If you’ve ever asked yourself What is a permalink, this is the place for you.
A permanent static hyperlink (active link you can click) to a particular web page or blog entry is known as a permalink. This type of hyperlink creates a discrete URL for that page or entry, which registers with search engines and becomes part of search results for users searching for relevant information. The fact that keywords can be contained within them potentially makes the proper use of permalinks a very powerful marketing tool and a key strategy for smart SEO.
Here’s the Permalink for the blog post you are reading now:
“Just wanted you guys at Ballen Brands to know that we just converted our first lead from our amazing [Wordpress] IDX site that you guys built for us!! And. . . It will be a listing for us and a buyer which will total at minimum of over 1.3 MILLION DOLLARS IN VOLUME!!!!”
– Jamie Mixon
How do permalinks work with SEO?
You have probably come across unwieldy permalink URLs, though they are becoming much less common as people become more knowledgeable about how search engines and SEO work. These so-called “ugly” URLs feature all kinds of complex symbols (%, =, ?) and tend to be long and mysterious to the average user. It’s hard to know just from looking at the URL what the content of the page might be. They are also notoriously difficult to copy with their end bits dropping off. This can lead to frustration for the user, who may just go elsewhere rather than struggle with what should be a simple directive.
Here is an incredibly simple (made up) example of an “ugly” URL for a blog page that explains how to paint a bathtub:
A more user-friendly or “pretty” way to write this URL (or have it generated) might be:
You’ll see the main difference is the trailing end of the URL, the important semantic (plain language) piece that both search engines and users prefer. It is known as a query string in the previous example and a slug in the latter example, where it clearly states the name of the page (which, for SEO, can also be considered a longtail keyword . It is simple, direct and evergreen.
The WWW domain name is no longer standard, so not using it for a new domain will not have consequences and will make for a more compact URL (remember that Google has a viewable limit of 65 characters). Older brands continue to use it because it is tricky to change after years of use. Either way, it should not affect page rankings.
Google, which remains the dominant search engine in North America and Europe, prefers an easy to read URL structure that includes keywords. Here are just a few of the reasons why:
- URLs with a structured hierarchy make it easier for search engines to crawl your pages
- Users tend to cut off parts of an ugly URL when copying a link as the additional code seems unnecessary
- URLs that contain relevant keywords (or the page title) are just more user-friendly
How to optimize permalinks in WordPress
When working with permalinks in WordPress, it becomes very necessary to set up user-friendly parameters at the very beginning and stick to them. The default settings that kick in when you install WordPress uses numbers and symbols that refer to where the content can be found in the WordPress MySQL database. They are messy, and you can avoid them by choosing options in your WordPress permalinks settings.
Here are examples of the choices you are currently given when setting up in WordPress (to do this from the admin panel sidebar, go to Settings and then choose Permalinks):
Day and Name (http://realrealestate.com/2017/01/01/sample-post/)
Month and Name (http://realrealestate.com/2016/02/sample-post/)
Post name (http://realrealestate.com/sample-post/)
Choosing a permalink structure will affect all posts and pages (both new and old) on your WordPress site, so be careful when choosing or changing this.
You’ll notice that WordPress also gives you the option to create a custom permalink URL. This will be valuable if you want to use a different URL for only some posts on your site, or if you want to have a custom permalink for your custom post types. Or maybe you want to have a custom permalink for just your categories and tags. These are all instances when you probably want to use a custom permalink.
A custom permalink is a URL structure applied to that particular item in WordPress; it doesn’t affect the rest of your URL structure.
While simply choosing the option of adding a post name to your permalink URL structure in Settings will help with SEO, because it benefits the user, using a custom permalink potentially gives the user even more relevant information, and it gives you more flexibility and control over your pages and website.
The simplest way to alter the slug part of a URL for a WordPress post or page, or for custom post types is to edit them. On the post edit screen, look under the post title, and you can see the post URL with the edit button next to it.
Changing categories and tags is also very easy. Go to Posts, then Categories and WordPress will show you the list of categories. Scroll over to a category and click on the quick edit link. WordPress will then show you the title of that category, and its URL slug. You can change it to a more semantic combination of words and click on the Update button to save your changes. Many WordPress experts are wary of messing with these URL slugs because of the danger of creating duplicate content.
Neither of these options will have you install additional plug-ins or widgets on WordPress. But there are further options available if you want to in install free WordPress plugins or premium third party plugins for pay. Read about a few of the more popular ones further down.
Setting up your WordPress website is one thing, but if you are making changes to the way you handle permalinks after your site has already launched, you must undertake to re-direct users to the new location of your page. You may also need to use a re-direct mechanism if you remove a page, or choose a different page to rank (this is of particular relevance to real estate agents with continually changing inventory). Otherwise, the user may encounter a 404 error message and have no way of knowing where to go to access the linked information. WordPress explains how to re-direct in its comprehensive online manual, but there are also plugins that can take care of it for you. Plugins are great because they are frequently improved and updated, and they remove the need for continuously checking and manipulating your settings and URL constructions. They can also generate statistics about permalinks that can help you to streamline your SEO strategy even further.
Using Plug-ins for Permalinks and SEO
The following popular WordPress plug-ins can help you with SEO using permalinks and re-directs on your WordPress site.
The free version includes a permalink clean up function. And the premium version includes a 301 redirection script which will permanently re-direct users and search engines when you change a URL for any reason or remove a page.
A WordPress plugin that manages 301 re-directs and tidies up the loose ends caused by migrating content.
Quick Page/Post Redirect Plugin
Easily redirect pages/posts or custom post types to another page/post or external URL by specifying the redirect URL and type (301, 302, 307, meta).
Takeaway on permalinks
Permalinks are a powerful tool for search engine optimization – when used correctly. Whether you are using WordPress or some other CMS, be aware that you can use keywords and custom URL slugs to create user-friendly and SEO efficient permalinks with minimal hassle. Your efforts will pay off tenfold in less frustrated users, increased traffic, and, potentially, much higher page rankings. Here again are the top best practices for using permalinks for SEO on WordPress:
- Don’t rely on the WordPress default permalink structure – change it in settings
- Use simple permalinks (domain.com/postname)
- Dashes cause fewer problems than underscores between words
- Avoid using coding stop words (such as “is” or “are”) in permalinks
- Never change permalinks after publishing, but if you must, set up a 301 redirection from the old URL to the new URL
- Use keywords in your permalinks, the most imperitive ones closer to the beginning of the URL if possible
- Don’t include dates if your post contains evergreen content, but bear in mind that as time goes on, user frustration with undated material on the Internet is growing