WordPress permalinks are something every site owner needs to configure when they launch a new blog or WordPress site. They control the way your site handles URLs for new pages and posts. They can even allow you to edit a page or post's URL on a per article basis so you can use “pretty permalinks” for better SEO.
We're going to break down WordPress permalinks in this post so you can optimize your site for SEO and human readability. We'll define what permalinks are in general before we discuss how WordPress handles them. We'll then explain how to configure them in terms of which options you have as well as problems you may run into.
- What are WordPress permalinks?
- How to choose a permalink structure in WordPress
- How to edit WordPress permalinks
- What to do if WordPress permalinks are not working
- Using WordPress permalinks with Yoast SEO
- WordPress permalink plugins
What are WordPress permalinks?
The term permalink in WordPress means the unique URL associated with posts, pages and other parts of your site. In order to understand what WordPress permalinks are, you need to understand what permalinks are. In order to understand what permalinks are, you need to understand how important URLs are to a site's success and user experience. A good URL structure simplifies the process a user must take to reach the web page the URL is assigned to. It must have the following components to do this:
- Be as short as possible.
- Doesn't include “stop words”, such as “a”, “an”, “the”, etc.
- Easy to spell.
- Easy to remember.
- Simple to type.
- Consistency (never changes).
That last point is important because it essentially defines permalinks and explains why URLs and permalinks aren't the same thing. A URL is simply a visual label used to identify a location on the web. It's subject to change. A permalink is a “permanent link”, a permanent visual label used to identify a location on the web. It never changes.
This optimizes a URL for SEO and user experience as search engines and users will never need to relearn the permalink used to identify an authoritative page. Lastly, you should make sure your permalink makes sense and that it strongly relates to and identifies the content on the page. It's not required, but you should also try to place your focus keyword in your permalink. This should never be forced, so only do so when it's relevant to the post title.
What do permalinks look like in WordPress?
Seeing what permalinks look like will give you a better understanding of the importance pretty permalinks can have in your site structure. They let users know they're viewing the correct page, at the very least. They can also help organize your content depending on the permalink structure you use. Here's what WordPress permalinks usually look like when you don't configure or change the default permalink settings:
This is the “Plain” permalink structure. It uses the value (numeric ID or post ID) assigned to the post in your WordPress database and assigns it as your permalink. This is the problem with this permalink structure. While it is short, it's not easy to spell nor is it easy to remember or type. It also has nothing to do with the content in this post and can't be used to identify it. Another variation you may see is this:
WordPress calls this the “Day and Name” permalink structure. This is because it adds the date (month, day and year) to the permalink as well as the entire title of the post. There are a few problems with this permalink structure. The first is how illegible it is. Plus, SEO content should be evergreen, and placing a date in your permalink structure lets users and Google know how old the post is. If you update the date in the URL, you're breaking the rule of keeping things consistent across the board. Here are a few additional permalink structures available in WordPress:
- Month and Name – Same as “Day and Name” but without the day.
- Numeric – Uses an /archives/ slug and adds the post's numeric ID.
- Post Name – Uses the title of your post.
- Custom Structure – Uses your own custom structure. More on this later.
How to choose a permalink structure in WordPress
SEO is fickle. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to get your pages to rank, and even longer than that to establish your domain. It's common to see rankings drop for a little while when you make changes to high-ranking pages, and that includes changing their permalink structures.
Tip: A site's URL structure should be as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans (when possible, readable words rather than long ID numbers). Google has some great suggestions here: Keep a simple URL structure.
This is why it's best to configure WordPress permalinks before you establish your site. We will, however, get to how to change the permalink structure on an established site in a bit. Based on what I said a good, SEO-friendly and user-friendly URL needs, the following permalink structures in WordPress should not be used:
- Day and Name
- Month and Name
This leaves Post Name and Custom Structure. Most individuals prefer to use Post Name, but you can also build your own custom structure. This leads me to my next point, but if you choose Post Name, make sure you save your changes before leaving the Permalinks settings page.
Should you add categories and authors to your permalink structure?
The text field of the Custom Structure setting contained a prefilled tag called %postname% in my installation. This tag inserts the post title into the permalink structure, resulting in yourdomain.com/post-title/. If that's all you want, use the Post Name setting. You should only use the Custom Structure setting when you want to add categories, author names or else to your permalink structure.
Adding categories to your permalink structure is a great way to improve the user experience of your site. It helps users navigate better, and it may lead them to category archives where they can discover similar content. However, if you use a complicated taxonomy system on your site, you should not add categories to your structure.
If you assign more than one category to a post, both categories may appear in the URL. If you use long and complicated slugs for your categories, you'll transfer them to your permalink structure. If you want to use categories, go through your posts, and only assign one category per article. You should also simplify your categories' slugs. If you want to add categories to your permalink structure, clear the text field, and click %category% followed by %postname%. This adds your category slug and post title to your permalink structure.
An alternative to adding categories to your permalink structure would be to use breadcrumbs on your blog. These add the “trail” leading to your post, so it'll include the categories you've assigned to it. You can either see if your WordPress theme uses breadcrumbs natively or use a plugin to implement a breadcrumb navigation.
Adding authors to your permalink structure
If you have an active audience that knows your writers and are fans of certain ones, you can add their names to your permalink structure, if you wish. All you need to do is add the %author% tag to your custom permalink structure.
Another reason you may want to add authors to your permalink structure is if certain writers have “segments” on your site. This is similar to how certain news anchors have their own segments on media outlets or how certain writers have columns in magazines and newspapers. You can use categories for this, but you can just as easily change your authors’ slugs using a plugin. You can also use a plugin like Edit Author Slug to disguise your authors’ usernames if their names are their usernames. This can harden the security of your WordPress website.
