Permalinks are the URLs that WordPress uses to point to specific, individual pieces of content on your website. Every page, blog post, product, or event can be shared using its permalink, which will take visitors directly to the content you want them to see. It sounds simple, but getting your permalink structure right from day one is important to make sure your site is built correctly for optimal search engine optimization (SEO) and ease of use.
How to spot a permalink
WordPress permalinks follow a pattern, and you can choose the pattern that best suits your website.
You can see your permalink pattern by looking at the URLs of various pages and posts as you surf your site. Check the URL field of your browser window.
The most basic permalinks look like this:
A permalink like this might point directly to a page, such as an About page or a page that introduces your company’s services. Individual blog posts might have a subdirectory added to the URL, like this:
This style of permalink works just fine, but isn’t very inspiring. The page ID number, included at the end of the permalink, makes the URL unique and points to the right piece of content, but it doesn’t include any information about that content — its title, date, or anything that would indicate what the user is going to see when they click on that link.
It’s best practice to use more meaningful permalinks — which are sometimes called “pretty links” — that contain additional information about your content. With pretty links, keywords and dates can be embedded directly into the URL. Adding this extra information is important for:
- Better SEO. Search engines do look at your URL as they index content to get an idea of what your page or post is all about. Put your most essential keywords right into your permalinks to give your rankings a boost and make sure your site is indexed properly.
- Better useability. When you’re working with your own content — for example, sharing information via social media, building new pages or posts, or adding calls to action — pretty links will make sure you’re linking the right information.
- Better click-through rates. When your target audience can see the basic idea of the link they’re clicking on — whether you’ve shared it with them or they’ve found it organically — it can encourage them to trust that your content is meaningful, and earn a click-through.
- More memorable URLs. With simple, word-based permalinks that end in “/contact” or “/sale”, you’ll be able to promote your URLs directly in promotional materials for your potential visitors to remember down the road.
Choose a pretty permalink structure to make sure you’re getting the full benefits of a WordPress website. This can be done through the WordPress dashboard with one special setting.
How to set up your easily-readable permalinks
The basic permalink pattern above used to be the WordPress default, but now most installations use some type of pretty permalink. But there are several different styles of permalink, and it’s important to pick the right one for your content as soon as you set up your site.
Access permalink parameters through the Settings → Permalinks option in the WordPress dashboard. You’ll see a screen with several options for setting up the pattern your permalinks will use.
Here, you can choose one of the WordPress suggested patterns or build your own custom pattern. The basic style is “Plain,” but it’s never your best choice. Instead, select a more meaningful permalink structure that includes the post name, date, or additional segments like category or author.
Which combination and information should you choose to include in the permalinks for your site?
Post name is the most common structure and is a solid, reliable selection for most websites. This pretty permalink option includes the name of the page or post in the URL in slug format — that is, the title of the content with no spaces, uppercase letters, or special characters. It’s simple, clear, and perfect for cornerstone content that will be kept up to date.
A post name style permalink might look like this:
Including the title of a page or post in its permalink is great for SEO because the key concept of the content, and any critical keywords, can be included right in the link. And visitors are more likely to click on a link that explains what they’re clicking on, and are more likely to remember URLs that are word-based.
Pro tip: The post name, or slug, is automatically generated for each piece of content by WordPress based on the title. But you can customize the slug used for a specific post or page by manually editing the Permalink field in the Post Settings column on the right of the editor screen. To maximize SEO value, you might want to manually change the permalink to be shorter than 100 characters and to eliminate small words like “and” or “the.” But don’t stray too far from the actual title, as an obvious disconnect between your title and permalink can be a red flag for search engines.
Day and Name or Month and Name include the date as well as the post name in the permalink and are best for news websites that are highly date-dependent. Your readers need to know the publication date in order to understand the full context of your story and to make sure they’re reading the most up-to-date information for breaking news.
But keep in mind that:
- Date information in the permalink does not change or update if your post content is changed, so it’s really best for sites that publish a lot of breaking news with fresh posts for new information.
- Pages on the site will not include the date, just the page name in the form of the slug. Date information is included for blog posts or custom post types only.
Day and Name permalinks might look like this:
Numeric is not normally used. Like the Plain style, it relies on WordPress-generated numeric IDs to point to content without adding any meaning to search engines or end users. It’s not recommended for most websites.
Custom Structure is a more advanced solution for complex websites that use a lot of custom post types and taxonomies. This type of pretty permalink allows you to embed even more information into your URLs, like the category, tag, or author name. It’s most useful for sites that contain a huge amount of data, where additional information on the structure of the site can help find specific information or keep permalinks from overlapping where similar content is published in more than one format.
To create a custom structure, use the quick buttons at the bottom of the field to insert the elements you want to use into your permalink pattern, and separate permalink fields with a slash (“/”).
How to fix problems with permalinks
If you can, choose the right permalink structure from day one for your website — it should be one of the first things you do.
Why? Changing your permalink structure updates the URL for every single piece of content on your website. That means that anywhere your links have previously been saved or published will no longer work. This might include:
- Search engine results
- Social media posts
- Hardcoded links within your own website
- Bookmarks visitors have made to a specific post, product, or event
- Backlinks from other websites that point to content on your site
However, there are times when you might want to change your permalink structure:
- If you’re doing a complete SEO overhaul and currently have very low search engine rankings
- If you’ve done a software update that has caused your permalinks to revert to Plain style on their own (this is rare, but does happen sometimes)
- If you’re adjusting the direction of your site content and making major structural changes
If you decide to change your permalink structure — and you aren’t just restoring your usual structure due to an upgrade or software conflict issue — then it’s key to redirect any old permalinks to new, meaningful pages on your site. If you have a Business or eCommerce plan, you can choose between several plugins that can set up redirect rules for your content.
Even with redirects like this, however, your current SEO rankings may drop, and search engines may take some time to reindex your site.
Permalinks are a simple but important part of designing the site you always imagined. With the right structure in place, you can make sure your site is ready to share your information optimally and get your message in front of the right readers.