What comes to your mind when you think of SEO?

“Permalink” probably isn’t the first or second thing, maybe not even the 10th thing.

The truth is, however, that the permalinks and SEO have a lot more in common than you might think and, when done right, can play an important role in improving your website’s ranking. Fortunately, they are also easy to master.

Let’s see how permalinks work, how to create and define them in WordPress.

Let’s break down the permalink of this post.

Example of permalink structure

First you have your domain (and subdomain in some cases) where your website resides. It is followed by the path, which indicates the location of the page. In this example, the article is in the “Marketing” category.

The last part of your URL is the slug – an essential part of your permalink and vital for SEO as it tells search engines how to index your site.

Each component creates a permalink to a specific page on your website which is unlikely to change, hence the name “permanent”.

When you don’t customize your URLs using permalinks, you get a random ID. The problem is, it is not appealing to site visitors and is not optimized for search engines.

Let’s say you are blog on sponsored tweets and their value. Do you prefer the URL to look like this:

yourdomain.com/sponsored-tweets-guide

Or like this:

yourdomain.com/post-id?=5726fjwenfkd

Probably the first, right?

Good slugs should include the targeted keywords in the post. Take our example above: “sponsored-tweets-guide”.

From this permalink, the reader (and Google) will know that the page contains a guide to sponsored tweets and is targeting the keyword “sponsored tweets”. This makes it easier for readers to find and share your content.

More, using keywords with a high Monthly Search Volume (MSV) in your slug can help you increase your rankings.

This is why when you use a content management system (CMS) like CMS Center or WordPress, you want to think about your permalink structure early on 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 may include only a domain name or also the path, slug and other information depending on the page you are accessing.

A permalink, on the other hand, refers to a specific URL structure, a tool made popular by bloggers for sharing and SEO purposes. Although every permalink is a URL, not all URLs are a permalink.

The best permalink structures

With several permalink structures to choose from, think about your content and audience to determine which format will work best.

For example, a news site can greatly benefit from a slug that includes a date and a title. This allows readers to quickly find out by scanning what the position concerns and when it was written.

On the flip side, if you run a blog that prioritizes permanent content and has pages that are constantly updating, you probably want to avoid having dates in your headlines.

This can signal readers that your content is old and therefore irrelevant. Instead, have a simple slug that only includes the title of your post.

It’s about using a structure that will benefit you (and your users) in the long run. Once you have chosen a permalink structure, you can configure it in your CMS.

How to make a permanent link

To create a permalink, all you need to do is:

  • Your domain name
  • Your slug
  • Your background (if you have several subject categories and want to organize your content)

Next, there are a few best practices to keep in mind when deciding on your permalink structure:

  • Be brief – Avoid articles like “the”, “a”, “a” and create a slug which is a shorter version of your title. Ex: If your post is titled “How to make an Instagram story”, your slug could just be / Instagram-story.
  • Include your main keywords – Optimize your slug by including your keywords. Make sure the keyword you are using relates directly to the content on the page.

Now, as for where you’re going to create your permalink, it’s usually on your CMS. The ideal time to define your permalink structure is soon after your site has developed, but before any posts go live. However, you can also do this at any time.

If you decide to change the old URLs to reflect your new structure, be sure to update all backlinks or set up redirects for those pages.

So, you are 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 only be optimized if you have already defined the structure. Otherwise, it will look like a random ID.

You can find the permalink on the post of the page while you edit, as shown in the example below.Permalink in WordPress blog post editing

Changing permalinks is a fairly straightforward process, and you won’t need to install any plugins to do so. You can choose from a few structures or customize your own.

More on this in the next section.

1. Open “Settings” and click on “Permalinks”.

How to change the permalink structure in WordPress

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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 various subtitles.

Once you click on that option, you will be taken to a screen with a variety of options to choose from. Depending on your preferences for how you want your post to be archived and searched, you can choose the one that best suits your purpose.

2. Choose a permalink structure option.

WordPress permalink settings

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Here are the different choices you will have and what they mean:

  • Default – Avoid this default option if you are looking for maximum SEO value. This is the identification number of the station, without any other information.
  • Day and name – This option configures the slug to be the day the post was published and the name of your post. A good reason to use this is if you have multiple posts of the same name but want the differentiator to be the date it was posted.
  • Month and name – Identical to the previous option, this time with the month displayed. If you have a monthly column, such as “Favorites” or “Best Of,” this is a great option.
  • Digital – Digital is another choice that you can safely ignore, as this structure is only made up of numbers and offers little SEO value. If you are archiving posts digitally, as a way to go back and view previous posts, digital is the right choice for you.
  • After the name – Choosing this route is a good method for SEO, but not the best, as Google likes to focus strictly on keywords when ranking posts.

Learn more about this “custom structure” option next.

3. Consider creating a custom permalink structure.

If you are not too enthusiastic about the structures that WordPress offers, you can create your own permalink structure in a matter of minutes.

You’ll create a formula for your permalink structure, and every time a post goes live, it will follow that formula.

For example, let’s say you have a lifestyle blog and a travel category (i.e. a path) under which you post about your last vacation.

If you wanted to define the structure as the category followed by the year and the name of the post, this is what you would put in the box:

/% category% /% year% postname% /

Custom permalink structure settings in WordPress

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Each custom structure is separated by a backslash, and each tag begins with the percent sign.

You can find all the structure tag options available on WordPress here.

The main thing to keep in mind when creating permalinks is to focus on SEO (i.e. keywords) and user experience. They are the virtual key (pun intended) to making sure your content is found by the people you want to reach.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated for completeness.

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