it easier for readers to find and share your content.
In addition, using high monthly search volume (MSV) keywords in your slug can help you improve your ranking.
If you use a content management system (CMS) like CMS Hub or WordPress, you should therefore think about your permalink structure early in your web development process.
What is the difference between a permalink and a URL?
A URL is a web address that directs a web browser to the location of a page or file. It can just contain a domain name, or it can contain the path, slug, and other information depending on which page you are accessing.
A permalink, on the other hand, refers to a specific URL structure, a tool popularized by bloggers for sharing and SEO purposes. While every permalink is a URL, not every URL is a permalink.
The best permalink structures
With several permalink structures to choose from, think about your content and audience to determine which format works best.
For example, a news site can benefit greatly from having a slug that includes a date and title. This means that readers quickly know what the article is about and when it was written.
On the other hand, if you manage a blog that prioritizes evergreen content and has pages that are constantly updated, you probably don’t want to have dates in your titles.
This can signal to readers that your content is old and therefore irrelevant. Instead, use a simple slug that just includes your article title.
It’s about using a structure that will benefit you (and your users) over the long term. Once you have decided on a permalink structure, you can set it up in your CMS.
How to create a permalink
To create a permalink, all you need is:
- Your domain name
- Your snail
- Your path (if you have multiple subject categories and want to organize your content)
Then there are some best practices to keep in mind when deciding on your permalink structure:
- Keep it short – Avoid articles like “the”, “a”, “an” and create a slug that is a shorter version of your title. For example, if your article is titled “How to Create an Instagram Story,” your slug can be simple / Instagram story.
- Include your most important keywords – Optimize your snail by including your keywords. Make sure that the keyword you are using relates directly to the content of the page.
As for the place where you create your permalink, it’s usually in your CMS. The ideal time to set your permalink structure is shortly after your website is developed, but before the posts go live. However, you can also do this at any time.
If you decide to change old URLs to reflect your new structure, make sure you update any backlinks or set up redirects for those pages.
You’re probably wondering how to optimize a permalink for WordPress. We’ll cover that next.
Use permalinks with WordPress
When you create a post in WordPress, the permalink will not be optimized unless you have already determined the structure. Otherwise it looks like a random ID.
You can find the permalink in the page post while editing, as shown in the example below.
Changing permalinks is a pretty straightforward process, and you don’t have to install any plugins to do it. You can choose from a few structures or customize your own.
More on this in the next section.
How to change a permalink in WordPress
- Open “Settings” and click on “Permalinks”.
- Select an option for the permalink structure.
- Consider creating a custom permalink structure.
1. Open “Settings” and click on “Permalinks”.
The first step in structuring your permalink is to open the Settings section of your WordPress dashboard. This should bring you to a list of options with different sub-headings.
Clicking this option will take you to a screen with a variety of options to choose from. Depending on how you want your post to be archived and searched, you can choose the one that best suits your goal.
2. Select a permalink structure option.
Here are the different choices and what they mean:
- default – Avoid this default option if you’re looking for maximum SEO value. It is the postal identification number, without any further information.
- Day and name – This option sets the slug to be the day the post went live and the name of your post. A good reason to use this is when you have multiple posts with the same name but you want the differentiator to be the date they were published.
- Month and name – As with the previous option, this time with the month display. If you have a monthly column like “Favorites” or “Best Of” this is a great option.
- Numerically – Numeric is another option that is safe to ignore as this structure is all numbers and offers little SEO value. If you’re archiving posts numerically to look back and view previous posts, numeric is the right choice for you.
- Address name – Taking this route is a good method for SEO, but not the best as Google likes to focus solely on keywords when ranking posts.
Next, learn more about the Custom Structure option.
3. Consider creating a custom permalink structure.
If you’re not too enthusiastic about the structures WordPress offers, you can create your own permalink structure in minutes.
You create a formula for your permalink structure, and every time a post goes live, it follows that formula.
For example, let’s say you have a lifestyle blog and a travel category (i.e., path) that you post about your recent vacations.
If you want to set the structure as a Category followed by the year and post name, enter the following in the field:
/% category% /% year% postname% /
Each custom structure is separated by a backslash and each tag begins with the percent sign.
Here you will find all the structure tag options that are available to you in WordPress.
Most importantly, when creating permalinks, one should focus on SEO (i.e. keywords) and the user experience. You are the virtual key (pun intended) to making sure your content is found by the people you want to reach.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated for completeness.