How to edit WordPress permalinks
Okay, so you're using the Post Name permalink structure or something similar. What happens when your post title is much longer than five words? You can change the permalink of individual posts in the WordPress post editor. All you need to do is click the Edit button next to the permalink, type in your desired permalink, and click OK.
Remember, this permalink should be as short as possible, be easy to remember, easy to spell and easy to type. It should also strongly relate to the content in the post and should feature your focus keyword whenever possible. Focus on optimizing it for humans rather than search engines. You should also add dashes to it instead of spaces, and use lowercase letters rather than uppercase. You can do the same with pages. Now let's talk about the Category Base and Tag Base settings on the WordPress Permalinks settings page.
Changing your category and tag bases in permalinks
If you want, you can add an extra slug to your category and tag permalink structures. For example, let's say you have a website called “The Science Zone”, and you have a category called Space and a tag called Mars. You can add a category base called “topics” so the permalink for the Space category archive page would be sciencezone.com/topics/space/. If you add a tag base called “sub-topics”, the permalink for the Mars tag archive page would be sciencezone.com/sub-topics/mars/. This is more clear and may help users navigate through your website.
What to do if WordPress permalinks are not working
There are a number of issues that can occur with WordPress permalinks, and some that are simply solved by them. If you've migrated your site and are now seeing a lot of 404 errors in Google Search Console, try resetting your permalinks. This usually helps to resolve most issues related to permalinks.
Go to your Permalinks settings page, and make note of which permalink structure you've selected. If you used a custom structure, copy the text in the custom structure text field. Select the Plain setting after that, and click Save Changes. If you were using the Plain setting, select for example Day and Name instead. After you see the message that your structure has been updated, select the setting you originally had or paste the custom structure text back into the text field, and click Save Changes again. This should clear up the issue.
Alternatively, you can access your site's files in your host's file manager or via an FTP application, such as FileZilla. Make sure hidden files are viewable, and rename your .htaccess file. Once you do that, reset your permalinks using the instructions provided above. This should fix permalink issues caused by a corrupted .htaccess file. A new .htaccess will be created automatically, so feel free to delete the old one.
How to fix 404 errors related to changed permalinks
Changing your permalink structure on an established site is a dangerous game. Even so, you may have started your blogging career using the Day and Name or Month and Name structure but would now like to use Post Name. The problem with this is search engines (as well as your users) have already associated the original permalink structure with your site. It's also likely that other sites have included valuable links to your site on theirs.
If you try to change your permalink structure after this, search engines and users may wind up landing on a lot of 404 pages. If this is the case, you'll want to use 301 redirects to redirect users to pages using the updated permalink structure. Your host may be able to do this for you. If not, use WordPress plugins like Redirection or Safe Redirect Manager. You may also need to change each permalink manually as the system may simply grab your entire post title and use that as each page and post's permalink structure.
How to detect a faulty plugin on your website
It's rare, but there may come a time when a faulty plugin interferes with WordPress permalinks. If the solutions outlined above did not work, deactivate all of your WordPress plugins. If you want to deactivate all of your plugins in one swift move, access your site's files, and rename your /plugins/ folder. Navigate to a page you know is having troubles with permalinks, and see if the issue is still there. If so, a plugin is likely not causing the issue for you.
If not, your next step is to pinpoint which WordPress plugin is causing issues. All you need to do is activate a plugin, and refresh the page you're testing. If the issue is gone, you can label the last plugin you activated as the culprit. Contact its developer to ask them about the issue. You'll likely need to replace the plugin if they can't help.
Using WordPress permalinks with Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is one of the most popular WordPress SEO plugins available for the CMS. It offers a long list of features that help optimize your site for search engines. One of those settings allows you to change the permalink (called slug in Yoast) of individual pages and posts as well.
This slug would be showcased to search engines, allowing you to choose a pretty permalink while also using an SEO-friendly version. All you need to do is install the plugin, adjust your settings as you see fit, and head to one of your pages or posts. Scroll to the bottom, and click the Edit Snippet button. You'll be able to edit the post slug there.
WooCommerce permalinks are actually an important form of WordPress permalinks if you run an online store. Similar to regular permalinks, they control the URL structure your product categories and product pages use. You can start by changing your Product Category Base, Product Tag Base and Product Attribute Base, if you wish. You should also change your product permalinks. I recommend including your product category in the structure to help users navigate your store. Only do this if you've only assigned one category per product.
WordPress permalink plugins
There are a few plugins you can use if you're a power user and want to extend the permalink functionality a little more. The first is Permalink Manager Lite. This plugin allows you to change your permalink structure for pages, posts and custom post types manually with ease. You can also use a “find and replace” feature to change certain words to something else in bulk. You can even use this plugin to reset permalinks.
Next up is Permalinks Customizer. This plugin allows you to change the permalink structure for a variety of different post types. Many users use it to assign a structure to a custom post type. If you're not fond of this plugin, you can use Custom Post Type Permalinks. This one caters exclusively to custom post types. Lastly, you can use Custom Permalinks as another way to manage permalinks manually.
Final thoughts on WordPress permalinks
WordPress permalinks are one of the most important settings you'll configure on a WordPress site. You should take the term “permanently” literally as changing your permalink structure after the fact is a dangerous game. To recap, when it comes down to it, make sure your permalink structure has the following attributes:
- As short as possible.
- No stop words.
- Easy to spell.
- Easy to remember.
- Simple to type.
- Strongly relates to the content on the page.
- Contains focus keyword when possible.
If you follow a few simple best practices, you'll have a great permalink URL structure for your WordPress website. Always remember to set 301 redirects if you plan to change the permalink structure so that you won't run into SEO issues. What about you? How do you use WordPress permalinks? Let us know in the comments below!